Thursday, December 31, 2009

Feeling Blah

Weather horrible.

Children bored.

Slept for 12 hours last night and still feel tired.

What is wrong with me? I'm having a definite post-Christmas slump. Thank goodness we didn't go away like we usually do at this time of year. Caravans and caravan parks by the beach are not so fun in rainy weather. It's been bad enough at home. Joshua got a new bike for Christmas and he hasn't even been able to ride it yet. We haven't been able to go to the beach. Chris' colleague at work has lent us his boat (just a tinnie) so we can go out fishing, but we haven't been able to. Poor Chris, he has to go back to work on Monday, and I don't think he's had much of a fun holiday.

It's New Year's Eve today. Every year there are fireworks down at the waterfront, not far from here. It's doable to head down there for the 9pm fireworks and be home and in bed by 10pm. Yes, we are such party animals! Every year there's a circus, and every year the kids ask to go, and every year we don't. But this morning I was feeling sorry for everyone, so I swung into action, found out that the circus is on at 3pm, (giving us plenty of time to get dinner then be ready for the 9pm fireworks), and got us some ringside seats! Yay for me! Only one problem, I think I might have missed the window of opportunity for pleasing my kids. I think they might be a bit too old and too cool for the circus now. When I told them that we were going the circus, their responses were less than ecstactic. Oh well, I'm trying...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not Quite Wrapping up the Everything Austen Challenge

Unfortunately with only a day or two left until the Everything Austen challenge deadline, I am well aware that I'm not going to make it. Everything Austen has been hosted by Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word, and was designed for all of us Jane Austen fans. The idea was to experience (or re-experience) six Austenish books, movies or the like. Sadly, I have managed only two, Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange and Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster.

Even though the challenge is going to officially end, I'm going to continue on into the New Year. I'll still post reviews, and finish in my own time. Thanks Stephanie, for all your hard work hosting the challenge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping up the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge

Thanks so much to the delightful Beth at Beth Fish Reads for hosting the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge and introducing me to these enjoyable books. Their author, Charlaine Harris, has written other series also, as well as some short stories, so I'm definitely glad that I've found her!

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. Borrowed from my local public library. **** "Great, as expected."
I'm having a little bit of trouble with this review. I read this one, and the last one Dead and Gone, immediately after one another in the space of a day and a half, and I'm finding it hard to remember where one finished and the other started!

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris.

Borrowed from by local public library.

**** "Fun!"

So, I'm not wanting to give away too much to those of you who will be wanting to read these books for yourselves. Lets just say this much - the weres are battling in From Dead to Worse and the fairies are battling in Dead and Gone, and Sookie manages to be right in the middle of it all. Bill is still professing undying love for Sookie, but her bond with Eric is strengthening. Not to be left out, Quinn and Alcide both make appearances in these books also. As usual, all Sookie wants is a peaceful life and a man in her bed that she can rely on to hang around for a while, and as usual Sookie ends up in danger and physically and emotionally hurt.

If you haven't tried the Sookie Stackhouse books, but like fast paced easy reads that are just a little bit trashy (!), then I recommend that you give these books a try.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome to the Post Christmas Book Binge

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, each in your own way. Is it wrong? I actually enjoy the days after Christmas leading up to New Year better than Christmas itself. Having visited both sides of the family, cooked and eaten, given and received presents, yada, yada, yada, I find this time of year restful and enjoyable.

The kids have some new presents to amuse themselves with, my husband is at home because his work shuts down at this time of year, and I GOT SOME BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS! Aaaaah, time to relax and read!

I have a little bit of a backlog of reviews from books I have read lately, (why oh why is it so easy to motivate myself to read a book, and so hard to motivate myself to write a review?) so I'll get on with it so I can bury my head in a book.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.

Bought for a friend for her birthday, and borrowed back.

**** "Interesting and enjoyable!"

From the back cover: "From the moment she's struch by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is marked for greatness. When she uncovers fossils of unknown creatures in the cliffs near her home, she sets the scientific world alight, challenging ideas about the world's creation and stimulating debate over our origins. This is an arena dominated by men but luckily Mary finds and unlikely champion in prickly, intelligent Elizabeth Philpot. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty and barely suppressed envy. Despite their defferences in age and background, Mary and Elizabeth discover that, in struggling for recognition, friendship is their strongest weapon."

This book is set in the Austen era, and is essentially the tale of two women. Mary Anning is the daughter of a cabinet maker who is deeply in debt and dies young. Her family's only form of income is the money they make from the sale of "curies", fossils that Mary finds on the beach at Lyme Regis. Visitors from London will pay in pennies, or sometimes even shillings for these curiosities. The family lives hand to mouth, always on the brink of starvation, and constantly have the fear of being sent to the workhouse hanging over their heads.

Mary has an instinctive abilty to find fossils. She is well practiced in the art of cleaning them and displaying them to their best advantage, but even more, she has a talent for reconstructing the skeletons of mysterious and unknown creatures. Her finds begin to catch the attention of gentlemen for whom the collection and display of fossils is their latest hobby, and eventually they come to the attention of the greatest scientific names of the time. Some of her finds are still on display today.

Elizabeth Philpot is one of three spinster sisters who are sent to live in a small cottage in Lyme Regis with their one servant and their one hundred and fifty pounds a year when it becomes apparent that they will not marry. They live modestly in their diminished surroundings, with less society than they are used to in London, and to their credit they find ways to quietly fill their days. Elizabeth has a great interest in natural science, and takes to scouring the beach for fossil fish, in which she has a particular interest. But upon witnessing the incredible discoveries that Mary Anning makes, she begins to question her ideas about God's creation. Why would God create animals, only to allow them to die out? If God created the earth, just as it is today, how did the animal bones get inside the rocks? And how could the earth possibly be only 6000 years old?

