Thursday, November 29, 2012

We're Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

Do you remember your first trip to the Zoo?
I don't remember mine, the first real memory I have of the Zoo is going to the Dublin Zoo when I was seven, and as my Granny and Pappy took us, I'm shamed to admit that my main memory is of the sweeties.
My kids had their first Zoo trip this week, a celebration for my little boy's birthday - and it makes my heart sing how much they truly loved it. I'd put it off thinking they were too young (2 & 4) to really enjoy the zoo - but they completely proved me wrong.
On the way there we told them about it:
"And we'll see tigers and lions and seals and-"I gushed.
"And frogs?" my Sprocket interjected.
"And frogs, and gorillas and meerkats and-" I reassured and hurried.
"And frogs?" my Sprocket double checked.
"And frogs." About then I began to wonder if we shouldn't just go to a nearby stream rather than do the four hour round trip of driving.
But we did see frogs. The Sprocket did the rounds of the frog and reptile house four times.
Later he stood and watched the platypus for what seemed like hours. Ignoring us adults who wanted to hurry up so we could see everything, he just stood and watched and watched the playful swimming.
And o - the butterfly house - the joy and wonder when butterflies landed on my Sprocket's shoulder or finger.

The Zoo has changed so much since I was a kid, the enclosures are so much larger, and so well thought out and so many of the animals seem so much happy. Compared to often short, brutal lives in the wild, this life free from predators, complete with room service seems in many ways a blessing.
My Poppet had her cousin for company as we wandered around, and the two girls, only six weeks apart in age, hugged and kissed and held hands, the best of friends, and so beautiful to see, almost more interested in each other than the animals.
We definitely have another Zoo tripped planned for soon.
Today I'm joining with 52 Weeks of Grateful to give thanks for the fantastic opportunities we have to see the wonders of nature up close, for all the work the zoo people put in to making the enclosures so much more enjoyable for the animals and so magical for us. And for the joy on my kids faces as they experienced the zoo for the first time. Here's hoping they remember the magic!

What are you grateful for this week?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


With one day to spare.
I am now an official National Novel Writing Month winner having completed 50,000 odd words in 30 - make that 29 - days.
And yes, they are sequential, and no, it's not just the one word repeated all over, a la Rimmer's exam failure on the British comedy Red Dwarf.
There were a couple of days in the middle of the month when I wasn't quite sure I'd make it, but overall I was fairly confident.
What I've got at present is not a novel, it's what I would call the rough bones of a novel, (with a lot of dead flesh hanging off them, to be completely honest) but it's got a lot of meat to work with. And now to move on from the gross imagery of decaying corpses.
May I say again, done. Dusted.
And I am so excited about actually being able to edit the thing now. It's been like being unable to pluck my eyebrows for a month not being able to cut the random words/pages/chapters that just don't work. Festy. Now to read through, spell check, beat into shape. Funness.

Things I have learnt:

*it appears having a little counter telling me how much I've written in the last day and how much I need to write in the next few days to reach my target is actually quite helpful.
*It's a nice feeling to be part of a great body of writers, all scribbling down stories, creating worlds.
*If you set your mind to it, you really can achieve a lot.
*If you take your computer to a cafe and work sans internet it is perfectly possible to finish 6,000 words in a morning. Cafe Love. Mmmmm.
*NANOWRIMO gives you a nifty little certificate when you reach your 50,000 words in the alotted time. Oooh. Goodies.
*My ideas about my own productivity are being... thought over. I don't intend to write 50,000 words every month (at least, not till the kids start school) but a thousand words a day really seems quite do-able.
*A little accountability and competition... are not such bad things.

In conclusion I would like to thank: My Beloved, the kid's childcare and Cafe Crema and the great team at NaNoWriMo. These word's would not have been written without your help.
So. When's the next Novel Writing Month? And who's with me for the next one?

Do you like to set yourself goals? Targets? Give yourself big rewards when you reach them?

