Thursday, 29 January 2015

Being Honest: Talking about Mistakes and Perfection

Some things are absolutely perfect, like our recent holiday to Jenolan Caves. As I look at the photos, I smile. I know I'll enjoy the memories of that wonderful time again and again.

But some things are far from perfect. Some memories make me wince. I’d rather not think about certain times in the past. I don’t want to remember I was once called the Dragon Mother. Oh yes, once upon a time I could breathe fire and send everyone running. But that was years ago. That angry fire within me has just about gone out.

So am I now a perfect mother?

I discuss this question in this week’s podcast, as I revisit a time when parenting and homeschooling used to overwhelm me.

I also attempt to answer the following questions:
  • If it is necessary for us to be good examples for our unschooling children, must we be perfect?
  • Or is there something far more important than perfection?
  • Why is unconditional love so powerful?
  • Do some bloggers appear to be perfect?
  • Are there times when we should be open and honest, even if it means revealing our mistakes?
  • Do I ever have bad days?
  • Am I a ‘real’ podcaster?
  • Should I be podcasting when I make so many mistakes?
  • Will my podcasts improve? Will they ever be perfect?

If you listen to the end of my podcast, you’ll also hear a few of Sophie’s (13) thoughts on perfection, forgiveness and love. You'll find this extra recording just before my final signing off.

Program Notes

blog posts about difficult days

Motherhood isn’t easy. Sometimes it even seems impossible. We lose control of our lives and often wish things could be different. Surely we won’t survive? We wonder if our children will end up suffering because we haven’t enough energy to be the perfect mother to them. 

I have to admit I’m not perfect. Some days I get overtired and the temptation, to make a fuss about things that aren't really important, threatens to reappear. I had one of those days not so long ago.

I didn’t get that wonderful Monday morning feeling today. I didn’t awake full of anticipation, eager to begin the week. But that’s okay. There’s always tomorrow… another day.

“It’s all lies, Imogen,” I continued. “All that stuff on my blog about how good my parenting and unschooling are going… Who would believe me if they could see us now? It’s just not true.”

Would it help if I told you I used to be known as the dragon mother? Oh yes! I had a temper that matched my red hair. And I liked to use it, especially when I was tired and life didn’t go to plan, and my kids didn’t behave as I hoped.

I used to have an awful lot of bad days. On those days all my children wanted my attention at the same time, the baby cried, the toddler whined, everyone bickered, no one did anything without arguing or delaying for as long as possible... A heavy weight pressed down on my head and I wanted to scream and run away. I wanted to run away from all of my children who always chose the exact same day to be out of sorts. Why did they do that?

Gradually I was discovering what was really important. And gradually I rejected anything that led us away from that close and happy relationship that I knew was the most important thing in the world. 

There are more posts on my Difficult Days, and Worried and Tired Mothers page

In my podcast, I think I got two of my bad days into a muddle. As I was talking, I rolled two into one. Imagine having two bad days on the same day!


This week I featured a piece of music by Italian pianist and composer, Andrea Carri.

Frammenti is available for download from Free Music Archive.

Andrea Carri can also be found on Youtube.

Modifications: I faded in and faded out a few bars and used them between podcast segments.


My grief book: Grief, Love and Hope

My grief posts

These photos were taken on our perfect 'best holiday ever' to Jenolan Caves.

You can find more of my podcasts on my Podbean Podcast Page, or on iTunes.

You could subscribe to my Stories of an Unschooling Family podcast on iTunes.

Please feel welcome to join my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook community.

And finally... you can find my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek on Amazon and a few other places. I'd love you to have a look!

Monday, 26 January 2015

An Australian Bush Birthday and Bush Books

Today is Australia Day. It's also Gemma-Rose's birthday. How are we going to celebrate? We're going to head into the great Australian bush!

"Let's run up the hill," someone shouts, and three girls disappear into the distance.

"Let's dance," someone suggests, and three girls leap through the air.

We jump from mossy rock to mossy rock, as we cross over the creek. 

"Hands in the air," someone shouts, as we wade through the ferns which reach up to our chests.

