Thursday, January 28, 2010

Social Justice Challenge - Religious Freedom

January's topic for the Social Justice Challenge is Religious Freedom. What is religious freedom?

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Violations of religious freedom can take many forms:
Switzerland votes to ban the construction of minarets.
China mistreats the citizens that follow banned religions.
These are just two examples from Amnesty International.

For this challenge, I read Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks.

I chose this particular book for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Brooks is an Australian author, I am Australian, and I want to make a point of reading more books written and published in Australia. Secondly, I don't know a lot about the Islamic religion and I want to learn more.
What this book is not. This book is not about freedom of belief or the freedom to manifest religion.

This book is a memoir of the time that the author spent living with women in various predominantly Islamic countries, with the express intention of finding out the real story of these women's lives.

I did, however, learn a lot about freedom of belief and the freedom to manifest religion. Though it is easy to believe that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is "immutable international currency, independent of cultural mores and political circumstances" (Brooks, 2008, p.237), that is not the case. Not all people in all countries agree.

Also, the practice of religion is affected in complex ways by the political climate and cultural norms of a country. Not all Muslims practice their religion the same way or believe the same things.

I highly recommend this fascinating insight into the lives of Muslim women.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Makes Me Happy

The lovely Maria Grazia at Fly High! has passed on the Happy 101 Award to me. Thankyou so much Maria! The rules are that I must list 10 things that make me happy, then pass on the award to seven other bloggers.

So here goes - I'm going to be brutally honest with this list - 10 things that make me happy.
1. The beauty of nature. Pictures give me a lift, but there's nothing like actually being out in it. Whether it's the beach or the bush, sunset or rain, plants or animals, mountains, waterfalls or deserts; just being outdoors in nature, breathing the air and taking in the view makes me happy.
2. When my children are happy. I love to watch my kids participate in an activity that they really enjoy, or receive an award or a present that they really love. It makes me happy to see their faces light up, and I love when they call out "Mum!" (as in "look at me!").
3. Giving and receiving presents. I like buying presents for people; I enjoy choosing something that I think they'll really like. I must admit, I do sometimes feel a little bit anxious when they open it though! And - it makes me happy to get gifts! I love it!
4. Eating out. Whether it's just a simple coffee, or a full three course meal in a five star restaurant, I love eating out! I enjoy choosing from the menu and having someone serve me (!). I like to look at the view, or watch the people go by, or chat with my tablemates.
5. Watching movies. Back in the day, B.C. (before children), I used to see lots of movies. It was rare for me to wait to see a movie until it was out on video (yes, it was video then, not DVD!). I still love watching movies, but it's more of a treat for me now, so I'm more careful about what I see. Also, I see a lot more kids movies these days!
6. Reading. I'll read anything, anywhere, anytime. I'll even read while I'm watching TV! I find reading relaxing and stimulating, informative and entertaining. I could never give it up! I also enjoy reading out loud.
7. Being praised. How embarrassing! I do like being told I'm wonderful!
8. Having nothing in particular that I have to do. It makes me happy to have no "must do", "should do" or "ought to do" filling up my day. I love it when I know that I can just do whatever I want!
9. Feeling satisfied that I've done a good job. I love the happy feeling that I get when I've completed a task and really feel proud of myself that I've done my best.
10. Beautiful things. Looking at art makes me happy. Looking through a fashion or home magazine and admiring a gorgeous pair of shoes, or fabulously decorated living room makes me happy. Buying a really pretty pair of earrings makes me happy. I like beautiful things.

So that's me. And now I'm passing this award on to 7 blogs that make me happy:

Congratulations to the bloggers responsible for the blogs above. Your blogs are enjoyable and entertaining to read and make me happy!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Float my Boat

We took the boat out for the first time this morning! Check out the photos below.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Buck-a-Book-Challenge

Now this is a challenge that I can do! Courtesy of DelGal's Book Reviews. Simply put aside one dollar for every book that you read this year. At the end of the year, take the money you have saved and spend it on something wonderful for yourself. Yay! I can definitely do this one!

So far this year I have read:
Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
an ice cold grave by Charlaine Harris
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Worried all the Time by David Anderegg
The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

That's $7 already! Now I just have to find somewhere safe to stash the money so I don't spend it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin.

Received as a Christmas present from my sister-in-law Cass.

