Great Reads of Kids 3#

Another week, another trip to the library.  This week our selection was more miss than hit – despite the promising titles – but still there are a few worth sharing.

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Firstly is a Charlie and Lola.  There are many, many in this series by Lauren Child, but this one, Slightly Invisible, was a particular hit with the girls.  It deals with Charlie wanting some space from Lola – I’m surprised he puts up with his younger sister as much as he does! – but also features a slightly invisible Lola and a completely invisible Soren Lorenson (if you look very carefully you can find him on each page).  The hunt for Soren Lorenson was the draw card for the girls and they have had a fabulous time racing each other, and me, to find him.

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Second was by one of my favourite authors of both picture books and young reader books, Jackie French (I’ve read several with Year 7 English classes and would highly recommend them for late primary-early high school readers).  Queen Victoria’s Christmas follows the original, Queen Victoria’s Underpants (another worthy of checking out).  It’s told from the perspective of the Queen’s pets, two dogs and a parrot, and is an interesting take on the customary Christmas traditions.  The illustrations by Bruce Whately are very funny.

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Third is something of an abstract story, as children’s books go.  It’s called Never Ever Before, by Stephen Michael King.  It starts in the land of small, when Big is born, followed by Talls.  Each being, small, big and tall, bring their own unique qualities that when put altogether make a world that is safe yet adventurous.  Quite a good message for our world today.

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The fourth selection was Emily and the Dragon, by Lyn Lee and David Cornish.  Emily is a girl, who despite the laughs and teasing of Jock, wants to be a dragon hunter.  Together with her chicken friend Egg, she sets off to find a dragon and on her journey finds a witch who wants some friends, a knight who wants to knit and eventually a dragon who wants……  I love the message of breaking through stereotypes – one my girls need constantly emphasized – and this is a particularly fun way to get that message across. 

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FInally, is a book we own that I’ve been meaning to recommend for months.  It’s called The Runaway Hug by Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood.  Lucy, a loving and affectionate young girl, shares her mother’s last hug with everyone in her family, including the dog who runs away with it.  Lucy is worried she has lost her mother’s very last hug.  This book is gorgeous as much for the wonderful illustrations – as a mother I LOVE the fact that Lucy’s house is messy, disorganised and chaotic because that is exactly the way family life is – as for the simple, meaningful storyline!  

So until next week’s list, grab your kids or grandkids, head to the library, curl up on the couch or sit in the reading circle/tent/bed (we have many designated reading spots!) and enjoy the amazing array of children’s books.  Oh and don’t forget to send some recommendations my way.

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Garden Share Collective – September 2014

How fast the months are flying by?  I seem to always be caught short trying to get this post put together by the deadline, but with a little luck this one will pour out of my as fast as I can type and I’ll just squeak in.  As with all Garden Share updates, this is hosted by Lizzie from Strayed from the Table and it’s the perfect spot to head to check out all the other gardeners involved, both here in Australia and overseas.

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In a fortuitous turn of events the last week we’ve had the most glorious weather here in Ballarat – a town not known for it’s sunshine and warmth! – and I’ve had only one child in my care during that time – the big one, the one who goes to Kinder 15 hours a week!  The small one had a mini holiday in Melbourne with her Granny and had a fabulous time.  So in my child-free sunny 15 hours I hit the garden….. well as much as I could between catching up on Uni work.  There is still some work to do but on the weed front things are looking positive.  Here are some before and afters……

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This is the area along the side of the house, you know, the out of sight, out of mind area.  It was chock full of weeds and it took most of a drizzly Sunday afternoon (this was before the sun showed itself) to pull all those weeds out.  My hope is to plant it out with something that might compete with – and win against – the weeds.  I’ve tried violets, but they disappeared.  I have a little bit of ivy and some other unknown plants just hanging on.  I had large clumps of red hot pokers growing in another spot in the garden which needed thinning, so I’ve transplanted them here.  It’s not the ideal spot for them as it’s not full sun, but I’m happy if they survive even if they don’t flower much.  Here’s what it looks like now.

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Next up is the bed the red hot pokers came out of – although they’re mostly out of shot here.

