7 things I learned this year

Warning- navel-gazing ahead!

It’s the last day of the year, which always seems to be a time to reflect upon the year past, count our blessings, mull over mistakes and decide how next year will be different. I’ll leave my decision as to how to tackle my life until tomorrow, but below are my top seven things I have learned this year.

1. My granda left his mark upon us all, even though we hadn’t seen him a great deal over the years. I am so glad we were able to visit him this year before he passed away.

2. My children continue to amaze me with their ability to adapt to circumstances, their love for adventure, and their insatiable appetite for gelati. Master BG fell in love with Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci and the London Underground, and Miss BG was a magnet for nonnas and little French boys. What’s more, they were able to settle back into school and kindergarten without too much fuss!

3.  t still amazes me how far technology has come. I met my new niece in Australia when I was in London visiting the Science Museum, through the marvels of Skype on my brother’s phone. My blog was a virtual postcard which kept my family up to date with how we were travelling. And soon I will be able to ‘publish’ a book of our trip!

4. How proud I continue to be of Mr BG, his ability to put out 2 EPs, perform several times with his band, and put up with me.

5. I get angry at issues and people over which I usually have no control. Changes at work, people and family not listening to me are the main culprits, and leave me feeling frustrated and unhappy. This is something I need to address in the next few months.

6. Santa and his elves were very generous with their presents! Next year the little BGs will be learning about the importance of giving as well as receiving, and hopefully won’t be too overwhelmed as they were this year.

7. The importance of looking after yourself. I’ve let  stuff slide over the last year looking after my family, but after feeling blah and facing a health scare, I need to prioritise time for my own health and fitness.

What have you learned about yourself this year? Is there anything from this year you would like to change for next year?

Wherever you are, have a happy New Year!


Getting back into the groove

It’s been just over four weeks since we arrived back home! We’re still looking at the photos, but everyday life and winter has tried to do their best in bringing us back to earth with a thud. There have been some special moments over the past week or so that are just begging to be shared 🙂 .

Master BG participated in the Potato Olympics at school. This involved potatoes and student minders participating in sprinting (potato rolls down a plank), diving (potato goes into a bucket of water), and cycling (poato balances on bike being wheeled by student). His most prized possession is his Silver medal he won for the Equestrian event, which had him and his potato navigating a course on a hobby horse. He did not take it off for a week, wearing it to bed and only removing it for baths.

Miss BG was very excited at her ballet school’s end of year production of Beauty and the Beast, but was sorely disappointed she was not selected to be Beauty. Grumbling about it at the post-ballet coffee over a babycino and tart, she growled she was going to be a ‘rosebud’. It was very hard for myself and Mr BG to keep a straight face. She has since been mollified with retail therapy in the form of a new winter hat, and can rock a beret in a way I wish I could.

Tiger has taken to watching the time. She has settled back into her usual routine of sleeping, eating and perching on top of ledges and tables. She does her disappearing act as we leave the house and scurries over to the other side of the street and returns to our nature strip when we return.

Mr BG’s claim that his Indietracks performance would be his farewell performance, and likely to be his last one ever, was a complete furphy. He is set to do a Dame Nellie Melba/John Travolta ‘comeback’ and play two other performances this year 🙂 . One is a backyard gig during the school holidays with an English band who also played at Indietracks, the other is at the Empress Hotel in November playing at the launch of the Sugargliders’ retrospective CD. Needless to say, there have been endless emails to the guys organising rehearsals, and looking at the flyer on Facebook.

And I’ve started my classroom helper gig in Master BG’s class, doing the Toy Drive for kinder, signed up for a 12km run Run Ballarat, and am determined to once again fit into clothes that have mysteriously shrunk while I’ve been away…

Ireland would be a great place if it had a roof*

Enniskillen is where my granny Kitty lives as well as my Auntie Stephanie and her family. Set on the shores of Lough Erne, it truly is a pretty town with lovely stone houses and bridges, and beautiful surroundings.