"Hold onto my hand," says Charlotte as the girls descend a steep slope.

We head between skinny trees, reaching up towards the light. It feels like we're in a rainforest. Everything is damp and dark. The leaf litter is thick. There are fungi, lichen and mosses.

"Oh no!" Callum shouts. "There's a ladder."

"A ladder?"

"Nora is never going to climb a ladder!"

And she won't. Callum has to hoist our huge dog upon his shoulder. She looks wildly around as they go up and up and up.

When we get to the top, we discover a waterfall! We can see it through the trees. Can we get closer for a better look?

We climb this way and that, ducking under branches and hauling ourselves over fallen tree trunks. And then we are rewarded by the sight of falling water.

It's time to turn back.

Over the stepping stones...

and through the bush.

"How far have we walked?" I ask as our feet move from bush track to lake path.

"10 kilometres? 12 kilometres? 14 kilometres?" No one is sure. But we are certain we have walked a long way. 

Sophie and Andy are the last ones to arrive back at the lake. Sophie is limping.

"How did you hurt your foot?"

"I don't know." Blood is pouring from her ankle.

Sophie is ready for a rest. We all are. It's time for our picnic by the lake.

"You're having an Angels birthday," I say to Gemma-Rose. "Celeste Angel went on a bushwalk to the waterfalls on her birthday too."

Yes, the Angel family in my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, head into the great Australian bush. They arrive at the lookout and admire the waterfalls. Mum snaps photo after photo. And then it begins to rain. By the time everyone arrives back at their van, they are all wet. Poor Mum. Her hair is sticking to her head. Normally that bothers her, but for once she doesn't mind. It's all part of the adventure.

It isn't raining today. We don't have to eat our picnic in a steamed-up car like the Angels. We can relax at a table by the lake. And we do relax until Andy jumps up. He's discovered something wriggling on his clothes.

"A leech!"

"I bet that's a leech bite on your foot, Sophie," someone says.

"Do you remember the leeches in the Bush Boys book?" someone asks.

Suddenly Gemma-Rose's Angels of Abbey Creek birthday is turning into a Bush Boys birthday.

Have you read Father James Tierney's Bush Boys books? They are adventurous stories set in the Australian bush. You could visit the Bush Boys Online blog to find out more. The books are available from the Cardinal Newman Faith Resources bookshop as well as Catholic Heritage Curricula. And if you'd like to sample the delights of these living books before you buy, you could download the first book in the series for free. It's available as a PDF.

"Perhaps I could put some leeches into one of my future Angels stories," I say as we head home. "Yes, I must remember the leeches..."

The Angels of Abbey Creek

Have you ever been bitten by a leech?

Have you ever had a picnic in a steamed-up car?

Have you ever had a bush birthday? 

And have you ever read any bush books?

Perhaps you'd like to read The Angels of Abbey Creek or The Bush Boys!

Happy birthday Gemma-Rose. 

And Happy Australia Day!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

(More) Apologies

I once wrote a blog post called Apologies. Loads of people stopped by to read it. Perhaps they wondered, "What did Sue do? Did she make a huge mistake? What is she apologising for?"

Actually that post didn't deserve all the attention it received. The only mistake I'd made was to publish the wrong post on the wrong day, during the annual A - Z blogging challenge. I got into a bit of a muddle and published my X post before my V post. A trivial mistake really but nobody discovered that until they'd clicked onto my post and read it. 

I learnt a lot from that experience: Titles can be very important. They can draw readers in, by capturing their interest, making them want to find out more. Even great stories need good titles otherwise they may never be read.

Podcasts need good titles too. I talk about this in this week's podcast, while making my apologies. 

I also answer these questions...

  • Have I written any other blog posts which have misled readers?
  • Have any readers found themselves reading my rather radical ideas by mistake?
  • Why is my family glad we are used to running up and down hills?
  • Why are the Jenolan Caves so spectacular?
  • How many times can I say the word 'spectacular' in one podcast?
  • Why did the bride cut two holes into a shower curtain and then step into them?
  • Why might I have to go abseiling?
  • Why are stories better than text books?
  • What is one way of igniting a new passion?
  • What is our latest family passion?
  • Am I any good at taking photos underground?
  • What is my latest video about?
  • Did I win my recent copyright disputes with Youtube?
  • What treasure am I hoping listeners will discover if they listen to my podcast?
And finally:
  • What am I apologising for?