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This bed was full of a creeping viney-type weed with little purple flowers, as well as lots of kykuyu grass – the bain of my existence!  It’s a sunny bed that runs along the east side boundary fence.  I have a fuchsia at one end which I bought in a pot from Melbourne.  It grow quite large once I planted in the garden, but is looking very sick now – no leaves – and it hasn’t flowered for the last two years.  Are there any fuchsia experts out there?  What does it need?  Also a challenge in this bed is the fact that it has black plastic underneath and landscaping stones – both of which I assume have been laid to keep the weeds down but are failing.  It makes it very difficult to pull the weeds up by the roots or to plant anything new, but I am hoping to get the far end – near the green tank – sorted out so I can plant my sick looking lemon tree down there.  Here’s what the bed looks like since my clean up.

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The last spot I’ll showcase today (there are more would you believe it) is the weediest spot in the garden.

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This neglected area is due to be transformed into our new extended deck – hopefully later this year – so I tend to just let the weeds run wild.  But as weeds are prone to do, they are colonizing the nearby garden beds.  You’ll also notice the tarp covering some gravel to finish my garden paths – another long term job for Mr Good. This weeding session happened with two little helpers who got extremely muddy and had a fabulous time doing so, but it meant I only got half way through it.  Most of these beds will be planted out with edibles so it was nice to see so many worms in this part of the garden – something must be good in there.

If you look closely you can see Miss Three digging in the mud.

If you look closely you can see Miss Three digging in the mud.

I have also managed to weed – but not photograph – the garlic bed.  The garlic are coming on very nicely and I can’t wait to see what I will be harvesting from there in a few more months, fingers crossed for lots of large bulbs.

Other than transplanting the red hot pokers, I haven’t planted anything at all this month.  I should start on that soon, but I am enjoying seeing the garden much more tidy and presentable.

We starting picking the shooting broccoli this month and there is plenty more to come.

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I’ve also noticed the snowpeas have started flowering and the broad beans are getting bigger, but I’m not convinced I’m going to get much off them this year.  My rocket has, once again, started flowering.  I’m planning on getting the hedge clippers and cutting it right back so it doesn’t seed everywhere again.  I DO NOT need any more rocket!  The silverbeet has been my ever faithful provider and it’s glossy green leaves look great in the garden.

On this months to-do list is:

Finish the weeding – the strawberry patch is full of kykuyu grass, argh!!  And I need to finished the spot currently half done.

Start planting out – I’m thinking some greens and some root vegetables, but my goal is not to do too much and to look after what I have planted!

I’m hoping to get the rest of the garden paths finished (though I think we will need to source more second hand bricks so may not get it done).

Transplant the lemon tree.

Plant out some big pots that are currently empty with some fun spring colour.

I think that will just about do for the coming month.  Hope Spring has sprung where you are (or Autumn perhaps?) and your gardens are getting reading for the coming season.

PS sorry about the photos, they’re all quick snaps on my phone.



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Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

Is it just me or has there been a whole lot of parent bashing going on lately.  

Two weeks ago the Victorian government proposed increasing penalties for parents leaving their under 16 year old children alone.  This includes leaving in kids in cars (which you would have to think is the driving force behind such changes), at home, walking the streets alone or on public transport.  Now clearly there are situations and ages when supervision is crucial and places where children should not be left alone.  A car on a hot day (or even just a mild sunny day), obviously.  On the streets at night, definitely.  And I’m not about to load my three and five year olds on the bus and wave them off.  But hey, I rode to and from school on my own, ON THE ROAD NOT THE FOOTPATH, from about 8 years old.  My siblings and I were at home for an hour or so after school without supervision when my Mum went back to work.  And there were plenty of times once I was a little older that I stayed in the car while Mum or Dad got milk and bread at the supermarket.  Hell we were even left alone at night once my sister was in her mid teens (there is only three years between all three of us).  There was a whole lotta alone time when I was growing up.

A week later we, parents, are hit with this delightful article claiming that today’s children are being turned into spoilt brats by Australia’s ‘crap’ parents who don’t know how to set boundaries and are infanatlising children. According to Dr Carr-Greg “The high-strung, control-freak parents that want to smother their kids with so much love and attention and monitoring and supervision that they never, ever develop any self-reliance and can’t solve their own problems later on.” Apparently the evidence is strewn throughout our schools, airports, waiting rooms and restaurants.  Call me defensive, but I actually found this opinion from a prominent psychologist incredibly insulting not to mention condescending.   

