Monthly Archives: January 2013

One reason why obesity is becoming an epidemic

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99c for lollies, $2.60 for pistachios, $1.60 for almonds

99c for lollies, $1.70 for dried cranberries

99c for lollies, $1.70 for dried cranberries

It is cheaper to feed ourselves, our children and our families cheap, sugary, unhealthy and basically crappy food than it is to feed them excellent, nutritious, healthy food. I couldn’t get a photo side by side of the lollies with vegetables, but apart from carrots (and a wonderful special on capsicums – $5 for 1kg), most of the fruit and vegetables were more than $9.90 per kilogram. A six-pack of single serve pies is $5.99. Meat seems to be starting at over $10 a kilogram. And this is at a supermarket which is 15% cheaper than most of its competitors.

It’s no wonder that young people, the poor, and those poorly educated about food take the cheap options.

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An Unexpected Journey: our day in Hobbiton

The pub or the village? Hard choice!

The pub or the village? Hard choice!

Most of our household love Lord of the Rings and by extension, the movies. Well, technically the small boys love the movies and by extension the books as they’re a bit small yet to have read them. For Christmas, we treated the family, including my Dad and stepmum (Dad is a HUGE LOTR fan – he first read the books in 1954!) to a day trip to Hobbiton. We were very impressed with the setup there – very friendly and efficient, well-organised, the gift shop wasn’t over priced and aside from a small amount of disappointment from the youngest members of our party (we hadn’t explained clearly enough that Gandalf, Frodo and Sam wouldn’t be there) and from all of us that there were no fully built up and furnished Hobbit holes for us to go into, we had a wonderful day. I don’t do many photo blogs, but I think in this case, the pictures really do speak for themselves.

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There’s a daughter hiding behind that window

An everyday Hobbit hole

An everyday Hobbit hole

A reconstructed oak tree

A reconstructed oak tree

Welcome to Bag End

Welcome to Bag End

Slightly taller than Hobbits...

Slightly taller than Hobbits…

Ah ha! Into a Hobbit hole at last!

Ah ha! Into a Hobbit hole at last!

More Hobbit residences

More Hobbit residences

The Mill

The Mill

The happy visitors outside the Green Dragon

The happy visitors outside the Green Dragon

The Green Dragon

The Green Dragon

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My top 3 ‘new’ Young Adult Authors 2012

I did a LOT of travelling in 2012, and amongst my reading came across a few young adult authors who I haven’t encountered before.  Some were good, some not so good.  Here were my best of 2012, and I have passed these on to my teenagers!

John Green

I was reading a “Top4 100 Young Adult Novels” list, and the name John Green kept popping up – six times in all. I hadn’t read any of his books, so remedied that with the poignant Looking for Alaska; the quirky An Abundance of Katherines with its mathematical formulae for determining how long a relationship will last; Paper Towns – unrequited love and the weird but riveting Will Grayson, Will Grayson which he co-wrote with David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson has two very dissimilar characters who share the same name and who meet under unusual circumstances. All of these novels share a theme of growing and changing and dealing with circumstances both within and without the characters’ control. They are very well-written and I liked that the characters seemed quite warts and all and real – they didn’t always make the right choices, they weren’t beautiful, or successful, or perfect by any means. I was very pleased to be able to pass all of these on to my teenagers. His characters tend to be slightly older – perhaps 16 to 18 – and his themes more adult, so better for older teenagers. John Green lead me to:41

David Levithan

I started with the aforementioned Will Grayson, Will Grayson and from there went on to Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (which they’ve made a movie of) and my favourite Every Day. Naomi and Ely are not especially likeable people, but the rest of the novel is peopled with extraordinary secondary characters, and their story is riveting. Nick and Norah are very likeable, and again has great secondary characters who I wanted to spend more time with. Both of these are co-written with Rachel Cohn. Every Day is a wonderful love story, albeit a slightly unusual one. I passed this one on to my fourteen year old son first, and he read and enjoyed it, but said “it’s a bit weird”. The girls are reading it now and enjoying it.  I’ll keep reading Levithan’s books. A note here is that he writes a lot about homosexuality. He presents it as something totally normal, and although it brings its own problems, they are treated as just another adolescent problem and nothing more. This is excellent for all teenagers to read. I look forward to reading more of Levithan’s books. His characters are 16+ and although there is nothing sexually explicit in these books, they are probably more suitable for slightly older readers.42

Laura Jarratt

Skin Deep is Laura Jarratt’s first novel and is another one which I bought on my e-reader and will now be buying a paper copy of. It’s a romance, a coming of age story, a murder mystery, a breaking of the parental bonds story and overriding all this, the story of a fourteen year old girl who has been badly scarred in a traumatic car accident. and how she learns to deal with this. It’s fantastic – gritty, yet innocent; realistic yet gentle and at times utterly uncompromising.  My fourteen year old son really enjoyed this one and was keen to keep reading it.  This would be good for younger teenagers (13 or 14) upwards.43

It’s fabulous to find such a strong community of Young Adult work still happening, and of all of these, really only Every Day is fantastical. The rest are firmly set in the real world, and discuss drugs, alcohol and sex with frankness and compassion.  I highly recommend having a look at these if you have teenagers.

