Sunday, 22 February 2015

Hold on Tight

Every Tuesday morning my daughters and I pile into the car and head off to town. While Charlotte and Sophie have their piano lessons, Gemma-Rose and I have a mission to accomplish. Can we do all our shopping, and then drive back to the music teacher’s house, before the older girls reappear?  It’s always a race.

Last Tuesday we must have run up and down the supermarket aisles much quicker than normal because, before we knew it, we were back at the car, stowing our shopping in the car boot, with minutes to spare.

“It’s a pity you’re not little anymore,” I said to Gemma-Rose. “We could have stopped off at the park for a few minutes on the way back. You could have swung on the swings.”

“Nobody gets too old for the swings, Mum,” Gemma-Rose smiled. “Even Imogen likes to swing and she’s twenty!”

“So you want to go to the park?”

My eleven year old daughter nodded her head.

Soon we were at the park. Gemma-Rose hoisted herself onto the swing, thrust her legs backwards and forwards, and swung towards the sky. As I watched her, my heart yearned for years gone by when I regularly stopped at the park with my troop of young children. “Push me higher, Mum!” little people would urge. “Catch me, Mum!” they’d cry as they slid down the slippery dip. “Watch me, Mum! I can climb high!” Yes, I miss those days when a simple trip to the park was pure delight for everyone.

“Do you want a go, Mum?” Gemma-Rose called, as she put down her feet and brought the swing to a halt.

Me? On the swings? "Why not!"

“Do you need a push, Mum?”

“No, I remember what to do!”

Soon I was swinging higher and higher. I began to feel like Auntie Jenny.
Auntie Jenny is a lot of fun. She doesn’t just push the swing. She sits on the swing and has a go herself. The children watch as she swings higher and higher. “Will she swing right over the top in a circle?” Lizzie wonders.
From The Angels of Abbey Creek

Would I swing over the top too? I began to feel just a little bit dizzy, as the ground rushed up to meet me and then raced away again. I wondered why the council hasn’t banned swings. Surely swings aren’t safe? What if a mother fell off?

“What if I fall off?” I shouted.

“Just hold on tight, Mum!”

So that’s what I did. I held on tight.

I held on tight to the swing. I held on tight to the moment. I savoured it completely, before it disappeared forever.

“Not many mums swing on the swings,” observed Gemma-Rose, as we left the park.

I don't suppose they do. But they should. 

Do you?

The Angels of Abbey Creek
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Saturday, 21 February 2015

From the Hub to the Heart

Do you like hearing about newly published books? I hope so, because I have a book review to share with you!

Ellen Gable Hrkach from the blog Plot, Line and Sinker, asked me to be part of the book-launch blog tour for From the Hub to the Heart, written by Andrew LaVallee.

Here is the Amazon description of Andy's book:
This book tells the story of what happened when a movie star known for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ, Jim Caviezel, looked into this successful man’s eyes one day and challenged him just as Christ challenged the rich young man. He dared Andy to visit Medjugorje, an obscure, poor village in Croatia, where for over thirty years it has been alleged that the Virgin Mary has been visiting earth and calling her children to live lives of prayer, penance and fasting. Andy’s first reaction was predictable; “No way am I flying fifteen hours to pray a Rosary!” But little by little, Our Lady’s call to Andy opened his heart and he boarded that plane, prayed that Rosary and his life has never been the same.

Here are a few thoughts of my own about this book:

Andy was a successful business man living life in the fast lane. It looked like he had everything. But he didn't. He had a hole deep inside him that needed filling. After his pilgrimage to Medjugorje he knew exactly what was missing from his life: God. 

So Andy turned his life around and started thinking about what God wanted him to do with his life. He'd heard about fasting and wanted to know more. Eventually he began to believe that God wanted him to use the talents he'd gained in his successful baking business to make special fasting breads, and to encourage others to take up the practice of fasting.

As Andy shares his story, he also tells us about the various means that are open to all of us to gain grace and so move closer to God. The Church has given us many treasures such as our Mother Mother, the sacraments, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

At one point in the book Andy writes:
When Lent comes around the most common question is, What are you giving up?” The typical answer goes, “For Lent I am giving up chocolate.” Big deal! Jesus was betrayed, scourged, crucified and died for our sins, and we’re giving up chocolate?
 Andy challenges us to examine our own lives. Is God asking more of us? Perhaps Andy's own story will inspire us to do what God wants of us too. God will give us the means to do it because nothing is impossible with Him.