This book is a work of fiction, but is based on read people and real events. Because I had already read some popular science that dealt with scientific thought at this time, I could really appreciate the events as they unfolded. But I think a reader with no previous scientific knowledge would still enjoy this story.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

grave sight by Charlaine Harris

grave sight by Charlaine Harris

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Loved it!"

From the inside cover: "Harper and Tolliver are experts at getting in, getting paid, and then getting out of town fast - because the people who hire Harper have a funny habit of not really wanting to know what she has to tell them. At first, the little Ozarks town of Sarne seems like no exception. A teenage girl as gone missing, and Harper knows almost immediately that this girl is dead. But the secrets of her death - and the secrets of the town - are deep enough that even Harper's special ability can't uncover them. With hostility welling up all around them, she and Tolliver would like nothing better than to be on their way. But ten another woman is murdered. And the killer's not finished yet..."

This book is the first in Harris' "grave" series, telling the story of Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang. Harper and Tolliver are strongly bonded through the experience of parental neglect during their formative years - her mother married his father, and together they descended into a drug and alcohol fueled decline. During these desperate years, Harper was struck by lightning, and though she survived, she was left with a legacy of ill-health and a strange, unexplainable gift - the ability to locate corpses and identify them, along with their cause of death. Harper and Tolliver travel the country as a very unusual private detective team; Harper finds the dead and allows them the dignity of a burial, while giving their families closure. tolliver supports the fragile Harper, and takes care of the business side of things.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I am a very frequent visitor to my public library. That is because I simply don't have the disposable income to buy many books. Often the books that I want to borrow are already out, and for some reason my library charges $2.50 to put you on a waiting list to receive it when it comes back in. For this reason I often check my library's online catalogue frequently so I can see when a book is back in and nab it quickly! grave sight is one of those books that I had to be patient for, so I actually ended up reading the second book in the series, grave surprise, first. You can read my review here.

Anyway, the fact that I had read the second book in the series first in no way diminished my enjoyment of this book. The characters of Harper and Tolliver are interesting, and their not-quite-brother-and-sister relationship is fascinating. The paranormal aspect of Harper's gift is handled very well, without hoopla. Apart from Harper's ability, this is not a paranormal story, rather it is more like a classic murder mystery. I like the way that while Harper and Tolliver's story goes on, the mystery is wrapped up by the end of the book. In this way, the books are like episodes of your favourite TV show - you don't want to miss one, but if you do it's not the end of the world, you can keep watching.

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do You Believe In Coincidences?

Today I was browsing in a book store with my hubby Chris, and while I was in the Jane Austenish area I picked up a copy of Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters, just to show him. I'd heard a bit about this book, and another in the same vein called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I'm participating in the Everything Austen Challenge, hosted by Stephanie, so these Austen mashups have not escaped my notice.

Imagine my surprise when I got home, checked my emails, and found that I had won a "gently used" copy of Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters from Ashley at Ashley's Library! Spooky coincidence...or something more???

Thanks Ashley!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas

Well the presents are wrapped, school is finished, the Christmas parties are done. In just a few short days we'll be unwrapping the gifts, getting together with family, eating, drinking and being merry. So why don't I feel very ho-ho-ho-happy?

I guess I have had a pretty busy time of it lately. I'm probably mostly just tired. And I think sometimes we put a lot of pressure on special occasions and holidays to live up to our expectations. We think that Christmas should be so special and shiny and merry, and I think it's hard for it to live up to the hype.

So I'm just going to take things one day at a time. (Which is how I try to live all the time.) This afternoon we're heading down to my sister's place to have a BBQ dinner. We usually get together once a week, but lately end-of-year festivities have gotten in the way. So tonight will be our first meal together in a while, so I should plan to enjoy it! (It's a bit sad when you have to remind yourself to enjoy things that should be effortlessly enjoyable - so I guess I must be tired!)

Chris and I went to Lizotte's in Newcastle last night and saw the Bondi Cigars with some friends. Check them out in this video (not taken by me, just found on YouTube).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More about the iphone and Books

Remember I was talking about e-readers and iphones the other day? Well check this out!

With thanks to Judy at Hey Jude!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Lollipop Shoes

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris.

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Captivating"

From the back of the book: "Seeking refuge and anonymity in the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Yanne and her daughters, Rosette and Annie, live peacefully, if not happily, above their little chocolate shop. Nothing unusual marks them out; no red sachets hang by the door. The wind has stopped - at least for a while. Then into their lives blows Zozie de l'Alba, the lady with the lollipop shoes, and everything begins to change...

This book is a sequel to Chocolat, which was made into a movie, but it's not necessary for you to have read the book or seen the movie to enjoy The Lollipop Shoes.

The Lollipop Shoes is the story of a mother's love. Yanne is really Vianne, a gifted witch who uses her magic to protect her family and bring love and hope to those around her. It appears however, that her gift is placing her children in danger, so she runs away, changes her name, and swears to never  use magic again. The opening of the book finds Yanne living in fear, trying desperately to be as invisible as possible. She lives above a little chocolate shop, in which she works selling factory-bought chocolates. No longer the wearer of red dresses, and the creator of divine home-made chocolates, instead she is as brown and bland as possible.

Yanne's daughters have inherited her gift for practical magic, but Yanne is frightened of the consequences so is desperately trying to explain away any unusual occurences as "accidents". Her older daughter, Annie (formerly Anouk), is approaching adolescence, and really needs her mother. But she cannot trust the stranger that Yanne has become.

