Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Environment Award for Children's Literature 2013

I love a good book award me. Tonight I came across an award that I'd never heard of before. Clearly it's my fault as it's been going for 20 years. Each year on World Environment Day The Wilderness Society bestows The Environment Award for Children's Literature. 

The Environment Award honours books that promote a sense of caring and responsibility for the environment through quality Australian children's books.

The Shortlist was announced recently, with the winner to be announced on June 5.

Preschool Category

Our Nest is Best by Penny Olsen and Penny O'Hara
Kangaroos Hop by Ros Moriarty and Balarinji
The Last Dance by Sally Morgan

Primary Category
Ten Tiny Things by Meg McKinlay and Kyle Hughes-Odgers
Tanglewood by Margaret Wild and Vivienne Goodman
Bizi the Musk Duck of Barren Box Swamp by Ann-Maree Thompson

The only title I've heard of before tonight was Tanglewood. I've even read it, but haven't got to blogging about it yet. I'll plan to search the other shortlisted titles out.

And great excitement, the tremendous Jackie French is one of the judges, along with Dr Mark Norman. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


I'd never heard of Flambards or KM Peyton before it came up on my 1001 Quest. I'd gone through the requisite horsey phase as a young girl, and read my share of horsey books too. Clearly I missed this book and the BBC miniseries of the early 80s.

Early on I got strong vibes of The Secret Garden, but the echoes of that book didn't last all that long. Christina's story is the classic orphaned tale in many ways. Orphaned as a young girl, she has been in the care of various relatives before being sent at 13 to live with her mean uncle at his estate Flambards. Uncle Russell is obsessed with fox hunting, something that made the story seem particularly dated for me. Hunting was banned in Scotland in 2002 and the UK in 2004. Young horsey girls growing up now may not know about the fox hunting activities of the past. 

Christina arrives on the very day that her cousin William has a bad accident whilst out hunting and breaks his leg very badly. William hates everything about horses, riding and hunting. I learnt quite a bit about hunting that I didn't know. I hadn't realised that hunting was so seasonal, or that people would go out three times a week chasing foxes about the countryside. Uncle Russell is a rather broken and embittered man since his own hunting accident which left him crippled and unable to participate in the sport that he loves so much. He seeks much solace in port, and is a cruel drunk in charge of an estate that is not well maintained, and actually crumbling about them. 

The roles of the servants and the misfortunes of their lives is a big theme. The horses and stable have many more servants than do the people living in the house, reflecting the status of the different buildings. Dick, the groom who teaches Christina to ride is the most sympathetic character in the book, but I was disappointed in the choices he made.

The Edwardian setting was interesting too with the advent of both the car and flying. While I enjoyed the setting I was never fully involved in the story. I didn't find Christina an engaging heroine for some reason. I think that I found her prospective involvement with her cousin as the most disturbing aspect of the book- more than the drinking, the violent behaviour towards humans and animals, and two families in decline. 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Step Up to the Plate

I picked up Step Up to the Plate on DVD recently. I'd never heard of it before, but was immediately drawn in by the cover and couldn't leave it in the shop. A father, a son, Three Michelin Stars. It was my choice for our family movie night this week so I used the opportunity to watch it.

Michel Bras has run Restaurant Bras in Laguiole, France for many years. It looks amazing. He has had 3 Michelin stars since 1999, and now it is time for him to retire. Step Up to the Plate is an intriguing tale about the transition of power and creative direction from father Michel Bras to his son Sebastien. 

I wasn't aware of Restaurant Bras before watching this DVD. Now of course I'd love to visit. It is perched atop a hill in the remote and desolate Laguiole region of France. Famous for their beautiful knives. 

My lovely Laguiole knives

The Laguiole bee
Laguiole knives have an appellation in just
the same way as wines and cheeses do

Laguiole also has an eponymous cheese, which I shall be looking out for in Paris. The Bras boys often pair their Laguiole cheese with blackberry. The precision of the Bras plating technique is extraordinary. The planning of their dishes is amazing. Michel Bras has many, many hand written and illustrated journals that track the development of his recipes and techniques. Both father and son are particularly intense and achingly precise in their work. 

