Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Old Portmanteau

This morning, as we drove along the back road that leads into town, we saw three children waiting for the school bus. One of them was sitting down reading a book. I thought at first he was sitting on his school bag, but he wasn’t. He was sitting on a rock.

“I don’t suppose modern school bags are much good for sitting on,” I remarked to the girls. “They’re not like my old port.”


“When I was a girl living in Queensland, all the school kids had small suitcases called ports.”

Yes, ports were great for sitting on: portable seats. We could stand on them too. We could even carry things in them. 

Inside my port was my yellow plastic (slightly mouldy) raincoat which glued itself to my body every time I wore it in the muggy tropical rain. 

My port also held my plastic drink bottle with a screw-on lid and matching cup. My mother would fill this bottle with cordial and pop it into the freezer overnight. Even on the hottest of Queensland days, I always had a cold drink for my lunch.

I also had a wooden pencil case with a top that slid to one side, along grooves. 

Yes, ports were good for carrying everything... except books. Books were far too heavy. Ports stuffed with books made our arms drop off. Unless the handles dropped off first.

Ports went out of fashion a long time ago: banned, a health risk for children. Who wants to end up with only one arm, or one arm longer than the other? Ports are no longer found in schools. Instead they can be found on display in museums. There’s one in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, though it’s not described as a port. It’s been labelled a suitcase. Could port be a Queensland word? No, apparently not. I've just heard a New South Wales friend owned a port as well.

I always find it disconcerting when I see items I’ve used as a child in a museum.

“Look, girls! I had one of those as a child.”

"You did?" The girls look at me with new eyes. Museums are full of old stuff.  Suddenly I feel old too.

PS: Where does the word port come from? I found this on Wikipedia:
A portmanteau is a piece of luggage, usually made of leather and opening into two equal parts. Some were large, upright, and hinged at the back and enabled hanging up clothes in one half,[1] while others are much smaller bags (such as Gladstone bags) with two equally sized compartments.[2] The word comes from the French word portemanteau (from porter meaning "to carry" and manteau meaning "coat"),[3][4] which nowadays means a coat rack but was in the past also used to refer to a traveling case or bag for clothes.

Port... portmanteau... A piece of luggage intended to carry my raincoat. Now I know. And so do you!

I wonder if you remember what kind of school bag you had as a child. Perhaps you had a portmanteau too!

The Angels of Abbey Creek

Look what Gemma-Rose found in the port: My children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Losing My Ability...

I seem to have lost my ability to sleep during the early hours of the morning. I have become nocturnal like our three cats. Poppy, Sammy and Jenny chase each other around the house at 1 am, while I lie awake thinking.

This morning I did more than think. I wrote 6 blog posts. In my head. The ideas came out of the dark, thick and fast. I got excited. These stories will wake up my blog, I thought. Maybe Uglemor will pop over and read them. Later today I'll get out my computer and write them all down.

All day I've been trying to write those stories. But I can't find the right words. The ones I keep choosing are wearing their lead shoes on the wrong feet. They keep falling flat on the ground.

I seem to have lost my ability to write.

I am reminded of the day I lost my ability to speak. That was at our son Thomas' wake. I knew what I wanted to say. My brain formed the words but my mouth refused to cooperate. Friends assured me it didn't matter. I didn't have to talk. But it did matter. It mattered a lot. I wanted to speak, tell people how I was feeling, but I couldn't.

Likewise, I want to write but I can't. 

I hate writing. I just want to throw writing over the cliff and be rid of it. I want to give up the struggle. Be free. Get my life back. No more searching for the right words. There's only one problem.

I love writing. 

Uglemor, I don't have a story after all. I'm sorry about that. How about some photos instead?

These were taken last Thursday on Imogen's birthday. 

My six still-at-home children are looking over a cliff at a waterfall, which isn't very spectacular because of the lack of recent rain

And now I shall finish this not very spectacular post.