Into this mix sweeps Zozie, with her "lollipop shoes", eclectic mix of bohemian clothing and unstoppable energy. Zozie is also a witch, and befriends Annie, slyly becoming the mother figure that Annie desperately needs. She has sinister plans for the little family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this magical tale. Like Yanne, I have an eleven-year-old daughter, so the description of their increasingly difficult relationship resonated for me. It reminded me how much our children need to see us being authentic, open and not fearful. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Kindle and Other e-book Readers

Christmas brings with it lots of catalogues and shopping, and I find, lots of ideas for things that I'd really like to have! Lately my mind has been on the idea of getting a new mobile phone, perhaps even an iphone. All the apps make it a one stop shop for phone, music, photos/video, internet and personal organisation. Not to mention, it has an e-reader.

My husband has been warning me that using your iphone for everything can cost a lot! Apparently the trick is to make sure that your internet access is via your own home network rather than charged as phone calls. Also, he reminds me that if you have one device for everything (i.e. all your eggs in one basket), then disaster strikes if something happens to that precious device. So I don't think I'm getting an iphone any time soon.

I am, though, quite taken with the idea of an e-reader. For uni this year, one of the readings was via an e-book which I borrowed from the uni library. First I had to install some software to act as my library, then I downloaded the book, and read it on screen. That's the sum total of my experience with e-books. But the idea of a small, portable device that can hold hundreds of books is enticing. Also, many e-books are available for free, and (I've heard) others are very cheap.

I have heard though, that Australian users can find it a bit frustrating because copyright prevents us from owning many of the e-books that are readily available elsewhere. Bummer.

My friend Ruth, at Skerricks has been lobbying (no success so far) to receive a Kindle, or similar, to review. Let me tell you, she deserves it. She loves her library, loves her kids, and works hard to continually improve service. She never rests on her laurels, but is always trying new things. She is ever the optimist, and seems tireless. Today she posted about e-readers here and provided a link to a very interesting blog post and slide show about e-readers and e-books in Australia. Check it out here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

How's your relationship with classic literature? Mine's pretty rocky. Over the years I have read several books that I felt that I really should love, but just didn't. Nothing by any of the Bronte sisters appeals to me, much to my embarrassment.

So it was with some trepidation that I began The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I feared that I would find it dull, or difficult, or un-finishable.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Readable"

The cover of the book that I borrowed from the library is extremely boring, so I've used a still from the recent movie adaptation.

So what's it all about? The "picture of Dorian Gray" has become a well-known idea in our culture, and is often used as a metaphor. Sometimes people are said to be like Dorian Gray, or it is wondered whether they have a portrait hiding in a closet somewhere. But what does it all mean?

Dorian Gray is a young, naive, beautiful, innocent boy. An artist paints a portrait of him, and all at once he is arrested by his own beauty. He laments the fact that he will gradually age and lose his looks. He wishes that his portait could do the aging for him, and that he could remain untouched and beautiful forever.

At the same time, Dorian strikes up a friendship with an older man, Lord Henry Wotton. "Harry" takes great delight in influencing and moulding Dorian's character, likes and dislikes, and opinions. He advocates sensuality, and decries morality. Bit by bit, Dorian does away with conscience, and embraces a life of style over substance and the pursuit of pleasure. As time goes on, Dorian's life descends into depravity, despair, madness and murder.

And that's basically the whole story. There's not really a whole lot of plot going on. And while I was keen to know what was going to happen, and how it would all play out, I would have liked a bit of subplot or some more expansion of other characters.

The writing is fabulous. Harry is deliciously wicked and ironic, and the dialogue and descriptions are wonderful. I must, however, be a bit uncouth, because I like to have a bit of action with my excellent writing.

Well worth a try, and I enjoyed it more than any of the "classics" that I have read.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Year 6 Farewell Pics

Please enjoy these photos taken last night at Alana's Year 6 Farewell.

All dressed up and ready to go.

With her besties before going inside.

I love you Alana XOXO.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All Together Dead

It's not too late to sign up to take part in the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge. Head over to Beth Fish Reads and check it out.
Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series are listed below, with links to my review posts.

All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone

And so we move on to my review for All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris.

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "A great fun read."

From the back of the book: "Betrayed by her longtime vampire love, Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse must now not only deal with a possible new man in her life - the oh-so-handsome shape-shifter Quinn - but also contend with a long-planned vampire summit..."

I found this instalment in the series pleasantly satisfying. A lusty sex scene (no, I won't tell you who!), a declaration of undying love (or at least desire), and a mysterious blood exchange ritual leading to an irrevocable bond.

Of course, as usual, there's death and destruction, murder and mayhem - perhaps a little too much for me. The ins and outs of the vampire summit, the sheer number of villians, and the complex relationships between all the different players were difficult for me to get my head around. I still don't think I quite understood what happened!

Nonetheless, an entertaining diversion that provides Sookie with plenty of scope for adventure in future episodes.

Year 6 Farewell

Alana has her Year 6 Farewell tonight at the school hall.

5.30pm meet and greet and photo opportunity.
(I'm not making this up, it actually says this on the invite!)

6pm sit down dinner and speeches.

Then they "dance the night away".
The fun finishes at 8.15pm.

Parents are welcome to arrive back at the school from 7.45pm.
(To do what? Spy on our kids "dancing the night away"? More "photo opportunities"?)

I'll be sure to post tomorrow to let you know all about it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

(Image courtesy of

I don't want to speak too soon, or too loudly, but I THINK I MIGHT HAVE FINISHED MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Puppets Rock Out to the Christmas Story

This morning at church we had our annual children's end-of-year presentation. Each Sunday School group presents an item, then each of the children are given a small (book) gift to celebrate the end of another successful year.

Alana received Sophie's Encore by Nancy Rue.

