25 June 2014

Mrs Readalot's Latest List of Books Worth Reading

First of all, let me just say that Mrs Readalot has read a bunch of books lately, but not all of them are worth recommending - or even mentioning. Some of those books are simply forgettable, others are difficult to remember. Either way they do not rate a place here on this list of Books Worth Reading.

We shall begin with a book (or rather "series of books") which piqued Mrs R's interest after she saw the movie trailer...

Here we have the Divergent series, by Veronica Roth, which has been made into an action packed movie (it's well worth seeing and/or taking your tween/teen to. Loads of action, an interesting plot, very clean and suitable for older kids who can handle fight scenes; Mrs R took Dash to it and he thoroughly enjoyed it, as did she. Dash will begin reading Divergent once he finishes Mockingjay, Book Three of the Hunger Games series).

"I wanted to read this book/series after I saw the movie trailer; the concept of the story really appealed to me and I had heard it compared to The Hunger Games, which I loved. Apparently "Tris" (Divergent's protagonist) will give Katniss a run for her money. Divergent is the new dystopian adventure with a strong female lead.
All true, indeed, at least as far as both series are dystopian YA novels with strong female lead characters, but there the similarity ends. The Divergent world is intriguing but nothing like the world of the Hunger Games; it's a place where people are categorised by their dominant characteristic and organised into "factions" (Dauntless/fearless; Abnegation/service; Candor/honesty; Erudite/knowledge and Amity/kindness). At age sixteen, each person undergoes an aptitude test to determine which of these factions whey will belong to for the rest of their lives. Our hero, Tris, has grown up in Abnegation, but her test results are inconclusive. She is "divergent", with aptitude for three factions, which for some reason makes her dangerous to those in control.

As the story unfolds throughout the three books we learn more about the reason for this society's strange system; it's not what you'd think.
I enjoyed this series all the way through (though I did get a little annoyed with Tris's internal dialogue at times)... but the ending? I hated the ending. At the end of Book Three I wanted to hunt down the author and slap her silly. What was she thinking???!!
I won't tell you why her ending left me annoyed and irritated because I hate spoilers and you really should read it for yourself because in spite of the annoying twist at the end the book did carry me on an adventure. It was original, the characters were believable, there was loads of action and plenty of nail-biting, page-turning moments. Just don't say I didn't warn you if/when you read this series about the less-than satisfactory last-minute twist. (Come back here and tell me what you thought). 
All in all, a worthwhile read, but in my humble opinion it doesn't come close to the awesomeness of the Hunger Games (and I reckon Katniss could take down Tris any day)."


Next we have Silver Linings Playbook, another book with a movie version (which Mrs Readalot loved). Mrs R had heard loads of people raving about the book ("it's even better than the film - and I LOVED the film" etc) so when she skipped the country for a week in Fiji, where she just knew there would be loads of reading-by-the-pool-time, she was desperate to get hold of this book. Eventually a kind friend came to the rescue and lent her her Kindle, which was loaded with dozens of books, including Silver Linings Playbook. Yippee!

"I started reading this on the plane, and I was instantly hooked. It helped that I could imagine the delicious Bradley Cooper as Pat, and the divine Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. Those two are perfect for each other. So in my head, Bradley and Jennifer played out this story; a messed up obsessive guy (Pat) who has been in some kind of mental institution finally gets out and tries to return to life.

The book differs quite a bit from the movie, it has to be said. The crazy bet made by Pat's dad doesn't feature in the book at all; and we never get to meet Pat's wife either. I guess the book didn't need the extra drama and action, whereas the movie director might have felt more excitement was required.

Right, back to the book. I loved Pat's "voice". My favourite books are the ones written in first-person. I feel like I get to know the characters better; I feel like I'm really inside the story because I'm inside their head. In this book, being inside Pat's head is an interesting experience. At first you have no clue what is going on, because Pat is in denial. He has no idea how long he's been "inside"; he doesn't know why he was there or why his wife left. Everything he does is with an aim to win her back. Poor Pat. I liked pat a lot.

There are a few choice words, but not heaps (for those who hate books full of profanity) and they do only feature where appropriate to the story.

So should you read this book? Yes. It's gritty, it's hopeful and it's funny/sad, just like the movie. Definitely glad I got to read this.