**** "Fascinating and inspiring."

From the back cover: "In a small, desperately poor village in north-east China, a young peasant boy sits at his rickety old school desk, interested more in the birds outside than in Chairman Mao's Red Book and the grand works it contains. But that day, some strange men come to his school - Madame Mao's cultural delegates. They are looking for young peasants to mould into faithful guards of Chairman Mao's great vision for China...Here is Li Cunxin's own story, a story that very nearly vanished, like millions of other peasants' lives, amidst revolution and chaos. It is a story of courage, a mother's love, a young boy's longing for freedom - a beautiful, rich account of an inspirational life, told with such honesty, dignity and pride."

Reading Li Cunxin's story of his childhood in a commune with his parents and six brothers is illuminating and distressing. It is hard to believe that such poverty and hardship existed for ordinary Chinese families in such recent history. What is also incredible is the love, pride and determination that existed within his family. The devotion that family members show towards each other is unknown in Western culture (at least in my experience).

Li Cunxin receives the opportunity to train in Beijing at Madame Mao's Dance Academy. At the age of eleven, he travels far from his family home to begin seven years of intensive training in Ballet, Chinese Opera Dance and Chinese Folk Dance, as well as Chinese, Mathematics, and Political Training. The devotion to Mao and the Communist cause that he describes is overwhelming. He wants to do his very best to forward the cause of Communism and bring glory to his country.

Cunxin does not begin as the most talented student, but he shows the most determination and passion as he matures. He ends up having the opportunity to travel to America as an exchange student, which is the catalyst for major changes in his life.

I really enjoyed the honesty with which Cunxin tells his story. I enjoyed learning about Chinese customs, family life, and the "Mao years". I especially liked hearing about his progress in ballet as his story continued, and the roles that he danced once he began to dance professionally with the Houston Ballet Company.

If you enjoy autobiographies, I'm sure that you'd enjoy this one; especially if you are interested in China, or ballet, or both!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Get Involved in the Social Justice Challenge

I'd like to introduce you to the Social Justice Challenge, unless you have found it already! This challenge is running all year, and each month is devoted to a different social justice issue.

The monthly issues are:
January - religious freedom
February - water
March - domestic violence and child abuse
April - hunger
May - AIDS crisis
June - genocide
July - poverty
August - illiteracy and education
September - modern day slavery
October - homelessness and refugees
November - women's rights
December - child soldiers and children in war

Now I'm guessing that at least one of these issues strikes a chord with you.

The aim of the challenge is for participants to educate themselves about these areas of social injustice. I'm really looking forward to learning more, and gaining the information and tools that I need to change the world for the better.

For each monthly theme, the hosts of the challenge have put together book lists and recommendations, along with links to websites. For January (click here to view the recommendations), I have chosen to read Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire. Stay tuned for my comments...

Monday, January 18, 2010

School Holidays are Coming to a Close...

As a general rule, I'm not a huge fan of the school holidays. I hear lots of others Mums wax lyrical about the wonders of sleeping in, and having no schedule, of just being able to hang around and relax at home with the kids...but for me - not so much.

I tend to thrive on schedule, and the kids and I like to have something in particular to do. Don't get me wrong, I like a good sleep-in as much as the next person; and I'll be the first to admit that I like to do a fair bit of hanging around the house during term time. But there's a big difference between having a nice relaxing day at home reading (on my own), in amongst the hustle and bustle of work and other regular activities, and having days and days on end of hanging around the house with nowhere to go and nothing to do, and nothing scheduled to break the monotony! Yes, I have to admit, I'm one of those horrible mothers who likes her children more when she doesn't have to see them all the time.

I'm looking forward with great anticipation to January 28th, the first day of the new school year! Hooray! What am I looking forward to?

1. School starts! Alana is starting high school, and Joshua is going into Year 4. The start of a new school year is always exciting - finding out who your teacher(s) is(are) and which friends are in your class(es). This year will be extra exciting with Alana starting high school. A new school, new subjects, new friends - a great adventure!

2. I'm back at work. I teach private music lessons and tutor kids that are having trouble with maths. Consequently, the work dries up over the long Christmas/summer school holidays. Everyone takes a break from their music lessons, and waits to see what the new school year brings to decide if they need maths tuition. With the start of the school year, I'll be back at work, and back earning money! Hooray! It's a killer surviving on one wage over the expensive Christmas break.