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Book review: Graham Henry and Richie McCaw – a tale of two cups

We’re rugby mad in this house. Not quite all of us – daughter number 1 is more of a league fan, but she’ll watch a game if the rest of us are. I’m also a sports biography fan, so for Christmas, the husband acquired not one, but two biographies for me – Graham Henry’s “Final Word” and Richie McCaw’s “The Open Side”. Both have proved to be interesting reads, with some similarities and a lot of differences.

6_Graham-HenryThe first and main difference would be the writing style. Greg McGee wrote Richie’s book and it seems as though Richie’s voice shines through. The style is consistent throughout and very engaging. Bob Howitt, the respected sports journalist and author, co-wrote Graham Henry’s book and this one is a lot patchier. There are two distinct voices in the book to me – I presume Henry’s and Howitt’s – but it was jarring to this reader and made for a stilted read. I was also annoyed at the constant changing of tenses throughout this book.

Another difference is that I felt at the end of Richie’s book that I kind of knew Richie, the person. At the end of Graham’s book, I knew a lot more about rugby and his achievements and career, his management style, and his strengths and weaknesses, but didn’t feel that I knew him. Maybe that is just a difference in their personalities coming through – perhaps Richie is just a more open, engaging person? Or perhaps it was the writers and the way they presented the two men? The one moment that really shone through to me in Henry’s book is the retelling of how his future son-in-law pulled him out of his despair after the 2007 World Cup.  This gave me a feel of the personal Graham rather than just coach Ted.

I hadn’t realised what a good sportsman Graham Henry is, or how flexible and adaptable he is. His public persona is that of an old style school headmaster – dry, humourless and a disciplinarian. In fact, it becomes abundantly clear that he has a sense of humour, is driven and harder on himself than any other critic can be.  This shines through more from Richie’s book than his own ironically.

Richie McCaw is also a driven individual with a clear plan for success and an ongoing work ethic. He is living proof that having a road map and written goals are a key driver for success. He also is obviously incredibly hardworking and diligent – and this isn’t so much from what he says as what he doesn’t say, or in the casual offhand remark about something he has done which would just about cripple a normal person. I think the whole nation knew his foot was injured when he played in the 2011 final, but no-one, including himself, realised that it was broken in 3 places! He played through the pain to achieve his goal, and it is an example of his courage and leadership that he was able to do this.

Both books retold the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter final loss to France, and its aftermath, and the 2011 RWC final win against France in a lot of detail. It’s quite different though – Richie’s from the on-field perspective and Henry’s from the coaches’ box. There are amazing similarities between their recollections of most events, but it’s interesting to read them back-to-back and get the differing perspectives. I’ve certainly found out a lot more about rugby and am now strangely keen to go back and re-watch that disastrous quarter final so I can see it through their eyes. For anyone who is after the detail of just how badly the referee got it wrong on that day, Graham Henry’s book is a total eye-opener.

The other really interesting section, aside from the actual Rugby World Cup game retellings, is the story of Graham Henry standing for re-selection as the All Blacks coach. This is interesting both from Henry’s perspective but even more so from McCaw’s. McCaw is analytical, fair to both Henry and Robbie Deans, both of whom had been influential figures in his career, but very clear as to whom he thought was the best candidate for the job. He manages to display loyalty to both men, but detaches very well to present a compelling argument as o why the NZRU made the right choice.

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Both books were a gripping read, for different reasons. I now feel like I know a LOT more about rugby than I did. I would recommend both of these books to anyone who is a rugby fan. If you’re just after a sports biography, I would go with the Richie McCaw book. If you’re after a retelling of Graham Henry’s rugby career and a dissection of the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter final, Final Word is the book for you.  But in both cases, the retelling of the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final is absolutely riveting – tension-filled and detailed. Even knowing the outcome, I was on the edge of my seat throughout both versions. And now I want to go back and watch that game too! Graham Henry’s book, I would recommend. Richie McCaw’s book I would highly recommend.

