Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Writing Game: No Shortage of Writing Ideas

My daughter Gemma- Rose and I are having some mother-daughter time. We sit at one of the wobbly white tables in the shopping mall and sip our drinks. I have a coffee. She has a chocolate milkshake.

“What have you been enjoying recently?” I ask.

Gemma-Rose sucks on her straw for a moment and then says, “Writing. I love writing.”

“There’s lots to write about, isn’t there?”

“There is?”

“Oh yes! I have lots of writing ideas! And if I ever do get stuck, I have a game I like to play. I think of a word and then see if I can find a story to match. I'll show you."

I look at Gemma-Rose's camel coloured coat. It has big round buttons.  I say, “Buttons! Do you remember my grandmother’s rusty red button tin? I could write a story about that.”

For a moment we sip our drinks in silence, and then I say, “Give me a word!”

Gemma-Rose looks around and then says, “Garbage bin.”

“I have a great story about garbage bins.” I smile. “Do you remember when Duncan didn’t put out the garbage bins on Christmas Eve? The truck came to empty them in the early hours of Christmas morning. We arrived home from Midnight Mass seconds too late… “ (There is a lot more to that story but I won’t tell you everything. I might write that story out properly another day!)

“I have a word for you,” I say. “Nose.”

“That’s easy,” says Gemma-Rose. “I could write about Nora’s huge nose.” Our puppy is always a good subject for a story.


“Did you know Sophie was quite upset when she discovered donuts are deep-fried? All that oil!”

“Perhaps it’s better not to know how things are cooked,” I say, “or what they’re made from.”

“Like chicken nuggets.”

“Things are not always what they appear to be. That would be a good subject for a story.”

Gemma-Rose sucks her milkshake noisily up her straw. “Straw!” I say.

“Advent,” Gemma-Rose replies instantly. “We earn straws to put in the nativity stable during Advent.”

“Actually I’ve written a story about those straws. It’s in my Angels of Abbey Creek book.”

Gemma-Rose and I trade a few more words before I say, “We have millions of stories that we could tell. Everyone does. They are the stories of our lives. All we have to do is decide which ones we want to tell.

“Then when we have a story idea we need to make sure we add some feelings to it. Is it a happy story or a sad one? Perhaps it's a frightening story. Is it a funny one?”

“The garbage story is really funny!” smiles Gemma-Rose. (I wonder if I can find the right words to make people smile when I come to write it.)

“Have you ever noticed how we often learn something from our stories like…”

“... how food can taste good until you know exactly what it’s made from.”

“Or never assume the garbage truck won’t arrive to empty the bins in the early hours of Christmas Day. Sometimes unexpected things happen.”

“Or Christmas wouldn’t be the same without all the traditions.”

"Coming to some conclusion makes a story even better. You can just retell something that happened. Or you can learn something from it.

“Then when your story is written, all you need to do is post it on your blog," I finish.

Gemma-Rose frowns. “And then everyone can ignore it. No one reads my blog stories!” She sighs.

I know how she feels. It’s nice to share our stories with other people. We want to know whether we have successfully put our thoughts into words. Can the reader see the story that exists in our heads? Can they feel what we are feeling?

But even when no one reads our words, it is still worth writing.

“We can enjoy our own stories even if no one else wants to share them.” I lean across the table towards Gemma-Rose and say in a low voice, “Shall I tell you a secret? Sometimes I visit my own blogs and read my own posts!” She grins. “I like to remember all the things I write about. It’s like going back in time and enjoying everything all over again.”

We stand up and gather together our shopping bags. It’s time to go home. As I watch Gemma-Rose push our empty cups into the garbage bin, the word 'coffee' suddenly pops into my head.

I smile. That’s easy! I could write a story about our mother-daughter time and how Gemma-Rose and I played the writing game.

And that's just what I've done!

What was the last page-turning, totally absorbing novel you read? Recently, I asked this question on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Lots of readers stopped by and soon I had a list of novels I now want to read. So I've been reading instead of writing! If you haven't already done so, you could join me on my Facebook page. I'd love to see you there!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Right Kind of Home Improvement

For 25 years my husband Andy and I, and our growing family, travelled from one rental house to another. We lived in someone else’s house and pulled weeds from someone else’s garden, and lived by someone else’s rules. What we longed for more than anything else was a place of our own.