The End

Thursday, November 20, 2014

About Me, About Podcasts, About Adventures!

A picnic breakfast

I have made 13 podcasts. I never expected to make that many, and I never expected to have any listeners other than a few and encouraging friends. I guess that’s why I never introduced myself properly when I first became a podcaster. There didn’t seem to be any need to do that. My friends already know me. No explanations were needed.

But 3 months down the track, I suddenly realise there might be some listeners who don’t know much about me. So I have decided to rectify that situation by starting this week’s podcast with a belated introduction of me and my family.

During my podcast, I also tell the story of how the girls and I went to a professional audio studio to record some Rosaries for a local community radio show. I came home with some ideas on what I need to do to make my podcasts sound more professional.

And I explore this thought: is it essential that unschoolers travel the world, or at least their own country, in order to provide enough learning experiences for their children? Or can we find sufficient adventures at home? I chat a little about watching out for adventurous opportunities and relate the story of how Sophie and I had an adventure last Saturday.

Program Notes

Unschooling books and magazine

Homeschooling with Gentleness by Suzie Andres

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres

John Holt's magazine, Growing Without Schooling

Blog posts about having adventures

Why Picnics Are Important

My Fridge Adventure

How to Have an Unschool Adventure: No Camper Van Needed!

Bushrangers on Our Local Roads?

The Problem of Applying Sunscreen to Wet, Sandy Bodies

Do You Know What's at the End of Our Road?

Enjoying an Unexpected Little Adventure

Live Life to the Full, Have No Regrets

Resolving to Go on More Adventures

Wednesday Adventures

The Photography Girls Head into the Bush

An Adventure Hiding in Every Moment

Podcast equipment

Zoom H1 Handy Recorder

Youtube video about using the Zoom H1

Another podcast I mention

The Accidental Creative

A wombat hole!

And now onto my podcast... About Me, About Podcasting, About Adventures!

PS: I should add that I never dived to the BOTTOM of the lake to look at the map of the bush tracks. (That would have been very adventurous!) Words never come out perfectly when podcasting. The map was on a board BY the lake!

The Angels of Abbey Creek

I took the above photos while Sophie and I were having an adventure together. You can find more photos on my Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page.

You can find my other podcasts on my podcast page.

And you can find my children's stories on the pages of my novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek. (Would my book make a good Christmas present?)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Baby's Birth and Death, and Christmas (Again!)

It was our son Thomas’ birthday on Sunday. The next day was his death day. We’ve been remembering these two days for the last 15 years. Yes, Thomas would have been 15 if he hadn’t died as a baby.

I’ve been thinking about that. We’d have had another teenager in the family. Thomas probably would have been far taller than me by now. I wonder what colour his hair would have been. Who would he have looked like? What would he have been interested in?

Each year, I usually write a Thomas story as I look back on his birth and death and remember. I didn’t want to do that this year. I didn’t want to immerse myself in the sorrow and then invite sympathy from kind friends. I wanted to avoid the pain.

Then a couple of days ago, I decided I wanted to mark the occasion of Thomas’ birthday in some way after all. So I spoke about his birthday and death day in a podcast. 

I pondered the question: How do we homeschool when we are facing a huge crisis such as a death in the family? What did we do when Thomas died?

I also talked about the difficulties of facing that first Christmas without our son. I just did not want to celebrate when my heart was so heavy. 

It seems at first glance that grief and Christmas do not go together. But I’m wondering if perhaps they aren't so far apart after all. I share some thoughts on why I think Christmas is actually a season for the broken-hearted. 

I end my podcast on a lighter note, returning to the subject of a simple Christmas.

Program Notes

Blog posts about Thomas

These can all be found on my blog Stories of Grief, Love and Hope, though I have posted most of them on my Sue Elvis Writes blog as well.

Thomas' book
Grief, Love and Hope

Blog posts about grief and Christmas

Christmas: the Season for the Broken-Hearted

The Sacrifice of Christmas Shopping

Grief and an Advent Wreath

Thomas' Gifts

If Only...


