Thursday, December 22, 2011

Go long! Go long!

Recently, a colleague at work told me something, and I was convinced he was just pulling my leg. Determined not to be gullible, and fall for it, I refused to believe him. Last night though, I discovered he was, in fact, telling the truth.

Kids - you can definitely try this one at home!

Stand as far away from your car as you can, in a straight line (or in line of sight), so that you are at the limit of the distance over which your car remote will work. Check that it works. Now take 2 steps backwards, away from your car. Check that your remote no longer works. Take another 15 (approx) steps backwards. Check your remote again - it definitely should not work.

Now open your mouth wide, point your remote inside your mouth (aim for your hard palate), and press it, and see what happens.

It's like.... WOW!

Science at work in everyday life is SOOOOO cool.

I'm still not sure why it happens. My DH has a theory, but I'm not sufficiently physics minded to judge if he's right or not, so I still need to go and do a bit of my own research.

You go and try this, while I go do my research, and we'll meet back here in... oh... say 2 weeks time? or maybe 3... with Christmas around the corner I may need some extra time.

Have fun entertaining the kids!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Words show meaning

When someone dies, how do you refer to it? Do you say the bereaved "lost" their family member, or do you say that the deceased has 'gone to heaven' or has 'died'?

This morning I learnt that the wife of one of our elders died last night. She'd had cancer. In thinking about it, I realised that I wasn't sure how to discuss it. My initial reaction was to say that her husband and kids had "lost" her. Then, thinking about her faith and peace and trust in God, I thought that maybe I ought to say that she had "gone home".

The way you naturally discuss it says a lot, I think, about your perspective on death, on life. Something I've been thinking about a lot recently is trying to keep my eyes on God, not my circumstances, so that my trust is in him, not in my circumstances. I'm hoping that by practicing this now, when the tough times hit us again (as they inevitably will) it'll be such a habit that I won't waver in my trust.

It struck me, while thinking about our elder and his 4 small kids, that my concern was for them. If all I look at is them, then I start to question why God would allow such a wonderful woman and mother to die so young.

Yet, her own faith is a witness to me, because she had absolute peace and faith, right up until the end. As a mother, I'm not sure how she did it. If I knew I was dying, with my young kids, I would be angry and panicked - after all, my kids need me; they need to grow up with their mother's love surrounding them. So the fact that she had peace tells me that she was leaving her kids in God's care, that she trusted him to provide for them, to uphold them and that she believed her death would not (ultimately) have a negative impact on their lives. That's faith.

If she could have that kind of faith, then how can I, as an outsider to the situation, question what God's motives are in allowing this to happen? Surely I should follow her lead, and trust that God is good, all the time?

Which brings me back to my original question - how do I, how do you, how do we discuss the death of a loved one?

I met someone recently who had known my uncle. When he saw my surname, he asked if I was related, and I replied in the affirmative. I went on to say that my uncle IS a wonderful man (nearly a year after his tragic death), before I corrected myself to say he WAS. Then I almost corrected myself again, because I know that my uncle IS still alive, in heaven, waiting for the rest of us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Over the past few weeks I've been counting my blessings. Partly it's been brought about by some work we've been doing with our Born Sleeping contacts (heartbreaking stuff!) and partly because I've been working all the hours God gives and Graeme has picked up the flak and partly because I've just been looking more.

I've been struck by how amazing my kids are. Nathan is tenacious, to say the least. When he's getting enough sleep (!!) he is just so cute he's edible - polite, sweet, adorable, affable, funny, cheerful, loving. (When he's not, he's a nightmare who will scream and kick and throw a DIVA fit for longer than my patience lasts.) Janel is a genuine fairy princess. She's just so beautiful - even with her scruffy, fuzzywuzzy hair, tomboy scruffy appearance, and filthy feet and hands. Her personality is beautiful too - she's such a loving, caring, helpful, concerned BIG girl.

Maybe I'm just more aware of their awesomeness because I've been thinking a lot about Zoe recently. I'm conscious that I need to celebrate them while I have them.

I had a very interesting conversation with Janel the other night, about Zoe. She burst into tears because she was missing Zoe, and that prompted a long conversation about why God allowed Zoe to die. I was amazed by her questions - why God allowed her to die, why He wouldn't tell us the reason now (why we'd have to wait till we got to heaven to know the truth), why Janel and Nathan didn't die at birth, what their names all mean (Janel - God is gracious, Zoe - life, Nathan - gift of God).

While I was pleased to have the conversation with her, it broke my heart to see how much she misses her sister, how much she longs for her, and be unable to fill that hole in her. I know how it feels to grieve someone for whom you have no real memories, yet someone with whom you have a close bond. It makes grieving harder in many respects.

At least she doesn't have to deal with the adult mentality that because there are no memories, she shouldn't feel anything. It felt good to be able to tell her that it was okay to long for her sister, to be sad that Zoe's not here, to cry. It felt good to be able to speak that truth into her heart and hold her while she cried. But at the same time, it broke my heart. I don't like seeing my baby going through that kind of pain. As her mother, I'm supposed to be able to protect her from everything. (I know, I can't, but I feel like I should be able to.)

In the conversation, I was also able to explain to her why Nathan is such a special boy - that he wouldn't be here if Zoe had lived, because we wouldn't have had another child. I pointed out to her that Nathan really is a gift from God, because she nearly died, and Zoe did die, and Nathan wouldn't have been here if it weren't for Zoe's death. Maybe I'm just reading stuff into something that isn't actually there, but since then, I've seen her make more of an effort to play lovingly with him.

The other blessing in my life, that I've counted daily, is Graeme. I honestly don't know how I wound up with such an amazing man. I know that I don't deserve him - he's the most incredible man I know. I can't even begin to count the ways in which he is a blessing in my life. And I feel just awful that I don't treat him accordingly. I could say I'm too busy, but the truth is I'm just to self-absorbed. As I said, I really don't deserve him.

Like today... A few days ago we bought new bikes. Last night we started trying to adjust them to be able to use them, and I couldn't do what needed to be done - a combination of the wrong tools and lack of physical strength. He had an initial look at it, and couldn't fix it either (lack of know-how and wrong tools). When something I really want doesn't materialise, I get incredibly disappointed. The way my disappointment manifests is that I become very tired, very low and very cross with the world.

Rather than trying to change my mood, or getting cross with me for throwing an adult-style tantrum (and withdrawing entirely from the family), he calmly popped the kids in the bath, did a quick Google search, then picked up the tools, tried again and fixed what I couldn't. He did it because he knew it was something important to me. He did it because he loves me. He did it because he knew that it was the quickest way to help me feel better. What a hero!

So, this Christmas, I am counting my blessings, the ones closest to me. God is good!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I'm happy with my life - no, really, I am!

I can't even begin to document the things that have happened since the end of Oct, even though it's only 2 weeks. To save time (and ensure that I get to bed at a reasonable hour) I'm going to select a few random ones to share with you.

There are untold stories of Nathan being unbearably cute and doing new stuff. The most notable change has been that he has suddenly decided that his grandparents are not ogres coming to rip him from my arms. Nope, turns out that grandparents are cool - they push you in the swing, they play playdough with you, they give you sweets. Who knew?! The story that stays with me is from one afternoon when I was lying in bed resting, and Nathan was outside in the garden. He thought I was asleep, but I was secretly watching him through my window.  He was trying to get into his 'new' swing (another long story there) and struggling. Next thing I know, he's not calling for me, or his father. Nope - I hear a rather plaintive "Oupa! Oupa! OUPA! OUUUUPAAAA!! asduoasdbjasdbijad SWING!" I cried (with joy, of course) and promptly rolled out of bed to go and help him.

I recently read a TIME mag article about the fact that almost all parents have a favourite child - some just hide it better than others. Of course, no (sane) parent will admit it. It was a profound article, and I've found myself questioning my every action towards my kids - trying to judge how it's coming across, whether anyone could tell whether or not I have a favourite; whether the kids think I have a favourite, or not.

I know that I am my father's favourite. My siblings know it too. It's no secret in our family. Yet, I guess, because I didn't live with my dad for much of my life, and neither did they (they're a lot older than me), I don't think it affected us in the way that it would otherwise have done. I don't know whether they were ever jealous of me or not. Still, I adored (still do, but it's not cool to say that now) my brothers. I sometimes wonder whether our lack of communication now is simply a product of our individual busy-ness, or of our age differences, or whether it has anything to do with how they perceive me as a result of being our father's favourite. Hmm...

Returning to my kids though, I've found myself consciously trying to ensure that I spend equal time and give equal affection to both of them. It's been harder than I expected - particularly with one of them. (No, I'm not telling... cos I don't have a favourite, remember?!) It's not that I love one less... it's just... well, it is what it is. It's just something I'm going to have to ensure I get right. I don't want either of my kids growing up in the shadow of the other, particularly as far as love and affection from us as parents is concerned.