From the back of the book: "How can God let bad things happen? Sophie's baby sister, Hope, is born with Down syndrome, and the Flakes dis her over an annoying new girl. Even her research as medical expert Dr. Devon Downing won't fix things, but Sophie learns love is at work even when she can't see it."

Josh got My Life as Crocodile Junk Food by Bill Myers.

From the back of the book: "Chased by thieves through roaring rapids, over a killer waterfall, and into the hands of primitive jungle natives! This isn't exactly what Dad had in mind when he took his son on a missions trip to the South American rain forest. But he should have known better. After all, we are talking about Wally-If-Anything-Can-Go-Wrong-It-Will-McDoogle."

The most entertaining part of the morning for me (sorry kids) was the showing of a video that someone had stumbled over on You Tube. I won't try to explain it, you just have to watch it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Full Blast by Evanovich & Hughes

Full Blast by Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Readable"

I've got one word to say about this book - trashy. Which is great, if you like that sort of thing. Which I usually do. I am a big fan of Evanovich's "By the Numbers" series (she's up to Finger Lickin' Fifteen). Sure, they're trashy, but the heroine is lovable, the love interests are interesting and there is plenty of humour. Full Blast's heroine, Jamie Swift, is a bit boring. I wasn't feeling it. The love interest, Max Holt, just didn't do it for me, and there were no laugh-out-loud moments.

Sorry folks, if you feel like an enjoyable, trashy read with a bit of romance (or just plain sex!), a bit of humour, and a mystery to solve, you'd be much better of with Stephanie Plum, or even Sookie Stackhouse.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Books I can't finish.

I've read posts on other blogs lamenting the inability to finish a particular book. And the debate on whether or not to force yourself to finish it, whether to write a negative review, or whether to follow Mum's advice and "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".

Lately I've been experiencing a bit of a reading slump; coming across no fewer than three books that I couldn't make it through. What's happened to me???

an Umbrian Love Story by Marlena de Blasi. Borrowed from my mother, who thought I might enjoy it.
Despite the fact that I couldn't finish this book, I don't think that it's terrible. Not at all. It's a lovingly written memoir, detailing life in country Italy through the eyes of an outsider.

de Blasi concentrates on the food, festivals, family life and architecture of the town of Orvieto, where she and her husband settle with the intention of buying a house and entertaining family and friends.

Sorry - I can't tell you how it all works out.

Capital Crimes by Faye and Jonathan Kellerman. Borrowed from my local public library.
I've read lots of books by both Kellermans in the past, and enjoyed them. What happened here?

This book is two long short stories, Nashville and Berkeley. I started with Berkeley, and couldn't get into it. So I flipped the book over, and tried Nashville, which I enjoyed. so I flipped again, tried Berkeley again, and still couldn't get into it.

The Enigma of Numbers by Lance Storm. Borrowed from my local public library.
I thought this book was a sure thing for me. I have a mathematics degree, I love "popular science" and am super interested in psychology, philosophy and human consciousness.

From the back of the book: "Quanlitative numbers are mysterious symbols, giving rise to puzzling patterns and uncanny coincidences. His journey takes us from Pythagoras, the ancient Creek mathematics and mystic, through philosophy, arcane religious symbolism and pre-science to the number archetype of the pshychologist C.G.Jung, which grounds this work."

It sounded good to me, but I just didn't find it readable. It was too dense, and too difficult for me.

So, that's my three failures. But never fear, I've got some more to try!

Monday, November 30, 2009

I am feeling a little bit tired - I had a busy weekend.

Firstly, at the moment it's all about the ballet concert. Every year at this time things get a little manic as we are thrown into a whirlwind of extra rehearsals, costumes, ticket-buying and photos. This year Alana's ballet class is doing Swan Lake - hence the photo above. THIS IS NOT HER, but her costume is fairly similar, and they have learnt the actual choreography of the traditional ballet! In addition, Alana has been chosen to be one of the four cygnets (baby swans) who dance their own special bit. Even if you know nothing about ballet, you probably know the dance of the cygnets. It's that one in which the four dancers cross and hold hands in front. The one that everyone tries to imitate. Quite the honour!

This weekend she had rehearsal on Saturday and photo day (in full costumes and makeup) on Sunday. We also had to make a quick trip to our nearest Bloch store to pick up a few bits and pieces, including brand new ballet slippers (the old ones had been painted so many times I think they had more paint than leather on them!).

Secondly, one of my flute students had her 4th grade exam today. Saturday was her last lesson and Sunday afternoon we travelled to Sydney to stay with my parents overnight because the exam was being held 9am in AMEB headquarters and we didn't want to have to leave home before dawn to get there! My Mum and Dad were super hospitable feeding us and putting us up for the night, as well as driving us into the city this morning and dropping us right out the front of the building.

Good news - my student got a solid pass in a technically challenging exam. Smiles all 'round!

So that's me for now...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Awful Library Books

Each time I sign in to my blog, I cast my eye down my blog list to see what all my blogging friends are writing about. There are a few blogs that are my favourites, that are not-to-be-missed. When they have a new post, I check it out straight away, because I'm sure to be entertained and informed.

One of my current faves is Awful Library Books. The title speaks for itself, and I usually see something laugh-out-loud funny. The comments are always great too.

Why don't you visit it today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jobs, High School and the Twilight Saga.