Finally we have Winter of the World by Ken Follett (no movie version this time). Mrs R stumbled over this one on her friend's Kindle while in Fiji. She had read a couple of Ken's earlier books (Pillars of the Earth, World Without End) and mistakenly thought this was a continuation of that series, only to discover that she had landed slap-bang in the middle of a whole new series altogether. And what a series!
"One of my favourite eras for historical fiction is World War II, and after a moment of confusion at finding myself not in medieval England building cathedrals, but in Nazi Germany 1933, I was quickly drawn into this massive epic novel.
I thought I knew a lot about WWII and the Nazis, but oh boy, I learnt a few new things reading this book! Ken researches his books meticulously and tells the story through the eyes of various different families who are up close and personal with history in various corners of the world: Russia, Germany, England and the USA. In this book I learnt about the British Fascist movement (and how close they came to gaining dominance), the Nazi euthanasia programme, the Russian nuclear programme and Pearl Harbour, among many other things. What can I say? I loved it. And then I realised it was a series. Now I'm on the hunt for Book One, Fall of Giants (World War I and the Russian Revolution) to be followed by Book three, Edge of Eternity (due to be released in September 2014). Ah Ken, thanks for continuing my education about world history in such an enjoyable fashion. I love your work."


Just one more little thing - a bonus tidbit for you.
I've been wanting my kids to read the Narnia books for themselves, like, forever, but have yet to persuade them to give those classic books a try (my absolute favourites growing up) so I decided to take matters into my own hands and start reading aloud to them on a regular basis.
I mean, I read a story to Scrag every night, but once the big kids could read for themselves I'd stopped reading to them. But guess what? They may be able to read chapter books themselves, but I have been surprised how much my big kids enjoy being read to. Reading a story aloud is an awesome way to finish the day.
It settles everyone down and is a wonderful way to calm down over-stimulated brains; plus it's so cosy next to the fire cuddled up on the couch on a rainy winter's night.

We began with The Silver Chair, as the kids have seen all the Narnia movies and The Silver Chair is the next part of the story. Having seen the movies they can imagine the characters and the setting, so that eases them right into imagining the story in their mind's eye. I've always particularly liked this book; there are giants, enchantments, a mystery and a dangerous quest - all the best elements for a great story.
The kids are loving it and really look forward to story time. We finally finished the first book on Saturday night, and now they are keen to move on to the next instalment, "The Last Battle".
After that, we'll try The Magicians Nephew; oh I just LOVE C.S. Lewis. Great stories for reading aloud.

More book reviews on Mrs Readalot's BookClub Page
23 June 2014

Lipstick, Lycra & Leaping: Cheerleading is a Whole New World

Miss fab has always had boundless energy and has never simply walked anywhere - she skips, twirls or cartwheels to her destination. She can turn somersaults, do backwards walkovers and perform the splits in rapid succession, as well as lift her leg right up by her ear.

As others have witnessed her acrobatics, I've often been asked whether this flexible athletic kid does gymnastics... to which I've had to say sadly, no. Gymnastics required too much waiting around; Miss fab gave up on it when she was four.

Then she heard about Cheerleading from some girls she met while camping and wanted to try it. Cheerleading sounded like just the thing for a girl who can't sit still, so I said, hey sure why not... until I began to hear stories about the make-up, skimpy outfits and pageantry. Not to mention the hair bows.
Oh dear. Could I in all good conscience let my kid take part in something which might only bring out more of the diva within (Couldn't she just keep playing netball?)?

Bottom line, I was too worried about what some of my friends might think. Once I realised this, I took a deep breath, signed her up ...and have been nervously awaiting our first Big Event ever since.

On Sunday the day finally dawned. Our very first National Champs, Rock'n'Cheer competition. Thankfully I have moral support in my friend Justine (mum of classmate & teammate, Yaz), who has been equally nervous for all the same reasons.

Justine arrived bright and early to glam up our girls - makeup, glitz and glamour is as much a part of the team's presentation as it is in Rhythmic Gymnastics, or iceskating. (This is what I consoled myself with; it's not a beauty pageant, it's a legitimate team sport, just with lipstick).

The hair bows take a bit of getting used to, but I have to say I don't mind our team uniform at all. I'd been in a state of nervous anxiety ever since signing up, about what crazy get-up our pre-teens might have to wear, but when they were revealed I was rather relieved - our uniform is plenty modest with not a bare midriff in sight.

The comp was held at the North Shore Events Centre and it was massive. I had no clue it was so big, with so many teams. Apparently there were over 1000 young cheerleaders competing!

[Warming up]
There was not a pom-pom to be seen. Cheerleading is not what you'd think based on American teen movies and Glee.
It's all about team-work, choreography, acrobatics, coordination, stunting and performing with a great big smile on your face.

There were loads of categories for every age and stage. Our team ("Galaxy Shooting Stars") is at the beginner level for under-11s, but there were (at least) two groups below us, based on age. To be honest I'm still a little unclear on how it all works.