One of the things I've also been working hard at is letting go of Janel - letting her grow up a bit more. At the primary school meeting we had recently all the parents were reminded that our kids need to be independent to cope at school: they need to be able to tie their own laces, dry & dress themselves after swimming, etc, etc. While we've ticked most boxes, I have to confess that it's just easier to do some of that stuff myself for her - it's quicker, it's more accurate - than let her learn to do it for herself. So I've been working hard at not doing stuff for her. She hasn't enjoyed it all the time - she's like me in that respect (why do something for yourself when you can get someone else to do it for you?! Ja - laziness... I know.) - but I know it's good for her in the long run. Maybe it's a gender thing; maybe it's a parenting the first vs subsequent children thing; maybe it's because I've always been so protective of her, especially given her start in life. I can see that I don't worry about Nathan in the same way. Whatever it is, I'm finding it hard to always let her do things in her own way, in her own time, especially in the mornings when we're running late! But we'll get there. I'm determined.

Then, in other news, Malema is no longer in the ANC. Yup. Can't quite believe it myself. I still find myself waiting to wake up and find it's not true. I am thrilled, naturally, but I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

On the health front, I'm just recovering from bronchitis.... I've decided that every year I overdo things in Oct, so I've already turned down one of the things I usually get involved in. I won't be doing that next year. That should help! I've already booked our Oct holiday as a proper family holiday with G. We will be RESTING in that holiday. Let's hope it makes a huge difference to my health in Oct/ Nov next year.

Of course, it's Movember.... while I support the cause, I have to say - have you ever seen so many ridiculous looking men?!?!?!?! Sorry guys, but you really do look silly. And who would want to kiss you looking like that?! Thank God my own man has shown sense. (Or maybe he's just too tired to care?!)

Work is work - busy as all hell. But I'm plodding through. I'll get there in the end. Won't bore you with the 'To Do' list. However, I will mention that I've got an AWESOME phone app - Astrid tasks. Loving it. I'm still trying to find the right balance between keeping inbox task lists and Astrid lists, but I'm finding it so useful to have one list that goes everywhere with me. Definitely to be recommended.

Oh yes, and the WCED is doing their thing again... Even after all these years, I continue to be surprised at their lack of proper communication. There have been two incidences this week alone which have caused me to roll my eyes, sigh a lot, and laugh at them (it's either that, or slit my wrists). However, to their credit, their blunders have come as a result of trying to implement good practice. They just didn't think things through properly; they didn't think far enough ahead to forsee the consequences of their decisions. Again, that is very typical. Sigh. Roll eyes. No slitting wrists allowed.

We're into exam season now, which I both love and hate. I hate marking (sucker for punishment, me, then, since I'm a matric marker) with a passion. HATE it. HATE HATE HATE it. This is the part of my job that I would happily leave the profession as a result of. However, I love the change that comes over the staff during this time. Maybe it's just the change in pace, or routines, or maybe it's a defence mechanism to the stress. Whatever it is, I love how the staff joke with each other at this time of year. Everyone gets involved. People have (ironically) more time to just hang out together. Next week it will all change though, as everyone will have some marking to do. Then it'll be back to end-of-year grumpiness. But right now, I'm loving being at work. Loving it. I work with the greatest bunch of people in the world.

Right now, actually, things are good all round. Yes, I'm still feeling a little below par, and Nathan's sick, and Graeme is tired, and Nellie has a permanent "tummy ache", and finances are extremely tight, and my bike was stolen last week... there is lots I could choose to complain about. But you know what? I'm choosing to focus on the things going right:

I'm getting better.
My kids are awesome.
My husband really is the best in the world!!
We've already started the Christmas shopping.
I love my job.
My God loves me and forgives me.
I'm happy with my life!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Moving on and letting go

Tonight we had a meeting at Nellie's new school, in preparation for next year. It was a good meeting, very informative, but I found the first bit very hard. We took Nellie to meet her teacher, and see her classroom. She was so confident and happy for me to leave, that I nearly cried right there and then! I just know that I'm going to cry on the first day next year... I just know it! My baby is growing up, and becoming independent. While I know that's what is supposed to happen, it is a tearing, and it hurts.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I have an odd assortment of items on my bedside table - everything from various medications, kiddies toys, books, pens, drawings, kid's clothing, etc. Yesterday, Nathan came into my room and proceeded to point to each item on my bedside table in turn, asking what it was.

"What's that?" (pointing to deodorant) "Cream bar deodorant."
"What's that?" (pointing to Voltaren cream) "Voltaren."
What's that?" (pointing to two sachets of hand cream joined with a perforated join) "Cream"
(pause while he ponders this...)
"NO MOMMY! THAT'S CREAM (pointing to deodorant). THIS BOOK!"
He promptly picked them up, 'opened' the 'book', and walked away pretending to read the 'book'.

I cried with laughter.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oh boy!

You should be careful what you pray for... you might just get it!

When I was pregnant with Nathan, I prayed for a child who would restore my joy after losing Zoe. I prayed that he would do that for me, but also for everyone he met - that he would be an agent of the Lord, to bring true joy and healing into the lives of everyone he touched.

This past weekend, on one occasion he had run away from me, out into the road. Fortunately, the road was one of those where I'd been able to see the whole street in a single glance, so I knew he wasn't in immediate danger. However, I decided that I needed to enforce the principle that he needs to stop when I tell him to, or to come back to me when told to do so. We've started using the "I'm going to count to 3 and then [insert consequences here]" method with him.

"Nathan! I'm going to count to three and you need to come here to Mommy, otherwise I'm going to give you a hiding!"

Picture it - driveways all over the little Close, the nearest driveway bounded by a rolled down canvas awning. Nathan turned, grinned at me, then - 

"Yes Mommy, hiding!" So pleased with himself that he understood me, and that I want to play too.

He promptly disappears behind the awning. A split second later, he reappears at the other end by jumping out and shouting "TA DA!!"

I ask you - could you do anything other than fall about laughing?

Monday, October 17, 2011


I admit that I have a penchant for doomsday movies - anything from Al Gore's 'Inconvenient Truth' to 'Day after Tomorrow'. I am, at heart, a pessimist, or maybe just a bit of a fatalist. I believe that climate change is something we're experiencing, and I believe it spells the end of civilisation as we know it. Quite why, or when it's going to happen, is still up for debate.

I accept that part of the reason is that there are simply too many human beings on this planet. Part of the reason is that we eat too much meat. Part of the reason has, however, nothing to do with humans. It's just about our earth being where it is in space and time, and this is part of the natural cycles of life.

I was therefore rather excited when DH brought '2012' home from the library - by the same director as 'Day after tomorrow', as it turns out - Roland Emmerich. For those who haven't seen it, all I will say about the story line is that the movie is based on the premise that a particularly large solar flare disrupts the earth's core, with disasterous results for all species on the earth.

The special effects are incredible! I would have loved to see it on the Big Screen - just for that. However, I found the story oddly disturbing in a way the others haven't been. I was touched by the human element in this movie. Throughout it I found myself wondering how I would cope, what I would do, especially as far as my kids were concerned, if something like that really started to occur. I was struck by the immense suffering and tragedy that would occur. I was traumatised by the thought of all the kids who would die in terror and pain; of the thought of my own kids dying in terror and pain.

I suppose that, so soon after 15 Oct (International Stillbirth awareness day), and having been so ill so recently, my emotional defenses were down. I was very upset though. Maybe, though, this movie just paints a more realistic picture, in this regard - maybe it's just better at the human element than previous movies in this genre.

It didn't help though, to have my hubbie at my side laughing with derision at various of the special effects - he tends to be very skeptical about things. For e.g. where the rest of us might have seen the crack appearing between God's finger and Adam's, in Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam' frescoe on the Cistene Chapel's ceiling, as a nice touch, he laughed with scorn at how cheesy he thought it was. On the bright side, I guess it kept me from becoming too morbid about things.

[But of course, for that, there's always chocolate. YUM! My friends know me well - earlier in the evening one had dropped by to bring me some, as a 'get well soon' present. What a lovely lady she is!]

Yet, my dreams last night were troubled by collapsing buildings, pathways, and roads up at UCT, where I was a mature student. If I remember correctly, in my dream I'd gone back to study my masters. (My hubbie had also gone back to studying full time, but I can't remember what.) In the midst of the dream, I knew I was dreaming, and was surprised how unafraid I was of the world caving in around me. Maybe, in the dream, because I knew I was dreaming, I felt invincible. Maybe I was just too wrapped up in my story line to really care about the buildings falling down around me. Or maybe it's just that fatalistic edge in me coming to the fore.

Monday, October 03, 2011

National pride

At bedtime, one of us will always sing a song to Nellie. One of her regular requests, and an all-time favourite, is the national anthem (go figure! What a patriot!). Needless to say, she was thrilled to BITS when we got to sing it for the first rugby game. Our church cancelled the second service and we all stayed to watch the game on the big screens. I recorded it for her (and for my amazing husband who was still standing in the queue to collect our boerie rolls). Although it's WELL after the event, I thought I would post it, because I love this country, and I love this song, and I love what this song represents for all South Africans.