We didn't think we'd ever be able to afford a house. It’s practically impossible to save money when a family is continually increasing in size. But through the goodness of God, our dream did became reality.

I can remember the day we realised we could walk into a real estate office and say, "We're looking for a home to buy!" We grinned at each other in delight. I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it. It was such a wonderful feeling.

We imagined the sales person asking, "So what are you looking for?" We thought we could be content with any home as long as it was ours. Small garden? No problem. It will be OUR garden! Small bedrooms? No problem. As long as we can squeeze the beds in, we’ll be happy. They’ll be OUR bedrooms. 

But surprisingly, we could actually afford more than the basics. Our vision expanded. So did the list of houses we could view. We soon found what we believed was the perfect house for us. It wasn’t huge, but it was certainly not small. And it was going to be all OURS!

We bought that house, moved in and grinned every day for months: no more moving, no more regular inspections, no more landlord’s rules.  I still grin when I look around. This is our home and I love it very much.

So we’ve lived here now for nearly six years, and are we still satisfied with our home? 

Sometimes I think another bedroom would be nice, or a bigger laundry. How about a decking running across the width of the back of the house? French doors could lead from the back bedrooms and also the family room, to this outdoor area. Can you imagine sitting outside, looking over a valley of gum trees, enjoying a glass of wine, or even a meal, while listening to the kookaburras chuckling on the fence? Oh yes, that would be delightful. A sparkling swimming pool down at the bottom of the garden would surely add to our pleasure too.

On Sundays when we drive into town to go to Mass, we pass right by a huge hardware warehouse. The car park is always full. It must be one of the most popular places in our area. Everyone, it seems, is busy improving their homes. It’s big business. Should we also start improving our property? Perhaps we could begin work on that decking.

I think about this for a while. Do we really need that decking and the pool? We’re managing just fine with the four bedrooms we already have. Yes, a bigger home would be nice but I don’t think it's for us. I want to remain grateful for what we already have, which is much more than we used to hope for. I don’t want to lose that I-can’t-believe-this-is-OUR-house feeling. I don’t want to let dissatisfaction creep into our lives. Because where will it end? Do you know what I mean?

Now there is no doubt our home is still in need of improving, even if we can do without that decking. For a start, I am going to make it twice as big by eliminating half its contents. But size isn’t everything. There must be other ways of improving a home. Perhaps we could make it more welcoming, more comfortable, an even better place to live? But how? I don't think the answer is stuff. So what is it? Do you have any ideas?

PS: If you'd like to read the story of how we were given our very own home, it can be found in this book: Big Hearted by Patti Armstrong and Theresa Thomas. 

And you could hop over to Facebook and see what's going on on my Sue Elvis Writes page. (I posted a link to some delicious cakes!)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Deciding to Get Rid of Our STUFF!

By Elizabeth Albert

"Can I talk to you about something, Andy?" I ask. "I've had an idea."

My husband takes a deep breath and waits. Poor man. What crazy scheme am I going to propose this time?
“I've been thinking,” I say. "Perhaps we should become minimalists. We could get rid of all our ‘stuff’.”

Andy lets out his breath. A broad grin appears on his face. “Finally!" he cheers. "For years I’ve been telling you we need to throw stuff out."

Andy is right. I haven't been listening.

Our house is packed tight with things. And our garage? You should see it. Or perhaps you shouldn't. You wouldn't believe how many things we've got crammed in there. There's all those things we only need occasionally, like Christmas decorations and out-of-season clothes. The bikes and tools and lawn mower (and a buried table tennis table) are in there somewhere too. And so are many, many things I suppose we don’t really need.

Every time we ponder the lack of space around here, I say: “We need to get better organised. I must look for some more shelves, or a chest of drawers, or some storage boxes… Perhaps we need a shed.”

