31 May 2011

Mrs Readalot Reads Water for Elephants (Book Club + Linky)

It has been quite a while since Mrs Readalot fell totally in with a book. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen was such a book.

A quote on the cover of the books sums it up nicely: "An utterly transporting novel richly full of the stuff of life..."

Have you ever read a book about an olde-timey travelling circus?
Did you know that in the "olden days" circuses travelled around by train? They would set up, do their show and be on to the next stop within a mere twenty-four hours.
Remember the Disney Movie, Dumbo?? That was a Train Circus.
And this unique setting is the backdrop for a gripping story...

I'll let Mrs Readalot tell you about it in her own words...

Mrs Readalot says:

Firstly I fell in love with the setting: a Depression-era travelling circus? Absolutely fascinating.

The book opens with drama and action - murder - right off the bat.

"She was cool, languid. Smiling even. I started pushing my way toward her, but something about her expression stopped me cold.
That son of a bitch was standing with his back to her, red-faced and bellowing, flapping his arms and swinging his silver-tipped cane...
"She reached for something... an iron stake. She held it loosely, resting its end on the hard dirt. She looked back at me again, bemused. Then her gaze shifted to the back of his head.
..."I stumbled forward, screaming though there was no hope of my voice reaching her. 'Don't do it! Don't do it!'
She lifted the stake high in the air and brought it down, splitting his head like a watermelon... He fell to his knees and toppled forward into the straw.
I was too stunned to move, even as a young orangutan flung its elastic arms around my legs.
So long ago. So long. But still it haunts me..."

But don't be fooled. This is not a whodunnit. Not a murder-mystery. It's original in every way. Intriguing, exciting - the writer draws you in and sets the scene for a fast-paced adventure, while at the same time introducing you to three-dimensional characters who feel real and are very relatable.

Next you find yourself in a sleepy nursing home, where Old Folks dribble into their food and the central character, Jacob, is frustrated at being locked inside his aging body, whilst in him still beats the heart of a young man.

Throughout the book we alternate between Jacob's present and his past memories of the circus.

Through it all runs a puzzle, the thread of a mystery; pieces of the story not quite made clear in that tumultuous opening chapter.

At the end - a neat twist and a satisfying conclusion. *sigh*

Such an easy-to-devour book. My only complaint is that Water for Elephants wasn't longer - because I loved it so much I didn't want it to end!

This book was gobbled up in less than two days. It was one worth staying up for; a real eyelid drooper - my favourite kinda book.

I've been recommending this book to friends left and right.

Now I'm almost scared to see the movie... can it live up to the beauty of the book??
We shall see.

Water for Elephants is a Must-Read. And for the first time ever, I am going to give it FIVE HEARTS because I loved loved LOVED it.

Must. Read. Water. For. Elephants.

Mrs Readalot rates Water for Elephants:
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Now its your turn.
Have you read any good books lately?

Write a review and link up below.

If you've read Water for Elephants, share your thoughts. Have you seen the Movie yet? How do they compare?

You can either read and review the Book of the Month, or review and link up any other book of your choice.

If you don't have a blog, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section. Go visit the links and see what other people are reading... you might get some great suggestions for reading material... and some great new blogs to follow!

Next Month the Book Club will be Hosted by Helen over at One Trick Pony.

Helen's choice for June's Book of the Month is: Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins, which sounds like it will be full of mystery/suspense!

The next linky will be up on Thursday June 30 over at One Trick Pony along with Helen's review. Mrs Readalot's post will point you in the right direction, so don't worry about getting lost ♥

29 May 2011

Why I Can't Stay Silent

An advertisement came on while we were watching TV the other night: John Kirwan, former All Black talking about his depression.
JK is a hero to so many of us. Because he spoke up.
He stepped out from behind silence and said, "ME. I suffer from Depression."
When I watch those commercials I nearly cry.

You see, so many people, most people in fact, don't get it. They don't understand what Depression is. What causes it. How far reaching it is. How long-lasting. How debilitating.

Depression is not a feeling.
It's not the feeling you get when you're having a bad hair day.
It's not something that goes away once the sun comes out.

There's a difference between the depression that comes when something awful happens to you - some tragic loss or grief - and the clinical kind.
The first kind of depression is situational.

