Monday, June 11, 2012

Pictures of You

Pictures of YouPictures of You by Caroline Leavitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really don’t know how to rate this book nor what I should include in my review. I was deeply touched by this story but I just don’t like how I felt at the end of it and that in no way reflects the author’s writing.

I’d like to point out that I generally always read romance and I love myself a happy ending. With all the stress and pressures in life these days I read mostly for some escapism…I want to finish a book with a smile on my face and after I’d finished Pictures of You I just felt plain heartbroken. I knew going into this story that it was going to be sad and emotional but maybe naively expected a happy ending. The ending was not what I expected.

Isabelle is heading to New York after leaving her husband, whom she has been with since she was 15, after she discovers he has been unfaithful and his girlfriend is now pregnant with his child. Isabelle is now in her late 30’s so they have been together for a long time. They don’t have any children together as after suffering a late term miscarriage Isabelle is told she is unable to have children of her own.

Whilst driving along a very foggy road Isabelle comes across April standing in the middle of the road, her car facing the wrong way, and her son Sam by the side of the road. Unable to avoid the collision Isabelle collides with April and her car and April is killed instantly. Her young son flees the scene and hides in the bushes. Isabelle looks for him and he sees her as an angel in the fog with the sun behind her believes her to have a halo and wings. When she hears sirens in the distance she runs back to the car and he doesn’t see her again at the accident site.

We don’t find out April’s reasons for being on the road until later in the story and I am cautious about giving away too many spoilers so I won’t reveal why she was leaving and why her son was with her. April’s husband Charlie had no idea that his wife was leaving him and why she would be three hours away in car accident with his son by her side and a suitcase in the car. Not knowing why troubles him throughout the book.

The time frame moves quite quickly in this novel and we get to see the grief that Isabelle, Charlie and Sam go through. I like the way the author portrayed Charlie’s grief and I felt genuine loss for Charlie.

Isabelle seeks out some counseling and is trying to process everything she has been through and the negativity she receives through the papers and gossip. She is a photographer and works in a studio taking kids portraits and there are parents who no longer want her to photograph her children.

Isabelle gets stressed out being a passenger in a car and hasn’t driven since the accident. She rides her bike around town and finds herself repeatedly riding past Charlie and Sam’s house and Sam’s school. One day Sam sees Isabelle (still believing that she is an angel and will be his connection to talk to his mother) and they talk and from there a connection is made. Initially Charlie doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Sam to talk to Isabelle, but after Isabelle talks to him about photography Sam takes an interest and his photos seem to be something that makes him happy. Isabelle and Charlie have a relationship together but they keep this from Charlie, who believes they are just friends. Due to Sam's chronic health problems and the stress he has been under Charlie wants to take the relationship very carefully.

I felt there were some inconsistencies in the storyline and some issues that weren’t resolved. I know I’m reading fiction and I’m not terribly bothered if an author doesn’t follow facts 100% but I just couldn’t believe a 9 year old boy who nearly dies from chronic asthma can recover completely from it in the short space of time that Sam did.

Sam befriends a boy at school who obviously has a traumatic home life and he flits in and out of Sam’s life but we never really found out Teddy’s story.

I thought that Charlie and Isabelle could have worked through the issues and talked a lot more about what was going through their minds and where they wanted their relationship to go.

I would have liked to have heard Luke and April’s ‘voices’ throughout the story and Luke’s thoughts as to why he was unfaithful to his wife when I believed he loved her and also April’s thoughts as to why she was leaving Charlie.

Towards the end of the book I found myself skimming and just wanting to find some happy. Something happens at the end of the book that I won’t give details of because it is quite a spoiler, but it was something that just made me even sadder. I think this is a story that I will re-visit and re-read as I did skim over the ending, which is something I try not to do and maybe I’ll enjoy it more knowing I’m not going to get what I want at the end.

At only $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Pictures of You is definitely worth reading.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sins of the Highlander

Sins of the HighlanderSins of the Highlander by Connie Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book reminds me of why I adore reading Highlander romance novels. It had pretty much everything I look for…great chemistry between our two main characters, a bit of adventure, a bit of revenge, a touch of fantasy, a little bit of the brogue and plenty of steamy romance.