The Bras family have a sister restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan, that now has 3 Michelin stars also, and possibly looks even more amazing than the French establishment. It was fascinating watching Sebastian create a new dish in France, and then adapt it with Japanese ingredients. Great to see the Bras boys singing French karaoke in Japan too!

I enjoyed Step Up to the Plate, although it just sort of ended, and didn't show what happened after Sebastien was due to take over the business. Still it was a fascinating glimpse into the rarefied world of 3 Michelin Star cuisine. 

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Monday, 20 May 2013

Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel's iconic tower is perhaps one of the most recognised buildings in the world. Certainly a potent symbol of Paris, it inspires longing and memory in many of us.

And she looks great photographed from any angle. From afar

Or up close and personal. 

I'm so looking forward to seeing her again this year. 

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy

Saturday, 18 May 2013


Last week we saw lots of special birds at Lake Macquarie. This week we just have one special bird. Audrey.

We first met Audrey back in 2001 when we spent a year living in a house right on the waterfront. It was a great year in many ways, and it was really when my interest in birds started. At one stage we noticed that there seemed to a pelican who looked injured. We rang the local wildlife rescue people to let them know, and they said "Oh Audrey? She's fine."

Twelve years later Audrey is still going fine. It's always such a thrill to see her.

Her distinctive profile is easy to spot when out for a walk
Then we found a pelican preening out the front of our holiday accommodation. I was so excited with the reflection on an idyllic calm morning, that I only realised it was Audrey when I looked at the photos later. 

Audrey's a bit like Nemo with her Lucky Wing

To me it looks like trimming your nails with garden shears

She does a great job though

She's an attractive gal 
Swimming away all preened and looking good

She groomed in the same spot a few times while we were there. It was great to see her up close.

The image quality improves markedly when you click on a photo and look at it with the lightbox.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce at home with books

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Monster Calls

I must be one of the last people on earth to read this book. It was certainly one of the big books of 2011/2012. I'd seen the striking cover around and about a lot. I'd seen many, many bloggers reading it. People on Goodreads reading it. And it won awards. Lots of awards. Big awards too. The Carnegie Medal. The Kate Greenaway Prize. The British Children's Book of the Year Award. The Red House Children's Book Award.

Still, I didn't really know anything much about the book. I hadn't read Patrick Ness before but had at least seen his books in the shops, and had never even heard of Siobhan Dowd. I was glad to take advantage of a little free time to get to a book from the TBR. I think A Monster Calls is a good book to go into with as little knowledge as possible. So if you haven't read it yet, and are inclined to, don't read much further, and go find yourself a copy.

A Monster Calls gets off to an electrifying start.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.    
He'd had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he'd been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with-

A Monster Calls is the moving story of 13 year old Conor O'Malley, bullied at school, lonely, his Dad has moved to America and started a new family, and his mother is battling a serious illness. Is his visiting monster there to help or to hurt Conor? The monster begins to tell Conor three stories in a rather Dickensian A Christmas Carol kind of way.

The Second Tale
 One hundred and fifty years ago, the monster began, this country had become a place of industry. Factories grew on the landscape like weeds. Trees fell, fields were up-ended, rivers blackened. The sky choked on smoke and ash, and the people did, too, spending their days coughing and itching, their eyes turned forever towards the ground. Villages grew into towns, towns into cities. And people began to live on the earth rather than within it.

From Jim Kay's excellent website
Award winning author Patrick Ness was asked to write A Monster Calls based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Sadly Siobhan wasn't able to write the story herself as she died from breast cancer at a mere 47 in 2007.

Stunning illustrations by Jim Kay really help build the story, and it's fitting that he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for them. The back flyleaf tells us Jim Kay used everything "from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures". The Guardian had an interesting piece on how Patrick Ness and Jim Kay worked on the book together, but without ever meeting. 

I read much of this book sitting as a passenger in a car (with Eurovision blaring as ever), still I was transported into Conor's world, and cried heartily at the end. A tribute to the powerful storytelling and illustrative powers of Patrick Ness and Jim Kay. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 15/5/13

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we've encountered in our weekly reading. 