The kind of depression I'm talking about is Clinical.
It's a medical condition. There are malfunctioning chemicals in our brains. It affects our thought processes, our emotions, even our spirituality.
We can't just think our way to positivity. That's like telling a man with broken legs to just walk his way to better mobility.
And it's beyond our control, it's not something we can snap out of. Really - we've tried.

Well-meaning advice to a depressed person just heaps up guilt...
"Oh but look at all the things you have to be thankful for! There are lots more people worse off in the world than you, you know..."
Yeah, we know.
But the added guilt really helps. Thanks!

Depression is a bugger.
It doesn't just affect the sufferer; it impacts our families too.

Spare a thought for the partners of people like me, who have to shoulder our load as well as their own when we crash.

Spare a thought for our kids who too often see us crying, anxious, overwhelmed. And the guilt that comes with the knowledge, the fear that our struggles are affecting them in ways we can only guess at.

I'm writing this to give understanding to those of you who are blessed to not live with this Menace.
Because I can guarantee there are people in your life who suffer with this. After all One in Five people in the general population will suffer some form of mental illness during their lifetime.

Probably they haven't told you for fear of rejection, misunderstanding, judgement... or that well-meaning guilt-inducing advice.

I know when I was diagnosed I found it so hard to tell people.
There were some friends I tried to tell. I went to their homes to spill the beans, but just couldn't get the words out. I didn't want them to think badly of me or stop being my friend because I was not the same person any more.
I couldn't speak. My words froze on my tongue. I left without sharing, wishing I was braver.
Lots of people saw the change in me, and misjudged the reason.
Where I had been an out-front make-it-happen person, I became a background-dweller, an early-leaver, a no-sayer.

"What's happened to Simone?" some people wondered. But hardly anybody asked.
"Ahhh she's got her man now, and she's off living her life..." was the conclusion many came to.

No. I wasn't. I was struggling in my own private hell, subject to storms of anger and tears. Panicky and anxious over the smallest things, like walking down a busy street. Wondering what on earth was happening to me, was I going crazy?

There was no Depression.org back then. No John Kirwan sharing his story and helping remove the stigma.
I didn't know where to turn for help.
We suffered in ignorance, not knowing what we were facing.
But now I know.

Clinical Depression has been with me ten years and counting.
That's depressing in itself, isn't it?
I never imagined I would still be struggling after this long.
Sometimes its hard to remember what normal even is.
Sometimes its hard to hold onto hope that I can ever be free of this.

My emotional dinghy is sitting real close to the water-line. Rock the boat just a little and I get swamped.
Add anything to what I'm carrying and the tide rushes in.
When all is calm and peaceful, I am OK. Coping.
But anyone with kids will know how rare peace is!

Just so you know, Depressed people are often hard to spot.
We don't go around crying 24/7. Quite often we do make it out of bed.
You might even find us talking and laughing, throwing parties and making friends.
But these things take their toll. And some days, like when there's financial pressure or the kids are sick or playing up or we're tired, hormonal, changing our meds... our backs get broken with that last little straw.
And the roof caves in, the rain leaks through and everyone in our house gets wet.

So I'm speaking up for all my sisters (and brothers); those who don't have the ability to put into words what they wish they could tell you. Those who fear the stigma, the shame of the label "mental illness". Damn, even now its hard to type that.

A friend turned up on my doorstep on Friday. She said, "I've come to do some housework for you. What needs doing?"
I love her. We never quite got to the housework, but the cuppa and the chat were a real bright spot.

Here's my request:
Be a friend. We are not crazy.
Show you care. The little things mean a lot.
Don't offer advice. Unless you've been there.
Be patient. It can last a while.
Support our partners. They carry a double burden.

So while there's still a stigma, still misunderstanding out there, I have to speak up. Not everyone has found their voice yet, so I'm speaking up for them.
  • If you want to know more, visit the Most Excellent website Depression.org
  • To read more of my posts on this subject go here
28 May 2011

Using Photoscape & Making Photo Collages

Quite often I get comments on my photo-collages.
"How did you do that...?"
"What programme do you use...?"

So here's the answer to your burning question...

How I make Those Cool Photo Collages.

Answer: Photoscape.
Beautiful wonderful easy-to-use, free-to-download Photoscape.
I am so sorry if you are a Mac user. I cannot help you because... finally there's something Windows has that a Mac doesn't!
Photoscape is only for Windows. Sorry. Take that up with the designers. Because really? I've looked around and there doesn't seem to be anything else with Photoscape's features. For Mac. Or Windows.
It's the best photo editing programme Ever.