And where does this actually leave parents.  On the one hand we’re told that we MUST supervise at all times, all children until they are 16.  We’re condemned for using computers or mobile devices around our children because it means we’re not fully ‘present’ for them.  On the other hand we’re labelled as crap parents for supervising TOO much, for not encouraging independence and giving TOO MUCH LOVE.  We, apparently, don’t say no often enough, don’t set rules and follow through with consequences and we reward or praise children too much.  Yet not so long ago, other psychologists were laying the guilt trip on parents who did say no, claiming that in all situations parents should rephrase it so as to always say yes.  Thankfully this was out of favour again by the time I was a parent, but Wendy apparently wasn’t.  Is it any wonder parents begin to question themselves.

I wonder if children ‘these days’ really are that different from the past.  Sure they live in a different world where the internet and mobile phones rule which throws up a unique set of challenges, but if you put that aside are today’s children truly doomed to incompetence?  Toddlers have always been fickle creatures, prone to emotional-outbursts and tantrums, haven’t they?  Pre-schools exert their independence and stubborness?  School aged kids starting to push boundaries and teenagers moody and uncommunicative.  I think the difference is that there are just too many damn experts claiming they know best and what they see is parents failing at every turn.  And with modern media being what it is they have plenty of opportunity to get their opinions out there and kick the guts of parents just trying to do our best.

And that is exactly what ‘modern’ parents are trying to do….. our best, just like our own parents did.  I have seen young people do amazing things, take on social justice issues, environmental challenges and academic demands admirably.  I have been around lots and lots of young children for the last five years and I have no seen no evidence substantial evidence of this ‘crap’ parenting.  The kids seem pretty grounded to me, no more ‘brats’ than before as I see it…. and I went to school with my fair share of them. There are perhaps more kids with the confidence to speak to adults, more that won’t blindly obey without some questioning and there are statistically far more children with challenges like autism, none of those things make ‘brats’, nor does it indicate ‘crap’ parenting.  Let’s give parents the break they deserve and let them get on with the job of parenting kids that they know better than anyone else. 

And that’s my two cents worth.

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Why I love….. washing?!

I know what you’re thinking, how could anyone love washing?  Why would anyone want to love washing?  And it’s not like its my calling in life, I haven’t found my passion standing in front of my front loader.  But I prefer it to just about every other household chore (aside from cooking, but I’ll get back to that).

Five and a bit years ago I entered a crazy world of new motherhood with a very unsettled baby.  She didn’t sleep well, it took hours and hours of every day and every night to get her to sleep and the sleeping part never lasted very long.  I remember Mr Good and I playing tag team to sleep, me in bed between 8pm and midnight and him from midnight to 6am when he had to get up for work.  If I was lucky I could get back to bed sometime after 8am when the baby finally succumbed to sleep for a couple of hours.  The days were hazy in the midst of such sleep deprivation.  The crying was an intense soundtrack to that period of my life.  Not many things got done in those days.  There was a lot of take away, there was little cleaning.  The nights were long, the days were lonely and the house was a disaster.  But the one thing I managed to keep on top of was the washing.  I could put a load on.  Two hours later I could hang it out – being outside on my own was heaven.  And although I didn’t always get it folded and put away, Mr Good often stepped in and did that bit as I lay exhausted on the couch in the evening, or more likely, pacing the floor with a crying baby.  When I think back to it those months didn’t last too long, things improved at little at six months and by twelve months we were really turning the corner.  But they will stay etched in my mind forever.  As will that tiny feeling of satisfaction of actually getting something done…. even if it was just a load of washing.  I couldn’t stop my baby crying, I couldn’t get her to sleep or make her stay asleep for longer than an hour, but I could get some dirty clothes, cleaned and dried.

Thankfully second time around my experience was vastly different.  A dream baby one might say, although at the six month mark she changed from being a terrific sleeper to one not so good.  She’s rarely slept through since then, but she’s never cried for hours or taken hours to get back to sleep.  She needs what she needs and then she’s satisfied and goes back to sleep.  While I would LOVE to have a consistent, uninterrupted night’s sleep and not to always have an extra body in my bed, it is not like those initial early days with baby number one.  Yet still, washing is one of the few things that gives me a daily dose of the satisfaction you get from actually finishing something.