Sadly though, I do not love the Bokke Jive... I just don't like the song, and so I haven't got into it at all, so I won't be recording it, nor will I be dancing it, nor will I be posting anything else about it. I think it doesn't come close to the soccer world cup Diski Dance, and even that wasn't the ... um... captivating dance (at least I learnt it though, and that made it more fun to hum along to).

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Photo catch-up time

It's been such a LOOOOONG time since I posted some photos. I finally got around to getting them off my phone and so I thought I'd post a few.

This is one of a series of photos I've taken while taking the dogs for a walk. Don't we live in such a beautiful part of the world? I love CPT, and this is one reason why.

This photo was taken at Milnerton beach. My kids ADORE the waves (what kids don't??) This was the day I took the unintentional self-portrait (posted on FB around the time I took it). I love this one because of the contrast - my big girl is so little, and my little boy is so big! You can hardly see it in this photo, but the new stadium really does dominate the cityscape, and I think it's a rather pretty addition to the traditional cityscape.

Here's my little boy all growing up. He's being helpful, putting things on the checkout conveyor belt for us. He's entered that phase of life where being helpful is starting to be something he wants to be. (Of course, he is still a little terror at other times, point blank refusing to do whatever I tell him to do... sigh! I guess that's part of being a kid.)

And these are my other boys... Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee, Abstinence and Cell Phone (and yes, there is a story behind each of those names!). Towards the end of the term I was seconded away from chess to help run the DT system. I've managed these boys since I arrived at the school, so this was my 4th year of close relationships with them. It's only been a few weeks of me no longer being involved, and already I miss them like crazy! Thank God I still teach them, or I think I might go stir crazy! Whatever am I going to do at the end of next year when the elder three leave school for good???? 

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Edtechconf Extended @ Elkanah

The past two days have flown by in a blur! I've been to the first Edtechconf Extended events here in CPT, following their first national conference earlier in the year. Yet again, it's been an exciting time.

I've loved being able to spend time playing with techy stuff without feeling guilty that it's taking me away from my kids, or family. (It did though, because I was away from home for 2 days. Being away, though, means that I can't spend time with them, so it's okay for me to spend that time playing, if you see my logic.)

I've loved spending time with people who have the same passion as me, who know more than me, and less than me. It's been awesome connecting with folk and helping them figure some stuff out. It's been awesome learning stuff from others too.

It's exhausting though - my brain died sometime yesterday, and I'm only just starting to feel like I'm recovering. There is serious information overload involved! But there's coffee on tap, and plenty of good food, which means that at least you can feed ALL of you, not just your brain.

The challenge with all of these sorts of experiences though, is two-fold. Firstly, to sort through all the info you've received, and secondly, to work out which thing/ things you're going to implement. It's pointless going on a conference like this and coming away with nothing to implement.

I think the thing I've decided to try to implement is a PLN. It's something we've looked at in the past, and it's something I had hoped to build into our website redesign. It didn't happen though, and there isn't really money to design our own thing, so I was interested to really investigate what else is out there. Now that I have a better idea of what is possible, I want to really have a good think and play with them, to decide which one will best suit our purposes. Then, I want to implement it next year. (See, I'm trying to be realistic, and not an Ambitious Alice! :))

My current projects for the 4th term are to set up some forms on SurveyMonkey, to design a webquest and to look at putting together a geocaching activity around the school for my Gd 11s. So I figure that's plenty to be getting on with (especially as I have exams to set, a project report to write and some consultancy work to do as well!)

Only 3 days to relax though before I'm back at "work" - taking a school group up to Jo'burg for Eskom Expo. I hope it's worth it, because I will be really cheesed off if it's not enjoyable. I am going to be tired at the start of term as it is. I'm debating taking my laptop with me to try and squeeze some work in at other times to try and relieve the burden a bit once term starts. We'll see. I might be too tired.

Speaking of which - time for bed now. Sleep tight, Tweeties.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cell phone trial - part 2

I can't believe that it's only been two months since we started the cell phone trial in class. It's a bit like having your first child - in one sense, two months feels like FOREVER, yet at the same time, it feels like just yesterday that it was born.

The past 2 months have been very exciting, but also challenging. I think the worst part of it all has been having to go and collect the box of phones from the office before the lesson, and return them again afterwards. To be honest, it's the biggest pain in the rear. However, if that's the worst part, then I think we're doing really well!

We've had a lot of fun in the past 2 months, even though things haven't gone as planned. I'd hoped to have a 2nd projector with a laptop, to project the Twitter backchannel, but then the bulb in the projector went. Those of you with projectors will know that a replacement bulb costs almost as much as a new projector, so we only had the backchannel for about the first week. That is finally getting sorted though, as I've found a sponsor who will buy the school a dedicated projector for this purpose. We're just waiting for it to arrive so we can install it. I'm looking forward to that, because even in the short time period we had it, it was working really well.

I've found that having the phones in lesson has changed how I teach to some extent. Firstly, I've had to be much more on the ball. Using their phones, the kids can access the content much faster than I can teach it, and they have access to all sorts of other resources - experts, videos, etc. In the past, when we've done a collaborative learning activity, it might have taken them the whole lesson to get through a certain amount of content. Now it takes them 5 minutes or less! 

This has freed up a lot of time in lesson and so I've had to have a variety of other activities on hand. It's also given us space and time to talk about critical thinking skills - something we're supposed to teach as part of the critical outcomes for education, but never really have the time to do.

In the reflection I asked my class to do, many of them commented that when I'd first told them about the trial, they had been skeptical, but now that they've experienced it for themselves, they're sold on the idea. Many of them are using Evernote (or similar) apps to take notes on, rather than using their books. Others are taking voice recordings of the lesson, to review later. Depending on the type of lesson, they've also taken video recordings or photos of various parts of the lesson - from documenting dissections, to notes on the board. Video clips and photos have then been put together as a movie, which has been uploaded to the blog.

It's been interesting to see how many of the kids have never encountered blogging before, or Twitter. (They're all on MXit, which I haven't had the opportunity to explore as a tool yet - too many other things on my plate at the moment.) For some of them, it's been an uncomfortable experience being pushed to engage in this way. For many of them it still feels artificial, which it probably will do for a while yet.

While most of the kids have commented how having phones in lesson has been so helpful, there have been a few for whom it is still feels more of a distraction than a help. A few of them have been frustrated by the fact that I asked them not to use Facebook (particularly) for social interactions during lesson, but they've commented that they see the sense in that, because otherwise they'd be doing that all the time and not focussing on the lesson.

Having phones in lesson is started to feel normal - I've even had a moment where I caught myself asking a chi;d, in a rather cross voice, where his cell phone is and why it isn't in class! Six months ago, who would have dreamed I would be saying that?

Of course, the real question is, have the phones in lesson made a positive difference in the learning experience. I would say they have. The energy levels in class are higher, more kids seem to be engaging. What pleases me is that it's not just the top kids who are engaging more (although they're soaring with this!), but some of the very weak kids are engaging more too.

Having done a quick analysis comparing the class to the other classes, there does appear to be a statistically significant difference in their marks compared to the previous non-exam term. It's not a huge leap, only 4%, but then, we've only been using them for 2 months, rather than the whole term, and this is the top set, so I wouldn't expect much of an increase anyway (as my expectation is that most of them are already operating near the top of their potential).

One particular highlight was from the other class. She was off sick, yet, using the blog and Twitter, she was able to teach the class from the comfort of her bed. She posted bits of work on the blog, then the class would discuss it using Twitter. When she was confident they understood that bit, she would then post the next bit. All it required was that the substitute teacher put the projector on and put the blog up for the kids to read. The substitute teacher also commented on how much better the class worked than in classes where they would just be getting on with a worksheet, or making notes from the textbook.  

We're definitely going to continue the trial next term. One thing that I've been thinking about though, is whether this would work with a bottom set as well. This bunch of kids are self-disciplined, high achievers. They are sensible and reliable. Would the trial work with kids who are frequently absent, who are lazy, who are unreliable, and who, for whatever reason, are nowhere near reaching their academic potential? And do we take the risk of setting up a trial with such a group to see whether it might?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"A great cloud of witnesses"

I'm really enjoying our church's series on Tough Questions at the moment - "Helping believers think and thinkers believe". This morning's talk was entitled 'Isn't the Bible's sex ethic hopelessly outdated'? Although much of it wasn't new to me, I found the logical way it was presented, and the aspects the preacher chose to highlight, very helpful in thinking it through myself again. I won't spoil it for those who want to listen to the talk - you should be able to download it here from tomorrow. I'd highly recommend it.