3. All the kids' after school activities are back on! Hooray! No more cries of "I'm bored" as ballet, gymnastics, baseball and piano lessons re-commence. Bright, energetic kids like mine need things to do.

4. My activities are back on! Hooray! During school terms I attend a couple of tai chi classes, and meet weekly with a friend to swim laps, have a coffee and chat. Bright, energetic mums like me need things to do!

5. It won't be long until first semester at uni begins (March 1). I'm halfway through my Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship), and am looking forward to getting back into it this year. So far, I can't really "get ahead" because I haven't received any information about what is expected for my subjects. However, my textbook should arrive on Thursday, so I'll be able to get started reading it.

So...for all my complaining about school holidays, sometimes the stars align and I end up having a great day. Today the kids and I went to Gosford Regional Gallery and Japanese Gardens. Here are some photos of the kids enjoying the 26-degrees-and-sunshine in the gardens.

Feeding the koi.

Wisteria Walk.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

an ice cold grave by Charlaine Harris

an ice cold grave by Charlaine Harris.

Borrowed from my local public library.

***** "Loving this series!"

From the inside cover: "Hired to find a boy gone missing in Doraville, North Carolina, Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver head there - only to discover that the boy was only one of several who had disappeared over the previous five years. All of them teenagers. All unlikely runaways. All calling for Harper. Harper soon finds them - eight victims, buried in the half-frozen ground, all come to an unspeakable end..."

Did I mention that I'm loving Harris' "grave" series?

As usual, Harper just wants to do her job in relative anonymity; using her gift for locating dead bodies to bring closure to relatives and friends, or her ability to divine cause of death to help law enforcement officers. She justs wants a quiet life, travelling the highways and backroads of the country with her constant companion Tolliver, earning her keep by collecting a fee for each successful body recovery. She and Tolliver would like to spend less time on the road, living out of a suitcase and eating fast food; they'd like to learn to cook!

Unfortunately, Harper's life is never that simple.  There are always complications that arise once the body has been found. Things go from bad to worse, and Harper and Tolliver find themselves unable to leave Doraville, and in danger of falling prey to a sadistic serial killer.

I read this book practically all the way through in one sitting - it's that kind of a page-turner. Harper and Tolliver are appealing characters, I can't help but cheer them on! And I love the way that the mystery takes almost to the last page to solve.

If you like mysteries, you'll love this series. If you like Harris' other work (Sookie Stackhouse), then you'll probably enjoy this too.

Highly recommended.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters.

Won in a giveaway from Ashley at Ashley's Library.

*** "Ridiculous!"

I love Austen's narrator's voice. In all her novels, I enjoy the gentle irony she writes with as she describes her characters, with all their quirks and eccentricities; their faults and failings. She always stops just short of mocking her characters, and allows you to laugh with her at their pride, selfishness and sillyness.

Winters does not bother stopping short of mockery. He leaps right over the line, heads straight past sillyness and ends up firmly in the territory of the ridiculous.

The "Alteration", an unexplained but often hypothesised about event in history, has caused sea creatures and humans to be at war. It's eat-or-be-eaten! Thus a pleasant beachside party of "tiki dances, crawfish fries and bonfires", swiftly becomes a situation of life and death, as a jellyfish "twice the size of the largest man present", "demonstrating itself to be faster than any creature lacking legs or other apparent means of locomotion ought naturally to be", advance on the party with the intent of consuming whomever it can catch. All the families enjoy a variety of seafood at every meal, and travel by sea has become dangerous indeed! Even a pleasant ramble renders one in danger of attack by giant octopus, if you are unfortunate enough to stumble into the brook!

This book follows the general plot and characterisation of Sense and Sensibility, while adding sea witches, pirates, and a fellow suffering from a cruel affliction, the addition of "a set of long squishy tentacles protruding grotesquely from his face". The difficulties of life in the "altered" Britain has also caused the characters to become adept at defending themselves from murderous sea creatures: says Marianne, "Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours, and if we are set upon by any sort of man-beast with lobster claws, I shall swiftly butcher it with this pickaxe I brought for that purpose".

Winters has also added a bit of steampunk (Victorian science fiction) to the book, by introducing Sub-Marine Station Beta, an undersea city ("the greatest engineering triumph of human history since the Roman aqueducts") where the fashionable set enjoy "undersea pleasure gardens and aquatic exhibition halls".