[Our team in action; the above two photos were taken by another mum, Luana]
Our girls did really good, remembering their moves and looking like they were having fun. It tickled me to see Miss fab rock out onto the floor with the hugest grin on her face; she really comes alive on stage. There is not a moment's nervousness, she absolutely revels in the limelight. As two of the oldest - and tallest - girls in the group, Miss fab and Yaz get to be "back bases", which is far less glamorous than being the "flyers" but is essential nonetheless. Teamwork, see? Everybody plays their part for the good of the team.

As I said, the team did good. In fact, our girls placed third in their division and came away with bronze medals. Woop woop!

So what did have I learned about this brave new world of cheerleading?

Firstly I learned that it's not as scary and pageant-y as I thought. I was worried for nothing, really. Sure there's lots of makeup and the strange obsession with hair bows, but it really is a very exciting sport to watch and to be part of. The girls had a great time competing, being part of something huge and - lets be honest - getting glammed up.

All in all, I think we can live with having a cheerleader in the family. Cheerleading might not be quintessentially Kiwi, it might involve more hairspray and glitter than you see on the netball court, but it's what my girl wants to do. And it's what she's GOOD at. 

It might not be for everybody, but I'm OK with it being for us.

Well done, girls, and Roll on the next Pageant Competition!

P.S. Huge thanks to Daddy who dragged the boys along and came to support our girl. It's a big change from being on the football sidelines and we sure appreciate you braving this world of lycra and lipstick. You rock, Daddy!
20 June 2014

Life Round These Parts *a Loving post*

Well, hello. You're still here.
It's been a week of it, that's for sure, what with the dramatic events of last Thursday and its aftermath.
(Did you miss that post? I got sick, dehydrated, fainted, banged my head on the way down and got knocked unconscious. Ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance and have been woolly-headed with concussion ever since).

Today I thought I'd ease back into the blog with a wee round-up of life hereabouts, as it's been a while since I did that. A "things I'm loving" meets "wow I'm grateful" combined with "here's the haps".

I'll start with today.
Friday is my day off and since Scrag woke up in the middle of the night with a nasty cough, I kept him home. We've been playing schools. I've been putting to use all the things I've learnt since becoming a teacher aide, which means my kid has been doing spelling, handwriting and maths all morning.

Here he is on this very cool maths programme called SumDog. The kids at school use it to play math games where they can play against kids from all over the world. There's a paid-up version you can subscribe to but the free version does plenty. I introduced it to Scrag this morning and he's loving it. (that name again? SumDog. Try it, it's great for younger kids, very visual and fun).

After our lessons we had lunch. It was sunny, so we ate it on the porch.

I can tell you, I never thought I'd say this but I can actually (for the first time in my life) see the appeal of homeschooling. *GASP*
Settle down, I love my local school, and I'm not-on-yer-life gonna pull my kids out of there and start trying to teach them myself, but I have to say there's something very satisfying about working one-on-one with your kid, setting your own pace etc. Like I said I can see the appeal.

Now that I'm a *ahem* working woman again I am completely LOVING my job (which I was sadly absent from for a week after my dramatic demise). It's hugely satisfying, tremendously rewarding and perfectly tailor-made for me.

All my mummy-skills are being put to good use, I get to be creative and proactive; every day is different. Since I started I've taught my student to ride a bike without trainer wheels (!) and together with another student who I also help, we've created a super-hero called SuperCat, among other things.

We are making progress in spelling, oral language and engagement with others. Best of all, the teacher who's class I'm working in has told me my efforts are making a huge difference in the class as the boys I'm working with have settled down and it's had a flow-on effect to the rest of the class.

I am sooooo glad I acted on impulse and walked into that office last term!

While I'm gratuitously patting myself on the back, I might as well mention my writing efforts elsewhere. Here's the cover of the latest Parenting Magazine, and there's my article in the big blue writing: "Encouraging Independence". Yep, that's me. Writing about how to get your kids to do stuff for themselves so you can put your feet up and spend longer reading/doing DIY/planning parties. Haha. Seriously, it's a great parenting strategy! I wrote in brief on the same topic for the parenting website Mothering from Scratch, where I am a "MOMtor" (regular contributor): "Teaching Kids Independence". It's a survival technique.

Right. So now I have spent way too long on this post and I'm gonna run out of time to bake muffins with Scrag for our after-school visitors, so in brief:

The football World Cup in Brazil has got us up early, biting our nails, rooting for our team (England). See that box of tissues on the coffee table? Yep, we needed them.

Bye, bye England. Uruguay knocked them out. Sniff sniff. It's a valuable life lesson in dealing with disappointment, I guess. Poor Dash. His dad has had a lifetime of practise (getting his hopes up every World Cup only to have them dashed), so he can sympathise and give you some pointers. Just as well we have a life outside football, aye guys? 