Whenever we need something we usually pray to St Joseph. He never fails to intercede for us. Once we needed a new lounge suite. We prayed to St Joseph and one arrived. Does that sound a bit strange? It’s true. He looks after our family perfectly. I could tell you more but it’s all in a story I wrote. It’s called St Joseph’s Sofa

Yes, a shed would solve all our storage problems. Now sheds are rather expensive so we began praying. We've been praying for a long time, maybe two years. And one hasn't yet appeared. Has St Joseph let us down for the first time ever? It has only just occurred to me that we have been praying for something we don’t actually need. There's another better solution to our problem.

“Do we really need that?” Andy asks me. “Can’t we get rid of it?”

“You never know when we might need it,” I reply. “We’d better keep it just in case.”

Just in case? Do you keep things just in case? Do you think that 'one day' you’ll regret throwing something out? I wonder how many things we would really miss if we no longer owned them.

Last year, an out-of-control bushfire burnt on the edge of our village, threatening our home. We had firefighters in our road, and water bombing helicopters flying overhead. It was all rather exciting... and frightening. We were put on stand-by for evacuation. We had to decide what we'd take with us if we had to abandon our house and flee to safety. What would we miss if our home and all its contents burnt to the ground?

We each packed a bag of clothes because that seemed practical, and we added some blankets and food. We gathered together our computers and other devices which hold our electronic information and photos. We had our important papers such as birth certificates. And I packed all the things we associate with our son Thomas, who died as a baby: his photos, locks of hair, clothes… because these are irreplaceable.

But I've been thinking: Perhaps irreplaceable things aren't that important either. Would I really be inconsolable if  I lost Thomas' things? I think I'd survive without them. They're only things, not him. Thomas is an integral part of me. He is in my memory and in my heart. He changed me irreversibly. And he is waiting for me. None of that will change if I lose a lock of his hair, will it? Yes, I could survive without Thomas' stuff. And that means I can certainly survive without many other less important things.

Of course, it would be silly of me to throw out everything. Some things we need to live life. There’s nothing wrong with having things which enhance our lives, which we enjoy using. But we definitely don’t need as much as we have. A lot of it has to GO!

So I'm going to cull our possessions. They're going to be bagged up and boxed up and shipped out. And I'm going to be very careful what new stuff enters our house. I'm going to be asking, "Do we REALLY need this?" before letting something new pass through our front door. 

There's only one problem: Some occasions seem to demand the accumulation of stuff.

It's Andy's birthday today. That means birthday presents. Did a big pile of unneeded gifts walk through the door? Did we just add to the overflowing pile of possessions? Or did we say, "You don't really need anything, Andy, so we decided to give you a hug instead of the usual birthday presents"? (Would we do that?) Birthdays can present a dilemma.

Actually, we bought Andy consumables: stationery for school, and also two pairs of much needed work pants, and a FitBit which he'll wear around his wrist. It won't take up any space at all. But don't tell him. We haven't given him his gifts yet. We'll surprise him at dinner time when he gets home from work.

It's not just stuff that comes through the door that can cause a problem. Have you ever thought about how we clutter our minds and our lives with so many non-physical things?  I’m going to ponder that. Would you like to ponder too? 

Does anyone else need to get rid of some stuff? Are there any things you can't live without? And what do you do when yet another birthday rolls round? Please share!

Of course, you can also find me on Facebook. What have I been posting on my Sue Elvis Writes page recently? Photos of my new book cover! And details about the conference I'll be speaking at, and what else? Perhaps you can visit and find out!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Some Big News and Not So Big News

I have twenty minutes to spare. Can I tell you all my news in such a short time? I will try.

Ready, set, go….

Last Friday we finally sorted out all the formatting and publishing details… We published my first children’s novel. It’s called The Angels of Abbey Creek. Now we’re waiting for the proof copy to land in our mail box before we release it for sale. Will anyone buy a copy? I don’t know! I don’t suppose I’ll make my fortune with this book, but I had great fun writing it. And my children will get such a thrill seeing my story as a real book. They were the inspiration for many of the adventures in my novel. Would you like to read the first chapter of The Angels of Abbey Creek? I posted it on my Sue Elvis Writes blog quite some time ago. It’s called The New Year’s Resolution. It's easy to work out on which day of the year my story begins!