Happy Birthday, Baby Boy

You had a very important birthday this week, my little boy.
You're really loosing that chubby cheeked look fast. (Although don't worry, there's still a lot of chub!)
And yes, it's a cliche, but I'm sure just a moment ago you were an itsy-bitsy baby, arf-arf-arf-ing like a tiny seal pup as you dealt with the Great-Milk-Overload.
But here you are.
My little wild-boy. And just what I'd always dreamed of - a little boy who loves his bugs, (and platypuses) is always ready for a cuddle, a story, or a rollicking sing-along of Five Green Robots Sitting on the Wall. Who can scale the tallest tree, let alone the fridge to get to the contraband on top.


But let's be clear kiddo, no matter how old you get, or how big you get, no matter how cheeky your grin or how wise your eyes, you'll always be my little baby. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Room Without Books...

Sometime in the century before Christ, Marcus Tullius Cicero stated that 'A Room without Books is like a Body without a Soul.' As books were a lot rarer and more expensive back then, I feel he was being exceptionally snobbish.
While I don't quite hold with his statement - I know plenty of rooms without books and with a lot of soul, the quote has been floating around pinterest and I have promptly pinned it. Knowing me, I've pinned it a few times.
While I don't believe a room without books lacks soul, I do find rooms with books a lot more homely, friendly, comfortable. I feel more at ease: among kin.
On finding a room containing books I look eagerly towards them and at the first opportunity scoot my way over, hoping to meet dear old friends or make new friends. What I find on the shelves either brings me closer to the rooms owner or makes me hope the books were wrongfully borrowed, a mistake.
While I know it is not ideal to judge someone on the contents of their bookshelves, some books will definitely infuse me with a rosy glow of fellowship towards the owner... and others... will not.
As I blogged yesterday, we have moved the kids beds from our bedroom into their very own room, and in their place I have placed books and a bookshelf from the family beach house.*
Old friends have returned to me and I clutch them happily to me, run my fingers over them tenderly.
"Look, look love. We have a bookshelf in our room!" I tell my beloved gleefully.
He has stolen the bottom shelf for his medicine books, but I still look across and see my precious ones, a discordant medley collected over decades. A treasure house of memories and stories.
I grew up among books - books lining the walls, in piles upon the floors. We tended to already own all my english text books. Any period of history I wished to know about I would look around the books at home and find a pile of resources. Now, with my books neatly shelved in my room once more (there were always piles on the floor of course) I feel a deep content.
Dear friends, hello, how good to see you again!

*There is talk of renting the beach house out during months family are not holidaying, so we retrieved treasures left from when my beloved and I lived there. Possibly my treasures were safer with renters than destructive toddlers... but I have noticed books go missing at beach houses, and there are many I would be sad to have disappear and would find hard to replace. There is still, of course, a bookshelf crammed with books, just not my darlings. 

The Day I Swapped my Kids For Two Bookshelves

It sounds sort of harsh put that bluntly, but that’s pretty much what happened. We swapped our kids for two bookshelves.*  
Our bedroom is now kid free, or at least kid bed free, but it does have a lovely new bookcase.** 
In return for banishing the kids to the outer wastes we’ve tried to make their new room as enticing as possible.*** It's not very big, but neither are they, and I think it's cosy.  
My Poppet loves her bed. She spends hours in it putting her dolls to sleep, singing to them, giving them milk and reading them stories. “Night, night, sleep well,” she whispers tenderly as she tucks them in.
Poppet's cot, newly draped with a stray length of silk, its original mosquito netting having torn in one of the Sprocket's Tarzan days, is a great nook for reading stories. I know we’ll be spending many many happy hours here. 
But… the kids still aren’t that keen on actually sleeping in their room. Certainly not for a whole entire night. While my Poppet will shoo me away during the day: “Go away, mummy, my bed!” My Sprocket tells me he doesn’t like his room. He wants to be in Mummy’s room.
And of course it breaks my heart. 
I’m getting used to curling up pretzel-like in the cot with both the little ones at night and holding them until they sleep before precariously dis-attaching myself to pad through to my own bed, to sleep right next to my beloved, just us in our suddenly vast bed.
I’ve also grown used to small, bereft voices calling out in the wee hours of the night and the appearance of little faces at our bedside.
We still generally wake up in the morning with the full complement of family members.
But I suppose waking up with books and babes is no bad thing. 