However, I had another "moment" before then that I will share with you. I've just finished reading Jodie Picoult's 'Second Glance', which looks at eugenics in the 1930s in Vermont, USA (which the Nazis claim they based their practices and beliefs on). Another theme running through the book is about ghosts - whether they exist, or why they exist. It got me thinking about what I believe, and why, on this issue.

I definitely believe in the spirit realm, and I believe that people's spirits can roam free from their bodies, but I'm not sure whether I believe they can remain free roaming after death. I definitely believe that what we see here is not all there is, that this physical world is but one small part of the world that really exists, that the spirit realm is all around us, all the time. 

As we started worshipping, I was reminded of the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) who surround us...

Hebrews 12: 22: But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

As we started worshipping I could feel these witnesses gathered around us and among us, as heaven was opened and we were ushered into the very presence of Jesus, worshipping him together - those who had been with we who are. I couldn't see him, or them, but I knew where we were, and I knew who was around us. It wasn't eerie at all - rather, it was comforting.

As I pondered this, I wept. I wept out of gratitude that I am counted in that number, that one day I will take my place among them, that God's grace has been extended to me. I also wept for those I know who are not yet in that number, those who still walk in darkness, not even aware of what they don't have, or else aware, but searching in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tough Questions

For many people, there are some BIG questions to be asked about faith and religion, and about faith in Jesus Christ in particular. They look at the Church (global) and they look at Christians today, and decide they want nothing to do with it, or with God. In the words of Rigby Wallace, though, if you think churches are filled with people who are perfect, or close to being perfect, then you couldn't be more wrong. Churches are filled with people who are all too aware of their sin, or their shortcomings - that's one of the reasons they're in church in the first place.

I'm not the best advert for Christianity at the moment either. Despite that though, people ask me the difficult questions - why does God allow suffering? Surely science has disproved the existence of God? Surely evolution and the Bible are incompatible? Wasn't Jesus just a good (moral) teacher and not really God? Surely all religions lead to God? Surely the Bible is a man-made construct, not the Word of God? Does God really hate all homosexuals?

Questions like this indicate me to that the person asking is genuinely searching for something. While I can attempt an answer, there usually isn't enough time to really explore these issues with the person concerned, so I usually recommend a host of really good books they can borrow from me - I particularly like C.S. Lewis and John Stott's books.

Common Ground Church is currently running a series looking at these tough questions. Last week looked at how a loving God can allow suffering. Today looked at whether or not science has disproved God and religion. So far, I've found the talks very good, given the limited amount of time to discuss the topic. If you are at all interested, then do click on the link and download the talks as they are uploaded to the site.

It might just change your life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Distinctly discomforted

We were at some leadership training stuff at church tonight during which the leaders of the Common Good Foundation did a short presentation. Sarah through out two one liners that I really loved, and wanted to record for posterity, because they've made a real impact on my thinking (more on that in another post though - it's too late now...)

  • Live lives of social justice; don't perform acts of social justice.
  • The Common Good Foundation is not the out-sourced arm of the church's response to social injustice and poverty - it is there to coach and support individuals, leaders and groups as they respond.
They sparked a lot of conversation for G and me. Hopefully the conversation won't just stay conversation, but will lead to changed lives as well.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jungle fever

I haven't mown the lawn for about 2 or 3 weeks now. In winter, it shouldn't need mowing all that frequently. Mine needs mowing every week - but only in one part.


Because my lawn is overgrown with winter grass that is loving this combination of warm spells followed by rain.

If I mow it, I can't see where the winter grass is all that easily. If I don't, it continues to insinuate itself into the rest of the lawn. I can't afford to pay for a regular gardener and I don't really have the time to get to it myself. What to do???

This is one of the myriad of small household problems that has been on my mind of late. I guess it's part of being an adult - this whole responsibility for a house thing. (The other things include the broken shower door, the leaks in the roof, the lights that need to be replaced, the pictures that need to be put up, the garage ceiling and door that need to be attended to... etc.) If I could find someone who could guarantee they could fix everything in a day or two, I would be sorely tempted to pay them, just for the freedom from background stress it would give me.

But the weeding... I love weeding. I don't really want to palm that off on anyone else. Some people find running or swimming or playing music or whatever brings them peace. For me, I find it in weeding. It's one of the few things I can do during which I can withdrawn into myself, zone out of the world, think of nothing, and yet be physically active. I first discovered the joys of weeding when I was at high school. Ever since then, when I need to retreat from the world, or when I'm deliberately trying to hide from work, I find myself distracted by my backyard jungle.

I was pleased, therefore, to have a few hours this weekend (broken up into smaller slots) in which to indulge my little hobby. The longer I weeded though, the more frustrated and depressed I became. Do you KNOW how many weeds I have in my lawn? It's more weed than lawn. You should see the holes - it looks like the dogs have been at the moles again (which they have - another thing that bothers me).

The portion of the lawn I've done looks horrid. Horrid, horrid, horrid. It's almost so bad I want to buy roll on lawn from someone and dig the entire blasted thing up. Only two things stop me - the cost of buying it, and the cost of buying it. Oh, and the fact that I'd lose all my beautiful weeding - but that would be a minor loss compared to the joy of a beautiful lawn.

So here I am between a rock and a hard place. Do I let my jungle continue to jungle-fy, or do I mow it? Am I going to have the time to finish the rest of it anytime this year, or should I just admit defeat?

I'm not the only confused ones. My poor dogs don't know why I shout at them for digging it up (after the moles) but then dig it up myself. They must think I'm completely mad - either that, or incredibly possessive about grass.

Mother bear kills her cub, then herself

I read something today that really upset me. It's a story released on Friday from China about a mother bear who had been kept in a bear bile farm. Upon hearing her cub's roar as it was having it's gall bladder punctured, broke free of its 'crush cage', then hugged the cub so hard she strangled it, then ran head first into a wall, killing herself.

The practice of bear farming for bear bile is a real practice in China. It is a cruel, horrendous practice. Bears are often fitted with iron vests to stop them trying to commit suicide by punching themselves in the stomach because of the amount of pain the permanent hole gives them. They live in these conditions for upwards of 15 years.

Bear bile farming is completely unnecessary because the active ingredient in bear bile can be synthesised artificially. In 2007 the Chinese government said it would rescue 500 bears from 'crush cages' as a first step in ending this ancient practice. 4 years later, this practice still occurs.

So all that is true. Whether the story about the mother cub is true or not, I'm not sure. The quick scan of the online media seems to indicate that it is, in fact, true.

I feel physically ill. How can anyone be so cruel to an animal? How can anyone lose their humanity to such an extent? I would sign a petition if I thought it would do any good, but I doubt that the Chinese government would listen to international pressure via a petition. I weep for those poor animals.

This is NOT what God had in mind when he gave us stewardship of the earth! Tonight, once again, I long for the redemption of the earth. I long for Christ's return, when all things will be made new, when all suffering - even that of creation herself and of all God's creatures, will come to an end.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Cell phone trial

A few folks who follow me on Twitter have been asking about a cell phone trial we'll be conducting at school starting this week. Although I have a class blog up and running, it's a closed readership to protect the kids taking part. I therefore reasoned that it might be a good idea, periodically, to post something about it here.

At the moment, the school has a no cell phones policy. If a child is found with a phone, it is confiscated (with SIM card as well) for a period of time and the child has to sit a DT before it may be returned to them.

From Wednesday a group of 50 Gd 11s (top academics) will be allowed to use their phones in their maths and LS classes only. The phones have to be handed in at reception in the morning where they will be placed in a box. This box will be collected at the start of the lesson, and returned to reception at the end of the lesson. Any of these kids found with their phone outside of these two lessons will suffer the normal penalties.

In class, the kids will be allowed to use their phones after they have signed a AUP. The AUP has a clause in it that states that if a teacher feels the use of the phone is disrupting the learning of others, or the owner, it will be removed. That's purely to cover us, so that if we need to we can remove the phones during lesson. Other than that, the kids may use their phones in any way. We're not going to restrict them too much at this stage.

Initially, we anticipate that they will use their phone for personal communication a lot.  I don't anticipate that the personal communication will stop, much in the same way that teachers will send personal emails from work, or log on to Twitter or FB during their free lessons. What I hope for, and what we're aiming for, is the ultimate position where having the phones in lesson becomes so normalised that it becomes just another tool.

I'm hoping that the use of the phone will:

  • help to extend those who are currently bored
  • engage those who are currently too shy to participate in lessons
  • increase collaboration between students
  • raise attainment for all
  • improve the quality of lessons as teachers become aware of misconceptions currently held or difficulties being faced with content
  • enable learning to continue beyond the time limits of the lessons, making learning a whole-life experience (rather than a classroom experience)
  • teach pupils to engage with technology respectfully and appropriately
  • teach pupils how to monitor their online presence
  • make lessons FUN (not at the expense of content and learning, but in addition to it)
Like any good experiment, I have no idea how this will turn out. It might crash and burn. The kids might be unable to cope with the extended freedoms. I, and the other teacher involved, might be unable to cope with the change in teaching style this will demand.