It is also  where Ireland has lived up to its reputation of incredibly shite weather, so bad it made Master BG remark ‘Gee, it’s just like Ballarat!’. Which is strange, considering that Enniskillen makes much ado of its outdoor activities of angling, boating, horse riding and golfing. When you wish to do any of these activities though, your enthusiasm is somewhat dampened by the rain…

It rained for two days solidly, which resulted in the Bookgrrl family ensconced in our accommodation watching TV, playing Scrabble, reading, or escaping to an indoor play centre so the kids could let off steam. Our accommodation was sadly not blessed with wifi access, and our tablet was put to good use with endless games of Angry Birds 🙂 .

In the end we stayed another day so we could stay another day in order to do the one thing we wanted to do- visit Devenish Island. We missed it the last time we were here as we thought we were too late in the year for the ferry to operate. As it turned out we were in the wrong place entirely. When we finally found the right jetty from which to take the ferry, we discovered the service had been booked out by a tour group and the only places left were located outside in the rain. Being sensible wusses, we declined and opted for another day, then as the weather worsened, yet another day.

As it turned out, staying another day was a blessing in disguise. We had a fantastic pub meal that night at the Horseshoe and Saddler, where Mr BG discovered the delights of champ. It was a traditional Irish pub, with little booths, wood panelling and lots of horshoes and saddles adorning the walls. I had a sudden thought was the pub decorated like this because it was expected of them them as an Irish pub in Ireland and pandering to the tastes of visitors, or had it always been decorated like this? My head was spinning so much I needed another drink, in this case a nice Australian Shiraz to go with my lamb cutlets…

Queuing up for the ferry, it was grey and cold, and then a small miracle occurred- the skies cleared, we saw blue sky and sun! By the time we arrived at Devenish Island, it was sunny and warm(er). Devenish was beautiful with its round tower, ruins of a monastery, and little cemetery.

We only had 45 minutes to climb up the tower, visit the museum and go up the church tower before we left on the boat. It was a magical trip though, and for once the weather gods smiled on us 🙂

*Direct quote from an Irishman

Doing it for the kids part II

This is the sequel to my previous post, which is fairly apt considering we went tothe Leavesden Film Studios where 8 films were made of a little boy who lived under the stairs…

The secret was kept until we all arrived in Watford. Master BG had struck up a friendship with a little boy from Canada on the train, who asked him ‘Are you going to the Harry Potter Studio Tour?’
‘Um…no, I don’t think so,’ was my son’s reply. When we hoped off the train, we confessed that was indeed where we were going. The response was a bit muted, rather than the enthusiastic one I thought we would get.
They warmed up as we approached the studios in the bus from the railway station, and got quite excited when we walked in and saw…the gift shop! Full of chocolate frogs (£7.95), Bertie Bott’s Beans (£7.95) and a genuine Marauder’s Map(£29.95)!
Our entry was a timed entry, and we arrived about 45 minutes early, so we were able to have lunch before joining the queue. We were escorted into a room where we were shown a brief video on the original discovery of JK Rowling’s book by the producers, then into a theatrette where we had another film on the making of the studio tour. Presented by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, it ended by them entering Hogwarts Great Hall through a large, ornate door. Then the cinema screen rose…and there was the door! I nearly leapt out of my seat in excitement. The doors opened and then we were in the Great Hall and the start of the tour.

There was a guided tour of the Great Hall by one of the many tour guides who gave a presentation on its creation. After we moved from the hall, the remainder of the tour was a self-guided, to allow you to spend as much or as little time looking at the sets which had been recreated, and rebuilt, complete with costumes from the principal characters.

There was so much to see that you could easily spend hours studying everything in great detail. And everything does have such detail! From individual labels in Ollivander’s wand shop, to thousands of glass bottles in Dumbledore’s office, the richness and quality of detail only served to enhance the cinematic experience, and to employ so many set designers and dressers.

