Friday, December 19, 2014

Feeling Helpless In The Face of Such Evil

Caution: Some of the external links contain graphic images.

Do you feel a little bit guilty this Christmas? I have been feeling that way.

I felt guilty that I was out shopping for material possessions for my children while the heads of my little brothers and sisters in Christ were being cut off in Iraq because they said they loved Jesus.

I felt guilty that I was baking sugar cookies on the day that two innocent people lost their lives in a hostage situation in Sydney by a crazed religious fanatic.

I felt guilty that I am planning my holiday at the beach while 132 children in Pakistan will never have the joy of a holiday again.

These are just the headlines from the last few days, my friends. What atrocities are being wrought all over our sad, sad world. What unspeakable things are being done to innocent people. I find it intolerable. I find it unbearable. I think that I cannot take any more cruelty reaching my ears. People blame religion. People blame politics. People blame history. But really, it is just dark and evil hearts who have no love, no mercy, no empathy. People who have allowed the hate and the evil to consume their souls.

And I started thinking about what I can do. What can I do to help these innocents. What can I do to help them?

My instinct wants to rush into their countries and find these poor dear ones and bring them home to New Zealand. To my beautiful land of peace and freedom. I want my Prime Minister to do the impossible - to set a shield of protection around our shores, to make us invisible to the outside world. To stop the evil coming here.  To push back those dark, looming, billowing clouds of wickedness.

But a shield of protection will not keep the evil out. Evil is in the heart of man. We who live here have been privileged to grow up in a peaceful society, to follow our dreams, to lay our heads down in rest at night in peace. But the cost of this peace is not cheap. We have bled for it. We have sacrificed our sons of this land to have this peace.

Those men of old in those old wars weren't fighting for a flag. They weren't fighting for a government. They were fighting for their mothers who loved them. They were fighting for their sisters and their daughters so they could live without fear. They were fighting for their fathers and their sons and their brothers and their fellow country men and women who could live in beauty and have love and dream their dreams and live them out without fear. They were fighting so the people they loved could lay their heads down and sleep at night in peace.

Sometimes I get irritated with the frivolous news reports in the paper or on television when there is such evil in the world. It seems insulting to the suffering to have to read about Kim Kardashian's bottom, and where you can buy the latest outfit that the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing, and some new, exciting movie that is coming out. But I realized that actually, these silly little things are so desperately important. We have to keep it going. This is what makes freedom beautiful. That we can talk about fluff. That we have the luxury to indulge ourselves in such worthless things.

That we can write letters to the editor. That we can moan and complain about our local government and our national government. Oh what a privilege to complain about it. Oh what a privilege to be able to fight for justice and stand up for the poor and the hurting, and to keep our leaders accountable.  Oh what a privilege to shun the evil and embrace the good. This is what liberty is. Always fighting for the good. Never resting. Always pushing back evil.

And now it is our turn to fight for the beauty of freedom.  The answer to our fight may not lie in the might of guns and ships and fighter planes - these may be necessary, but it is not our decision to make. But there is a way each one of us can fight the evil. We who feel helpless in the face of such evil. We can help push back that cloud of blackness that threatens to envelop us.

We can fight for the beauty of life by living it.

And living it means making deliberate, conscious choices to be kind in the little things. Smiling at strangers. Being loving with our words and our actions. Helping our neighbour even if they are different to me. Celebrating our festivities. Thinking less of ourselves and more about other people. Immersing our children in Christmas celebrations and holidays at the beach. Wrapping up my toys and chocolates. Decorating my Christmas tree and singing carols in the street. Let's fight back the darkness with light. Let's fight back with what we know - freedom. Let's fight back with love.

I want to finish this with a quote from a favourite book from my childhood. It is one that had a deep impact on me - whenever I hear of war, I always think of this. It is from Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame). For me, it is one of the best books (even though it is fiction) of what it must have been like to live through a war, to have your way of life threatened. I hope it encourages you too, in these dark days. It is an excerpt from a letter written by a soldier to his sister.