Normally, I steer clear of any books mentioning Medjugorje, and would probably not have read this book if I hadn't been asked to write a review. I know that many people, such as Andy, have had their lives changed by their pilgrimages to this place. I do not deny that there are fruits coming from these alleged visions. But yes, the visions are at the moment described as 'alleged'? The book description even uses this word:

From the Hub to the Heart says:"... it has been alleged that the Virgin Mary has been visiting earth and calling her children to live lives of prayer, penance and fasting." 

So is this book still useful for those people who, like me, prefer to wait for the Church's judgement before heeding the messages of Medjugorje? Yes. Prayer, penance and fasting are not practices exclusive to the alleged messages. They should be practised by all members of the Church so I feel Andy's story, despite its association with an alleged revelation, is still one that can offer encouragement and inspiration to everyone. 

Andy LaVallee's book From the Hub to the Heart is available as a Kindle ebook as well as a paperback book. It can be purchased from Amazon or the Live the Fast website.

It has been my pleasure to be part of this book launch blog tour. Thank you Ellen for inviting me to participate.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Goddaughters, Godmothers and the Invisible String

Kitten Caught String by Belal Kahn(CC BY 2.0)

My Goddaughter writes wonderful letters, and whenever I see one of them in my mail box, I smile. I rip open the envelope, unfold the paper and words, brimming with personality, jump off the page towards me.

I always intend to reply to my Goddaughter's letters straight away but I never do. I feel bad about this. I imagine Miss Augusta  watching out for the postman each day and feeling disappointed when he hasn’t got a letter for her. But she won’t be sad at the moment. Oh no! She’ll be smiling. You see, she should have received a fat envelope from me by now.

I used to buy blank cards and write my letters in them by hand. But these days I write my letters on the computer. Is that cheating? I find it easier. One advantage of computer letters is I can insert photos between the words, which I hope my Goddaughter enjoys. Usually I apply a fancy font to make everything look attractive, print off the pages and stuff them into an envelope, before walking up to the village post office to buy a stamp.

My Goddaughter is very forgiving. She never complains when it takes me a long time to reply. She just keeps on writing to me regardless. I think that’s very special. Miss Augusta is special through and through. Whenever I see her, she runs towards me with her arms open wide, and then she gives me the most enormous hugs. She makes me feel very loved.

I intend to watch my Goddaughter grow up. I want to be there every step of the way. And later, I hope to remain part of her adult life. I’d like those lively letters to keep dropping into my mailbox. I want to feel those beautiful arms about me forever.

But even if letters stop flying between us, or we can’t for some reason enjoy huge hugs, Miss Augusta and I will still remain connected for always because of an invisible spiritual bond. I’m on one end and she is on the other. And it will always be that way.

I wrote about this bond in my children’s novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek.
Now it is time for Lizzie’s favourite part of the story. “Tell me about the bond,” she begs. “Tell me about the invisible string.” 
Auntie Caroline laughs. “All Godparents are joined to their Godchildren by a special bond. It’s not really like invisible string. 
Joe interrupts. “If it was like string,” he says, “you’d keep getting tangled up and you’d never be able to go anywhere without each other.”
Lizzie giggles thinking of all the knots that would soon appear if there were a bit of string joining her to Auntie Caroline and Uncle Rick.

(I can imagine Miss Augusta giggling just like Lizzie when she reads those words.)

This Angels story snippet comes from a chapter called The Mother's Day. Lizzie’s Godmother has come to visit on that special day. Later, Mum thinks about her own Godmother, Auntie Maria.

I’m now thinking about my own Godmother too. I didn’t really know her. Her name was Grace: Auntie Grace. I only have a vague memory of what she looked like. I grew up on the other side of the world from her, and only travelled to see her once or twice.

Despite the distance between us, my Godmother's influence will remain with me for the whole of my life. When I arrived in this world, my Godmother thought it was her Godmotherly privilege to name me. She wanted to call me Diane. My parents didn't. But they did add that name after the two they'd chosen themselves. And so I was christened Susan Caroline Diane. Three Christian names. Of course my sisters and brother, in their turn, had to have three Christian names too. A new tradition was born.