Throughout the self-guided tour, studio employees were on hand to provide information about particular aspects of the set, stories about the making of the film and anecdotes from cast and crew members. From them we found that as the boys grew, they either had to curl up in bed or let their feet hang over the edge out of shot, as the beds were designed for 10 year olds and not 17 year old boys
The mechanical opening door with all the locks to the Chamber of Secrets was created by the special-effects team and fully mechanical
The backlot component of the tour involved part of the rickety bridge, the Potter home, the Knight Bus, Hagrid’s motorcycle, and the flying car. It also had number 4 Privet Drive, where Harry grew up with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. The original film filmed in an actual street, which was then recreated on the back lot for subsequent films. The Knight bus was created from 3 vintage buses to make it into a triple decker bus.
The tour also focused the greenscreen special effects used to create the Quidditch and flying sequences, the prosthetic props such as giant spiders, and set design drawings and conceptual art. The final exhibit was the model of Hogwarts which was used for aerial shots. It took eight weeks to build and it was massive in its size and detail.

The little BGs were given complimentary passports with an opportunity to have them stamped at stamping stations along the tour. There was also the little Quidditch balls hidden amongst the exhibits for them to seek out and tick off. This, and having their uncle Andrew along, kept them well occupied. The back lot provided them with ample opportunity to clamber over props, while we enjoyed a taste of Butterbeer! (Non-alcoholic, and delicious)

We managed to escape the gift shop with a couple of frogs and all-flavour beans, and departed thoroughly pooped but all very happy. The verdict from the kids was that Legoland was better, but Harry Potter was still very good. They were both quite different, but enjoyable in their own way. For fans of Harry Potter it is a must-see, and a definite improvement on other studio tours (according to Andrew who went on a studio tour in LA).
Next stop Ireland!

A tale of Parisian museums

Over a period of five days we visited 5 museums in Paris. ‘Only 5?’ I hear you ask, or is it ‘OMG, that’s a lot to cover!’

There are so many to choose museums in Paris that you could spend your entire trip doing nothing but museum visiting, and miss out on seeing the sights, walking through markets and simply enjoying being in Paris. You need to have a balance between the two, especially with the added challenge of having the little BGs with us. The museum has to be engaging with adults and children alike, and easy to navigate so we can get to see what we want to see. These were the five museums we visited, all very different experiences, with the one thing in common that they were all free for kids- hurray!

Musee d’Orsay-Thursday

One of my favourite all-time museums, and one which I had visited the last time I was in Paris- it’s like visiting an old friend. We arrive there not long after it has opened and there’s no queue. There’s a Degas exhibition of his nudes as a added bonus at the time we visit, much to Master BG’s amusement (bottoms and body parts attract much mirth and snickers from a 7 year old boy). We also point out the building and explain how it used to be a railway station, and look at the glass ceiling, the huge clock faces (very reminiscent of Hugo) and the models of the building, which elicit a lot of interest from the kids. We visit the Impressionist and post-Impressionist rooms and simply look and marvel. As we’re staying around Montmartre, it’s a bit of a buzz to see the paintings that were created there here on the walls.

Miss BG loves the ballet paintings of Degas and his ballerina sculpture, while Master BG is quite taken with Vincent van Gogh, or the farmer as he calls him, because he lives in the country. They both get quite taken with Seurat and how he used lots of dots to create his paintings. The bookshop and giftshops are excellent, and Miss BG emerges with a picture book about Degas and Master BG has a Rubik’s cube of van Gogh images.
Verdict- a good time was had by most- Miss BG did chuck a wobbly in a crowded room, but we had pushed our time there by that stage. As it’s a museum with a targeted period and collection, it’s much more manageable to see what you want to see.

Musee du Louvre-Friday

I had never visited it on previous visits, mainly because I thought it would be insanely busy, tacky and full of people wanting to see the Mona Lisa.
My preconceptions were pretty spot on, but there were some surprises. Seeing the foundations of the original medieval Louvre were pretty awe-inspiring, and the rooms themselves as a palace were a marvel in themselves. The basic guide of the Louvre was also very good and showed you where the key works of art were located. It was insanely busy, and full of people wanting to see the Mona Lisa- I felt sorry for the painting as it was literally being papped out of existence.