"Rilla, the Piper will pipe me 'west' tomorrow. I feel sure of this. And Rilla, I'm not afraid. When you hear the news, remember that. I've won my own freedom here–freedom from all fear. I shall never be afraid of anything again–not of death–nor of life, if after all, I am to go on living. And life, I think, would be the harder of the two to face–for it could never be beautiful for me again. There would always be such horrible things to remember–things that would make life ugly and painful always for me. I could never forget them. But whether it's life or death, I'm not afraid, Rilla-my-Rilla, and I am not sorry that I came. I'm satisfied. I'll never write the poems I once dreamed of writing–but I've helped to make Canada safe for the poets of the future–for the workers of the future–ay, and the dreamers, too–for if no man dreams, there will be nothing for the workers to fulfil–the future, not of Canada only but of the world–when the 'red rain' of Langemarck and Verdun shall have brought forth a golden harvest–not in a year or two, as some foolishly think, but a generation later, when the seed sown now shall have had time to germinate and grow. Yes, I'm glad I came, Rilla. It isn't only the fate of the little sea-born island I love that is in the balance–nor of Canada nor of England. It's the fate of mankind. That is what we're fighting for. And we shall win–never for a moment doubt that, Rilla. For it isn't only the living who are fighting–the dead are fighting too. Such an army cannot be defeated."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bless the Creators of Pinterest

It's that time of year again. My kids finish school on Friday - which is usually a week earlier than most schools in our area.

I had so much fun doing the gifts last year, and I wanted to have fun doing them this year too, but we've been under quite a bit of time pressures with one thing and another, so I haven't been able to spend quite as much time on them as I would have liked.

However, let me just say here, God Bless the Creators of Pinterest!

I couldn't have done it this year without you.

So, if you're under a time restraint, but you still want to do something special for those amazing people that pour so much time and energy into your kids, I thought I would share what I have done this year.
As you know, I now have 4 children at school, so the gifts rack up at the end of the year!

First up, my favourite gift to make this year.....

Spa in a Jar.

This is for Meredith's form teacher, Miss B. How lucky were we to get her this year. She is amazing! We love her, and she navigates the tweenie hormone rushes and social cliques like a pro.

Spa in a Jar - basically a mason jar filled with hand lotion, sugar scrubs, nail files/oranges/pedicure sponge/pumice and even a little bit of candy.

We also made her this bookmark. Meredith came up with the words. You can make your own on Wordle.

Teddy has also had an fantastic teacher this year. Miss E has been a God-send for him. Just a newish and young teacher she knows her job well and has been wonderful in working with the learning challenges that Teddy faces - keeping him on track and striving to catch up to his peers. And as she is moving up to the next year to teach, we just found out that he gets to have her next year also, which was the best news this week.

We found this most perfect cup for Miss E, and we filled it with chocolate.

Hugh who is in High School has so many teachers for all his different subjects, so I asked him to pick out a couple of his favourites and asked him what he'd like to get them.

Chocolate. That was his choice, so I obliged. He has two teachers who he's really enjoyed this year. Both ladies, so I hope they like the strawberry and cream Lindors.

Don't you love the labels I found online to wrap around the gift. You can find them here.

And Miss A has completed her first year at school, with Miss M. I am so looking forward to her going into Year 2 - it's one of my favourite years at school.

For Miss M we decided to do a cookie in a jar. This is always a popular gift, and looks pretty.

The recipe comes from here.

In the next two days we will say goodbye to the teachers from 2014. The children have had another wonderful year at their school, and we're looking forward to seeing what next year holds for them.

Do you do teacher gifts? And what are you giving this years?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Snobbery of School Yard Parents

I'm always telling my kids, when they come home with tales of mean children in their class, "don't worry - school is not the real world."

School years are a fun, but short time in their lives. That one day they'll be out in the real world, and will be able to choose their friends, and choose their teachers, and choose where they want to live and go to a much larger pool than the classroom. That the school environment is really a false environment that is not reflective of what their lives will be once they finish.

But..... I am wrong. I'm not going to say that anymore.

Like the reality tv programme Survivor, school is actually a little mini-world of the real world.

In homeschooling groups, it is popular to say that school is such a false environment. It's not the real world. I've done home-schooling and I've done public school, and I think that's a wrong assumption. School life is very much reflective of life outside.