*I've taken a few liberties with the title of Neil Gaiman’s brilliant kids book  The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish.
**The second bookcase of the title we had room to sneak into the kidsroom, finally a place to store all their books which have been forming piles everywhere!
*** This involved moving the piano out of the spare/guest/junk room. Not fun. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sunday Stills (from the seaside)

The kids scavenging in the kitchen down at the beach house. I love how they work as a pack now.

Unknown plant: but lovely. Please tell me if you know what it is. I assume it's indigenous?

Poppet enjoying early morning sun

    The cool of the evening. Fuzzy focus but I love the softness of the blues and creams.

                                 Look at my shell!

                     Treasures from the Shore.

                                            Setting off to see the sea.

                                Good friends regard the sea.

                       Silvered Water

                        Closeup of the fence protecting the dunes from erosion.

It's been a busy, hectic week involving lots of travel, lugging boxes (and pianos) painting and preparation. But also lots of awe and wonder, the beach, the kids first Zoo trip yesterday, which left us wiped out, but full of joy at the kids intense interest. These are some more pics from our stay at the beach in the middle of the week to remind me that there were some moments of serenity! Joining with the lovely Em of The Beetleshack for Sunday Stills. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grateful for Sea & Shore

It always feels like coming home when we arrive there, and there's always so much sadness when the time comes to leave. Even the air smells more vivid, more alive, when we're there.
We've just returned from a flying trip to our family's beach house on the Great Ocean Road, and it's been magical seeing my little ones enjoy the place I love so much. This is where my beloved proposed (under strict instructions!), where we were married, where I spent most of the time growing my Sprocket within me, where both my little ones were Christened. So many of my best loved childhood teen and twenties memories are from here: being sped up curves of green, thrust into the sky then gliding down the back of the wave, fires on wintry nights, lolling in dark shallows under moon and stars, meandering the shoreline for treasures and the thrill of finding the perfect mother of peal shell, no larger than a fingernail.
We had a brief but lovely time. We built sandcastles and squashed them, we ran along the fairy-path through the ti-trees and climbed the path over the dunes for that first heart-stopping sight of the back beach and the view across the sea to Lorne and the Otways. We searched for sand-hoppers and golden beetles under the clumps of seaweed (we spent a LOT of time doing this) and paddled in the shallows.
So today I'm linking up with 52-Weeks-of-Grateful to give thanks for the special places that make our hearts sing, for the joys of the sea and the shore and for the delight of small children in the world around them.

Do you have a special place that always makes your heart soar?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Days of Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor is, quite simply, brilliant.
I was a little worried at the beginning as my expectations were massive after Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and the writing seemed a little stilted, but that soon wore off, leaving me in the midst of a story that was majestic, harrowing and entrancing.
Daughter of Blood and Starlight is the middle book in a trilogy, so comes with all the problems that entails - it is neither introducing characters nor wrapping things up, and yet it races elegantly through a sweeping story that has elements of greek tragedy, romanesque-war-drama, romance and of course fantasy.
The premise: an angel and a demon fall in love, which rends the world (although not our world, at least in the first two books) apart, but has the hope of leading two warring peoples to peace, seems simple, but the plot is intricate and wondrous.
While Daughter of Smoke and Bone swept us from Prague to Morocco and back in time and worlds to the war torn world of the angels and demons, (which brought vividly to mind Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach - O love let us be true, to one another, for the world which seems to lie before us... etc.. but I digress) Days of Blood and Starlight took place mostly in Morocco and the world of Demons and Angels. It was quite dark (possibly not for those with weak stomachs) and both lovers - the blue haired, human-formed demon Karou and the angel, Akiva, suffered grievious loses and battled impossible odds, but hope and unquenchable love sang through.
I read Days of Blood and Starlight on my ipad in the small hours of the morning and great was the gnashing of teeth when my ipad ran out of charge three chapters from the end. (The pain, the pain!) I have seen it written the book is over 500 pages - the fact I gulped it down pretty much in one sitting - I would have read till the end if not for the bleeping bleep lack of charge and it seemed short, speaks volumes for how gripping it was.
I read it first for the story - I intend to reread it for the language and to pick up all the detail I missed as I raced to see what happened. And because I want to spend more time with the characters. I miss them already. The wait till the final novel of the trilogy seems too long. Of course, it would seem too long if it were to be released tomorrow - I need it now.
I am fairly sure Daughter of Smoke and Bone is soon to be made into a movie, in which case it will definitely be my cinema-movie of the year. Unless it comes out next year in which case I will watch two movies at the cinema next year - as I think The Hobbit might also deserve the big screen. (I know, it shocks me too! Two movies at the cinema in one year. Let me sit so it doesn't go to my head!)
I can already see the events of the story so clearly in my head - the writing is so rich and vivid and alive, that it will be strange seeing someone else's imaginings of it... but I am so looking forward to spending more time in that world with those characters.
In conclusion, think of all the positive adjectives you can think of - stupendous, engrossing, beautiful, lyrical, romantic, thrilling, action-packed, fantabulous, and fling them at Days of Blood and Starlight and basically, that's pretty much my review.
I know this is a ramble, but I loved it that much.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Slightly Addicted to Roses

