Monday, January 30, 2012

An Extraordinary School for Boys

If you are a tennis fan and have been watching the Australian Open over the past fortnight you might have missed the first two parts of this fantastic documentary which is airing on ABC1 at the moment. If you are a parent to school age boys and/or if you are involved with teaching boys this is not to be missed!

Gareth Malone is a choirmaster who has become somewhat of a household name in the UK following the success of the programme 'The Choir'. You can read more about Gareth and the various projects he has been involved in at his own website

 In 'Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys' Gareth takes on the challenge of teaching a class of primary school boys and engaging them in learning. It's a formidable task that lies ahead but Gareth Malone knows a thing or two about teaching boys, he used to be one himself. In the first episode they leave the confines of the classroom and set up an outdoor camp in the woods on the edge of the school grounds, a place normally out of bounds, for the activities which Gareth believes will motivate the boys and give them a new zeal for learning. Activities that involve an element of risk such as using handsaws for which permission is required and given with some reluctance by the head teacher. The other teachers are skeptical and think chaos will be the end result.

In the second episode Gareth tackles the boys reading and their disinterest in books. Competition, parental involvement, allowing the boys to choose the books for the school and making the library more appealing for boys are just some of the strategies he tries. He also has a wonderful innate ability for instilling confidence in people no matter what their age or background. It's beautiful to watch as is the camp at their outdoor classroom in the woods. Gareth invites the fathers to attend with their sons and somehow persuades them to read aloud around the campfire. I had goosebumps!

That's just a little glimpse of what you missed if you were watching the tennis in the evenings and sorry I checked but this series doesn't appear to be on iview but it is not too late. Episode 3 and the final one in the series is all about writing and airs tomorrow evening - that's Tuesday at 9.30PM on ABC1. It is well worth watching. Let me know what you thought of the series if you have watched it. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the outcomes were for this group of boys. One thing's for sure, I bet they will never forget Gareth Malone and will remember being a part of this programme for the rest of their lives.

Here's the link to the programme at the ABC website and one to the page on Gareth's website about his 'Extraordinary School for Boys'. There's a link there to a blog article he wrote about his experience and the methods he employed. And if you are at all interested in classical music check out his new book - looks fascinating!

Update: According to the guide tonight's episode is now airing at 9.59PM in NSW. Glad I didn't set the recorder or I would have missed the first half!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Celebration of Australia Day 2012

Are you ready to sing?


The Conductor is ready!

Australians All Let us REJOICE


 For We are YOUNG and FREE


We've Golden Soil and WEALTH for Toil

Our HOME is Girt by Sea


Our Land ABOUNDS in Nature's GIFTS




In History's Page
Let Every Stage
In JOYFUL Strains
Then Let us Sing

Words and music to the Australian National Anthem were composed by Peter Dodds McCormick. It was proclaimed Australia's National Anthem by the Governor-General in April 1984. You will no doubt, hear it many times over during the Olympic Games!

All pictures apart from my daughter searching for sapphires and those featuring our resident wildlife were taken during January 2012. Australia Day is celebrated on the 26TH January at beaches, parks, reserves and in backyards with barbecues and games of cricket favoured by many. Citizenship ceremonies are traditionally held on this day.

Happy Australia Day 2012!

Hope you enjoyed these pictures of our unique and beautiful Australian scenery, flora and fauna.We were planning a camping trip but have postponed it due to the very wet weather we have been experiencing. We will celebrate with a family dinner at home. I have a leg of lamb to roast infused with garlic and rosemary and might venture out into the bush to pick some leaves and native flowers to decorate the table.

How are you celebrating Australia Day?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can you comment at my blog?

I'm wondering if any of my readers or visitors have been unable to leave comments as I understand there is a bug associated with the update to threaded comments for those who have comment forms embedded at the bottom of the post which I did. It particularly affects those using IE who wish to leave comments who find they can no longer do so at certain blogs (most likely those with embedded comment forms)
I've changed my comment box to the pop up variety to see if this fixes this glitch. Let me know if you had issues leaving comments at my blog previously and if you can now - thank you so much!
Have you seen a drop in the number of comments at your own blog? Maybe this issue is affecting you too!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Last Time She Smiled.