After watching 28 episodes of Survivor, and seeing the many parallels between the game and real life, I am convinced that the social game is the one that will get you the furtherest in life. Learn how to mix with the people around you and life will be easier.

As an introvert, one of my favourite things to do is people watch. I've been to a few schools, and quite a few school functions in the last few years, and I've noticed one factor that is always the same, no matter which school it is, or which event I'm at.

The behaviour of children at school is reflective of the behaviour of their parents.

I was just at the Athletics Day for my son today, and I observed it yet again. See if you can make the same parallels between parent social groups and children's social groups.

The 'Popular' Parent Group. 

These are the ones who know each other well.
At my school (a private christian school), they probably go to church together, or know each other outside of school somehow. Maybe they grew up together. Some people never leave the place they were born in, so they usually are well-known. They seldom make an effort to welcome newcomers, or if they do, it's very superficial and only if your child becomes friends with theirs. As a christian myself, and knowing who the christians are at this school, I find that totally unacceptable (read, unChrist-like), and snobbish.
In a private school, you also get the highly-paid parents whose careers define who they are. The Mrs. Heart-Surgeons, and the Mrs.LocalMemberofParliament or just the "my-husband-got-rich-on-the-stock-market" wives who speak with a South Auckland accent. They turn up with their $500 handbags and their immaculately manicured fingernails in their large black Remuera tractors.

The Over Achievers Group.

The ones who are busy, busy, busy. And if they're not busy, they find something to make them look busy. Cell phones to their ears, striding purposefully across the paddock/carpark/playground.  They're involved in so many school activities it makes your head swim. If a teacher asks for help, they're always the first ones to put their hands up.

The Loners.

This morning I saw two parents standing by themselves, while the other little groups stood in semi-circles, chatting and laughing. I always make a point of talking to them, if I know them, or introducing myself if I don't, because I've been there before. I've been the parent standing by myself and I know what it feels like, especially if you're new to the school. And my mother always taught us to be friendly to the ones who didn't have friends. I don't think that's taught much these days, to be honest.

I saw a boy at the starting line of the 60metre dash today push the cone out of the way, so his foot could get a few inches start on the other boys, and I heard his father laugh and say, "that's my boy - that's what I taught him," which really shows that getting ahead seems to be the priority of many, rather than just enjoying the journey.

The Normal Ones

These are the parents that are worth gold. These are the ones you want to make friends with. They're the ones who can't always make school events, but if they can, they will. If they know you, they'll make a point of coming and saying hi and being friendly and passing the time of day. They'll be the first to offer help if you need it. I know a couple of these parents at my school.
But they are rare.
If you find them, hold onto them.

So do you think school life is reflective of real life? Can you identify any of these groups in your world? Are you someone who welcomes newcomers, or are you more happy to hang with your familiar group?

It is a challenge to myself as well, and I've been on both sides of this fence. I've been the loner and I've been part of the popular. I want to be the normal, friendly, kind one. As a shy, quiet person that takes an effort on my part, but some of my loveliest friends are those that I've met from just swallowing my insecurity (which is really just pride in disguise), and striking up random conversations with strangers.

That is my goal and my purpose and it is what I hope to pass on to my children too. There are too many selfish people in the world already. We all know it, and I suspect we've all experienced the isolation that comes from being around selfish people.

So, if we can't change the whole world, maybe we can change this one thing in our local world.

Be friendly to strangers. Make an effort. Be the change.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Private Moment of Triumph

When I travelled to New Caledonia recently, something happened to me that hasn't happened in a very long time.

I left the shores of my homeland.

I conquered my fear of foreign borders.

Most of you know my story and experiences with the American immigration.
It put me off travel for a long time. Nearly 25 years.
Stay in New Zealand. Stay safe. They can't kick you out of here.

We had a rather harrowing flight into New Caledonia. It was very turbulant., or as the captain would say in his lovely French accent..... "turbulonce." (spelled how it sounded).
They even stopped serving drinks, and the seatbelt sign was on pretty much for the entire flight. For the few minutes they turned it off, the queue for the toilets was almost the length of the plane.