I wish I had taken notes on some quotes throughout this book because there were some wonderful lines that made me feel all warm and fuzzy and even chuckle a time or two…but I was just too immersed in the story to take the time to write anything down.

One thing that always seems to disappoint me these days is the absence of an Epilogue. There is an excerpt at the closure of this book for the authors’ next release but there was no hint that it is a continuation from this one as the characters weren’t familiar. That is just a personal preferene and takes nothing away from this story.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Last Day of Adventure in the City

We re-evaluated our plans today, originally we were going to go to Taronga Zoo. After a very late night last night I wasn't sure the little kids would last a whole day out there. The Zoo is very hilly and lots of walking is involved. From memory there is a lot to see and to get the most of your $$ you should try and see everything. Also it was an overcast day, after a rainy night. The Zoo has a beautiful outlook high on the hills overlooking the Harbour so if its windy it can be very chilly. We went about 7 years ago I think, and I really wanted to see the new elephant exhibit, it was in the planning stages when were last there. Oh well we will have to save that for the next time we are down. Emma will be a little older and it should be a little easier.
So instead the kid wanted to go to the Aquarium, which we went to also on our last trip 7 years ago and I remembered it being really enjoyable. Also a half day is enough to get through everything and I thought I might be able to sneak into the city. I wanted to look at one of the really big book stores there. I knew I wouldn't buy anything but I just love how big it is and like to just soak up a little of the atmosphere.
I also wanted to look in David Jones and Myers, not really sure why when I don't have any spending money, but I just love how big they are.
The kids really enjoyed the Aquarium and so did Geoff and I. Geoff had set the kids a challenge about the behaviour and it really made a difference, which made it for a much more enjoyable experience.
We stopped and had a bit for lunch, it was after 1 when we came out.
We headed into the City because I wanted to show the kids the QVB (Queen Vic Building) as its very old and has a fabulous clock. They also had their Christmas Tree up which had Swarovski crystal ornaments and was just beautiful.
We headed into the Book Stores and Myers but the kids were getting a little ridiculous and I thought it was silly to try and take them shopping.
We had wanted to see Happy Feet 2 at the IMAX but in the morning when we checked it out the only session was 10am. Instead we went to see Puss in Boots at 4 o'clock. The kids were in awe of the size of the screen and its a real experience. Geoff and I had been on occasion when we had been here, mostly before we had kids, but once when we came down for his Nan's funeral we went to see Avatar. Its a wonderful experience and surprisingly not that expensive, not much more than a 3D ticked at our local cinema.
We were back at the Hotel around 6 and had dinner in. I've packed pretty much everything and have organised an overnight bag for David and Liz's. Geoff is taking us for breakfast in the morning because he knows its my favourite thing to do. Then we will head out to see the family again on the way to Berrowra Waters. We will spend the night with David and Liz and then head back home.
The last few days of holidays always fly by. Our time in the city has been wonderful, the kids haven't been as well behaved as would have liked but its hard to be all couped up together I guess. I hope they have enjoyed it and some day appreciate the effort it takes for a family of 6 to have a holiday.