I admit it: I'm addicted. Thoroughly and hopelessly.
The scent intoxicates me. The lush colours enchant me.
Vegetables die on me. We're going to have to uproot the cauliflowers as a bad show and my carrots ran into rocks and turned mutant. When it comes to edibles I'm half thinking I should stick to herbs (which are luxurious, but more their doing than mine!) But allow me to show off (I know, again!) my roses.

Do you have a flower addiction? 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

She's Electric!

She's covered in berries, and more than a tad dirty, but I love these photos of the poppet.
The kids have been playing a heap in the garden, playing together, playing by themselves, imagining.
It brings back so many memories of being their age and just lying and staring at ants for what seemed like hours. Of sitting on top of the fairy hill (a mound of grey stone rocks and soil covered in marigolds and periwinkles) and imagining up fantastic stories.
Of throwing big plastic balls up in the sky again and again, just to see them go up into the blue and descend.
"Abracadaba - you're a frog!" the kids tell me.
"Abracadabra - you're a monster!"
The Sprocket tells long, involved stories of the big, big, BIG monster who bit his toe. The Poppet tells me she is Doctor-Captain-Princess Poppet and she will steer the ship and 'check' everyone, dispensing bandaids where neccessary. And always in pink.
Today I'm linking up with 52 Weeks of Grateful to say thanks for the warmer weather, for grubby kids and long days in the garden and for imagination.

Is your Book-Lust bigger than your Time-Budget?

Abruptly realising my library books are due back tomorrow and I can't renew them, I'm desperately taking notes for my novel. Unfortunately, they don't count for my nanowrimo word count...
It is possible that I borrowed a few too many. But I am discovering such fascinating things!

Stuff my research has taught me:

*Terry towelling was only invented in the mid nineteenth century. Before that there was only strips of cotton. Can you imagine, no proper towels? Brrr.
*In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century an upper class woman might have a greater chance at happiness and self-determination as a courtesan than as a wife. Courtesans went into the 'protection' of men with a legal document as to their entitlements. They also seemed to have greater choice as to who they associated with. On the one hand I read about poor Miss Mcpherson who at 20 was married off to her fathers best friend, age 53, who proceeded to sue her father to hand over more money to take her of his hands. On the other hand I read the touching love story between courtesan Elizabeth Armistead and Secretary of State, Charles Fox, who ended up happily married - without money changing hands. Indeed Charles wrote to Elizabeth: "You are all to me. You can always make me happy in circumstances apparently unhappy and miserable...Indeed the whole of my life depends upon you." Of course, two cases is hardly evidence, but on the whole the state of the wife at the time did not seem enticing. I need to re-read my Austen to remind me that love and romance within marriage did exist back then (tightly bound up with property and money...)
*Suing people is no new thing. Eighteenth century Edinburgh was cram packed full of lawyers and rich people seemed to sue each other constantly, generally over money, often over wedding settlements or dowries. I would hate to think my husband needed to be paid off to marry me...
*Scotland in the late 1700s early 1800s was actually fairly multi-racial. Many Scots went to India, China, Jamaica etc, and then brought back their half-Indian, half-Chinese, half African slave childen. These travellers did not commonly seem to bring home their children's mothers however. The heartbreak of this just tears at me as I think of mothers torn from children and children from their mothers. I also can't help wondering what someone who grew up in Jamaica or India would make of Scotland in the winter!