Did I enjoy this book? Yes I did, but I found that I had to read it in small doses. You have to enjoy silliness to enjoy this book, and occasionally the ridiculous factor got a little too high for me. If you enjoy Austen, it's worth a try.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Princess

Here is Alana, all dressed up as Princess Tiana, or Cinderella at the ball, either will do.

(Yes, I know, I should have ironed the skirt, but I ran out of time.)

Doesn't she look beautiful!
I expect she and the others will have a wonderful time at the party.
Happy Birthday Nicole.

The Princess and the Frog

Alana is going to her friend Nicole's 12th birthday party today. The theme is "Disney". Alana is going to go as Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. She is going to wear the bridesmaid's dress that I wore for my sister's wedding in 1996! We've tried it on her, and it fits. It's pale blue, strapless with a full skirt, and even has long gloves to match. I'll post a photo of her all dressed up later.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Worried All The Time

Worried All The Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It by David Anderegg Ph.D.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Useful."

Every now and then I like to read something about parenting. I like to hear about the current wisdom, get new ideas, and think about how and why I do things, so I can do them better. Let's face it, all of us that are parents want to do a good job. We want our children to grow up happy and healthy. We want them to be the best people they can be, the best version of themselves, grow into everything they can be. And we want to make sure that what we, as parents, do helps rather than hinders them on their paths. Sometimes we just want to not screw them up too much!

This book is about the fact that modern parents worry a whole lot more about their children, and their parenting, than previous generations ever did. We seem to feel overwhelmed by all the options, all the advice, and feel anxious as a result. The aim of this book is to help parents to understand where their worries come from, decide if they are rational or not, and stop worrying so much!

What I found most interesting about this book was its explanation of where a lot of our worries as parents come from. Often we project our own feelings onto our kids. If we feel stressed, rushed and overworked, we worry that our kids are overscheduled and don't have enough down time. Maybe it is really us that needs the down time! Also, often we remember our own feelings as a child, and act according to those feelings, rather than our children's. For instance, if we experienced a lot of loneliness as a child, we are anxious to make sure that our children have lots of friends and never feel lonely. If our children seem to be having difficulties with friendships, or seem to play alone a lot, we rush to assume that they are terribly unhappy (like we were), rather than find out what they really think or feel.

The other thing I found interesting, was the notion that as kids get older, they need a certain amount of "benign neglect". In other words, they don't need us to hover over their every move, thought and feeling. Being watched all the time will cause children to become very self-conscious, and very good at censoring themselves in front of their children. Also, children need to know that their parents have another hobby other than them!

Definitely an interesting read.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman

The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman.

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Compelling."

From the back cover: "In a New York slum, an elderly tenant has mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind a huge collection of disturbin but brilliant paintings. For forty years, he came and went in solitude, his genius undiscovered. No one knows anything much about him. For art dealer Ethan Muller, this is the discovery of a lifetime. He displays the pictures in his gallery and watches as they rocket up in value. But suddenly the police want to talk to him. It seems that the missing artist had a sinister past - and the drawings in Ethan's gallery start to look less like art and more like evidence..."

The son of best-selling authors Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Jesse has some big shoes to fill. And, as he writes in the same general crime genre as they do, I imagine there are many comparisons floating about. For me, Jesse is better than his parents.

This book is told both in the recent past, as a series of flashbacks, and as a flashforward to the present. Kellerman weaves the various flashbacks cleverly into the story, so that the reader is aware of the connection between the past and the narrator, but is still surprised as revelations occur. The character of Ethan, the narrator, is flawed but sympathetic, and other supporting characters are well drawn and believable.

I found this a real page-turner, I was eager to find out both what would happen next and more about the characters. Pleasing, for me, was the fact that not everything is neatly wrapped up. In life, even happy endings have some sadness, and I enjoy books that do not shy away from this reality.

I also found it interesting to learn a little more about the world of art dealers. I enjoy looking at art, and had never really thought before about the role that dealers play in defining what art is, the value of art, and their impact on artistic movements.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Today Chris and I are celebrating 15 happily married years. Yay for us!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More About the Museum

After lunch, we headed back inside the museum and decided to check out the Amazing Backyard Adventures special exhibition. It is a hand-on exhibition, designed for children aged 8-12 years to explore the science of the natural world just outside their doors. As three out of the four kids with us fell in the 8-12 age range, we decided it was just the thing, but although they enjoyed it, my kids Josh (9) and Alana (11) found it a little young for them. Surprisingly, the favourite part for all four kids were the dress-ups, with cute outfits for little frogs, spiders, beetles, snails, and other creepy-crawlies that you might find in your backyard. All the kids (even Josh) enjoyed dressing up!