I hate flying, so I was saying over and over to myself, 'turbulance isn't (usually) dangerous.'

So when the jewelled reef of Nouvelle Caledonie appeared in our windows, there was an almost audible sigh of relief, and everyone got very chatty again, after quite a quiet flight.

But I was euphoric for other reasons.

A quiet moment of private triumph.

I was in foreign parts.

Maybe I've been bitten by the travel bug again. I certainly had it once, many years ago.

But after that flight into Noumea I thought I would probably take a lot of convincing to get back on a plane, but the excitement of seeing new things and experiencing a new culture, and hearing a different language, all with a bunch of wonderful teenagers, made that experience fade into the past.

The journey home was quite different. Smooth, sunny and quick. We were halfway home before we'd barely settled into our seats.

There's something rather wonderful about flying back into New Zealand. As I said once to an American girl who has come to live here, the rugged cliffs of our Pacific Coast and the rolling green hills of our farmland viewed from the air, make it feel like the country stretches out it's arms in a warm embrace, welcoming you back into the fold. Going away makes you appreciate coming back.

I'm sure every wandering kiwi has experienced that moment of a full heart of love when our coast comes into sight as you fly back home from other worlds.

It's almost the best part of the entire trip.

The funny thing is, almost like a test, when I went through border control at Auckland airport after we landed, the electronic machine spat my passport back out and refused to let me enter, saying I had to go and speak to a customs official.

For a split second, I had flashbacks to 1993. My nightmare coming true. Again.
But, it was a fleeting moment.

And I didn't even get a heart palpitation.

It happened, as I heard later, that they were having trouble with the machines.

So, as I think back on my visit to New Caledonia, I think I will always view it fondly.

It was responsible for giving me back a part of myself that I had lost.

Merci, belles iles.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Life Is Never Still

There have been so many changes in our lives over the past few weeks, that I decided a new, fresh blog look was also necessary to go along with the upheaval. Changes in the seasons, the change in our home, the change in our job, and all the other little changes that carry on around us. Our children growing, our dog getting older, the death of a family member.

Life is never still. Life never waits. It is always moving, travelling, changing.

It seems to be happening to us quite a bit.

 "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building on the new." Socrates.

When I first heard that we had to move from our rental house, my shoulders slumped, and my mind kind of went into a panic. There is a rental house shortage on in our town at the moment, enough of a shortage that the local newspaper featured two articles on the dire condition in our area.

But through a series of nothing short of little miracles, we have found ourselves a little abode for the next 12-18 months while we build our house. Sure, it's not just across the road from my brother and sister in law anymore, and it's slightly further away from the school than where we are now, but it's newer and less rent to pay, and now that we've secured it, I'm looking forward to moving in and trying to live simpler, but getting rid of a lot of junk in the transition.

I am going to miss this vista out of my upstairs window though!

Spring is here, bringing with it the fresh, new growth on the trees. I love this time of year.

Rob starts a new job this week. He has been commuting to Rotorua for the past 3 years. Tauranga is notoriously difficult for finding work. It will be so nice to have him local again!

So while some of the changes have been good, some have been difficult, I remind myself again that it's part of the journey of life. I might as well stretch out my arms and welcome it. There's nothing I can do about it, so why not enjoy the ride.

Spring is a reminder of that, don't you think?

Change must come. Change will come.

But there will be some nice things to enjoy, if we look for them.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What I Learned From Reading Gone Girl

It was the cover on the paperback that first attracted me.

I was shopping in our local mall, and the bookstore has a stand with new releases just outside the entrance to the store. The book stood out to me. It was black and velvety with white words. I picked it up, touched it, read the back, then made myself remember the title, went home and ordered it on audio books. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Simply put, Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunn, the perfect couple, with perfect lives and a perfect marriage. Until one day, Nick comes home and finds that Amy is missing. And there's a lot of blood. The hunt for Amy commences, and Nick finds himself as the prime suspect.

Without giving any spoilers, I want to tell you what I learned from this book. I have recommended it to many friends, and two of those I recommended it to, who read it, hated it.
Gone Girl is the kind of book that provokes strong emotion. I was fascinated by it.