Blog posts about unschooling during family crises

Homeschooling in a Crisis

Learning From Life

Kelly Casanova - Textile and Fibre Artist

Blog: Kelly Casanova

Facebook page: Kelly Casanova - Textile and Fibre Artist

Christmas gift shoe box donations

Operation Christmas Child

Sophie's video about Operation Christmas Child.

I hope you will listen to my podcast, regardless of whether you have lost a child. We all have ups and downs we have to deal with. They are part of life and we learn from them all.

The Angels of Abbey Creek

I haven't written many new blog posts recently, but I have been recording a weekly podcast.You can find all my podcasts on my podcast page.

You can find my children's stories on the pages of my novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek

And you can find my extra blog stuff on my Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Teenagers, Rules and Rebellion

Charlotte (17)

"My daughter will be 13 soon," says a mother. She groans: "There's trouble ahead!" The other mothers nod in sympathy. Yes, life is about to get very difficult. It always does when there's a teenager in the family.

But are teenagers really trouble? I discuss this question with my own teenage daughters, Imogen, Charlotte and Sophie, in this week's podcast.

We talk about the pressures teenagers have to face, and how a parent can unwittingly magnify those pressures. 

We discuss the practice of making lots of rules and regulations. Do rules really protect teenagers from the dangers of the outside world? Or do they drive a wedge between parents and children? Is there a better way of helping teenagers, as they move from childhood towards adulthood?

We also talk about making mistakes, the need for forgiveness, and also honesty. It's not only teenagers who need to be honest. Parents are sometimes guilty of deception too. I was. I confess this as I tell the story of how I was severely afflicted with a bad case of adult peer pressure.

I really love having teenagers in the family. I feel very connected to my older children. But it hasn't always been this way. I share a little about how I stumbled along as I parented Felicity, our first teenager

And though teenagers aren't 'trouble', some do face troubles that can overwhelm them. I end with a few words about this.

Sophie (13)

Program Notes

Blog posts about teenagers, rules and rebellion

Why I Refuse to Be My Child's Worst Nightmare

When a Parent Makes a Child's Life Unnecessarily Difficult

Teenagers Are People Too

Guiding My Children Responsibly Without Imposing Rules

What a Day Without Rules Looks Like

Imposing Rules on a Child: Is There a Better Way?

The 'Risky' Business of Trusting Children

Rules, Responsible Parenting and Radical Unschooling

Blog posts about parenting a teenager who is dealing with extra problems

My Mental Illness Series page of posts.

Blog posts about teenagers, clothes and adult peer pressure

The Jeans Wearing Rule

When a Parent Makes a Child's Life Unnecessarily Difficult

Imogen (19)

I hope you will join Imogen, Charlotte, Sophie and me for this week's podcast: Teenagers, Rules and Rebellion. It's a few minutes longer than usual. Teenagers have lots to say. (So do mothers!) You might need your knitting or something else to keep your hands busy while you listen!

The Angels of Abbey Creek

You can find my other podcasts on my podcast page.

You can find my children's stories on the pages of my novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek

And you can find my extra blog stuff on my Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Problem With Being an Introverted Blogger

recharging by Don, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Some days I want to delete all my blogs and Facebook pages and disappear from this online world forever. The thought of writing another post, or commenting on someone else’s blog, fills me with dread. I just don’t want to do it.

A couple of times I actually clicked onto the ‘delete’ button, and in an instant, all evidence of my online existence disappeared. I immediately became an ex-blogger. It didn’t take me very long to miss my online community. Never write another post? Perhaps I’d been a bit too hasty. Both times, I brought my blogs back from the dead, and life went on until the next crisis. Yes, I’ve had other days when I’ve just wanted to roll up my blogs, reclaim my family and retreat from the world. But I haven’t hit the ‘delete’ button again. I have learnt that the panicky overwhelming times pass. Blogging excitement and enjoyment do return.