A Day With Family

I'm posting this the day after, but we arrived back at our hotel so late last night by the time I got organised it was nearing midnight and there was no way I was going to turn my Macbook on.
We had set aside Thursday as a day to visit with family.
First up was Geoff's Aunt Helen who later last year was diagnosed with breast cancer and is the middle of having chemotherapy treatment. Earlier in the week she had her last of the big doses of chemo and on the 16th of January she starts having a not so heavy lot of doses.
When Geoff called her early in the morning to see if she was still up for a visit he said she didn't sound too well at all but was happy for us to pop in. I really didn't think we would be there that long. When we arrived Helen looked a lot better than I thought she would and she really seemed to enjoy our visit, I am hoping that the visit brightened her spirits a little. She really is a wonderful person and has certainly been dealt a harsh hand with life. Geoff's father died over 20 years ago in his late 40's. Helen then living back in Sydney ended up caring for her parents who after Geoff's father's death were emotionally frail which then took its toll and they became physically frail and dependent upon Helen until they were both required to go to Nursing Homes until they passed away. It still is a little sad to go and visit at Helen's house and not have Nan and Pop there, they were truly beautiful, caring and loving people. Helen gave Geoff a book that a former war mate of her fathers had compiled and published. It is quite a thick book and I'm looking forward to sitting down and reading through all the stories. It is solely focused on Geoff's Grandfather's battalion and there are quite a few photos of Geoff's Grandfather in there. Its a wonderful book to be able to pass down to the children. History becomes lost if we don't retell the stories.
From there we travelled out to Castle Hill to see Geoff's Aunt Pat and Uncle Merv where we had some sandwiches. They had an old friend drop in for a visit. We then had a quick trip out to Castle Towers to look at the shops. I of course found a handbag I really liked that I couldn't afford.
Geoff's Nan had given the kids each $10 when they arrived earlier in the week and then Helen had given them each $30 for Christmas. Emma and Thomas spent half of theirs when they found some Pillow Pets. The other boys are being very cautious about what they spend theirs on and are hanging out for something they really want. Quite sensible I thought.
We then headed back to Pat and Merv's house where we were staying for dinner. Geoff went and picked up his Nan so she could come for dinner.
Pat and Merv aren't used to having small children around so dinner was a slow preparation and the kids were getting a little hairy. Merv ended up playing a couple of movies which kept them quiet for a while. As dinner was late, the evening ended up finishing very late and by the time we got home and I got all the kids into bed it was nearly midnight.
We had a big day planned the following day and we had to re-think those plans because I thought the kids would be very tired.
It was great to catch up with family again, really the sole purpose of the trip. I think Geoff's Nan really enjoyed getting to see her Great Grandchildren, something I'm sure she wishes she could do more regularly.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Harry Potter Experience