The museum was also full of Japanese tourists making peace signs in front of Botticelli frescoes or the Venus de Milo while their friends took a photo of them on their phone. At this point I slapped them and told them this was not the place nor painting in which to be so inane and self-absorbed (not really, but I truly wanted to do that). It was hot and hellish, and not really a great artistic experience. People were there because it was a tourist attraction and to say they had seen the Mona Lisa and it was all right, a bit smaller than I had expected, rather than to see art. We escaped and headed for the Tuileries Gardens where we had a wonderful time at the playground (ie the kids played on a cool playground, while the parents recovered on one of the heaps of chairs and benches surrounding the play area), and had an icecream.
Verdict- If you avoid the crush around the Mona Lisa and just wander around looking at the ceilings, and other collections, you would probably have a better experience. It is a vast collection of art in a vast space, and a bit unwieldy.

Musee de Montmartre- Sunday

This is a little museum about the social history and artiditic legacy of Montmartre. It is located in the former building in which Renoir lived and painted, has a garden and two resident black cats. In here you could learn about the artists who lived and painted in the area, the cabarets, the Commune of 1870, and the building of Sacre Coeur, all in relatively quiet surroundings. There was a free audioguide available and the staff were quite friendly.
Verdict It’s small so you can get in and see it in under an hour, it was reasonably priced and in a beautiful setting. A lovely outing!


Espace de Dali- Sunday

This was a five minute walk from the Musee de Montmartre and the only place in Montmartre where you could see art (not counting the myriad of artists who flock to the Place du Terre to sell their paintings). It was where you could see over 300 works of art from this artist. The works of art are largely prints, sculptures and several letters, and primarily come from the latter part of Dali’s career. I saw a Dali exhibition a couple of years ago in Melbourne which was comprehensive and contained everything you would want to see. This didn’t really match up to that experience, and a bit disappointing – a bit overpriced too!
Verdict -don’t bother, and save your money for crepes au chocolat.

Centre Pompidou- Monday

It was wet and rainy, and we had just left the Eiffel Tower, so now was as good a time as any to visit. The architecture and the setting is quite appealing to children, but it was a bit too wet to stand and look at then inside out building. It was pretty quiet and we were sharing it with art students, school groups ( how cool would that be to come in for an excursion and see Picasso and Matisse!), and a few other tourists braving the weather. We weren’t disappointed. We could move around and stand in front of paintings and sculptures and talk about them without getting jostled. There were big glass windows that Miss BG could stand in front of and look out onto the street below. The bookshop is quite extensive too.
Verdict-really great for children, but having lunch here is an expensive experience.

Washing line philosopher

My 'room of one's own'

I will often do most of my thinking at the washing line when I am hanging out wet clothes towels and sheets. The washing line is located at the end of the garden hidden behind a row of silver birches and a vine-covered trellis. Actually, it’s quite secluded and idyllic and were it not for the fact that I have nowhere else to put my washing, it would be a lovely summer nook with a comfy bench and table. It’s away from the hubbub of the household and the children rarely venture down to tell me things of EXTREME IMPORTANCE when I am down there (they usually wait until I am busy in the bathroom to do that…)

These are a couple of the things I have thought about this week. As I only spend up to 10 minutes at a time, thoughts can be short and somewhat fleeting…

1.Google does not make you an expert

Ostensibly the article is about vaccination, but really about the way in which Google has made everyone an expert on everything. There is information which Google can’t access, but it’s not as easy to access nor search. As a result, you get people with just enough knowledge from ‘research’ to make them dangerous. There is also the ‘Filter Bubble’ effect in which Google personalises search results through its alogrithms to allow you to see information it thinks you WANT to see. Unfortunately the information you NEED to see may not appear.

3. Pinterest– I’m sorry, I don’t quite get you. It’s a bit like the whole Twilight phenomenon, where you see perfectly sane and intelligent women go gaga over a bunch of vampires, except this time it’s over pretty pictures. I like you, but I don’t understand you. Do I need to spend a lot of my time looking and pinning? Do I need to follow a lot of boards? Do I need to have people  follow me? I know looking at visual social networks can be highly addictive- I have easily spent hours on Tumblr before I went cold turkey…

4. How can I like aprons with their retro charm, yet detest the ubiquity of the Playboy logo seen on underpants and gym equipment? Both symbolise elements of a women’s subservience (the apron sybolising a confinement to a domestic environment, the bunny, a label of sexual objectification), and as a feminist shouldn’t I be fighting for the right not to wear an apron and hanging out this fucking laundry? But I really hate the way my husband hangs it out (sorry, love I do), and who else will?