But what if it doesn't? A vast majority of schools in SA can't afford to buy ipads, or tablets, or notebooks, or even build another computer lab. Yet almost every child has access to a cell phone. In this land where the infrastructure for hard-wired computers is difficult to install because of the distances and terrain involved, and in an environment where so many are poor, cell phone learning has to be the way that education in SA will move. If I'm right (and if only I had the arrogance to say, in the words of Prince Humperdinck, "and I am never wrong"), and if this trial works, then maybe allowing cell phones in class is the way to move forward.

When the first computers were brought out, everyone scoffed. Look at the way they have revolutionised the world, and particularly the world of teaching. Everyone is so scared of using cell phones for a variety of good reasons. BUT. What if we as teachers learnt to engage with this technology, taught our kids how to engage with it responsibly, and then used it as a teaching tool. Surely then, cell phones would have the power to revolutionise teaching in much the same way that computers did originally?

We'll never know until we try. So I'm going to try.

In the words of a man I highly respect, Tony Reeler (head of Pretoria Boys High and the former head at our school), if you aim low, you will definitely achieve your goals, but if you aim high, you will achieve more than you thought you could, even if you don't reach your goals.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Fake it till you make it

I used to think that emotions (from the inside) changed behaviour and body language (on the outside). Thus, if you were sad, you looked sad. If you were happy, you would look happy. Then, a few years back, I came across the idea (in the Bible, actually) that you could fake it till you make it. It's the idea that you do something repeatedly (i.e., on the outside) until you feel it on the inside. It's the idea that even if you don't WANT to pray, or worship, or believe, you do it anyway, because (besides the fact that it's good for you and the right thing to do because God is worthy) eventually your heart will come in line with what your head says is a good idea, and then you'll WANT to do it and enjoy doing it.

Putting this into practice has been one of the ways that I've been able to move from intense grief to healing. In the deepest part of my grief journey, I wanted nothing to do with God. (I realise now the paucity of my belief in God, how skewed my understanding of the gospel was, how seduced I'd been by the 'health, wealth & prosperity" gospel, but that's another story for another time.) Reading through Scripture though, I realised that I had a choice to make - either God is God, or he isn't. If he is, then the Bible is true and I needed to follow it. If he isn't, then why bother pretending with Christianity?

I decided that God is God. Since I needed to follow the instructions in the great manual of life - pray, worship, meet with believers on a regular basis, etc. - but didn't want to, I had to fake it to make it. I know God doesn't want us to be religious, or just go through the motions. For me though, it was only in my obedience to the Word, irrespective of what my heart wanted, that I have found my heart being won back to God. (Again, I know that all this is NOT by me, but is actually God drawing me back. It is the result of HIS action in my head, and in my heart, not by anything that I have done out of my own strength.)

OK - so all that is merely background to what I really want to say.

Having read some of Malcolm Gladwell's stuff and enjoyed it, when G was given a book voucher we decided to buy his first few books. I've just started reading 'The Tipping Point'. As with other books he's written, it's well-written and extremely interesting - if somewhat depressing. I was amazed, though, to discover that the 'fake it till you make it' idea features in the early portion of this book.

As the title indicates, Gladwell explores the reasons behind big changes in the world. He examines two events to try to illustrate the reasons he believes that revolutionary changes and trends can be predicted: the resurgence in demand for Hush Puppy shoes, and why Paul Revere's night-time ride resulted in such success for the colonial revolution while that of his friend - William Dawes - in the other direction was a complete failure.

As part of a discussion about personality types, he engages in a brief digression to talk about the importance of non-verbal cues in communication. He discusses research conducted from the 1960s by William Condon to a recent publication (1994) by Elaine Hatfield and John Cacioppo, all of which shows that emotions can be passed on like an infection - contagiously. By getting people to nod their heads while hearing something, they accept it; by shaking their heads, they reject it. By putting them in a room with another person and not allowing the two individuals to talk to each other, the non-verbal cues given off by one of the parties is picked up by the other, changing their mood. By smiling more during pieces on particular election candidates, news anchors influence the way in which people choose to vote. This stuff is all documented.

So, while most of us believe that the emotions affect our behaviour, it is equally true to say that behaviour affects our emotions. Emotions are contagious, we often become infected with the emotions of those around us by the non-verbal cues they send us. If you don't, that's because you are one of those people who is a carrier for emotions in the same way that some people are carriers of viruses or bacteria but are not infected by them. Your emotions infect other people.

Some people will look at this and talk about the 'energy' that people have (I know that Oprah loves the whole 'energy' idea), but actually, it's all physical. It's all about the non-verbal micromotions which might only last for a 1/45th of a second, but are there nonetheless and have a profound impact on those around you.

Where am I going with all this? What non-verbal cues do I give out when I'm teaching? On the days when I have difficulty with a particular class, am I to blame? We're so quick to lay the blame on the kids - too much sugar at break, last lesson in the day, poor work ethic, etc, etc. Am I sending out non-verbal cues that are negative, causing my kids to be infected with a negative emotion, bringing the whole tone of the class down? This whole 'negative vibe' thing is much more scientific than it first appears, and I need to do some long hard thinking about my body language to ensure that I'm increasing the happiness/ good learning quotient in my class.

Solution: maybe I should start nodding my head and smiling more?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Photoshoot - Nathan

Here's my favourite collage of Nathan, from the photo shoot with Susie Harris-Leblond.

Photoshoot - us

Susie took a few really lovely shots of us as a family, but also of us as a couple. I don't want to post them all, but here's one. It comes joint top place for me with one other, but I'm just going to post this one.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Did you see the skies this morning?

Around 7.30am this morning, just as the sun was rising, the rolling clouds were the most brilliant pink I've seen in a long time. As soon as I could do so safely, I pulled over to take a photo, but by then the brilliance had already faded. Never the less, it was still beautiful. What an incredible start to the day.

As soon as I can get the cable to download it off my phone, I'll add it here so you can see what I mean.

Monday, August 01, 2011

A new chapter begins

The past few days have been MANIC. I was looking forward to a lazy Sunday, until we got a message to say we were on duty at the early morning service. With G on sound duty, I was really not looking forward to it, because Nathan would want me to be with him at creche, so I wouldn't be able to participate in any part of the service itself. Then, after the service, I'd have to juggle both kids while trying to help serve tea and clear up cups, etc. - which did not fill me with joy, I have to say.

Never the less, I piled the kids in the car and went off to church. Mostly, I did it out of a sense of duty and a belief that, for the kids anyway, sticking to routines is more important than whether I actually get anything out of the service itself.

After saying a quick hello to my cell group, I went off to kidzone to drop Nellie off, but before I could, Nathan had dashed into the tots' venue. So Nellie and I went with him. We had a minute or so of looking at the slide which had a fountain coming out underneath it and then it was time to take Nellie to her group. So I thought to myself - why not? Let's give it a try. I said goodbye to Nathan, and told him I was taking Nellie to her group.

"Bye, Mom" he said.

Blow me down with a feather! Not a peep out of him.

Needless to say, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran..... as far as the door. Then he started his usual tricks - screaming, crying, sobbing, all the time with these desperate eyes looking everywhere for Mom. Already being at the door, I figured that I'd drop Nellie and dash back.

With Nellie duly dropped off and signed in and kissed and placated, I headed back to the tots' room, only to discover that he was no longer crying.

Needless to say, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran.....

I kept expecting to have my phone go off, so every few minutes I would check it, just to make sure that it was working. It was.

It seems that my little boy has finally realised that he doesn't need to be tied to Mommy's apron strings, and that Mommy will come back to collect him.

But wait - there's more.

Normally, going to school in the morning is a test of how focussed I can be. Can I manage to drive my car while my brains are being drilled out of my head by the piercing screaming coming from the back seat at the volume of a jet engine. Yes, my car is one of those that other parents stare at as it drives past, wondering what on earth that mother has done/ is doing to her child? There must be abuse going on. Abuse? Yes, but the only abuse is of my ear drums...

Anyway, this morning - no tears, no crying, no screaming. OK, thinks me, it'll start when we get to school. Yup, that'll be it. He's just in a good mood.

As we pull up in the driveway, he starts to moan. Here goes, thinks me, bracing for the verbal onslaught. But no - he's just asking to have his bag put on his bag.

Wait - say that again... he's asking for WHAT? His bag to be put on his back?!?!

Ok, then his screaming will start as we go in.

But no, there is silence as we head down the walkway. Silence, apart from chatter, that is. You know - chatter??? As in, chatting about stuff, and not screaming.

OK. He's obviously in a very good mood. But it'll start when I leave. He hates that.

In we go. Hang up Nellie's bag. Help clean up a bit after kids were playing in the school the previous night. Get the chairs set up at the window, so they can say goodbye through the window. I give both kids a big hug and kiss, then go round to the window.