Today is our second full day at Darling Harbour. Geoff when looking up things to do in Sydney came across the Harry Potter Exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum. Generously Geoff’s cousin David and his wife Elizabeth bought the family tickets to see the exhibit whilst we were here as a Christmas gift.
We had tickets for the 10am entry so we were out and about early. The boys were really excited when we got there just waiting at the entrance as they were surrounded by Harry Potter posters and they took a photo of the family with a green screen behind us so they were excited as to what the photo was going to be when we collected it upon departing.
It was all very well done upon entry, we went through to a small area that a few kids were picked out of out group to sit up and wear the ‘sorting hat’, it was interesting that none of children put up their hands when volunteers were asked for.
Then the next room we went into was surrounded by screens and was kind of all different snippets of the movie…that was pretty cool. Then we were ushered through to the exhibit….at first I was very concerned because it seemed extremely crowded and it was hard for the kids to get up to the displays as people weren’t really moving along. My older boys were okay with the waiting but the two youngest got a little bit distressed about being separated from us and not being able to see. Thankfully it was only the first couple of displays and then I think people realized that you could move around easily between the exhibits. I’m always dismayed at how selfish the public can be about where they want to be and what they want to see, particularly adults who make no room for younger children even though they can easily see over the top of their heads. The exhibit was by tickets only and you purchased tickets for a particular entry time so they did limit the number of entries. The entire day was sold out and I’d be interested in how many other days are sold out. I’ve really only watched the first movie in its entirety and we had 2 audio devices that you could enter the numbers in the exhibits and listen to a commentary and explanation as to what everything was. I found that really helpful. Of course the boys knew what everything was anyway. I really enjoyed looking at the costumes and artifacts and was amazed at the detail that has gone into everything. It was very impressive and I’m so glad we went.
I wasn’t sure how the younger kids were going to cope as I really wanted to look around the remainder of the Museum and Joseph particularly was really interested in seeing the space section and the steam section. We had a brief look around at the space and a couple of smaller sections and then found a Café as I thought if the kids were fed they would be a little more co-operative in looking around further. We are trying to stick to a strict budget on this holiday and I’m finding that okay to follow, with the exception of when we are out for lunch. We have been having breakfast and dinner back at our hotel room. I haven’t wanted to buy stuff to make lunches for us to take with us purely because I don’t want the burden of carrying it around. We are taking 2 water bottles with us so that we aren’t purchasing drinks. I also find it frustrating that mostly the options are crap food, anything fried with chips usually. I got confused at the ‘fast food’ type café we ate at today and ordered a wrap because I wanted something a little on the healthier side and only ordered one as I thought Geoff and I could share, and then I was annoyed at having to pay nearly $9 for and then when it came it was tiny. That just ticks me off.
So anyway the kids ate and the little ones settled a little after that so we continued on with the rest of the Museum. I love Museums and anything with a little history. Thankfully Joseph seems to share that interest. Samuel does to a certain extent to in that he is happy to look and read about it all, but Joseph seems quite enthusiastic about learning whatever he can. There was a small section with old articles, like clothing and jewellery. Lots of old carriages, so much to look at.
There was a Wiggles section that Emma and I had a look through and I think she would have enjoyed it more if Thomas had been with us or she had someone to play with in there.
The steam section was just amazing and there was a lot to look at. It made me think of my father who would have absolutely loved it, and sad that he wouldn’t travel to look at things like that. The kids loved it because there was lots of interactive sections that they could push buttons and turn wheels and make it more interesting. There was a really cool one where you had to turn a wheel to make lights go on in this little house and they enjoyed the challenge of who could turn on more lights. Its great for the kids to learn how things were once done and how much easier it is for them in this current day.
It was a nice walk back to our hotel when we had finished. Joseph and Samuel had used some of their money (me adding a little bit to the pot) to buy a wand each, Joseph got the Elderwand and Samuel got Voldemort’s wand. So there has been a bit of chasing and casting spells around the hotel this evening.
Probably the thing that is stressing me out the most is trying to keep them on the quiet side in the hotel. Emma’s squealing is driving me nuts and I’ve tried so many things to get her to stop. There is an indoor pool in the hotel and I took the kids down there late yesterday and they enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy it so much because there wasn’t really anywhere to sit without getting wet because it’s a narrow room with a narrow pool (kind of like a lap pool). Certainly not somewhere you’d take the kids for a few hours entertainment. That is disappointing because all my kids really need to be happy is a pool to swim in. It’s a little bit too much to expect Emma to be out and about walking for the entire day, so it would be nice to come back around 3ish and relax by a pool. We plan to have some dinner soon and then maybe go out for a little walk around Darling Harbour. I thought the kids might like to see the city at night. They can see some from our hotel room but it will be nice to see it down by the water.
A lovely quote from Joseph when we were leaving the Powerhouse Museum….”I really enjoyed that experience thank you Mum and Dad”….kind of makes the stressful parts worthwhile.
Tomorrow is about visiting Geoff’s relatives, a morning visit with his Aunty Helen who has not been too well having chemotherapy treatment. It will be a short visit with her as we don’t want to overtax her, and then out to Castle Hill to see his Grandmother and Aunt and Uncle. Not sure what the plans are to entertain the kids. Geoff’s Aunt wanted to know if I wanted to go to Castle Towers and have a look around with her, which ordinarly I would love, but as I’ve not got any spending money it seems rather pointless. I’m sure I’ll see loads of bargains that I can’t have.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Family Time