I’ve been thinking about these up and down cycles. Why do they happen? Are they a consequence of being an introverted blogger? 

Maybe it’s not immediately obvious I'm an introvert. When you read my posts or watch one of my videos or listen to a podcast, you might assume I am very outgoing. And I am outgoing to a certain extent. In 'real' life I do like to meet up with friends and talk, but usually in small groups, and in small doses, and for short periods of time. After socialising, I need to retreat home and recharge with lots of quiet time. And if I have the choice, normally I prefer not to go out in the first place. Staying home and being creative on my own is very attractive.

In some ways, blogging is an almost perfect situation for an introvert. I can write, and make videos and podcasts, and share on my own terms. I’m in control. I can close my computer and disappear when all the associated contact with people becomes too much. At least that’s how it works in theory.

The problem is I’m not very good at ignoring my online life when I need a break. If there’s lots going on, I stick around. I continue writing and publishing posts, answering comments and emails, visiting other blogs and commenting. And I end up feeling sick inside.

There comes a point when, if I read a post on someone else’s blog,  I just can’t make myself write a comment. I creep away without leaving any evidence I’ve visited. Does this sound strange? Does anyone know what I mean? Usually at this stage, I start to feel guilty about not joining in with the blogging community. It doesn't take long before I'm declaring I no longer want to blog. I start questioning the value of what I‘m doing. Surely blogging isn't that important? I'd rather be free of all the many online things that seem to reach out and entangle me. And so I begin to think about deleting my blogs and Facebook pages and retreating forever. But of course I don’t. I am still here.

So if you notice my Facebook page hasn’t been updated for a day or two, or if you haven’t seen me on your blog for a while, I’m still around. (I might even have crept through your blog and enjoyed your posts without saying a word.) I’m just taking some time out, being invisible, being quiet.

I'm going to take some time out to be quiet this weekend. Yes, it's Friday already. It's the end of another week.

I'd like to thank everyone who has read this week's posts, commented on them and listened to my podcasts.

And a special thank you to Lucinda of Navigating By Joy, who mentioned my podcasts in her post, A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – FridayI do appreciate the mention and the link. 

Please visit Lucinda's blog to read her posts, including the spectacular science ones. I just know I would enjoy science if I lived with Lucinda. I imagine her enthusiasm is very contagious. 

So what are you going to do this weekend? Will you find some time to be quiet and recharge? I hope so!

The Angels of Abbey Creek
Image: If only I could plug myself into the electric outlet each evening, like this cat, in order to recharge! 

You can also find me on my Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page, unless of course, I've disappeared briefly for some quiet time! Please hop over to my page for all the extra blog stuff.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Should a Child Be Given the Freedom to Choose?

"If children are given the freedom to do whatever they want, will they choose to do nothing at all?... Imogen, would you like to discuss this question with me, in this week's podcast?"

My nearly 20 year old daughter said, "Okay!", so I grabbed my notebook and we began brainstorming points we could talk about. Soon we had a list of additional questions:

Is anyone actually capable of ‘doing nothing at all’? 
When mothers shout, “Go and do something!” to their kids, could they actually mean “go and do something I think is valuable”?
If a child does seem to be doing not much of anything, is it okay?
Should children be made to do things they don’t like doing? 
Will children follow the easier pathway rather than the more difficult one, if given the choice?
And could it actually be essential for parents to let children choose?

Sophie heard us discussing this topic and added a few comments of her own.

"Would you like to join us for the podcast?" I asked my 13 year old daughter. She did want to be involved. So the three of us disappeared into my bedroom where my computer and microphone were all set up, to record what we hoped would be a very interesting conversation.

Did our podcast turn out to be interesting? Maybe you'd like to listen to find out!

Program Notes

Some blog posts related to my podcast

The Angels of Abbey Creek

Please visit my Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page for more blog stuff!