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5 great things about camping

Putting up the tent

Putting up the tent

Those who know me will be laughing hysterically at the thought of me saying there is anything great about camping! Although I did a fair bit of this as a youngster, I certainly haven’t been under canvas for at least two decades, and am very fond of my creature comforts. However, my (far more adventurous) mother-in-law talked us into it, so off we trotted to Whakanewha camp ground on Waiheke Island. Admittedly, it’s not exactly roughing it, as the supermarket is ten minutes drive up the road and there are any number of cafes on the island and there was an actual flush toilet, but for us spoiled city folk, it felt fairly primitive. There were some fabulous things which we learned, and here are the top five.

1. Technology holiday

Limited cellphone coverage. No internet access. Nowhere to charge our variety of devices. Although one son managed to eke his iPad battery out for the five days, he was only reading on it (he likes to read on the screen and has a real distaste for paper books – go figure!). The older children were still able to listen to their iPods, and I checked my email and texts from time to time. But we had no laptops, no television and basically no connection to the outside world. I had forgotten just how relaxing it could be to be disconnected.

2. Time for each other

The girls playing the ukes out on the point

The girls playing the ukes out on the point

No TV, no computers, no shops. What were we to do? Well, we played hours of cricket. We went swimming and kayaking. We played board games. We sat quietly together. We sang Christmas carols and pop songs with a ukelele accompaniment. Several of our kids headed out to the point and played their ukeleles and sang together for hours on end. Awesome.

3. Shared adversity

Our first few days were lovely with warm sunny days. The last twenty-four hours was more challenging as the wind came up and the rain came down. We opened our Christmas presents in what seemed like a howling gale, courtesy of the tail end of Cyclone Evan. We made the decision to pull the less sturdy tent down a day early before the heavy showers arrived, and packed the older four kids in with us. This lead to torchlit charades while the wind gusted and blew and the tent was buffeted around with the rain pattering down on the roof. Packing up the second tent in the rain the next morning turned into an epic adventure to share with others rather than a litany of complaints about being wet. I’m pleased we had the nice weather, but the wet weather made the first few days seem even better.

Sunset on the last night after all the rain.

Sunset on the last night after all the rain.

4. Lessons learned

Our daughters (aged sixteen and fourteen) were in the sea kayaking with their twelve and six year old brothers, and a random eight year old from the camp ground. They noticed suddenly that with the tide and the strong winds, they were quickly being blown out into the bay. They acted decisively and swiftly, engineered a transfer of the six year old from one kayak to another, and shepherded the twelve and eight year olds safely back into the shore. Yes, there were adults about – one on the beach watching, and one kayaking with them, but she had already left for the shore with one of the younger boys before the girls realised they were getting into trouble. Yes, the bay is fairly safe, but nonetheless, they showed great responsibility and courage in working out the best way to get everyone back to shore, physical strength in actually doing it against the wind and tide, and the eight year old’s parent, who was watching from the beach, made a point of commenting on the leadership that they’d shown. We were very proud of them.

From an adults’ point of view, we learned about things that we should have taken as well as things that we shouldn’t! Next time, for instance, we will make sure we have a solar shower! And perhaps a friend for one or more of the big children to make it more fun.

5. Community

How could I have forgotten about campground camaraderie? My younger boys buddied up with a couple of slightly older boys; the campground cricket that we started involved a number of families; casual conversation elicited the fact that a five year-old fellow camper had just been diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic and she was able to talk to our fourteen year-old about his experiences. When one group of families had a fire with their gas cylinder, we all gathered round to see what we could do (after we’d watched them sprinting to the sea with it on fire – very dramatic). We loaned someone else our mallet to bash their tent pegs in. It was a wonderful community and something which had completely slipped my mind from my earlier camping experiences.

Did everyone love it? No – especially one of our teenagers who desperately missed the technology, shops, buildings and the concrete. To offset him were the ones who loved the outdoors – the trees, flowers, water and environment. Would it have been nice to have a warm shower? Definitely! Was cooking for ten  (and cleaning up!)a bit of a pain? Yes, but not as much as I thought it would be. Was the weather a nuisance? Yes. The campground facilities (what there were) were great and very clean, and they had a large barbeque which made life easier. In the main, the positives we took from camping as a family far outweighed the negatives. There’s even talk of buying our own tent, and most of the children are talking about “when we go camping next Christmas”. All-in-all a good way to start our holiday season!

Our lovely bay, Whakanewha Campsite, Waiheke Island

Our lovely bay, Whakanewha Campsite, Waiheke Island

An apology for those of you who may have received an early draft of this post by email – it was scheduled to run now, but WordPress and I obviously miscommunicated!

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