Program Notes

Blog posts mentioned

I'm writing too many posts all at once. And I'm getting confused.

Why I'm Wearing Stiff Undies
Disaster has struck. Our washing machine is broken.

Someone has died close to the bush track where we run. We can smell the body. It’s beginning to rot. As I race between the trees, my nose wrinkles. What a foul odour!

It’s hot. It’s far too hot to do anything but lie still. But I’ve been lying still all day. I'm fed-up. Perhaps I need something to think about, something to take my mind off this terrible heat.

Suddenly, I have an idea. I say, “Give me an attention grabbing blog title.”

Getting Kids to Help With the Chores
It took me years to work out how to encourage my children to help with the household chores.

How to Get Children to Do Their School Work
Over the years, I have been asked this question so many times. So what is the answer?

I chain my kids to the table until they’ve completed everything I want them to do.
They don’t get fed until they’ve finished their work.
I threaten them with some dire punishment.
I bribe them.
I tell them I’ll send them to school unless…

Or perhaps…


Podington Bear website: Sound of PictureInstrumental Music With Personality, For Your Project, From Podington Bear.

Podington Bear.

Free Music Archive

You can also buy Podington Bear music from iTunes.

A spectacular place to visit

Jenolan Caves

My latest video

Lots of Unschooling Questions

Learning science by reading stories

A Real Science Education

These photos were taken on our recent holiday to the spectacular Jenolan Caves.

You can find my podcasts on iTunes, if you'd like to subscribe.

You can find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. 

And my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek can be found on Amazon (as well as other places).

Thank you to anyone who listens to this week's podcast!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Protecting Children from Outside Influences

I found this post in my drafts file. I wrote it quite some time ago but never got around to publishing it. It seems to fit in well with my recent podcast, Keeping Teenagers Safe from the Dangers of the World...

A few years ago…

Adelaide knocked on our front door. I directed her into the family room where Imogen and Charlotte were playing, and her eyes opened wide with delight. A huge Barbie game was underway. The floor was awash with Barbies and Kens, Barbie furniture and  cars, Barbie clothes and accessories… everything a doll and a little girl could wish for.

Adelaide chose several Barbies and soon she was immersed in the game. It wasn’t long before she was directing the action.

“Let’s pretend Ken breaks up with your Barbie. Now he’s going out with mine,” said Adelaide.

Imogen and Charlotte looked at the little girl with blank faces: break up? What did that mean? Ken and Barbie were married. They went to Mass and said grace, attended baptisms, went on picnics, homeschooled their children… Barbie and Ken might have been me and Andy. They certainly didn’t ‘break up’.

I didn’t really want my daughters playing ‘breaking up’ games with their dolls but I needn’t have worried. The whole concept must have passed over their heads, because soon another wedding was being arranged. Barbie and Ken were getting married yet again.

A couple of wonderful hours later, Adelaide’s mother arrived to take her home. All three little girls had had a great afternoon. I could tell that Adelaide had really enjoyed playing with Imogen and Charlotte and all their dolls.

But that was the only time Adelaide came to play. She never knocked on our front door again. I wondered if her mother had forbidden her to visit our house. But why? Weren’t we responsible and friendly people? Wasn’t our home considered a safe place for children? I pondered these questions for a long time. And then one day I had this thought: Maybe Adelaide told her mother about all the Masses Barbie and Ken went to. Perhaps she decided she didn’t want her daughter to be exposed to our strange Catholic ways.

I smile at that thought. It amuses me. But at the same time, I can understand why Adelaide’s mother might have worried. We all have values and beliefs we want to pass onto our children, and we don’t want them picking up something contrary to our own way of life. It seems Adelaide's mother might have considered our family as a negative outside influence. 

Friends aren't the only outside influence. Music, TV, the Internet, billboards, books… These can all adversely affect our children. So how do we protect them?