I’m in my groove with washing.  I do a load each day – or often overnight.  I hang a load up to dry.  I fold a load up (my trick is to fold as I take it off the line) and stack into piles, one for each of us.  Then I wonder through the bedrooms and put it all away.  My goal being not to put the basket down again until it’s empty.  It may not be teaching a class of Year 8s about longitude and latitude or introducing a group of Year 7s to a great book and it’s definitely not seeing some Year 12s finally get how to analyse a cartoon printed during the American Revolution, but it is something.  Something that I can see through from start to finish, that isn’t undone in 30 seconds like tidying the family room.  I don’t need to put other stuff away before I start – like doing the floors – and it sure as hell beats cleaning the bathroom (my most hated of all household duties).

There are a couple of other things that make washing a best job in my house.  One is that it gets me outside to hang it up (at least when the weather allows for it) and while I’m out there I tend to have a potter in the garden and the kids have a jump of the trampoline.  The other is that my kids have no interest in helping with it so I get to do it BY MYSELF.  And secretly I love the challenge of getting a tough stain out….. I’m not saying I’m that great at it, but I’m getting better.  I recently totally obliterated some full-blown grass stains on Miss Three’s jeans (she’s VERY clumsy, so it’s probably good I’ve found a way with grass stains).  

In writing this post I wondered why I felt this way about washing – of all things! – and not cooking.  It has that same quality of being able to see it from start to finish and that I have a groove with.  Getting organised early in the day and then pulling it together in the late afternoon or cooking in batches to stock the freezer.  And let’s face it cooking is so much more fun than washing.  I do actually love the process of cooking SO much more than washing. BUT cooking is also associated with the drama, the battles of the dinner table.  Something I really hate and can’t wait to end for good.  Washing I do in the laundry and outside pretty much entirely on my own – HEAVEN! – rather than in the centre of the house with little people running around my feet, whining at me and generally disturbing my zen-ness.  

And so that’s it, that’s why washing does it for me on a nearly daily basis.  But then again, if Mr Good offered to take over the washing duties I’d probably jump at it!

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Wednesday Reads – Lillian’s Story by Kate Grenville

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Recently I’ve made a foray into the world of the e-reader and e-books.  Up until now I’ve pretty much stuck to the real deal, weight in your hands kind of books.  This is mostly because I don’t actually own an e-reader and because I get most of my books from the library or borrowed from other people.  I’m not a purest, I have no problems with e-readers, the books are much more reasonably priced and an e-reader is much easier to cart around than actual books, especially if you want to take multiple.  The reason for my trial was because I wanted to read a particular book (not this one) which I couldn’t get from the library but that my sister had on her e-reader.  So she lent it to me for a couple of months and I read a few books on it.  I loved it, so much easier to read in bed, and much better than reading on an iPad.  Think an e-reader might be on my Christmas wish list.  I also explored e-book library catalogues, there are plenty of books, but nothing particularly new and only a limited number that appealed to me, but I did find Lillian’s Story by Kate Grenville….. see we got there eventually!

Years ago I read Kate Grenville’s Secret River, BRILLIANT.  EPIC.  I remember diving head first and in totality into that novel, invested I think you call it.  Well, Lillian’s Story is not Secret River.  It Grenville’s first novel and she clearly learned a lot between the writing of this and Secret River.  That’s not to say it’s a terrible book.  It’s not, but the writing is just no at that same level.  

To give you some idea of the story, the central character, Lillian Singer, is born into an upper middle class family at the turn of the last century.  Her family is dysfunctional in the extreme, yet they have high expectations for their daughter’s ability to marry well and wonder why she turns out so eccentric and socially awkward (also in the extreme).  Her childhood is bleak, full of trauma and cruelty both at home and at school.  To deal with this she lives in a world of Shakespeare and develops an intellect of impressive capacity.  In her early adulthood she turns to university to find her place and finally manages for connect with a number of others, forming friendships she had never experienced before.  As an adult life takes a series of unexpected turns.