"Bye Mom!" says the little man. 'KISS!!!' I gave him a stunned kiss, then kissed the girl, did 'last touch' and said the ritual 'Seeya later alligator - in a while crocodile' greeting.

I turned to go, and wandered back down the walkway to a chorus of 'Bye Mommy' echoing behind me. I reached my car in a daze. Could it be? Not a whimper, not a murmur. Not a single scream or cry to be heard.

My son has obviously decided that it's okay to go to school.

Of course, we'll probably have screams again tomorrow.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mawwage.... that bwessed awwangement....

Over the past few months I've had friends who have separated and then divorced, or separated and then reconciled, or whose spouses have died. It feels weird to be at that stage of life. This kind of thing always used to happen to "adults" - to a generation of people who were older than me. Now it's happening to my friends, to MY generation. It's brought marriage into focus for me in a way that hasn't happened in a while.

As I've been contemplating the ultimate cause of marriage break-down, and the sequence of events that has lead to the breakdown of various marriages I know, I realised afresh that I can never sit back and assume that my marriage is risk-free, or divorce-proof. There are things that could lead to my marriage breaking down, not because I stopped loving my hubbie, or because he stopped loving me, but because we simply 'grew apart'. 

G and I have been through hell with losing Zoe. We've grieved differently, and have tried to give each other space to grieve in whatever way we felt personally appropriate. We've tried hard not to impose our own way of dealing with our grief on the other. The result has been that we haven't been communicating as well as we used to - partly because it's just been too hard to share the depth of grief, and partly because we've been afraid of what the conversation might do to the other.

Add to that the fact that we have both struggled with our faith. I came close to losing mine, and G is still struggling. It's hard talking about something this important with the person you love the most, because of what it might do to them. As I've been rediscovering my faith, I've tried hard not to put any pressure on him to feel the same way. It's been hard, and I don't know how successful I've been. Still, he is getting counselling now, which is an important step in his grief journey. As much as I want him to be where I am in the journey, I know that he still has a long road ahead of him, and I don't know where his journey will take him, or where he will end up.

A question that I've pondered is what would happen to us, to our marriage if he decided that he wasn't a Christian anymore, or didn't believe anymore. Faith has been a central pillar of our relationship since the beginning, so what would happen if he wound up on the other side of the fence, if losing Zoe ultimately caused him to lose his faith? I know that I wouldn't choose to leave him if he were to make that decision. He's an awesome husband and father, an incredibly moral person who loves me and the kids. I don't think that would change if he lost his faith.


If we no longer shared the same core values, I pondered how that might affect us. Aside from the obvious issues of how to handle Sundays and the inevitable questions from the kids about why they and I were all going to church and Daddy wasn't, I realised that I would no longer feel comfortable sharing any of my reflections or emotions with him as far as my faith was concerned.

If he were to stop believing that God existed, I would worry that when I talked about my faith he would be secretly thinking that I was being ridiculous, or superstitious - although that wouldn't be in character for him. Never the less, the fear that he would be thinking less of me would remain. If he shared his reflections and emotions with me, about deep stuff, I would want to bring God into the equation, which would be out of the question, and he would know that, which would leave us both feeling awkward. This would ultimately result in us both withdrawing and no longer sharing with each other, because we're both conflict averse and don't want to put the other person in a corner.

I realised that if I stopped sharing with him, or vice versa, we would stop communicating at a heart level. Currently, when our lives get on top of us, that's exactly what we do. We stop communicating. The result is that we start to misunderstand each other, pre-judge each other, misjudge each other. We become defensive and snappish. We start living past each other. It's HORRIBLE. It struck me that while we might both love each other, if we stopped sharing, if we stopped communicating, that would be the death knell for our marriage, although it might take years or a decade or two to actually die.

So, while I wouldn't choose to leave him, if he were to say he no longer believed, I don't see how our marriage could ultimately survive. That means that I have a lot vested in the outcome of this journey he's on. Yet, I can't put any pressure on him, because whatever happens, he needs to know that the journey he's on is his own. He needs to work it through himself, he needs to find the solutions without feeling that I've pushed him in a particular direction. But how he can't feel pressured after we've discussed this...? I have no idea.

About 8 months after G and I were first married I was ready to get out. I wasn't sure that our marriage was going to work, and I wanted out, before we brought kids into it. My folks got divorced in the most amicable way possible, and it still messed me up. I didn't want to do that to my kids. We went for counselling though, and we're still together, 13 years later.

But losing Zoe was not something I ever thought would happen to us. Losing a child often causes a marriage to break up, for exactly the reasons I've outlined above. I always assumed that we would make it. I never had reason to doubt.

It scares me being the one who has to stand on the sidelines, watching, waiting, hoping, praying, but all the while knowing that I have limited power to help him, or to protect my marriage. The possibility that he will come down on the other side of the fence scares me, but I can't make that choice for him, and I can't pressure him into making the safe choice. I have to leave him in God's hands, to walk the path he has to walk, to struggle through as I have had to struggle through, to battle his own fears and doubts and questions, until he comes out on the other side - wherever that may be.

And even if he finds himself on the other side, I will still love him, and honour him. I will still cherish him. I will still  continue to commit my all to him, to making this marriage work, because that's the vow I took - 'everything I am, and all I have, I share with you... for better and for worse'. He's my man, and I love him.

'Faith is being sure of what he hope for, and certain of what we do not see.' Heb 11:1

"The final cut"

If you like SF movies at all, or philosophical ones, then this is an interesting movie to watch. It revolves around the concept of a brain implant before birth that records all your memories, everything you see and hear, which can be recovered when you die so that your life can be edited into a "rememory" for your family - to be able to remember all your best/ favourite memories. It initially took me aback that the software implant was called a 'Zoe'... but I managed to get beyond that.

The story revolves around a cutter (the person who edits the footage of your life) who is asked to do a particularly difficult job, and how what he sees in that person's memories sparks a series of events. The great philosophical debate of the movie is whether or not the implant (which is entirely voluntary, but is decided upon by parents on behalf their children, so is it really voluntary??) is an enfringement of a person's human rights, or not.

One of the questions arising out of the idea of such an implant is to what extent memories are personal things, only to be shared between the people involved. Cutters are not allowed to have the implant, because then everything they would see while cutting someone else's memories would be recorded in their own Zoe implant. One of the characters, whose ex-boyfriend had an implant that was recovered after his death, went crazy when she realised that a particular cutter, who was in an on-again/ off-again relationship with her, had seen the footage from her ex. Think about it - your most intimate moments with someone, seen by someone else... I'd be rather uncomfortable about that to say the least!

Something that wasn't touched on in the movie, but which I thought about, was whether the footage in such an implant could ethically have been used for criminal prosecution or not (post-humously, of course, but at least to solve crimes that would otherwise remain unsolved). It reminded me of 'Minority Report'.

The thing that really struck me though, was when a cutter commented about a girl who had behaved atriciously until such time as her parents told her about her implant. Overnight, she changed into a well-behaved, well-mannered person, but later went on to commit suicide, because she couldn't cope with the pressure of being perfect. The cutter then commented that it wasn't fair to anyone to know that every moment of their life would be open to anyone to view after they were dead.

It got me thinking. According to Christian theology, on Judgement Day, both the known deeds and the secret deeds, as well as the motives of the heart, for every person, will be made known, and judged. Essentially, this is a bit like the 'Zoe' implant of this movie, just even further reaching. There will come a day when EVERYTHING I've done and thought will be laid open and bare for all to see, and I will be judged accordingly.

While I know that those who have trusted in Jesus will be saved, we will still be judged. Our reward in heaven will be based upon our deeds and thoughts, so we can't act without impunity just because we are already a forgiven people.

That is both a scary and a comforting thought. I'm not looking forward to having everyone else know all my deep, dark, secret thoughts and motives. That's the truly terrifying bit. Every horrid thought I've ever had towards or about someone else, every moment of jealousy or hatred that has filled my heart, every sin of omission, every sin of commission - all my dirtiest laundry will be hung up for everyone to see. That's a pretty terrifying thought.

The comforting bit is that everyone else will be just as terrified, and (hopefully) so concerned with their own sins and failings that they won't care too much about the revelations from my my life. The other comforting thing about it is that EVERYONE will be judged.

While some get away (literally and figuratively) with murder in this life, there will be a day where they will be called to account for their actions - and there will be no plea bargaining on that day. Not only will they be named, they will be shamed. (Of course - this just goes to show you how skewed my practical beliefs about sin are. God views murder in the same light as telling a lie - but I don't - not in practice. Murder is a far worse crime, in my book.)

The protesters in 'The Final Cut' were protesting against exactly this sort of exposure. They were protesting the possibility of having one's most private actions (not thoughts, since the implant couldn't record those) being made public. My self-preservation instinct also protests against Judgement Day. I don't want everyone knowing everything about me - particularly because I have so many unholy moments.

Yet, it is only when we face ourselves at our worst that we can really begin to grasp how truly incredible the gift of friendship with God through Jesus' death on the cross is.