When children are small it’s relatively easy to isolate them from anything we don't like in the outside world. But what about older kids? I guess we could refuse to let them watch TV and use the Internet. Or have strict guidelines they must adhere to. We might insist on previewing every movie and book before we let our children anywhere near them. Perhaps we could make strict rules about friends and places they are allowed to go.

Or is there another way?

“There are a lot of negative influences out in the world. How do parents keep their kids safe,” I ask my older children. “Should they make a lot of rules to protect them?”

“Rules don’t work,” says Imogen. We’ve talked about this before. “Rules result in a power struggle between parents and children.”

“Parents could talk to their children, tell them their concerns, and point out what is right and what is wrong,” suggests Charlotte.

“But children might not want to listen,” I say. “What makes a child respect her parents’ opinions?”

“It’s all to do with family loyalty,” says Callum.


“Yes, a child needs to have a strong sense of belonging to his or her family. Family must be more important than outsiders. If it is, why shouldn’t a child listen to his parents rather than other people?”

But what gives a child that strong sense of belonging to a family? We did some brainstorming and came up with the following ideas…

  • A family has to be a safe place, where a child is unconditionally loved no matter what
  • Acceptance, no criticising, no talking negatively about someone, especially when they are absent
  • Forgive mistakes
  • Ask for forgiveness when we make our own mistakes
  • Listen to a child’s opinions and not make them feel stupid or put them down. Discussion keeps communication lines open. Forcing opinions on children closes them off
  • Parents must want to hear about and share a child’s interests. They must value what's important to them
  • Family members should have interests in common, so they can do things together and discuss and enjoy working and playing together
  • A home must be a joyful and encouraging place so everyone wants to spend time together there as a family
  • A sense of humour unique to a family, that outsiders don’t quite understand, helps create strong bonds
  • A family language works in the same way
  • So do special family traditions
  • Always be willing to help children
  • Respect children
  • Trust them
  • Pray together as a family

When it comes to protecting my children from outside influences, I know I have it easier than some. I seem to have fairly quiet homebody kids and we live away from the city and all its temptations. The only children who live near us are a few preschoolers who are hardly likely to influence my brood.

So are my children safe? Can I guarantee they are protected from outside influences? No, I don't think it's possible for any parent to be absolutely sure of that. But I'm confident a strong sense of family, unconditional love and prayer will help. Yes, I trust.

But beware!

Those Barbie days are long gone, but our family can still be regarded as a negative outside influence. You see, we're unschoolers, and everyone knows unschooling is a lazy, irresponsible way of life. Worse still, we seem to have let unschooling flow over into our parenting. We've become radical. Our children do what they like. We have no rules. 

Our girls have become rather wild. Just look at them. 

It's obvious. Isn't it?

The Angels of Abbey Creek
Thank you Charliene, for reviewing my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek. Here's a little snippet...

"My daughter (age 6) and I enjoyed The Angels of Abbey Creek immensely! The moment it ended, she begged to begin it again. We giggled our way through many chapters. Through some, we sighed in empathy and cuddled closer. Through all, we related to the delightful characters, our new friends, each brimming with personality, and the wonderful and humorously familiar circumstances they find themselves in... " Charliene.

You can find the whole review on Amazon.

And you can find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Please feel welcome to join me!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

My Head is Overflowing with Ideas, Music and Lots of Questions!

"Come and look at my new video!" I shout and my children come running.

I always get so excited when I create something new. I have to share with someone... immediately. It's just as well my children are willing to look at my latest video or listen to my just-finished podcast. They're great. They say all the right things. They're very encouraging. I guess that's what family is all about.

Yesterday, I got excited about a new music discovery.

"Come and see what I found!" I shouted and my children came running. "About 500 pieces of music by an artist called Podington Bear. They're all available for use through Creative Commons." My children were suitably impressed.

Podington Bear is really Chad Crouch, and his music is tagged as melodic, film music. Perfect for my videos and podcasts.