  1. I have just posted another job application. No luck (so far, and it's been a while so I'm not holding my breath) with the other two that I applied for earlier in the month. This one is local (tick), part time (tick), and as part of the local public library team (just what I want). However, the hours are challenging (5 - 9.30am Tuesday to Friday), and I wouldn't actually be working in the library, but manning a book stall at the local train station as a service to commuters. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a fabulous service to the community (and before this job came up I didn't even know it existed). However, I don't think it's really my dream job! I'd prefer to be in the library, working with a team, and with the opportunity to extend my skills and use my abilities in many different areas of library work including story time for preschoolers, the virtual library (particularly online resources for school students) and reference work. I think that the Book Express job would be limited to checking out adult fiction. But it would be a foot in the door. And simply getting my resume into the hands of the people responsible for hiring at the library is a good start. I really hope I get an interview!
  2. The whole family went to the parent information evening at Alana's high school last night. Alana was fortunate (and talented!) enough to gain a place at an academically selective high school in our area. Last night was a precurser to Thursday week's orientation day, to prepare the 180 students that will be entering Year 7 next year (and will be the class of 2015!). We got lots of information about travel passes, uniforms, book packs, joining the P&C, and how to overcome "homework shock"! I'm starting to realise what a big deal it is to have your oldest child start high school. Any advice from parents that have "been there, done that" will be received gratefully!
  3. I'm re-reading Eclipse. I know, I know, it's not literary gold, but I can't help myself! After seeing New Moon at the movies I just had to continue with the story!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Double Review Day

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Enjoyable"

I have learnt by now that I enjoy the genre known as "popular science", which I presume means science written for the non-academic reader. I like finding out about stuff! This book sees Bryson take the reader on a tour of everything that is currently known about the universe, the Earth, and life on Earth.

Starting with an explanation about what scientists currently believe about how the universe began, Bryson introduces us to the unimaginable scale of everything science related. The enormous size of the universe is balanced by the truly teeny tiny size of its constituent parts. For instance, if we were to draw a picture of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to the size of a pea, Pluto would be two and a half Kilometres distant! And a typical atom has a diameter of 0.00000008 centimetres, or eight one hundred millionths of a centimetre! But even more amazing, most of this diameter is actually empty space, with the nucleus of the atom occupying only one millionth of a billionth of the  total volume. Unbelievable!

Bryson also discusses evolution, ice ages, extinctions, and the rise of homo sapiens. I found it genuinely fascinating, and recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Since finishing uni for the year, I've had plenty of time for reading, so I can treat you to another review.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Readable"

Real Murders is the first in the Aurora Teagarden mystery series by Charlaine Harris. Since I really enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse series, and also recently read, and loved, one of the Harper Connelly books, I thought I'd give this one a go.

Aurora Teagarden is a single 28-year-old librarian who lives alone in a townhouse in Lawrenceton, just out of Atlanta. She meets once a month with a group of like-minded individuals, who share an interest in true crime. Each month they dissect a famous case in detail, trying to decide whether the police arrested the right person, or attempt to solve unsolved mysteries. Unfortunately the Real Murders club find themselves right in the middle of a real murder when Aurora finds the body of Mrs Wright bludgeoned to death in the kitchen of the club's meeting place just as a meeting was due to begin. Before long the dead bodies and murder weapons are piling up, all of them with some connection to Real Murders club members, and all bearing striking resemblences to famous true crime cases.

Sounds promising, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it just didn't grab me. It's readable enough, but I don't think I'll be revisiting Aurora Teagarden in a hurry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Moon Rocks!

New Moon

Seen 6 am today with my gorgeous daughter Alana.

***** "Must see"

How good is this movie? So very, very good. Much anticipated, it did not disappoint. At all. Quite a feat! I cannot remember ever seeing a movie adaptation of a book that I loved like this. Very faithful to the book, and yet...somehow even better!

I know, heresy! In the long term, a movie will never be quite as satisfying as a book. It will never hold up to repeated watching the way a much loved book holds up to re-reading. But in the short term, this movie is very, very satisfying. There is nothing that leaves me feeling "I wish they had done such and such" or "I can't believe they left that out!" or "Why the hell did they add that bit?" or "So and so wasn't convincing". Nothing!

I believe that even non-fans will enjoy this, because it has lots of humour. Also action and romance and hot guys with no shirts on - what's not to love? And the story is told satisfyingly thoroughly. Sometimes movies-made-from-books skip over parts of the plot that leave me wondering how people who have not read the book will understand what is going on. Not New Moon. It cleverly makes sure that the plot is made explicit without making you feel that one of the characters has turned into the narrator.

So what are you waiting for? Get to the cinema pronto!

Monday, November 16, 2009

So...what have I been up to?

Saturday's music recital went remarkably well! Alana's ballet teacher kindly allowed me to hold it in the ballet studio so that we would have plenty of space with an easily accessible piano. (At my place, the piano is in our "study", the fourth bedroom that is also home to our two computers and my desk. Fine for private music lessons, but no good for holding a recital!) My flute students played beautifully, and the choral item went well. All the additional performers, including Alana playing "Bella's Lullaby" on the piano, did a great job. My wonderful sister played piano to accompany the flautists and singers, and her three daughters entertained us with a super cute hula dance to "My Island Samoa".

And so now we steadily head on the downhill run to Christmas. Still ahead include school presentation nights, and Alana's Year 6 farewell as she heads to highschool next year. Also the end of year ballet concert and the Christmas shopping. But what I'm currently anticipating...only 3 sleeps to go until New Moon. Yes, that's right, Mum-of-the-year strikes again! Alana and I have tickets to the 6 am showing on Thursday. Mmmmm, shirtless Jacob....

Still no word on the jobs I have applied for, and still waiting for one more uni assignment return before I can say that I'm officially half-way through my Masters.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Praise the Lord - I have passed my ETL501 assignment!!!

It was worth 70% of my final grade, and earlier in the semester I failed the assignment that was worth 30%, so I really, really, really needed to pass it!

Hooray! Lecturer says it was a big improvement on my first assignment, but that I still have the tendency to stray off task...