I have a second piece of exciting news. I’ve been asked to speak at the Catholic Digital Media Conference in Sydney next month. That was unexpected! The conference runs from 19 – 20 August. I shall have to travel to the big city. Will I get lost? Will I catch all my connecting trains? Will I have a big adventure?

 If you are able to get to Sydney, why don’t you come along? Here’s a short description of the event: 

Whether you’re a digital native, or just starting to find your way in the world of new technologies, CDMC is the place to explore the new ways the Gospel message can — and should — be shared. 

Two of the keynote speakers are Greg and Jennifer Willits who host The Catholics Next Door. I’ll be rubbing shoulders with famous people! I'm sure I'll learn lots.

What’s next? I know! I almost joined a local homeschool support group this week. Almost? We planned to attend our first meeting tomorrow, but the girls aren’t well. We won’t make a good impression if we turn up bearing nasty germs, will we? We'll wait until next week when we are all better. Is this big news? Oh yes! I haven’t been to a support group in years. The last one I belonged to disappeared. All the families, except for us, ran out of children to homeschool. All the other children grew up and moved onto new things. I suppose the parents did too.

I suspect this new group contains much younger mothers than me. They probably weren’t homeschooling when I belonged to that first group. Will this matter? I don’t suppose so. So why are we venturing out into the bigger world after homeschooling in isolation for so long? I woke up the other day and moaned to my husband, “I haven’t had a conversation with a person I can see for so long.” (The shop assistants at Big W don't count.)  Later that day, I found a contact number for the local homeschool group. This introverted family is being brave and heading off to socialise!

The cold germs have appeared at rather an inconvenient time for another reason. Piano and singing exams are almost upon us. The girls should be doing some serious practising. It seems to happen every year: Just mention the word ‘exam’ and the colds appear.  But it’s no use worrying about it. If the girls don’t perform their best, the world will still continue on. Exam results are not really all that important in the whole scheme of things, are they? And regardless of the grades the girls obtain, we’ll still enjoy our customary post-exam morning tea in town. That’s the best bit about taking exams!

I was going to mention one more thing but time is running out. I will just have to write about this in a post of its own: Minimalism. We’re going to get rid of all our ‘stuff’. Is that big news or not so big news? I suppose it depends on how much stuff we throw out! If you’re interested in this topic, watch out for another post soon!

Hey look! I've written another post in twenty minutes. Success for a second time!

If you haven’t already done so, please come and visit me on Facebook. I’ve been posting all kinds of things on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yelling at Maths Games and Other Stories of Our Week

I didn’t make a Thursday video this week. I wonder if you noticed. I meant to. I even had a ‘great’ video idea. I’d planned to interview Andy, my school teacher husband. A school teacher with unschooling children? That might have generated some good conversation. But I never actually got around to doing the interview. Andy and I got side-tracked with other things.

One thing in particular took up lots of hours this week. We've been formatting my children’s novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, ready for publishing. We? That’s not quite right. I didn’t format a single word. Andy and my older girls did all the hard work. I just observed.

Have you ever self-published a novel? It’s a bigger task than I imagined. On the publishing website it says…

6 Easy Steps to Publishing a Book
Step 1: Write, edit and format your book.

That made us laugh. Whoever wrote this first ‘easy’ step has never written, edited and formatted a book.

Imogen and Charlotte now know how to self-publish a novel. They'll be able to use their new skills when they want to publish one of their own books. Perhaps this month's Camp NaNoWriMo novels will eventually be edited into something worth sharing. Yes, the girls are busy writing. It's week 2 of Camp NaNoWriMo, and word counts are rising. Did you know there’s a lot of real life maths involved in NaNoWriMo?

“How many words did you write today?”

“4 456. That makes 27 689 words all together. That means I need to write 22 311 more words to get to 50 000. How many days left in the month? Hang on a minute, and I’ll work out what my average word count needs to be if I’m going to hit 50 000 by the last day of July…but what if I decide to write more than 50 000… or what if I want to finish early?” 