So go download it for free here, Windows users.
Mac Users. I'm sorry. I got nothing for ya. Head on back to camp.

{Sorry I've been watching Survivor. Got a little carried away...}

Collages are not only useful and beautiful in Blogs - but can also be used to make the most gorgeous printed PhotoBooks. So even if you're not a blogger, keep reading. Photoscape could come in really handy round Mothers Day...

After you install Photoscape open it up and you will land on the above screen.

The three most important features are...
  1. Editor: Lets you edit photos individually. Make them black and white, sepia, correct exposure, add frames, film effects, vignetting etc to photos individually.
  2. Batch Editor: Lets you edit a bunch of photos at the same time. You can resize, apply a frame style, or a watermark, or a film effect to all the photos you want to use in a post. At once. A beautiful beautiful tool. I use this function on all the photos I plan to use in a post.
  3. Page: This is where we make our fancy photo collages. Choose a layout, drag and drop photos into it, apply a frame style (e.g. rounded corners, vignetting) to the collage. Then save and upload it as a single photo. Too easy.
Lets take all the features a step at a time...

1. Editor
Here you will find all the tools you need to make your photos look special. You don't need to have a fancy camera to have your blog's images look amazing.
  • First up, Resize. Find out how many pixels you need your blog images to be. Resize every photo to this size as soon as you get into Editor. (Click on the "Resize" button and a window will pop up where you can just type in the pixel width you want). Why do this? Because you'll have shorter upload times. And use up less storage space. And make your blog page loading time much faster. That's why.
  • Next, click on the "Bright,Colour" button. Click, don't use the arrow/drop down menu. Clicking will bring up all the controls in a slider menu. All you have to do is play around with them until your photo looks how you want it. If you mess up, just Undo.

  • Filter is where the fun stuff is. "Film Effect" lets you choose all kinds of cool and vintage photo styles like Cross Process or Agfa, Provia etc. (Don't like it? Undo!) Then there's Antique photo. Add cool scratchy textures to make your pics look ancient (and disguise a boring image). Vignetting adds a touch of class; a bit of shadowing round the edges. There's other arty effects too; like turning your photo into a pencil drawing. Just have a play and discover all you can do.

  • Don't forget a Border. Even if you don't want anything fancy, why not just simply round the corners? Or add a shadow? (You'll need to make sure you don't have any borders selected on your Template Designer or it will look funny) My favourite right now is Round 03. It gives a softly rounded edge. Nice.

2. Batch Editor
Everything you can do in Editor, you can do in Batch Editor. Pretty much. Except that you do it to a bunch of photos at once, instead of just one at a time. This is a great tool for blogging. I can choose all the pics I might want to use for a post; resize them altogether, add a border and photo effects... and if I want to, a Watermark.

A Watermark is what you see on some people's photos which lets you know they own the photo. Stops people from right-click copying your images without giving proper attribution. Like this...

So if you are concerned about people pinching your pics, you can easily add a watermark in Batch Editor.

In Batch Editor click on "Object" as shown above.
Can you see where the arrow is pointing, top right?
Then select Text 1, 2 or 3 (check the box)... and edit the text and style by clicking on the little pencil next to it. See where I've written: "click to design watermark"? The arrow is pointing right at it.

Play around until you get it looking right on all the photos in the batch. When you are happy with it click "Convert all" and follow the prompts to save your files.

See? A nice batch of vignetted, round cornered, brightened, contrasted, watermarked photos.

Put into a collage.
Which is what you've been waiting for. Here we go...

3. Page (a.k.a. Collages!)

Collage-making in Photoscape is so simple.
Choose a layout from the list on the right.
Choose your photos from the list on the left (browse your computer)
Drag and Drop the photos into position.
Don't like it? Choose another layout. Or drop in a replacement photo.

So many uses for collages. So many layout options!