Imagine if my first name was Diane.

Diane Elvis

Di Elvis

Lady Di Elvis

Doesn't that sound grand?

And it's grand being a Godmother to Miss Augusta.

I wonder if my Goddaughter likes the grand name I've given her for my story.

 The Angels of Abbey Creek

You can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook Page

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Bright Side to Being Unfollowed

Follow the Leader by Kevin Burkett(CC BY-SA 2.0)

"Did you get your blog post written?” asks my husband Andy.

“Yes, and five minutes after publishing it, someone unfollowed my blog.”

“Your post was that good, was it?”

“Yes, I guess so!”

In my early days of blogging, I would have become distraught if I lost a follower like that. I'd have said, “Did I offend someone? What was wrong with what I wrote?” And then I would have reread my post, trying to see it through outside eyes.

My confidence in my writing ability could have become shaky. I might have thought: “Obviously no one likes what I write. My words aren't very interesting. Perhaps I should stop blogging.”

But that was then, and this is now. I didn’t do that this time. I just shrugged. “Oh well. It doesn’t matter.” And it doesn’t. I'm going to keep writing. I have to.

If I stop writing, I stop learning and my writing will never improve. I need to keep experimenting, playing around with words, making up stories, and not worry about followers and unfollowers.

I read an article once which said success can be a problem. A problem? What could possibly be wrong with success? We all want to be successful, don’t we? 

Here's the essence of the article:

When our work is popular, we feel under pressure to keep being successful. And we think we have to keep producing more of the same: give people what they like. And so we stop experimenting. Our creativity comes to a halt. We become stale. And the fun goes out of what we're doing.

I've been unfollowed so I guess I don't have a success problem. There's a bright side to that. This means I can keep on experimenting. 

I like playing around with words. Do you?

You can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook Page

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Back from the Dead

jeoffry vs. doing stuff by romana klee, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On my son Thomas’ death day, my computer died. I knocked over a wine glass, and the contents flowed out onto the keyboard. There was a hissing sound, the screen flickered and that was that.

My husband Andy said, “How could you have been so careless? Do you know how much a new computer will cost?” No, he didn’t. That’s a lie. What he did say was, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you a new one.” And he did. Within a couple of days, I was the proud owner of a new top-of-the-line model.

“When was the last time you backed up the files on the old computer?” asked Andy.

“Quite a while ago,” I admitted.

Andy frowned and said, “I told you to back up your computer regularly. Why didn't you?” No, that’s not right either. What he really said was, “Don’t worry. I’ll ring a computer person. He’ll be able to retrieve your files off the hard-drive.”

So Jack, the repairman came and collected my wine-soaked laptop. “I’ll take a look at it, and if I can’t get it going, I’ll certainly be able to rescue your files.”

Weeks went by with no news. And then one day Jack phoned to say, “Sorry I’ve been so long… I haven’t been well… Yes, it looks like your computer is dead but I can retrieve the files.”

A month or so later, the phone rang again: “Sorry I’ve been so long… I’ve been tired and overworked... I needed a break… I’ll have those files transferred for you very soon.”

More time passed: “I haven’t done those files yet but I have some good news! When I turned on your computer this morning, it came back to life. It looks like it’s dried out and will be okay. All I need to do is replace the keyboard.”

So my computer is back from the dead.

I’m rather glad Jack was busy and unwell and overtired and so very slow. Just think if he’d been efficient. He would have thrown my computer away three months ago.

So I’m getting my computer back. It’ll be returning with all my files, and all my software programs.  That's good. And an inbox stuffed with 7 000 emails. That's not so good. I thought they'd gone forever.

“I wonder if Jack's replaced my computer's keyboard,” I say. “It’s been a few weeks since we last heard from him.”

“I’d better phone him,” says Andy.

I don’t suppose I need worry about sorting through those 7 000 emails just yet. It might be a while before I have to make 7 000 decisions. 

So what's the moral of this tale?

Good things might happen if you're patient?

Time does heal some things?

Back up your computer files regularly just in case?

Always sort and delete emails as they arrive?

Never drink wine while working on the computer?

No. It's...