I liked Lillian as a character.  She is quirky, extremely intellegent and truly believes in her own grandiosity.  She is going to be great…. at something….. in some way.   And if anyone deserves to be great in their own lives it’s Lillian.  However, as the story progressed I got more and more frustrated at the turns it took.  I needed something a little more light-hearted after some deep and depressing reads and this one didn’t really provide that.  Saying too much more than that will give away the ending so I won’t.  In the end I gave this three stars on Goodreads, but perhaps it would have been more like 2 1/2 if that was an option.  

I’ve just looked at the last four books I’ve read and reviewed.  One about POW on the Burma railway, one on teenagers dealing with cancer, another on the financial and social struggles during the recession of the ’90s and then this one.  Is it any wonder I’ve been feeling a little blue.  Just wait for what’s coming next though, a definite relief from the sads.  

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Wednesday Reads – Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman

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Elliot Perlman is one of my favourite authors and I had the great pleasure of hearing him talk at this year’s Clunes Booktown.  In that particular talk his topic was the research and writing of the highly acclaimed The Street Sweeper.  An amazing, complex web of a novel that should immediately be moved to your must read list (near the top, please!) if you have not yet read it.  However, this week’s Wednesday Reads is not The Street Sweeper, but an earlier work, Three Dollars.  It has Perlman’s easy reading style which so deftly spins a story both despairing and all to realistic.

This one is set in inner-city Melbourne, around Brunswick in particular, and the familiarity with the setting compounded the feeling that this could be me in many ways.  The story’s protagonist, Eddie, has somewhat inexplicably become a chemical engineer sacked from a government department in the sudden economic downturn of the 1990s.  He has a wife with serious bouts of incapacitating depression, a small child, a mortgage and just three dollars to his name.  With no income, no references – a side-effect of his attempt to keep his integrity in the dirty world of the mining industry – and no plan beyond getting some garlic bread, Eddie’s future is looking bleak, a word that described this time and place quite well.  

Perlman writes with great intelligence – sometimes too much in this case – humour and drama, but I will admit to finding this particular work a little too on the depressing side.  There were wonderful moments, like Eddie’s encounter with a homeless man and a dog, like the dialogue between him and the Chinese tailor over a ripped suit jacket, but then there is a lot of bad luck and hard times.  It was stressful reading it.  Being a family on one income, in an age designed primarily for two, I know the stress of paying all those bills on time, but my experience is nothing on this one in the end.  So while this may be a great post-modern portrayal of the time (winner of the 1998 Age Book of the Year no less), enter it with your eyes wide open, there will be little joy.  I gave it three stars, for pure writing talent and then quickly moved on to something I hoped would be more lighthearted….. I was wrong.

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Great Reads for Kids #2

A small collection of the great library books we’ve come across this week.

1. Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg

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This is one of those books with very few words, all perfectly selected and paired with gorgeous illustrations.  Chengdu is a Panda who, obviously, can’t fall asleep until……  Read it and find out.

2. Maudie and Bear by Jan Ormerod and Freya Blackwood

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This is just too adorable.  This little books has several even smaller stories within it all about Maudie and Bear and their days together.  Getting a snack, telling a story or riding a bike.  Maudie is a slightly fickle child (aren’t they all?) and Bear is a gentle giant and the stories are the sweetest things ever.

3. Who Wants to be a Poodle…. I Don’t by Lauren Child

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You’ll know Lauren Child from Charlie and Lola fame and maybe even Clarice Bean (my personal favourite).  Who Wants to be a Poodle….. I Don’t has the same quirky pictures and layout (and slightly tricky-to-read spiraling, curling writing) but instead of channeling a little girl (Clarice) or boy (Charlie) she writes the voice of a Poople, Trixie Twinkle Toes Trot-a-lot Delight.  Trixie does not appreciate her life of luxury and just wants to be a normal dog.  Her owner Verity Brulee doesn’t understand but that doesn’t stop Trixie trying to make her.

4. Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

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About Little Red Chicken, who will not, WILL NOT stop interrupting the bedtime stories his Dad is trying to read to him.  Little Red Chicken loves nothing more than a happy ending and interrupts each story to ensure that that is exactly what he gets.  I love this one because my girls can not. CAN NOT stop interrupting me while I read.  They have a gazillion questions, opinions or observations to make, and sometimes (only sometimes) I just want to finish the story!

More next week I’m sure.  Feel free to share your own.  

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