How handwritten letters from a young girl touched the heart of a grandmother

'A letter is a soul, such a faithful copy of the beloved voice which speaks, that fragile souls count it among love's most precious treasures.'
Honore De Balzac

Shortly before Christmas we received the sad but not unexpected news that my husband's grandmother had passed away. She had lived a long life, well into her nineties but in recent years had faced a number of health issues. On quite a number of occasions we had received a phone call informing us that she was not expected to live for much longer but each time she defied the doctors and surprised the family and the next call was not the details of a funeral but rather that she was sitting up in bed, talking and eating. I thought perhaps, that she was determined to receive her telegram from the Queen that citizens of the Commonwealth are entitled to on reaching the age of one hundred but this was not to be.

But in the final weeks of her life she would receive a letter that would mean far more to her than any congratulatory words from a monarch. Confined to her bed, as her earthly life was ebbing away and unable to read the letter for herself, the letter was read to her by her daughter. It was another letter from across the Tasman from my seventeen year old daughter who since the age of nine or ten had been faithfully writing letters to her great grandmother. I'm not sure what she shared in that final letter. Most likely it would have been about our preparations for Christmas and what she was baking in the kitchen which her great grandmother loved to hear about. This letter would gladden her heart one more time, for on hearing it read to her I was told that it was the last time she smiled.

It was then that I realized just what those letters meant to her. It had started out as a suggestion. We thought it would be a good way for our daughter to practice her writing rather than just using workbooks which are eventually discarded and this was purposeful writing because we knew that my husband's grandmother would appreciate receiving a letter in the mail from a member of her family. It soon became apparent that she did indeed enjoy receiving those letters and she began sending letters in return. Sometimes she would scold my daughter when she did not immediately reply but this did not deter my daughter and she kept on writing. At that time her great grandmother was living in Australia. A long distance from us but we were able on a number of occasions to make the trip to her city and visit her in her little flat and have a cup of tea with her, something she took much delight in. For her, the most memorable visit would have been when we introduced her to our twin daughters who were just 3 months old at the time. She had been ill and was thrilled to see us but to have those tiny girls placed into her arms was a moment of pure joy for her!

I am not entirely sure how many letters my daughter wrote to her great grandmother over the years - I have lost count. She also sent little gifts on her birthday and at Christmas and lots of photographs of the family which she proudly set out on display around her home. Those handwritten letters became some of her most treasured possessions and it is only now that she has gone that I am realizing what they truly meant to her. I can just imagine the spring in her step when she would see that envelope addressed to her among the utility bills and supermarket mailers. It was more than mere correspondence or sharing of family news. It told her she was not forgotten, that someone cared for her and considered her worthy of a personal handwritten letter in a day and age when letter writing is becoming a lost art as other more impersonal forms of social and electronic communication take over.

I was asked to write a piece for the funeral which was read out for those in attendance. I shared as I have with you about the letters and correspondence and how they touched the heart of a great grandmother. I wanted a Bible verse that aptly described the value of letter writing and in particular what these letters meant to this old lady. I began to search the Scriptures and found two fitting verses. Proverbs 25 verse 25 states 'As cold water to a weary soul, So is good news from a far country.' Absolutely! The letters would have refreshed her and revived her soul whenever she felt the aching pain of loneliness.

Proverbs 16 verse 24 tells us that 'Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.' Pleasant words can be spoken but they can also be put into writing and the words she read were sweet to her like honey. Simple greetings such as 'How are you? I hope you are feeling better.' And sharing of everyday news to which she could relate which would bring back fond memories of times when she was able to look after a garden and bake - the simple pleasures of home. We knew she just loved having the opportunity to share about what she had taken delight in over the years such as growing flowers and making afternoon tea for friends.

And so came to an end a rare friendship between an elderly lady and a teenager. A friendship that was founded on the exchange of letters. Letters that brought hope and encouragement and brightened almost every week of the last decade of her life. And one final letter which would touch her soul during her final days on earth - the last time she smiled.


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