All the Podington Bear music can be downloaded for free, and can be used for any non-commercial project (with the appropriate attribution). And if a commercial license is required, one can be purchased for a very reasonable fee.

I found two Podington Bear websites: Sound of PictureInstrumental Music With Personality, For Your Project, From Podington Bear.

And Podington Bear.

The music is also available from Free Music Archive

And you can also buy Podington Bear music from iTunes.

Of course, once I'd discovered this music, I wanted to make a new video so I could use some of it. But which Podington Bear piece? It took me a long time to decide. So much choice. And what should I make my video about? Hours later, this is what I'd created...

Lots of Unschooling Questions...

"Come and listen to my idea for a new video!" I shout and my children come running.

"Another one? Didn't you just publish a video?"

I did, but suddenly my head is overflowing with new ideas. Now which one shall I use first? And which piece of music shall I choose? This might take some time. I might be gone a while... 

Don't you just love creating? I do!

Video Music: Growly Snake Beat by Podington Bear(CC BY-NC 3.0)

My Stories of an Unschooling Family Podbean podcast page
My Stories of an Unschooling Family podcast on iTunes

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Keeping Teenagers Safe from the Dangers of the World


The other day, I settled myself into a comfortable chair in the living room and opened another Australian novel. (You might know that I'm working my way through a list of 50 Must Read books.) But before I could read more than a page or two, the rest of my family appeared.

"What are you doing, Mum?"

"Is it coffee time?"

"Shall I fill the kettle?"

Soon we were drinking coffee and talking together, and my book was forgotten. The conversation turned to my last podcast, Resolutions, Reading, Writing and Coarse Language

"I've been thinking about what I said in that podcast. Do you think I was wrong?" I asked my children.  "Should I look at every book before letting you read them? Is it wrong to trust you? Perhaps I'm an irresponsible mother. Maybe I'm not keeping you safe from the dangers of the world."

Opinions flew back and forth across the living room. Everyone had something to say. I had a very lively discussion with my teenagers and young adults. 

"It would be really good if I could record some of this conversation," I said. "You all have some very interesting things to say. How about I interview a couple of you for this week's podcast?"

So that's what I did. I interviewed Imogen (20) and Charlotte (17) and asked them for their opinions on keeping children safe from the dangers of the world, including inappropriate books, computer usage, movies, emails etc. 

These are some of the points we touched on:
  • Is the world a dangerous place for young people?
  • Is spying on a child justified?
  • Does policing children's activities really keep them safe?
  • Could it damage the child/parent relationship?
  • Is there another way of keeping children safe?
  • Can children be trusted to make the right decisions?
  • How do they know what is appropriate and inappropriate?
  • Am I irresponsible? Do I just let my kids do whatever they want? Or is there more to it than that?

You might not agree with my opinions or those of my children. You might even think I'm a bit weird. That's okay. I think parents have to do what they feel is right for their own families. That's what we're doing. But you could have other ideas. Perhaps you're doing things differently. And that's okay too!


Program Notes

Blog posts about trusting children to make the right choices

Can we give a child the freedom to choose but at the same time be confident they will make the right choices?

But do rules really teach children right from wrong? Or do they teach children how to avoid punishment? Could it be that the motivation to behave a certain way is coming from outside a child, and not from within?

We don’t make rules in our family, so how do my children know what is right and what is wrong, if they aren’t guided by clearly stated limits?  

Teenage Daughters, Books, Movies and Love
When it comes to books and movies, my 16 year old daughter Charlotte is very hard to please. Sometimes when we are watching a family movie together, we’ll realise she is no longer in the room with us.

Related Podcast

Resolutions, Reading, Writing and Coarse Language


I didn't talk specifically about music this week, but I did use a small snippet of a piece by Podington Bear to separate segments of my podcast. If you'd like to listen to the full piece of music, here's the details:

By Grace by Podington Bear(CC BY-NC 3.0)

(Isn't Podington Bear a great name?)

The Angels of Abbey Creek

You can ...

find more podcasts on my podcast page,

subscribe to my podcasts through iTunes.

and perhaps you'd like to join me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page.

And did you know every story in my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, is totally appropriate. No danger at all!