'How great the Father's love for me
how vast beyond all measure
that He would give his only son
to make a wretch his treasure...'

And this, dear friends, is the scandalous mystery that is at the heart of Christianity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teaching the teachers

So many people at work think that I know everything about IT, when the truth is that I just know more than them. (As long as I'm one step ahead of them, I'll be okay, right?) Today I had the pleasure and privilege of helping several staff members in various IT related queries or problems. It was awesome.

Then I came home and had a complete role reversal. I've been using Twitter far longer than my dear husband, yet in the past 24hrs he has taught me two new things about improving my use of it:

SelectiveTweet - an app that allows you to select which tweets are published to Facebook, so that you don't overwhelm FB with all the chatter on Twitter. Great stuff!

SplitTweet - an app that allows you to manage multiple Twitter accounts from one screen. I've tried using TweetDeck in the past, but because it was desktop based, found it a pain. Then, with the onset of Chrome, I've been using two browsers - Chrome to view one account, and IE (yeuch!) to view the other in. That was a pain, but was easier than using a desktop app. There are things I don't like about SplitTweet, but maybe that's just a familiarity thing and once I'm more familiar with it I'll figure out how to make it work for me. Still, it's nice to be able to tweet to either or both accounts from one place, and to view all the traffic from one place.

I guess that goes to show - just because you're the teacher doesn't mean you stay the teacher. Isn't that what 21st century education is all about - a sharing of knowledge, rather than a top-down impartation of knowledge? If we can do that between colleagues, why can't we do the same with the kids we teach? Why do we assume that because we're the official teachers, we hold all the knowledge?

This is a scary thought, even for me. Especially for me. I'm a control freak. Yet, this truth is essential to grapple with. How do I go about creating an environment in which the kids I teach are empowered to teach me in return, to create a truthful sharing of knowledge and not just a one-way impartation?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reflections on the "Passion of the Christ"

You may well remember the hoo-ha a few years back about the movie 'The Passion of the Christ' when it debuted. We were in London at the time, and there was a lot of debate in our community about whether it was something we should see, or support, or invite friends to.

I eventually went to see it with a friend who was interested in seeing what it was all about. It was, without doubt, the most gruesome, violent and horrendous movie I have ever seen (and, please God, will ever see). It was also, without a doubt, the most emotionally disturbing film I've ever seen. I sobbed all the way through. I cut my palms from digging my nails in. I ripped the skin on the tips of my fingers from chewing them. I left feeling utterly devastated. While I am glad that I know what the visual content of the movie is, part of me wishes I'd never exposed myself to it.

On Sunday, at church, the preacher spoke about Abraham's faith being tested. He spoke about how God asked him to sacrifice his son on an altar - the son of the promise God had given him. He then talked us through the practical things that one easily glosses over when reading the story in Scripture, especially if you've read the story a gazillion times before.

Having lost Zoe, and knowing personally what losing a child means, the story had a deeper meaning for me than it had in the past. What really got me though, was the connection he highlighted between what Abraham was doing in this story and what God himself would do through Christ on the cross. It took me instantly back to the movie and my response to it.

My only comment, the whole way through the movie, was directed at God, to the effect that I didn't think I was worth the suffering he had gone through, and that I didn't understand why he had done all that for me, why he had such a high regard for someone as worthless as myself. I didn't mean to be arrogant, or put myself up as being greater than God. I was just overwhelmed by the visuals, by SEEING what God went through to deal with my sin. It was more than I could comprehend, more than I could process. Why would anyone choose to do that - for ME?

As I was listening to the sermon on Sunday, I put myself into Abraham's shoes. What would I have done if God asked me to sacrifice Nathan, or Janel? Could I be as faithful as Abraham was? Then I found myself pondering the love Abraham had for Isaac, and his love for God, and then the movie and my question to God. Once again I started sobbing. I still don't feel worthy. I still can't comprehend that the God of the ENTIRE universe would love me enough to allow his one and only son to go through that sort of torture and hell, that he would willingly give up his child (his CHILD) - and all for me, to make it possible for me to be his child.

Think about it - would I be willing to allow that sort of thing happen to Janel, or Nathan, in order to win the love of a child who doesn't know me yet and to make it possible for us to have a relationship?

In the past, I've had a really close relationship with God. I've heard him speak to me - not in an audible voice, but in my mind. I've heard words in my head that definitely were NOT my own thoughts. I used to hear him regularly. Then I went through a very deep valley, and I could no longer hear him. On Sunday, I heard him again. I could feel his presence, right inside my body, like a ball of heat. It was almost over before I realised what had happened. It was like it used to be, in the old days - me and God, talking together like old friends. It was shocking because it's been so long since I last heard God like that.

I know that for non-Christians, I sound like I've just been on some massive trip, like I need my head read. I hear you. There are no words to really describe it. Like any good addict, the only thing I can tell you is that you need to experience it for yourself. Being touched by God... it's the most incredible 'drug' there is. But bear with me - whether you believe that all of that was just in my over-active imagination, or not, try not to dismiss what I heard.

So what did God say to me? That I AM worth all that. I don't have to understand it. I don't have to comprehend it. All I have to do is accept it, and let it change my life.

I don't understand it. I don't understand how God could love me that much. I'm a liar, a thief, a murderer, an idolater, an adulterer, a Sabbath-breaker. I have taken God's name in vain and failed to honour my parents. I regularly covet my neighbour's stuff. I have broken all 10 of the commandments. I have been faithless to him and betrayed him.#


He continues to love me. He continues to be faithful to me. He continues to see me restored to himself.

I don't understand love like that. But I'm beginning to accept that God really does love me like that. And if he loves me THAT much, then I must be worth something, right?

And as I was talking to God about all this, and pondering the great love God has for me, it struck me again (I've known this for years) that Satan's greatest achievement is to make Christians think the way I've been thinking. Why? Because a Christian who doesn't really accept how loved he or she is by God is an ineffective Christian, given to self-doubt, given to doubting God, given to giving up - which is where I've been for a long time now... years.

I know this isn't rocket science. I know I used to know this stuff, I used to believe it. Somewhere along the line, I lost my way. But God is bringing me back, bit by bit. One of the most important things I need to accept is not just the head knowledge that God loves me, but the HEART knowledge - the acceptance of the immense love that God has for me - a love so vast that he would allow his ONLY son to be tortured in the most gruesome way, murdered by slow and agonizing suffocation, abandoned and betrayed by his best friends, and then isolated from God himself. He did all that because he loves me and he wanted to make it possible for ME* to be his child.

I still don't understand it, but I'm accepting at a heart level that this is true, and that I am of infinite worth. Baby steps. Baby steps.
#I'm not just making this stuff up because it sounds good. I really have broken ALL of the commandments. And no, I don't want to tell you about how, or when, or what, or why - mostly because I'm ashamed of what I've done and I worry about what you will think of me if you knew the full truth, and partly because I don't want to shame my family in public. They've been through enough in private.
*Of course, the corollary is that EVERYONE is of the same worth, because Jesus didn't just die for me, but for every single person who has ever or will ever live. But I'll deal with that another day.

My best moments

Tonight in the bath, the kids were playing so nicely together. They were fooling around, egging each other on, and laughing hysterically with each other - no hitting, or fighting or yelling, or tears. The two of them together, in a happy mood, had me in stitches. I couldn't help but laugh with them. The joy in their faces, their pleasure in the water and bubbles and a friend to share it all with, their shared exhilaration of doing things right at the edge of what was permissible - it was all a rather heady concoction, for all of us.

It was one of those moments when part of me wished I had my camera to record it for posterity. I was too busy enjoying my kids to get the camera, though. It was my best moment of the day! Some things are too precious to waste a moment of, even to get a camera*.

I'm glad that I chose to revel in the moment, to be with my kids, to enjoy them, and to let them see how much I was enjoying them and being with them. I know it filled up their love tanks a bit. It definitely filled mine.
* A friend once mentioned to me that we shouldn't need photos to remember places, or people, or events - we should rather spend the time we would have used to take the photo to memorise the scene in our minds. That way, no-one could ever steal or destroy the images. While I get what she was saying, I don't always agree with her sentiments. However, it has made me more aware of trying to remember to be present in every moment I would want to record.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What would you do?

A Twitter friend of mine (I won't mention who for ethical reasons) recently tweeted about the content she found on her son's phone while browsing his inbox. Apparently some of her son's girl-friends (as opposed to 'girlfriends') have been sending him photos of their boobs and bums... He's 15 and they must be 14 or so.

I have no problems with her browsing her son's inbox. In fact, I applaud it. Parents need to be hands on with their kids. They need to know their kids' friends and families. They need to know what their kids are watching on TV, playing online, and saying on Mxit and their phones. They have a responsibility to ensure their kids are safe and that their kids learn how to conduct themselves out there in the ether.