Now I can get onto final preparations for the music recital I am holding this afternoon. There are twelve items, including both vocal and instrumental performances; solos, duets, and even a mini choir! The youngest performer is my niece Darcy, the oldest are two guitar-playing Dads that are getting in on the act. I am encouraging a family-friendly, fun and relaxed celebration of music. (And we are all going out for dinner - table for 27! - afterwards.)

Will post tomorrow to let you know how it all went.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My new book review format.

I seem to have been posting quite a lot of book reviews lately, so I have decided to try a new format.

The spare room by Helen Garner.

Borrowed from my local public library.

* * * * "Enjoyable"

From the cover notes: "Helen lovingly prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola. She is coming to visit for three weeks, to receive treatment she believes will cure her cancer. From the moment Nicola staggers off the plane, gaunt and hoarse but still somehow grand, Helen becomes her nurse, her guardian angel and her stony judge. The spare room tells a story of compassion, humour and rage. The two women - one sceptical, one stubbornly serene - negotiate an unmapped path through Nicola's bizarre therapy, stumbling toward's the novel's terrible and transcendent finale."

This book is a work of fiction. But because Garner has named her narrator Helen, and because the writing is so extraordinarily honest, I would swear that this book is the the recounting of actual events in the author's life. The dialogue is pitch perfect - exactly as people really speak. Garner doesn't fluff around with language either, but uses it deliberately and sparingly. Consider this short passage:

"A dry breeze puffed up the slope. It lifted her hair and showed the pitiful thinness of her neck. I put down my sandwich and grabbed her hands."

My favourite character is Bessie, Helen's grand-daughter that lives next door:

"Something rustled at the back door. Bessie slid into the kitchen, beaming, in a floor-length flounced skirt and fringed shawl.
'No, sweetheart - sorry. Not now.'
Her smile faded. 'But I've got a new dance to show you.'
'Nicola's asleep. She needs a very quiet house because she's terribly sick.'
She stared at me, sharply interested.'Is Nicola going to die?'
She began to twist the doorknob, writhing and grizzling. 'I need you to play with me. I'm bored.'
'Don't push it, Bess. You heard what I said.'
'If you don't let me come in, I won't be able to stop whining.'"

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Almost Perfect by Kelly Denley

So, imagine that you are 31 years old and have eight children. You have been a wife and mother since you were 17, and you struggle with the fear that everyone sees you as nothing more than an overweight woman who "doesn't know what causes it". Your eldest two children have Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. You are suffering from post-natal depression. Your husband has been retrenched from his job. Your father is dying from liver failure due to diabetes. Several of your children are being bullied at school, and two of them are being medicated for depression. What do you do?

Kelly Denley obviously isn't your typical woman. Because what she did was go back to school to finish the education that was cut short by teen pregnancy, then take her whole family on a 14 month camping adventure around Australia, home schooling the children and studying at uni (via distance) all the way.

Mind-blowing, isn't it!

This book is Kelly's recounting of the catalysts in her life that led her to embark on this amazing adventure, along with the stories of the trip itself. Sure to have you cheering for her, and feeling ready to embrace a positive attitude to life.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday arvo Quote of the Day

Seek what makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive,
along with the inner voice that says,
this is the real me


Saturday, November 7, 2009

grave surprise by Charlaine Harris

From the cover notes:

"When I was fifteen, I was struck by a bolt of lightning throuh an open window of the trailer where we lived...I recovered, mostly. I have a strange spiderwed pattern of red on my torso and right leg, which has episodes of weakness. sometimes my right hand shakes. I have headaches. I have many fears. And I can find dead people. That was the part that interested the professor...

"At the request of anthropology professor Dr. Clyde Nunley, Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver come to Memphis to give a demonstration of Harper's unique talent. And what better place to have that demonstration than in a very old cemetery?

"Dr. Nunley doesn't bother to hide his skepticism, especially when Harper stands atop a grave and senses two bodies beneath her - one of a centuries-dead man and the other of a young girl, recently deceased. When the grave is opened, Harper's claim is proven true. The dead girl is Tabitha Morgenstern, an eleven-year-old abducted from Nashville two years previously..."

From the author of the Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampires) series, comes a series featuring Harper Connelly; a young woman with a gift for finding corpses, and accurately determining the cause of death simply by touching, or being close to, the body. This is actually the second book in the series, which includes grave sight, grave surprise and an ice cold grave. I stumbled upon it while browsing through my local library's online catalogue and thought I'd give it a try.

Harper Connelly is an engaging character, and I'm glad to say is nothing at all like Sookie. (Well, there is the fact that she wound up without parents at a young age, and the fact that she has a supernatural gift. Not that I don't like Sookie - I love her - but I can't stand it when an author is a one trick pony and creates characters that are all alarmingly alike.) Harris has created a likable character with a distinctive voice. Harper doesn't have the same likes and dislikes as Sookie, or the same attitudes. And she doesn't inhabit the same world as Sookie.

This book is a classic who-done-it with a satisfying conclusion. Recommended to all who enjoy a murder mystery every now and then. I'll definitely be reading the other books in the series.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I'm a Gleek!

My daughter and I have been enjoying watching Glee together. (In fact hubby and son watch too!) We have really been bonding over our discussions of our favourite characters (and those we HATE!), and which songs are our favourites.

It's on again tonight!

For now, enjoy this...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

After much neglect, I'm finally getting back on track with the Everything Austen challenge. Hosted by Stephanie, at Stephanie's Written Word, it requires participants to read, view or "experience" six Austen-related books, films etc by January 1, 2010. So I'd better get my skates on!

My progress so far:
Check out my review post for Lost in Austen  by Emma Campbell Webster here.

And now, a review post for Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange.