Next we headed to "Search and Discover", a behind-the-scenes look at the work of the museum. I'm pretty sure that this section was the absolute favourite for my budding scientist Joshua. There were plenty of drawers full of insect specimans, stuffed animals everywhere, lots of skulls and microscopes to study specimans for yourself. Josh loved the fact that everything was touchable! He's not a fan of look-but-don't-touch! He loves to investigate by picking things up, feeling their textures, looking them over and seeing "what they do" or "how they work". Unfortunately we eventually had to pry him away; the skulls and taxidermied animals were giving Emelia the "freakies", especially when he helpfully showed her how the lower jaw on a human skull could open and close!
Next we checked out "Planet of Minerals", with plenty of sparkly and shiny crystals and rocks of all types. Once again, the best bit (especially for Josh), was the touch table (no surprise), allowing the kids to touch, feel and examine special pieces from the collection at close range.
My sis-in-law Michelle decided it was time for her and the girls to head home, but the rest of us decided that we had time to look over the skeletons.

We decided that it was just as well that Emelia wasn't there, as she would probably find the skeletons too freaky, but the rest of us enjoyed comparing the structures of the skeletons of different types of animals. in particular, we found it fascinating to see how a turtle's spine is connected to its upper shell, while its leg bones are connected to the lower shell!
And that's our visit to the museum. A great day was had by all :)

A Visit to the Australian Museum

The Australian Museum is a natural history museum in Sydney. Click here to link to the museum's website. Today my kids and I visited the museum with my parents, my sister-in-law, and her two children. It was a wonderful day out.

We began in the Indigenous Australians exhibition, which features artifacts representing the cultures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Next we looked through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year special exhibition. There were over 43 000 entries to this competition from all over the world. The kids were particularly impressed with the entries in the Under 10's, 11-14 years and 15-17 years categories.

Before taking a break for lunch, we decided that we had time for one more exhibit, so headed to the dinosaurs. Josh loved this area, but my niece Emelia wasn't so sure, thinking that it was a bit "freaky".
We decided to get some fresh air and have a picnic lunch in Hyde Park. The weather was finally good today (about time), so we sat in the shade of a tree near the statue of Captain Cook.

More later about what we did after lunch...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Any Day a Book Arrives in the Post is a Good Day!

When the Australia Post parcel delivery van pulled up in front of my house this morning, I knew it was going to be a good day! Sure enough, my friendly parcel delivery man (it's always the same guy - I think of him as a friend now!) brought me Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters, my win from the lovely Ashley at Ashley's Library. Hooray!

Here is a picture of me looking very pleased with my win! Thanks, Ashley!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Letting Myself Off the Hook

I've decided to let myself off the hook, and not force myself to write a review for every single book that I read. After all, it's the Christmas holidays, so I should be relaxing and enjoying myself, and my blog is supposed to be fun, so it shouldn't feel like hard work.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

Received as a Christmas present from my sister-in-law Cassie.

***** "Lives up to the hype."

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich.

Borrowed from my local public library.

***** "So much fun!"

Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things by Richard Wiseman.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Readable, but not enough science in it for me. Too fluffy."

So that's what I've been reading. How about you?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sweeping out the Old

It's New Year's Day, and I'm taking the advice of a dear blogging friend of mine, Witch Baby, and I'm sweeping the old out of my life to make room for the new! I'm not a witch myself, so I'm not following all of the ritual itself, I'm just taking from it what I can that is meaningful to me. That means I am doing some house-cleaning as a way of physically demonstrating my commitment to making space in my life for new things this year.

I'm making space in my mental landscape for new thoughts.

I'm making space in my emotional landscape for more joy.

I'm making space in my lifestyle for new friends and new experiences.

I'm making space in my house for beautiful and meaningful possessions only.

I'm looking forward to welcoming a new job this year - something in a library.

I'm expecting my relationship with Chris to deepen and strengthen this year.

I'm shedding some weight to make space for my body to work at its optimum performance.

I'm opening up to spiritual growth.

I'm excited to see what wonderful things my children will experience this year.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year, and I hope that you also are able to make room for new blessings.