Accidents happen. 
Accident: an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
I'm so glad Andy understood.

You can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook Page

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Thomas Bear Problem

For a baby no longer alive, Thomas has a lot of bears. And they keep increasing in number. Our son has birthday bears and Christmas bears and even some bears-for-no-particular-reason. Chubby, cuddly, stuffed animals are taking over our home. And this is a bit of a problem.

Last year, I wondered: “Perhaps we shouldn’t buy any more bears,” but all my girls shouted, “We have to keep buying Thomas bears. It’s a tradition.”

Traditions can’t be broken according to my daughters. We can’t suddenly stop buying bears for their brother who is no longer here, just because they are taking up too much space.

When Christmas arrived last year, I hesitated just for a moment and then bought Thomas a new bear as usual. Brown with knobbly knees and poky elbows, it’s absolutely irresistible.

“What will you call it?” asked Sophie.

“I don’t know. Any suggestions?”

“Rocco,” said Imogen. “Those knees definitely remind me of St Rocco.”

Imogen and I became acquainted with St Rocco when we attended the Catholic Digital Media Conference in Sydney last August. There he was in the garden of Mary McKillop Place, his tunic hoisted up to reveal his knees. Apparently he is pointing to an open sore on his leg caused by the plague.

So I named Thomas’ bear Rocco, after the saintly protector against the plague and other contagious diseases. 

Another Christmas, another bear. Another birthday, another bear. Another for-no-particular-reason bear… The bears keep multiplying. What should we do?

The answer arrived yesterday, in a quiet moment.

“Would you like one of Thomas’ bears?” I asked Gemma-Rose. Her eyes opened wide. She smiled. “You can choose whichever one you want for your very own.”

"Oh I'd like one of the big ones!"

Yes, I am going to give Thomas’ bears away to family and friends. I hope they will welcome them.

“I’ll take photos of all the bears before I give them away,” I tell the girls, “so I’ll remember them. And I’ll write Thomas’ name and birth date and the bear’s name too, on a label and attach it to the bear.”

I must admit I feel a bit sad at the thought of Thomas’ collection being broken up. Most of the bears will be leaving home. I won't be able to cuddle them as I remember. But at the same time, I feel excited. Where will the bears end up? Will they make others smile? Joy is meant to be shared, isn't it?  I can't keep it all for myself. 

Would you smile if you received a Thomas bear? 

Thank you to all the readers who left suggestions to the bear problem, on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page last year. I appreciated your input and I'm sure the solution is really only a modification of all those ideas.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Challenge

Taking a break by Qabluna(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Do you ever run out of blog post ideas? I do. I don't suppose I need to tell you that. It's obvious, isn't it? I haven’t exactly written many posts recently.

I should have lots to write about. Isn’t every day full and interesting? I do believe that hidden in our day is some precious treasure waiting to be discovered. Usually I'm in too much of a rush to notice it. But if I sit and reflect, I’m sure I can find many things worthy of a few words, worthy of being shared.

So I’m going to give myself a challenge. I’m going to find that hidden thought or smile or story, make sense of the events that happen each day, turn them into something interesting. Of course, I can’t just retell my day saying, “I did this… and I did that…” No, I have to find something more than that. Can I really do this? I shall try.

This morning as I was kneeling with the girls, saying our morning prayers, my eyes turned towards the window and I caught sight of a brown bird perched on the fence. He puffed up his fluffy, feathery chest and sat very still soaking in the sunshine. And I wondered: when was the last time I sat so still and just enjoyed the moment? A long time ago. We get so busy. Perhaps we feel we have to keep moving. Isn't doing nothing a waste of time? Or does it give us a chance to listen and to reflect?

I want to be like that brown bird. I want to sit still and bask in the sunshine of the moment. If I do that, I might discover the treasure God sends me every day. And perhaps I'll find I have lots to write about after all.

I often look out the window while we're praying. Do I find that distracting? Only if a kangaroo happens to hop down the road in the middle of the Rosary. That happened once. We jumped to our feet mid-prayer, and rushed outside to see the kangaroo bouncing back towards the bush. Yes, we got distracted. But that's okay, isn't it? It's not every day we're treated to such a wonderful sight. It was a moment to treasure and remember and to share. And now that I've shared it, I only need to write two more words:

The End.