This book was pretty much what I expected - a quick enjoyable read, but nothing spectacular. The book consists of a series of diary entries, and faithfully follows the narrative of Pride and Prejudice while also giving us a tantalising glimpse into Darcy and Elizabeth's life after P & P.

I'm not sure that Darcy's voice is true to his character as presented in P & P, but romantics will forgive Grange any licence she has taken in presenting Darcy as a doting brother and a man who is in love with Elizabeth almost from the moment he meets her!

I found the fact that some phrases or passages were quoted verbatim from P & P frustrating. I would have dearly loved Grange to find Darcy's voice to describe the unfolding events rather than using Austen's narrator's ironic voice.

This book is fun for fans.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I have applied for a job!

Now that all my uni work is over for the year, my mind has turned to the actual goal of my study, which is a career change.

After working from home teaching private maths and music students for some time, I am eager to go out to work and see some people!

After much deep thought, I decided that librarianship was the direction that I wanted to move. I love to read and learn, I can work alone or in a team, I'm good with people, and I don't mind routine tasks. To that end, I am studying to become a fully fledged professional librarian.

The job that I have applied for is a library technician role; a perfect stepping stone for me. It is with a company that supplies books and other products to libraries all over Australia. Looking over their website, I feel quite excited at the prospect of working for them!

In the meantime, I am exploring some other options too, including teacher librarian positions in schools.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday arvo Quote of the Day

If you want love and abundance in your life,
give it away.

Fashion your life as a garland of beautiful deeds.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Sister's Keeper by Jodie Picoult

I suppose that by now, everyone that wants to read this, or see the movie, has done so. But just in case you haven't...

Had been meaning to read this one for ages, even before I knew there was a movie being made. In fact, if a movie is made it's really neither here nor there for me. I have read Picoult before, and I wanted to do so again. Her novels are incredibly thought-provoking, dealing with complicated issues in non-linear ways.

What's this one about? Well, in case you've been living under a rock...

Anna was an IVF baby. The embryo that became her was selected specifically because she would be a perfect genetic match for her sister, Kate, suffering from APL, a type of leukemia with a low survival rate. The idea was that Anna's umbilical cord blood would provide stem cells to potentially cure Kate. However, it didn't work out that way, and over the years Anna has donated blood and bone marrow to Kate, who's health has continued to deteriorate. Now Kate's kidneys have stopped working, and a kidney transplant from Anna is her only chance, if she's strong enough to survive the surgery. It all comes to a head when Anna retains legal counsel to sue her parents for medical emancipation so that she can make her own decisions about being a donor for her sister.

I think Picoult relishes writing about difficult subject matter. She avoids giving clear-cut answers, and reveals more and more about her characters, little by little. I think she purposely keeps you guessing so that you keep thinking. She's also the master of the tear-jerker. Enough said.

So if you haven't yet read My Sister's Keeper, I recommend that you do. And I've heard that they've changed the ending for the movie, so I don't think I'd bother with that. (The ending is a very big part of the story - I can't believe they would change it!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Mum has a ride in an Ambulance

The call came while I was at gymnastics watching Alana. It was my sister. "Mum's had a bit of a fall here."

It took a while for it to sink in. Mum? She's still young, and full of energy, and very steady on her feet. Sometimes I find it hard to keep up with her!

"She's in a lot of pain. We called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. They think she might have broken her shoulder."

It turns out that her shoulder wasn't broken, just dislocated with a bit of bone chipped off. (Yeah, I know, still horrible.) Once she was at the hospital, and they had x-rayed her shoulder, and got a doctor to look at her, they were able to put in back in place. But boy, is my mum a character!

Apparently she was instructing everyone, including the ambulance officers, not to fuss over her, and not to let my sister come in the ambulance with her "because she needs to stay and look after her kids". I spoke to her this morning, and she raved over the psychodelic drugs that they gave her for while they were putting her shoulder back into place! "Ooooh, I could see all colours! And they said I might have some pretty vivid dreams last night - and I did!" And God love her, she was sounding pretty chipper, and reminded her how lucky she was that it was only dislocated and not broken.

What a trooper! Love you mum, and hope that your shoulder is back to its best in no time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Weighing the Soul by Len Fisher

This book is for adults who still ask "why?", and "how does it work?", and like to learn a little something every now and then.

From the cover notes:
"In this witty, insightful and engaging book, scientist and broadcaster Len Fisher reveals why common sense can be the biggest enemy of good science as he takes us on a tour from one American doctor's attempts to weigh the departing human soul, via alchemy, frogs' legs, lightning rods, polaroid sunglasses, the structure of DNA, Frankenstein's monster and the dimensions of Hell, to the necessary, but common sense-defying, mysteries of modern science."

And from the author's introduction:
"This book tells the stories of scientist whose ideas appeared bizarre, peculiar or downright daft to their and common sense often don't mix...Those who proposed bizarre-sounding ideas were often forced to do so after recognising that the accepted wisdom, or 'common sense', of their era was simply insufficient to understand what was going on...This book traces the route of the procession trought the stories of those who forced the changes, and shows how many of their ideas, which seemed to be so at odds with the common sense of the times, are now used by scientists to understand and tackle everyday problems."

The cover notes were enough for me to rescue this book from the 'bargain bin' and take it home. I, quite simply, love to learn, and thought that the subject matter sounded fascinating.

You don't need to know a lot about science to enjoy this book, but you should be interested in the subject matter. Recommended also for history buffs; Fisher has researched thoroughly to ensure that his stories of scientists past are grounded in reliable documents such as original diaries, papers and notes.

A very interesting read that you can pick up, and put down, as the mood strikes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Most Embarrassing Mum Ever

Here is a scanned photo of my beautiful daughter doing her "modern expressive" solo at a recent eisteddfod. She dances to Show me Heaven by Maria McKee.