What I want to know is - what would you do if you found inappropriate (particularly sexual) content on your kid's phone?

Or, from the other side, what would you do if you found out your kid was SENDING inappropriate (particularly sexual) content to another kid?

As a child, I once (very nearly) sent a very inappropriate letter to my boyfriend. The night after I wrote it I had left it in my room, intending to post it the next afternoon. When I got home from school, it was gone. I asked my mom about it, and she mentioned that she had read it, and then destroyed it because there was no way she would allow me to send that sort of letter to anyone.

I was LIVID. How DARE she read my mail! How DARE she read something that was private!

I was also highly embarrassed. I knew, inherently, that what I'd written was inappropriate. I knew, in my heart, that I had pushed beyond the boundaries, and I was furious that I'd been caught out.

As the years passed though, and having kids of my own, I realised my mother's actions were wise. She'd saved me from myself, and from harming myself. (Of course, I went and harmed myself in other ways later... I seemed rather hell bent on doing that... but that's another story for another day, another post.)

When I read my friend's tweet, my instant reaction was that I wouldn't just talk to my son, I would contact the other parents and tell them what their kids were sending out. Why? Because if I were the mother of those girls, I would want to know. I would want to know that my daughter was putting herself at risk.

Because, let's face it, if you're 14 and sending that kind of photo around, the boys are going to think you're easy, or a slut, and they're going to try and get in your pants. Let's face it, if boys think you're easy, and decide to try and get in your pants, you could be in a LOT of trouble. You could be raped, or worse - you could wind up dead.

What would you do though? Would you just leave it? Would you talk to your son? Would you confiscate his phone, or restrict his usage of it? Would you talk to the girls? Would you talk to their parents? Would you show their parents what the girls sent?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

At least 'A' is still 'Apple'

Sticking with the theme of kids' stuff, I thought I'd share an email I received with you. I don't know who started the email chain, or whether it started out as someone sharing a blog they had seen, so I decided to do a little detective work. I found the images on a blog called Witness This. Never the less, I thought it worth sharing with you again.

What to do when you lose a tooth

Tertia recently blogged about the tooth fairy. At cell group last night it came up again and we shared stories about how to deal with the inevitable issues that crop up.

There was so much wisdom shared in the group that I thought I would put it all togethere here, as a quick guide, for all parents:

1) When a tooth is lost in the ocean or the river: write to the Tooth Mouse's cousin - The Water Rat. He will help out in an emergency.

2) When a tooth is lost down the drain: write to the Sewer Rat, another of Tooth Mouse's cousins.

3) When someone else's child gets more money from the Tooth Mouse than your child: teach them the lesson of 'Supply and Demand'. The Tooth Mouse is building his castle with teeth. All teeth are different sizes, which means that gaps develop in the wall. The Tooth Mouse therefore has to find a tooth of the perfect size to fit the hole. When he finds it, he will pay more for it because he's so thrilled to finally get one that fits the hole perfectly. If that's too complex a concept, then simply remind them that the Tooth Mouse pays more for teeth that are presented beautifully - cleaned and in a pretty box.

4) When your child starts to doubt the existence of the Tooth Mouse, and suspects that Dad or Mom switches the tooth for cash, you can teach them the lesson of 'Logistics'. The Tooth Mouse may have a VERY busy schedule, and be unable to get to every house in time for that day. In those circumstances, he approaches parents to ask them to help him out, by putting the money out and hanging onto the tooth for him, till he has time to get around to that part of town.

And, from the comments on Tertia's post, another instruction to add to the help manual...

5) When the Tooth Mouse forgets to exchange the tooth for cash, you can always remind them that maybe there is a cut-off time each day for the tooth to fall out. If it happens after that time, then you have to wait till the following day. On the other hand, maybe he was simply too busy to get around to you, and maybe he was so busy he didn't have time to call the parents to ask them to help him out logistically.

This little guide could easily be adapted for dealing with Father Christmas, or the Easter Bunny, if needed.

Happy tooth hunting!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yet another reason why I love Twitter

Having spent a very busy day at work (which included yet another tragic tale... more on that in a bit), I returned home to have a quick browse through Twitter. Of course, you can forget trying to catch up on a full day's worth of tweets. I don't even try that. I merely browse through the last hour's tweets (or thereabouts, depending on volume).

Today's quick browse brought me a few laughs, including:

This apparent blindness of newspaper editors at least explains why Perry White has never realised that Clark Kent is secretly Superman. via @MrJayLewis and RT by @JeannineOrz

Heard of Kellogs and polony? RT : Who eats peanut butter & melrose? What the feck. from @allyphint

You've been playing the web for a quite a while now. Isn't it time you settled down with a nice domain and started a website? from @SteveBinos

I love that I get my news headlines from Twitter, incredibly useful work-related links, local traffic info (to know which routes to avoid), etc, etc... all the serious stuff... but that I can also get these little gems. It reminds me that people are multi-dimensional beings, that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and that while my soul-mate is sitting right beside me I can still find plenty of other mates out there in the ether - and all from the comfort of my bed, while wearing my pj's. I just LOVE technology (when it works!)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 1 down... only 43 more to go

That was the jist of my status earlier this evening. 43 days till what, you well may ask. Why, 43 schools days till the next holiday, of course!

This is the first time in a long time that I've started the term feeling so rubbish. And by long time, I mean, LOOOOONG time. Years. I'm not talking about my grief levels (they were obviously bad in 2007 when I started the 3rd term). I'm talking about just generally feeling rubbish. I'm sick. I'm tired. I need a holiday.

I know - you're thinking it, I know. Those blimming teachers, forever on holiday, and here she is whining about needing yet another one. (On a tangent, I once calculated that if I add in all the 'extra' unpaid hours I put in - which I feel are necessary to just get the job done properly - I actually only get about 21 days holiday in a year, and teaching is a HANG of a lot more energy demanding than most jobs.)

The fact is though, that I am seriously sleep deprived and my body is starting to pay the price. I'm sleep deprived, not because of lots of canoodelling, sadly. (In fact, I think I'm too tired to even want to canoodle at this point.) I'm sleep deprived because my son keeps waking us up at all hours. The little terror (he isn't really - he's an adorable angel most of the time and I love him to bits) doesn't suffer, because he gets to have a midday nap. But for those of us monkeys who actually have to work, there are no such pleasures.

I lost my voice today, not because I'm unaccustomed to teaching again (although that is true after 3 weeks of not using my voice in the same way). I lost my voice because I'm sick. And I'm sick because I'm tired. And I'm tired because I have a small child who doesn't sleep well.

And before you say that I should have slept on my holiday, let me ask you this - do YOU have small children? Do you KNOW what it's like being on "holiday" with small kids? You don't get to lie around in the sun for hours, reading books. Nor do you get to lie in front of the TV for hours, watching your favourite series that you just ripped off your friend's illegal copy bought. Look, I'm not saying that I didn't have fun on my holiday. I did. I'm not saying I didn't get to read books. I did. I'm just saying that being on holiday with small kids is exhausting because they need constant or frequent input from parents, and that unless you want to go to bed at 8pm every night, you're going to get tired. And in my case, sick.

Both of which I am.

Of course, I have no-one to blame but myself. I shouldn't have walked the kids to nursery in the mist. I know better. My lungs don't do mist at the best of times. I should have worn a face mask. I didn't. I was stupid, and now I'm paying for it. I KNOW all that. But self-blame isn't going to rectify this problem. So let's just move on, shall we?

What I need is just 5 days with no kids and no pets. 5 days to sleep late. 5 days to stay in bed and not have to get up for ANYTHING I don't want to. 5 days to live in my pj's if I want to, or walk around starkers if I want to, or even just walk on the beach without having to constantly be on my guard against the waves, strange dogs, or the kids throwing sand into each other's eyes or hitting each other with sticks. 5 days to recharge and heal.

What has me particularly worried at this stage is that when I lie down at night, my lungs bubble. That's not a good sign. The last time that happened to me, I wound up with bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy (and yes, pretty much all at the same time) and so sick that my doc warned me I would be dead in a matter of weeks if I didn't get some proper bed rest. (And that's not an exaggeration - he really did say that.) For weeks, I had to sleep sitting up because of the amount of fluid in my lungs. My lungs have never fully recovered from that episode of illness. It caused my asthma to recur, and it took me MONTHS to heal. I can't go through that again.

I need rest. Not just sleep. Proper. Rest.

And so I'm counting the school days until I can be on holiday again. Because next holiday I'm going to send the kids away. They're going to have sleepovers with any family member or friend I can organise to take them. It's only 43 school days. 9 weeks. I can make it till then, right? I hope so. (If my lungs get any worse, I might have to take some time off work if I even want to make it to the end of term.)

I hate feeling this way. I love my job. I love the kids I teach. I love the people I work with. It's one of the best jobs in the world.

But today, I'm feeling the need to count, because right at this point in time, all I want - all I need - is a proper holiday. Only 43 days to go.