(btw, I didn't check my maths so there could be some mistakes in the last paragraph!)

Oh yes, numbers, as well as words, are swirling around inside everyone’s heads… even Gemma-Rose’s. She’s been doing lots of maths without even realising it.

Talking of maths, yesterday I browsed the Internet for some fresh strewing resource ideas and I ended up on a website packed with maths games. Now I’m rather suspicious of online maths games. Are they just dressed up drill? The best way to find out is by playing them. So I decided to do just that. It didn’t take long before I became very frustrated: “Where are the instructions? I can’t work out how to play.”

Gemma-Rose heard me complaining. She plonked herself down on the sofa beside me and said, “Let me help you, Mum.”

I-hate-maths-Gemma-Rose, was willing to help me with a maths game? Well, we ended up spending a rather enjoyable hour yelling at the games together. Did we learn any maths? I don’t know but we had fun as we tried to work out what we were supposed to do. I guess we did a lot of problem solving if nothing else.

Another game I found is called Wuzzit Trouble. It’s a free app available for both iPad and Android tablets. I was rather intrigued after reading this recommendation:

"Wuzzit Trouble is a true game, not a rote practice application or the so-called chocolate-covered broccoli that places a veneer of gamification over traditional drill. The game is not a reward for correctly answering math problems, the game is it’s own reward and math skills are a mere side effect of play ... " - Marie Bjerede

Chocolate covered broccoli? Oh yes! That's a wonderful description of most maths games. (Though I have nothing against broccoli. I rather like it.)

“Hey Gemma-Rose, would you like to play a game with me. I found a new app.”

“Is it a maths app?”

Ignoring her question, I said, “I wonder how we play…”

“Let me see. I'll work it out.”

Soon we were rotating gears and freeing Wuzzits We did quite a lot of maths as we were spinning those gears. The game was more like a puzzle than an exercise. My brain had a bit of a workout. Is Wuzzit Trouble worth playing? It’s probably worth taking a look. And if you don't like it (or your children don't like it), it won't matter because it's free.

I’m sorry there was no video for you to look at this week. Maybe that’s a relief. It must be hard to find enough time to watch all my videos.

And looking at the time, I can see it’s time to finish this post. I am due up at the hairdressers in a few minutes. Maybe you’ll see my newly trimmed fringe in next week’s video, if I find time to make it.

So that was my week. How was yours?

Did you discover anything interesting? Learn anything new? Go anywhere exciting? I'd love to hear from you!

I didn't make any videos or write any blog posts this week, but I did manage to update my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page a few times. Maybe you visited and noticed!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

From Unschooling to University and Work (Part 2)

 Ten Minutes on Thursday

I have uploaded a new version of this video to Youtube. Hopefully there are no problems with this one!

Last Thursday I posted the first part of From Unschooling to University and Work, a video interview with my 22 year old son Callum.

"Hey Callum!" I say. "There were some lovely comments about you and your interview. Would you like to hear them?"

Callum grins but I can tell he's a bit embarrassed. I am guessing he has been avoiding my Facebook page recently. He always avoids my blog. He doesn't like reading about himself, though he is quite happy for me to write about him... and interview him. (Isn't he nice?) Thank you so much for the kind comments!

This week I'm posting the second half of our interview...

 Callum and I chat about his current passions, and his dreams for the future. 

I ask him about his thoughts on family: Is family still important now he is an adult? How does he get on with his parents? What role do they play in his life? 

I ask Callum if he feels different from most people his age. 

We finish our conversation with his thoughts on unschooling. Was it a good preparation for his life as an adult?

I enjoyed chatting with my son. It was good to share a laugh and he really touched my heart at one point. I hope you also enjoy...

From Unschooling to University and Work: an Interview (Part 2)

Image: Even though Callum is now an adult he still enjoys coming along on family outings. This photo was taken on Sophie's birthday.

We've been having a boys' week on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Also, I've been wondering about Pinterest. Should I get involved? Please come and visit. I'd love to see you on my page!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Will It All Work Out?