I have to be in the mood for a thriller. And the day I picked up Gone Girl at the bookshop I was in the mood. But this book has given me much more than just a thrill.

I view this book in two parts. The first half and the second half. If you've read it, you'll understand that. If you haven't, persevere with the first half. I nearly didn't. I nearly got bored and moved on to the next book.

I'm so glad I didn't.

At about halfway, the story takes a dramatic turn, and then you won't be able to put it down. Like, seriously. You won't be able to put it down. So it might be a good idea to get it on audio, because then you can drive while listening to it, and you can cook dinner while listening to it, and you can pretty much do anything you want, short of having conversations with real people in real life, and still be absorbed in the story.

Gone Girl came into my life at a crucial time.

I was struggling to understand the actions of a former employer of mine. I was shocked, confused, dismayed and had many huge choices to make ahead of me as I worked through the ramifications of realising I had been a victim of sexual harassment and predatory grooming.

So what did this book teach me?

It taught me about a word I was not formerly familiar with.

narcissism photo Narc2.jpg

Gone Girl is narcissism on steroids.

It's evil. It's dark. It's deadly. It's frightening. But, if you have an interest in human behaviour or the psychology of the human mind, it's fascinating.

Gone Girl woke me up to the narcissists in my life, and the impact that narcissism has had on my life.  It was the catalyst that started me on my journey of discovery and mourning and healing.

I'm not just talking about my former employer and groomer, but others who have had an impact on my life throughout the years and whom I believe have this personality disorder.

You cannot have a close relationship or encounter with a narcissist and come away unscathed.

I researched it. I read about it. I joined Facebook groups and I read books and talked to others on how to deal with a narcissist.  I consulted with experts and those with a deep understanding of the disorder. Here is one of those writers who has been a great help to me personally, and given me good advice in how to deal with it.

I have not seen the movie Gone Girl, yet.  I am a firm believer in reading the book first; unless I hate the book, then I'll watch the movie in the hopes that it will spark my interest in the book!

But with Gone Girl, the book came first.

It's a story that haunts you, will stay with you and will provoke a strong reaction in you.

Have you read the book? Have you seen the movie? I'd love to know what you think!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

French Food

One of the things I absolutely loved during my week in Noumea, was the French Food.

Nobody ever told me that the French Sticks they sell in the grocery store in New Zealand are nothing compared to the real, genuine Baguettes! You can eat those things just by themselves, they're so light and fluffy. We enjoyed the pastries of France last week too, from Pain au Chocolat to Croissants, little sweet tarts, strawberry and chocolate mousse and ham and cheese with the Baguettes.

This was the best pastry shop we found in downtown Noumea. We were attracted to it by the aroma's wafting down the street as we shopped.

See..... even at McDonalds.

To be sure, it was expensive to buy food in New Caledonia in some places, but it was so tempting to try out the different tastes. One of my great loves in life is cheese, and nobody does this better than the French. This was a little packet of Feta with herbs and spices on the top. We ate this with a baguette one afternoon in the city park.

Most of their dairy is imported from France (except some of the milk comes from New Zealand). Here we were at the local grocery store early in the week, choosing our cheese.

The cheese is out of this world - like the best, creamiest, most expensive cheese you would find here in New Zealand.

The Butter Shelf.

We did have a wee chuckle at this - wine in snack-sized disposable containers!

While out shopping, we went into a little chocolate shop. It was quite expensive so we didn't buy too much, but ohhhhh, what a feast for the eyes!

I did buy these Calisson. Unique to the south of France, I believe. They had a sweet, slightly almond flavour, with a fine texture. A little treat.

One of the highlights for me, would have to be our night out at the Crepe Restaurant, Creperie le Rocher. If you ever get the chance to go, remember to phone and book in first, as it is very popular.

I had a cheese savoury crepe to start with, which I didn't finish because I was desperate to try the desert crepe. I chose the Paysanne.

Caramalized apples, creme fraiche, caramel farm house butter with Apple Brandy poured over in flames. Could anything be better! It was amazing!

Tasting and experiencing different food is all part of going to a foreign country. There were things I bought and tasted and didn't like much, but mostly I enjoyed it all. The French certainly are the best at this!
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