In general apart from an increased level of muzzy-headedness and general confusion, life goes on in its usual circus-like fashion. This is how my dear daughter turned up to school the other day. Ha.
She's a clown, alright.

Anyway, best get off here and get baking.
Have a great weekend.
13 June 2014

Drama, concussion and an ambulance trip

I'll make this quick cos I have a raging headache (from the bump on my head) and I'm doing this on my phone while lying in bed, recovering from my very dramatic day yesterday.
Actually I can hardly remember any of the dramatic events, but what my husband told me is This: I got up to puke in the loo, he heard a thump and I was lying on the floor. He helped me up, I went back to the loo and there was another louder thump... this time he find me in the hallway unconscious. He thought I'd had a stroke. (I hadn't, but luckily he was there).

Apparently I was incoherent and didn't know what day it was; I kept asking him the same questions... I remember nothing.
He took me to a&e where they called an ambulance and off I went for a CT scan and some IV fluids.
The verdict is Giardia (from Fiji) which caused me to dehydrate and then I fainted, hit my head and got concussion. Ouch but my head hurts!
Luckily, thankfully my husband was there.
Luckily, thankfully it's nothing permanent or life threatening (though he was pretty freaked out at the time). 
LUCKILY, thankfully I didn't have to stay in hospital overnight.

Giardia is nasty (all but one of our kids have had the vomit bug this week) and even if you drink only bottled water, they might still get you with the salads. (The only kid to not puke is the one who doesn't eat salad).
Moral of the story? Don't eat salad in Fiji.
10 June 2014

Escaping the Winter (in Fiji)

Today in Auckland the rain has not stopped beating down. I'm sitting here with chilly fingers, wearing ugg boots and a woolly scarf, and I can't help thinking, "It's probably warm and sunny in Fiji right now..."

Last week we were blessed (soooo blessed) to be able to escape the Winter for a bit, with a family trip to Fiji. We had some accommodation points that needed to be used, we couldn't get booked during school hols, so we bit the bullet and took the kids out of school for a week, because, well, why not?

Ahhhh, the bliss. Beautiful one day, perfect the next. Fiji in Winter is the best place to be. It's not too hot, and not too humid (like it is during the summer months there); the temperature for this mama bear is JUST RIGHT.

Perfect for spending every day chillin by the beach, or by the sea; swimming, reading, relaxing.

This guy went from being unable to cope in water past his waist to diving for objects on the bottom of the pool and swimming in water over his head. That's a valuable life skill, right? Definitely worth missing a few days in the classroom for. (He also tanned nut-brown; the fairer-skinned family members* are sooo jealous).                              
*Fair-skinned family members = me and Dash

It's amazing to me how a week - a mere seven nights - can feel like forever when you're away from the Rat Race. In Fiji, there are no phones ringing, no text messages, there's no place you  have to be and no need to look at your watch. Consequently it feels like you've been living this way foreeeeeever.

The early morning school/work rush, the daily activity juggle, homework stress and the housework grind all seem like a distant memory.

You start to feel as if you've always lived this way. Waking up when you feel like it, drifting down to the pool. Ordering drinks at the swim-up bar, signing the kids into kids club and then reading for hours, uninterrupted. (I chewed through "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Winter of the World" among others.) What can I say? It's bliss.

There were a surprising number of kids at the resort, considering it was term-time. Enough so that there were always friends to be made and fun to be had...

Of course we didn't just sit by the pool all the time. We did venture out to a couple of places just to shake things up a little. We went on a fast boat, did a bit of shopping, spent a day at the World's Biggest Inflatable Water Park - that sort of thing. 

(On the last day, Mr G also took the two older kids on a snorkeling boat trip; we were all meant to go but sadly I was "indisposed". Major Bummer Dude.)

The Inflatable Water Park "Big Bula" is relatively new, and loads of fun for the kids.

It's located on Denarau Island (where our resort was) and has loads to do, plenty of shady spots and very cool staff. Our kids had a blast.

Ahhhh, Fiji. Where strangers walking down the road shout out "Bula!" wherever you go. Where it's summer all year round and the sunsets are out of this world...

Our favourite thing each evening was to go to the awesome open-air thatched restaurant, order drinks and watch the sun sink into the sea. Every night, a the sun put on a different show. We never got tired of it.

(These photos are raw from the camera; no filters, just God painting with colour in the sky)

Ah, Fiji, thanks for the memories and a great family holiday.
You were the perfect place to go and escape the Winter.

We are so blessed to have been able to spend a week away from the cold, the rain and the grey in a tropical paradise. 

We love you Fiji! Vinaka vaka levu!