    Technical Tips:
  1. You change the size (in pixels) of the collage and its proportions by clicking on the acorn icon next to the "size" indicator. Play around with the percentages and proportions until it looks right. If you use extra-large photos in your blog layouts, your photos will need to be at least 600 pixels wide (150%)
  2. You can add frames to give your photos an interesting edge. The best frames are the simple ones. Rounded or the rough-edged "cali" frames work best in collages.
  3. You can increase or decrease the margin between photos, depending on what look you're going for.
  4. If you want to give your collage a frame just around the edge (like in my collage at the top of this post), choose "No Frame" in the collage page. Then click "Edit" and add your border there, just to the outside. This is also where you add text.
5. In "filter" you will see some basic controls for exposure and effects. But I recommend doing any photo editing before making your collage. Just whatever you do, don't apply any frames in "edit" before bringing your photos in!! It will make your collage very messy with some frames being cut off in odd places.

***Vignetting tip: You can apply "vignetting" in "filter" which gives a nice internal shadow to each image's corners. Quite sweet, especially when using a rounded frame.

Now go and download Photoscape for free. Install and start playing. I look forward to seeing lots of fun collages and cool photos on your blogs :)

If doing this yourself seems too overwhelming, you can always take the easy way out and let me do it for you. Visit my Custom Blog Design page and request either a special custom designed button set (NZ$25) or an extra button in one of the styles pictured here (NZ$5 per button).
I can also create Headers, grab-buttons and even do a complete blog-design overhaul...

{P.S. If you're feeling eternally grateful right now... you can say *thankyou* by Following}

More Blog Tips...
27 May 2011

Loving. Grateful. Rainy.

Rain on the roof is one of my favourite things.
Especially when I am tucked up in my warm bed.

I love it. I am grateful for the warm bed, the roof over my head which tells me I am safe.

Not so much fun is listening to the rain on the roof when you know you must go out in it.
Walking Bus duty, herding dripping children through gutter-rivers and puddle-lakes...

Raindrops collecting on your glasses, obscuring your vision. Cloud-water seeping through the shower-proof jacket which was never made for serious inundation. Arriving home soaked-through and shivering.

Moments like these you are grateful for gumboots.
At least your feet are dry.

Rainy days come to the soul too.
Blue skies cloud over. The sun hides her face. The heavens open as rain pours down.

On dark rainy nights you need a little light.
A flickering candle pushing back the dark. Unseen and insignificant in a brightly lit room, but in darkness it makes all the difference.

The smallest light can give hope on a dark rainy night of the soul.
Right now where I am its a little dark. And rainy.
So I'm taking this opportunity to focus on the light.

Grateful for these bright spots...

This boy always makes my grateful list.
The way he runs in and jumps up on my bed just to make sure I'm still there.
"You need a moochy kiss mum?" he asks. "Whaddabout a huggie-huggie? I be gentle?!"
"Mum you my fabrit friend. You my best friend mum? I love you mum."
Grateful for the bright light shining in this boy. Loving him much.
Loving the rainbows in my cupboard. Simple things to take pleasure in like a nice hot cup of tea.
And a fresh-baked muffin. I might not have done much else but I did make muffins, and they were gooood.
Loving this girl. My little champion. Next week when the rain has stopped I will share with you her story.
In the meantime I love the way she makes me smile.
Like the other day when she called out to me from the loo...
"Mum! You've got a really nice bum!"
"Yeah, when I sit on the toilet after you the seat is all nice and warm..."
Still makes me laugh.
Grateful for my man.
He is holding up an umbrella for me right now, as I stand in this rainstorm.
He makes me feel safe, loved. Caring for me and our children in the most practical of ways; he made the best chicken nachos ever!
I am loving and so grateful for my husband.
After every night comes morning.
Behind the clouds the sun still shines.
I hold onto that hope, grateful that until the storm stops, at least I know I am safe and loved.
And that is no small thing.

Joining in with PaisleyJade and Maxabella Loves
What are you loving/grateful for this week??