Well its quite a nice way to start the New Year with some time away with the family. Looking back we realised that we haven't visited my husband's family in Sydney in 7 years....I hadn't realised that it had been so long. I'm not surprised his grandmother has been a little out of sorts with us lol!.
The trip down South was in a little jeopardy when Geoff fell very ill over Christmas. He had a small lump appear on his thigh the week before Christmas that increasingly became more uncomfortable and by the end of Christmas Day he was in extreme pain. Spent many hours at a local Medical Clinic on Boxing Day where he was prescribed oral antibiotics and two days later was even much worse and went back to see his local GP who is also a friend of his. Treatment for what he had comes with a hospital admission but Geoff was allowed to attend the Medical Centre daily to have IV antibiotics.
He had made quite a lot of progress so we embarked on the very long drive to Sydney, leaving at 1:30 am on 1 January 2012.
I stupidly believed the kids would sleep the entire nighttime part of the trip but they remained awake due to too much excitement.
We really had a very good run and made it to Grafton for breakfast at 6am. The kids were really very good, the two youngest getting a little whingy when they were tired as it wasn't easy to get comfortable to have a sleep.
We made a slight detour and drove by the house I lived in for nearly 6 years when I was a child. It was a RAAF house near Newcastle. They are no longer RAAF housing and I daresay are housing commission because it was extremely run down and it wasn't a very pleasant neighbourhood to drive through so we made a quick exit. I would have loved to have driven by my old school because it was brand new when we went there. I wondered if it was run down too.
Our first stop overnight was at Geoff's cousin David's house. The kids absolutely loved it there. David lives at Berrowra Waters and there is no access to their house by road so he came to collect us on "Toby" a lovely old boat that potters down the river.
Within an hour of arriving Thomas had caught about 6 small fish that we tossed back in so they can grow a little more. Samuel caught a whopper of a flathead that is now residing in David's freezer until we return and can feast on it for dinner. Joseph caught a slippery slimy eel.
On our journey into the city to our accommodation we stopped to have a visit with Geoff's Nan, who turned 90 in December last year. She was delighted to see the kids and I'm pleased to say that they were well behaved. She gave them $10 each for Christmas so they are very excited that they have that to spend whilst they are here. They are looking for a moment of their holiday.
We are staying at the Goldsborough Hotel in Darling Harbour which is an old wool mill that has been converted into apartments. The older boys were a little disappointed when we got here as they wanted something a little more "fancy". I find this funny but them realised the only place they remember staying is at Peppers at Kingscliff which is very new and modern and quite 'fancy'. I've told them our budget just doesn't stretch it to anything fancier. This hotel is really quite lovely and has a lot of character. Not sure how long ago they were renovated but I'm sure when they were they were pretty flash. I think the kitchen fittings aren't great quality and there seems to be a bit of Ikea fittings. But at the end of the day its quite clean and functional and very close to the Harbour.
We headed out this morning to explore a bit without any concrete plans. We ended up at the Maritime Museum which we all enjoyed, with the exception of Emma who at times vocalised how she had had enough and could we please leave. We just did the Museum part. There are some boats on the Harbour that you can tour through but that would have cost nearly $100 and we are doing this trip on a very strict budget that didn't allow for that. It is a shame because there is a war ship, HMAS Vampire and a submarine a long with a few others. The older boys particularly would have loved that. For our whole family to tour the Museum was under $20 and there was certainly plenty there to see.
We then caught a ferry around to Circular Quay. Thomas was a little nauseous and nervous about the boat but once we got around a bit he was okay. It is just gorgeous on the harbour and I don't think I'll ever tire of it even though I've seen it many many times. By the time we wandered around the Opera House the kids were well and truly getting hungry. Very hard to find somewhere suitable to eat that didn't cost an arm and a leg so we ended up at McDonalds...but of course the kids think that is fantastic. We haven't eaten out otherwise, the apartment is self contained so we've had breakfast and two dinners here. I would love to have breakfast in a cafe one morning before we go home and if you look around the city there are some great little cafes tucked away that are not expensive. I'll keep my eye out whilst we are walking around. Not sure if we will have a dinner out as I'd love to show the kids the city at night. We can see some of Darling Harbour from our apartment window. We will see how things go.
Tomorrow we have tickets to the Powerhouse Museum to see the Harry Potter exhibit and the older boys are really looking forward to that. They want to spend their $10 there and I'm thinking there probably won't be anything that cheap (that isn't crap).

Its a New Year!