Now I need to return to my books - I've a lot to get through before morning!

Is your book-lust bigger than your time-budget?
Do you over borrow in libraries?
Or over-buy in bookshops?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Five Things NANOWRIMO has taught me

Approaching halfway through November I'm a wee tad behind schedule on my nanowrimo novel, The Toad Lord. Should I download the Write or Die application? Among other functions it can start eating up your words if you go too long without writing something... I fear it is not for the fainthearted, of which, in this instance, I am definitely one!
While I am a little bit behind (although I should catch up tonight) I have learnt a heap of stuff just in two weeks.

One. If you're going to write fifty thousand words in a month - do not write a novel requiring research! (You might think that was a given... but no, I calmly brushed all qualms aside.) While there is heaps of information regarding my time period for London, or indeed England, Scotland is thoroughly discriminated against. (Please do not bring up the relative population sizes: I will only pout and scorn you.)

Two. If you are doing a novel with historical research DO NOT GO NEAR YOUR PINTEREST account. Of course, all my pinteresting has been for purely research reasons, the assembly rooms in Edinburgh, dresses worn in 1801, toads eye views of the woods, you know, important, neccessary stuff... But as I seem to be pinning one photo on my boards for every ten words I write, it's possible I should consider cutting down. (But the visuals are so important, they inspire me...ah...)

Three. The nanowrimo site has lots of great things for procrastinating with. You can write a hundred words, go and update your word count, check how many words you need to finish that day to complete your month in time, check your writing graph,  compare your word count with all your writing buddies' word counts,  check out any of the articles on writing, check out how your regions wordcount compares to other regions word counts.. and voila, half an hour has gone...

Four. That whole thing about write everyday?
There might actually be a point to it.
I was very good about this in high school. At the beginning of each school year as soon as I got my school diary I'd spend my first few classes writing in how many words I wanted to get written on each days journal page, and when I expected to finish each book. I would then spend further classes (particularly maths in the earlier years before I could drop it) updating the word counts. Normally I came fairly close. Since high school I have not kept myself to such a schedule. But when you think about it, if you only write a thousand words a day - thats 365,000 words a year - which is at least 3 chunky novels. Of course, it's the editing that takes the time... but the writings is so much fun!

Five. I've finally found an almost-team sport that I like. Yay Melbourne Region. We're in it together folks. Give me an M! Give me an E! Give me an L! Give me a B!...
What? Writing our solitary novels, but comparing word counts with other regions is not a team sport? And that whoever reaches the finishing point is a winner isn't the way it works in other (lesser) team sports?
Hmmm. Get you hence! (Yay Melbourne Region!*)

*Technically I should be Australia: all other Regions, but I decided as a Melbourne girl living within a two hour radius I'd scoot into Melbourne Region.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Beautiful Blowsy Blooms

My roses are out and I am swooning at both their scent and blowsy brilliance. Not all of these are from my garden - the ones with rain are my mum's. But aren't the just lovely. Every time I see them I can't help but smile.
My Peace Rose (it was here when we arrived, but I am assuming it is a Peace Rose not a variation thereof) has one, perfect bloom. Which (ahem) I've taken a few photos of, but you know, from (slightly) different angles.
Awhile back I had a vague notion of keeping to some sort of schedule for my blogging... which will be enforced one day soon, but I've a notion today was supposed to be about books, until I got side tracked by roses.
But as a sop to my writing-about-books-Tuesday, for fellow rose lovers I can't recommend this book strongly enough:

For Love of a Rose, Story of Creation of the Famous Peace Rose by Antonia Ridge. (Faber & Faber 1965.) It is exactly what it says it is - the story of the Meilland and Paolino families that intermarried and worked together to create the Peace Rose. The style is sweetly old fashioned and it's one of those books which is just perfect to read if you wake up with a nightmare or have an unsettling day, almost guaranteed to lure you into sleep and/or goodwill towards all.