26 May 2011

Not My Mother's Daughter

Writing Prompt #2: "Not your mother's daughter...how do you parent differently than your mother did? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?" for Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writers Workshop

I do things differently from my Mother.
At least I'm pretty sure I do.
I mean, I have never sent my kids off to school with sandwiches looking like they're filled with slices of cheese - but which were actually slices of butter. No, I have never done that. I use Olivani. Lite.
And I go swimming. Mum never went swimming. I don't even know if she can swim?
She may have been shy of togs. Something about baby-weight? But me, I swim.
At least now I do. I used to be shy of togs too. (Togs are what we call a swimsuit)
But then one day I realised that my kids were missing out on having fun with me because I was worried about my cottage cheese thighs. The kids don't care about the cellulite. The passersby don't matter.
So now I swim.
I'm trying to think if I have ever remarked on my daughter's "low-slung bum" or her poor use of hairclips: "Scragging back your fringe like that makes you look so plain..."
No, I don't think I ever have. In fact, I'm sure of it.
I'm sure I tell my girlie all the time how pretty she is; OK sometimes I send her back into her room to change something about an outfit, but mostly I applaud her fashion sense, her hairdo's.
Funny how I can remember every negative remark my mum ever made.
Now me and my sisters tease her about it.
"Mum, remember when you wrote in your Family Heirloom book that my skin is pale?"
Oh I didn't! Did I?
"Yeah and remember when you drew that picture of the Grace Nose like a hook... and then said I have that nose?"
Stop it! I never meant it like that! Oh you girls are wicked!
Yeah we tease her about it now. We laugh about it. These days she is far more complimentary.
And I am careful. Careful not to make remarks that might be remembered forever.
Still, I'll bet sometime when I'm 60 my girl will say, "Mum remember that time you said my striped leggings looked ridiculous with my polka dot top...???"
Mum read me books all day long. So much so, that I had every one memorised and the neighbour kids were convinced I could read at the age of two. I wish I had her patience.
I get tired after a couple of rounds of Stick Man.
Mum endlessly drew "girls" for me, sketching them to my specifications.
I remember that; I can picture them now.
Sometimes Miss Fab asks for "girls" too. I draw Princesses for her in honour of my mother.
My mother took what she had and made it stretch.
She sewed gonks out of t-shirts; golliwogs out of bike shorts. I remember her home-made toys.
She was not a sewer. But she did it anyway.
Money was tight, but mum made sure birthdays were a celebration. We were Queen for the Day.
A $5 doll from the supermarket turned into a Princess Bride by mum's handiwork; she'd been up all night stitching the lacy gown. I will never forget it.
Birthday cakes, she made from scratch. A carousel cake, spinning on the record player I remember.
And her triple-chocolate gateaux? I still use her recipe.
Mum taught me to celebrate. Paved the way for my love of parties.
Made every Christmas a magical mystical thing.
Our one strand of un-blinking lights on an artificial tinsel-tree; made beautiful with collected and homemade treasures. I would sit and gaze at it for hours.
This blog, my parties, our celebrations were seeded by my mum's creativity.
She says to me as she looks at my cake photos, "Wow. You have taken what I used to do to a whole new level..."
Yes but she laid the foundation. She taught me the way.
So there are things I do different. Other things I will always do the same.
And through it all I honour my mum.
Because now that I am a mother myself, I know what a blinkin' hard job mothering is.
And I think that overall she did a great job. I mean, just look how nicely I turned out, right?
25 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday: One Misty Morning

Yesterday morning we awoke to fog.
I liked the look of the eerie streetlight through the mist.
So I did what any good blogger would do. I grabbed my camera, threw on my fluffy robe and slipped out to snap some pics.

Usually huge piles of junk are not heaped up along our street.
But its Inorganic Collection time. Which means we clear out our garages and throw out our crap.
That's when the trucks arrive. Or the vans. The cars with trailers.
People poking about in the heaps of broken cast-offs; they dig about for... all kind of things.
Bits of wood. Old TV's. Broken toys. Even a mouldy old baby-seat was lifted by some "upcyclers" in the middle of the night.

Sometime this week the Council will come and pick it all up. In the meantime trucks keep stopping and people keep treasure-hunting. Its to be expected, I guess.

But I didn't expect to find this guy on a Vespa poking about in my neighbour's rubbish pile, early on a misty Monday morning...

Looking professional. So kitted-out. The gloves, the day-glo  jacket. The pokey-grippy-grabby stick.
Surprised, I snapped his picture.
Surprised at the snap, he looked up. And froze.
Our eyes locked as we both stood there.
Me in my fluffy robe and slippers oddly wielding a camera.
Him in his day-glo Vespa-gear oddly wielding a grabby-stick.

Then he grinned.
And got on his scooter, buzzing off into the mist.

I wonder what he was looking for...?

{OK I apologise for my use of a few words on my Wordless Wednesday post... but if you know me you'll know that this WAS pretty Wordless by comparison!}