5. I want a cleaner. And a nanny to pick up the kids after school and bring them home, rather than putting them into after school care, when Miss BG starts school. Perhaps Tony Abbott does say the occasional right thing…OMG, I AGREED WITH TONY ABBOTT- I need a drink…

6. Could I write full-time? I wouldn’t be able to afford the cleaner and nanny, but then I’d be at home…I don’t think there would be a lot of things we could no longer afford…

7. Can a happy marriage fail? Could I write a story about that without raining all types of karma upon me?

8. What am I going to do with the chicken for dinner tonight?


Turning Reluctant Readers into Ripper Readers

Master BG got books from Santa and his nana for Christmas and was thoroughly stoked. He has read a few of them already, when he’s not playing with Lego, the computer, or playing games with his sister that involve a lot of giggling and yelling.

He is nothing like my youngest brother Andrew, who at the same age LOATHED reading and would rather be zipping around on his bike terrifying little old ladies (not really, but just a bit of creative licence) and his older sisters (actually that bit is true). So what do you do to get reluctant readers reading, especially in the National Year of Reading?

Ken from NannyPro has written an article on 10 Books to Get Kids Reading Again. The books suggested are classics and aimed at an older readership, like middle to late primary. Ken also has some great words of wisdom  about finding the right stories for reluctant readers

For children who are resistant to reading, the secret is to find books that they are interested in. Stories about young people help them identify with the characters and relate to the plot. Fantasy and humor are also good ways to get kids hooked on books. Giving them a variety to choose from will help determine what genre captures their imagination.

Fo my brother Andrew, he started reading books by Paul Jennings, which were essentially short stories and progressed to fantasy fiction. Along the way, he would borrow books from the library about ancient Egypt, or whatever subject took his fancy. The reading paid off as he went on to do really well in his VCE, went to university and now works in London.

Here are 5 tips on turning a reluctant reader into a ripper reader.

  1. Pick something short to read- funny rhymes which can be read aloud to get the feel and sound of language are really good. Chapter books with short chapters are good as you feel you have accomplished something in a short space of time. As a child’s attention span increases, books with longer chapters can be introduced.
  2. Have books in the house. Make them part of the room and part of your life.
  3. Don’t limit your reading material to fiction- include non-fiction, such as dinosaurs, robots, space and myths and legends are always popular books with children.
  4. Lead by example and read yourself. My earliest memories are of my dad reading the paper. Mr BG’s memories of his father were of him sitting by the fire with a book, or sitting in a car in the pelting rains reading a book. If you are reading for enjoyment, your child will hopefully see it as a means of entertainment.
  5. Read to your child- it’s a great way to spend time with them and if you’re enjoying it, chances are they will too.

Do you have any tips on encouraging kids to read?

Crochet Mojo or 10 things I’ve been doing that don’t involve blogging

I’ve finally have 10 minutes to sit down and say hello to my blog, and to you! It has been a busy few days chez Bookgrrl, as is the usual case when it is school holidays. So here is what I have been doing which has caused me to neglect my blog.

1. Swimming lessons at the YMCA- the kids have had fun this week and are gaining in confidence in the water. While I have been sitting out watching, I’m going to take advantage of my membership and do a few laps in the big persons pool tomorrow!