Anyway, I think I may be a contender for the Most Embarrassing Mum ever. I always suspected that I would excel in this area, after all, my own mother was very embarrassing when I was a teenager!

At the eisteddfod, we were sitting quite close to the adjudicator. When it came time for the competitors in the classical ballet improvisation to listen to the music that they would have to dance to, I did a little classical-ballet-in-my-seat in time to the music. Just having fun! The adjudicator turned to me and said, "You've got the right idea! I hope some of the competitors dance like that!" It sounds all very tongue-in-cheek, but actually I'm sure that she was complimenting me on my excellent interpretive skills! I came back with, "Yes, next year I'm going to enter." To which she replied, "I'll lend you a tutu!" A lovely little exchange.

So, after the classical ballet improvisation competition was finished, it was time for the adjudicator to announce the winner. Before that though, she recounted the tale of how a mother that was sitting right near her had the right idea, and that this mother might even enter next year wearing a borrowed tutu!

My daughter turned to her father, and, with a roll of her eyes said very dryly, "That was Mum."

"I thought so." he replied.

So, are any of you guys contenders too?

Dear Fatty by Dawn French

Dear Fatty is a memoir written as a series of letters Dawn's nearest and dearest. Touchingly, many are written to her father, who died when she was only 19, to update him on what has been going on in her life since then. Dawn is known as a comic actress, and is one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders. Her reminiscences are so honest, and real, that they had me both laughing and crying.
Dawn's warmth, and immense love for her family and friends, comes through every page. Every embarrassing story is told with joy, and noone is spared her brutal honesty in the telling!
One of my favourite stories is the tale of the day that the Queen Mother visited the air force base that her family were living on, and her family had been chosen to receive her in their house. Dawn describes the flurry of dusting, mopping, new haircuts and new outfits; not to mention the curtsy practising. She describes her extreme disappointment that the Queen Mother's head was adorned with a hat, and not a crown. And, horror of horrors, the Queen Mother had black teeth! She was clearly a witch!
A very enjoyable read.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nearly, nearly, nearly finished.

Here are the roses that my hubby bought me "just because". Isn't he a sweetheart? They are in a blue vase which you can't really see because I took the photo from above (standing on a chair). The background is the checkered tablecloth on my dining room table.

My final assignment for the semester is very close to finished. It is so very tempting to just submit it now so I don't have to look at it anymore. That's why I'm taking a little break; so I can resist the temptation and take a little more time to read over it and make sure that I'm super happy with what I've written.

Think I will make myself a cuppa and visit some blogs for a while...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taking a little break from work.

Here is my beautiful daughter performing her classical ballet solo at a recent eisteddfod. My apologies about the scanned image, but I had to buy copies of the photos taken by the official eisteddfod photographer. They arrived in the mail yesterday.

Doesn't she look gorgeous!

At present she is watching the latest New Moon updates on YouTube. Of course, she should be doing her science project, or practising the piano...Much like I should be working on my uni assignment!

Only a few days to go, and all my assessment tasks for this semester will be finished!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What have I learned???

I'm struggling a bit with the second part of my ETL504 assignment, the bit where I need to discuss how my learning in a particular area has developed. I do get to choose which area I talk about, (from a list including 'quality management', 'innovation and change', 'conflict resolution'...) but I'm not sure that I have enough to say about any one of the choices! This is the part when I stop and think - so, what exactly did I learn? And it's all a bit of a blur...

I'm supposed to use my learning journal (this blog) to guide my discussion. I've been reading through my posts labelled ETL504, and I do say a lot! But can I demonstrate any real development of thought on any one topic? I feel that we have had so much to cover that it's been a bit like one of those tours where they say, "If it's Monday, then this must be Paris!". Except I'm saying, "If it's week 5 this must be 'negotiation'!".

I hope that you see my point. I'm saying that we have moved so quickly through so many different topics, that I'm finding it hard to chart my development on any particular topic.

I'm sure that I must have learned something! I just have to capture that learning and get it down onto paper.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Complexity and the Change Process

Fullan, M. (1999). Complexity and the change process. In Change Forces: The sequel (pp. 13-30). London: Falmer Press.

An organisation can be thought of as a living system. It changes and grows over time, and cannot be assembled in one single act of creation or change. It is one thing to see an innovation up and running, but quite another to get there in your own organisation.
One of the most important aspects of change and innovation is knowledge creation. An organisation creates knowledge by finding the sources of knowledge and disseminating it throughout the organisation.
We should be inspired by the mandates and vision that comes from above. Top-down mandates and bottom-up energies need each other. Success comes when initiatives combine accountability (from above) with the development of individual capacity (at the bottom).
We should make sure that any initiatives combine sound pedagogical theory with explicit strategies for change. The local context is a crucial variable.
Differences and conflict, if respected, help us learn more and have creative breakthroughs. Sharing of tacit (hidden) knowledge among individuals with different backgrounds, ideas, values, and perceptions is a vital first step.
"Small groups of self-selected reformers apparently seldom influence their peers." (Elmore, 1995, p. 20)
Organisations going through change are complex almost to the point of chaos. Allow for flexibility within a structure of priorities, targets, deadlines and responsibilities. Create opportunities and processes for communication within the organisation.
High quality interconnectedness and emotional support allows collaborative cultures to keep tackling hard problems.
In education, there are so many new policies, innovations and competing pressures, that unconnectedness becomes a problem. Principals are essential as integrators and synthesisers. What is important is to create procedures for making meaning from tacit knowledge to bring it into the open to be shared. Also important is to create ways to integrate or connect each now opportunity with the organisations central focus.