I usually write about my daughters. For some reason this is sons' week. Just because children grow up, it doesn't mean their stories end...

Something really exciting happened yesterday. It was something that confirmed my opinion that every single one of our children has a place in this world, despite appearances. I’m writing this post for anyone who has a child that is ‘different’. Do you know what I mean? A child that wasn’t made in the same mould as most other people. One that is unique and special.

My story started years ago. It started with a son who had an irresistible grin… and no interest whatsoever in conforming. I wondered if I should encourage that son to be like everyone else. Or perhaps I needed only to trust that one day he’d find his own place in the world? 

At first, I tried to change him, then I decided to let him be who he is, though I had my moments of doubt. I encouraged him to step outside his comfort zone every now and then, but wondered if I should do more. Don’t we all have to conform to a certain extent?

Yesterday I saw my son absolutely in his element. He exuded confidence. He came to life in a way that made me very excited...

A couple of weeks ago I found this wonderful animation software program called Muvizu. I thought the girls might enjoy playing around with it. I thought I might have some fun with it too. I started exploring the program and got very excited about the possibilities. I watched some tutorials and set to work making my first video. But it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I found out I’m hopeless at navigating my way through 3D worlds. I kept losing my characters, as well as my props. I couldn’t position my cameras correctly. It was a bit frustrating and, for me, very hard work.

I mentioned Muvizu to my eldest son Duncan.  I told him about my navigating problems. “If only I didn’t keep losing my scene, I could make a wonderful movie, I’m sure." Then I added, "Hey, why don’t you have a look at Muvizu? You have some free time now your uni semester has finished.”

Duncan’s eyes lit up. He has always liked messing about with film making and animation. They’re his passions.

A few days later, I asked Duncan how he was going with Muvizu.

“I’m working everything out,” he told me. 

“You could watch a few tutorials,” I suggested. 

Then a couple of days ago, Duncan told me his very first Muvizu movie was finished. “Can I see it?” I asked. So he sent me the Youtube link and I watched. Wow!

“That is so good!” I told Duncan. “I can’t believe you made that so quickly. How did you do it?”

“I just worked it all out.”

“You didn’t watch any of the tutorials?”

Duncan shook his head.

I watched tutorial after tutorial and I ended up with a very simple, inexpert 13 second clip. Duncan ignored all the instructions and ended up with a very entertaining video that lasts for over 4 minutes. I just don’t understand it. Except I do really.

I think back through the years. I see a boy making swords and helmets, dressing up and shooting his own movies with my camcorder.  I see a teenager in a wig and a cloak, twirling a cane as he performed in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. I see Duncan editing my home movies, adding special effects. I see him spending hours and hours on the computer ‘working things out’. I see Duncan involved with a passion.

And last night I had this overwhelming feeling that Duncan is going to be using his passion to do something remarkable in the world. Yes, he might very well be an excellent teacher when he finishes his Masters degree, but I suspect he'll also be involved in movie making / animation. That's his passion. That's who he really is. 

You know what I wish? I wish I could go back in time and encourage Duncan's passions to a fuller extent. I wish I'd valued his unique talents more. I wish I hadn't quietly pushed him into a more 'people' orientated career, instead of encouraging him to stay with his computer.  But it's never too late. I think Duncan's going to find that unique place in the world regardless of my mistakes. I think it will all work out perfectly.

Would you like to see Duncan's video? Of course, he didn't compose or record the music. He borrowed it. But the animation is his. He created characters, modified them, put together scenes, recorded the action, positioned his cameras, adjusted the lighting... He just worked it all out.

Update: I hope everyone, who wanted to, had a look at Duncan's video. I decided to remove it because of music copyright reasons. But... he has almost finished a new Muvizu movie. If you're interested I'll post that one soon!

I've been sharing photos on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page this week. I spent Sunday experimenting with a new camera lens. I found out it's a prime lens. Always learning! Is there anyone else working out how to use a DSLR camera? 

And if you'd like to watch my 13 second Muvizu movie, it's also on my FB page. You'll need to scroll back to June 6th. It's probably not worth the effort. It really is rather lame compared to Duncan's video!