2. Painting splotches of paint on the lounge rom wall. Sample pots are a boon, though the lounge currently looks like a young child has decided to become the next Picasso in his ‘green period’ 🙂

3. Dentist visits. Both children needed fillings this week and appointments were scheduled on separate days so I could go in with them separately. Master BG was full of questions, even when he had happy gas, anaesethetic, and copious dental tools in his mouth- that boy could talk underwater! Miss BG, apart from an inital case of nerves, that involved onyl sitting in the dentists chair, as long as I was sitting there with her, was a trooper, and both of them deserved a…

4. Trip to the bookstore. This was the promised treat for being so brave at the dentist’s (I kinda figured that sweet treats were out of the question). Mr BG ended up with a Horrible Histories activity book, Miss BG loves her new book of fairy tales and I came away with two classics, The Harp in the South and Playing Beattie Bow. The last time we were there, Master BG came away with the idea he wants to buy the bookstore when he’s older. I suggested going to the library was a cheaper option…

5. Shivering. This is something I am used to doing for about 6 months of the year in Ballarat, but January was not a time I was expecting to have to put the heater on. It’s been bitterly cold the last few days which was probably why I was inspired to start…

6. Crocheting! It had been ages since I last picked up a hook and with an impending project I have to start soon, I thought it was as good a time as any to practice with granny squares. They’ll be joined up soon to be a rug for my bed. It’s being worked in blues to complement the bedroom which is blue and white. I have been crocheting at night on the couch, and for the past couple of days at the swimming pool. The aspect of crochet I like is that there’s only one hook, rather than two knitting needles and it’s faster than knitting.

7. Reading books, as opposed to reading blogs. I’ve been dipping into crochet books, but I have started a couple of books which hold promise.

8. Watching TV with the kids- now this is a bit unusual, as we’ll watch DVDs together, but TV shows are a bit hit and miss. This has been made easier for us by the ABC which is currently screening Doctor Who  from 2005 onwards at 7.30 pm. If anything it reminds me of my own childhood, watching Doctor Who with my parents and sister and brothers a long, long time ago.

9. Plotting stuff for the blog. I may not be writing anything down, but things will pop into my head, while I’m hanging out the washing. The washing line is where a lot of my thinking about life takes place, as it’s as far away from the house as possible and I can’t hear the kids :).

10. Getting acquainted with Pinterest and reacquainted with Tumblr, though admittedly not spending a great deal of time with either.


Do not nerf Tiger*

6.24am was the time when we heard ripping and things popping from the lounge room. Master BG had found his toys from Santa. There was a gleam in his eyes as he surveyed his presents.

Miss BG’s first words when she was woken by her brother were ‘Santa! Presents!’ as she leapt out of bed and ran.

After much snipping, snapping, screwing and slotting (scissors, screwdriver and huge packs of batteries of differing sizes are always good to have on hand), the children were engrossed in playing.

They also ended up with a multitude of books and clothes and have declared Christmas so far to be ‘great’. There has been much discussion as to what to bring down to Nana and Papa’s as we head down to Christmas dinner.

It’s a times like this, after months of ferreting away toys, casually asking about likes and dislikes, dropping hints and finally entering hell that is the supermarket on Christmas Eve (9.30am and the queue outside the seafood shop was at leat 50 people), that you see the wonder and pleasure in a child’s face and think it was worth it.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Christmas as a deliciously pagan festival of indulgence and gift giving or as a celebration of Jesus’ birth,  may your day be happy and enjoyable.

*Quote of the day. A stationary cat and a boy with a Nerf gun is an irresistible combination…

Hello Halloween!

The kids have been counting down to Halloween for the past week. They have been clamouring for pumpkins to carve, little bags for lollies and to go trick or treating. They have also been clamouring for lollies, but that is a usual occurrence in the house.

We already had some trick or treaters on Saturday evening- one group of 10 very excited bunch of girls and boys all dressed in black and purple (budding fashionistas). Luckily we had a stash of lollies in the treat bag, so we were able to dispense some lollies, compliment them on their choice of outfits and send them on their way. A couple of parents were at the gate, chaperoning as unobtrusively as possible- or as unobtrusive as one could be dressed as a vampire and a zombie.

Miss BG was packed off to creche today with a witch’s hat and big brother’s cape, and returned home after having trick or treated in the Toddler and Babies’ rooms, and made some spider biscuits.

Tonight, we headed off to our first Halloween party, hosted by American friends who have a very excited 2 1/2 year old cowboy. The kids dressed up- Master BG as Harry Potter (a lip pencil works wonders as a scar) and Miss BG as a ballerina.

As for me…well I turned up in comfortable, low-heeled boots and glasses and went as a librarian :).