Well as we say goodbye to 2011 and move into 2012 I find myself thinking back over this past year and reflecting on all changes to our family.
2011 for our family was a year of change and it was a year that felt like I was riding a rollercoaster ride, many ups and downs and sometimes I felt like I was being turned inside out. I’m not a person that copes with change in a very relaxed manner and the decisions that Geoff and I had to make were not made lightly and came with a lot of uncertainty as to how our future would be affected. 2012 is now upon us and those uncertainties still lie.
After years of planning on studying to become an Architect, Geoff in his last year of high school decided to study law and due to his financial situation decided to embark upon this externally, which means that he got a job at a law firm and did his “articles” whilst studying for his degree. He never attended university full-time and had blocks of study leave prior to sitting exams. Towards the end of his grade 12 year he applied for and got a job at Butler McDermott & Egan. He was employed by BME in 1992 and finished his law degree (a year early) in 1997. He remained employed by BME until 2005 when he then bought into partnership with them. This year for various reasons that I won’t go into, Geoff decided to sell his share in the partnership and pursue an ambition he had been carrying since obtaining his law degree and practice as a Barrister. This meant returning to university for further study (thankfully it was only a short course of 8 weeks). It was certainly a tough couple of months for me and the kids with Geoff living in Brisbane full-time. The course was pretty full on and it was certainly no holiday for him. No surprise to me that he excelled in his studies and is now a fully fledged Barrister who can dress up in his wig and gown and look very important indeed. Whilst this change has carried a lot of stress for our family as to what out future holds because we no longer have the financial security of regular income, it has also taken a lot of strain away having to watch Geoff work unbelievably long hours and carry a lot of stress and responsibility. It is wonderful to see him flourish in doing something he is truly enjoying. He has had a really positive response for the work he has undertaken so far and hopefully with time he will get regular work. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table and hopefully as Geoff builds up his new career some of the financial uncertainty will ease. As long as we can keep that roof over our heads and keep our children in the school that they love and we love as well, then there isn’t really much else I need to concern myself with. A lot of people would think we are crazy to keep our children in the private school they are at, but until we can truly see how things will go we don’t want to subject the children to such a major change. My eldest son in particular doesn’t cope well with change (wonder where he get’s that from lol!). He will finish his last year of primary school this year so we will re-evaluate how things are going after that.
To be honest when I think back over the year that was 2011 and try and think of what has occurred over that year I really can’t think past anything other than Geoff’s change of career.
I’ve not made any New Year’s resolutions as such, but rather am going to try and set myself some goals for 2012.
During 2011 I have found my health issues something I’ve really struggled with. For 2012 I would like to try and make some changes to my lifestyle that I would hope would somehow lighten my health burdens. With my youngest starting school this year I really need to ensure I use the extra time I will have productively. I want to take the opportunity to fit in some regular exercise. I don’t want to start the year overdoing that because I find it never works well for me when I do. So I will start slowly and try to build up as the year goes on. By the end of the year I would like to think that I was exercising at least 4 times a week. Maybe 2 walks and 2 swims in a week. I would like to take more time to make better choices in my eating habits. Not diet as such because I find that really hard work, but just make some simple changes and this added to a little more exercise might not make a major change but will aide in getting my health on a better track.
Another goal is to have a thorough purge of the accumulation of ‘stuff’ in the house. Going through and clearing out toys and clothes that the kids no longer have a use for would be a great start. I really need to go through my scrapbooking supplies and become a little ruthless. Its hard because I know how much I’ve spent putting those supplies together but at the end of the day I’m not going to be able to utilise everything I have. I can pass some things on to the kids and they will have a great time making cards and creating with a lot of what I have so it wouldn’t be a complete waste.
I’d like to regularly fit in some more time in the garden because it is something I’ve always loved but haven’t made a lot of time for over the years. Our garden is really starting to take shape now and is looking better and better each year. My mother this year gave us a vegetable garden bed and some seeds to get started. Geoff and the kids are really excited about that too so that is something we can all do together.
I want to be more organised with our weekends and planning things to do as a family. We tend to spend our weekends trying to achieve ticking things off the job list or catching up on chores and it really isn’t much fun for the kids. I find that we waste a lot of our weekends. I’m usually just exhausted by the time the end of the week comes and have no enthusiasm for heading out. The kids (not Thomas unfortunately) and Geoff love bike rides so we need to fit more of those in and try and get Thomas to have some more confidence in riding a bike.
I also hope to keep my blog posts more regular. I was very conscious of the fact when I would sit to write a blog post I felt everything I wanted to say was negative or expressing how stressful I’ve felt things have been and I would much rather my blog reflect the positive things in our life. So I will endeavour to keep up with my blog focus on the more positive side of life.
I have high hopes that 2012 is going to be a more relaxed year for us…all I’d really ask for is good health and happiness for my family and friends.