Today's words are from my recent reading of Memoirs of a Suburban Girl. 

1. Tappets (Noun)

On your way to Surfers, the yellow Ford's tappets start tap, tap, tapping and the old girl starts sounding very sick and tired, so SB stops at a wrecking yard in a ten-house town to fish through a pile of car parts.

A tappet is a projection which imparts a linear motion to some other component within a mechanism. Wiki

A lever or projecting arm that moves or is moved by contact with another part, usually to transmit motion, as between a driving mechanism and a valve. The free dictionary. 

Picture source

I think that this would now constitute the maximum amount of time that I've ever spent wondering about an engine part.

2. Stobie pole (Noun)

And then when the older sister steered the old Holden around a sharp bend, it started to shimmy on the loose rocky balls, and she was finding it really hard to keep control, to the left, to the right, to the left, and she decided to brake heavily because she wanted to stop the car quickly but, oh, no, she was too young to know not to slam the brakes on a dirt road, and next you were all in a spin, and the car did a full circle, slid off the road into clumps of spiky grass, narrowly missed a Stobie pole, crashed through a wire fence, flipped on its side, and then over again until it landed upside down and came to a stop.

A Stobie pole is a power line pole made of two steel joists held apart by a slab of concrete in the middle. It was invented by Adelaide Electricity Supply Company design engineer James Cyril Stobie. Wiki

Picture source

I've been to Adelaide a few times but must admit to not noticing that their power poles were any different to ours. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

French Food Safari

In preparation for our own French Food Safari next month we've been revisiting the captivating SBS French Food Safari on DVD. The fabulous Maeve O'Meara and wonderful chef Guillaume Brahimi lead us on an amazing tour of France via their sensational foods. We visit Paris and some regional areas over the 9 enchanting episodes. A range of Australian chefs demonstrate classic French recipes such as bouillabaisse, steak tartare and raspberry souffle between the French stories.

The vision of course combines extraordinary Parisian vistas with the incredible array of French foods. So many shots are mouthwatering. They visit many places I'd love to go, where I will go- Ble Sucre, Le Comptoir, Pierre Herme. They hang out with masters like Paul Bocuse and Guy Savoy. Take a peek here:

Along the way we learn lots of cool stuff too.

Escoffier invented the military style system of chef hierarchy in 19th century. Chef de cuisine, sous chef, chef de partie, commis chef.

Escoffier also told us of the 3 secrets of French cooking- butter, butter and butter.

Bistro comes from the Russian word Bistra- which means hurry.

Alain Ducasse has 19 michelin stars- more than anyone else in history.

A baker, like the doctor, is someone we trust.

The Croquembuche developed by Carenne- originally in the shape of a fez, the conical shape developing later.

The French meal has been recognised by the United Nations on the World Intangible Heritage list.

The wood fired oven at Poilane has never gone out since it was first lit in the 1930s!

Finally I learnt the secret that Maeve's fabulous, distinctive tops are from Custo Barcelona.

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Memoirs of a Suburban Girl

Memoirs of a Suburban Girl isn't my typical reading fare. But I'd long remembered the amazing review from Lisa at ANZ Litlovers a little while ago. Can it really have been back in 2011? Eeep. And I'd harboured a lingering desire to read it. 

Recently I was at my library stocking up on a completely unrealistic number of books to take on a short week away- my travel reading eyes are always so much bigger than my reading stomach. But I was determined to read it before it was due back and it's such a slim little volume (a mere 158 pages) I figured I could knock it over in a few days. That turned out to be quite wrong. It actually took me a few weeks. It's a dense read despite the brevity, and I struggled a bit with the somewhat jarring use of second person plural, but I'm really glad to have finally read it. 

Memoirs of a Suburban Girl is a novel not a memoir, still it's a harrowing read. Our unnamed Suburban Girl is a 17 year old living in suburban Adelaide in 1979 when she meets Spunky Boy, SB. The relationship quickly turns violent and nasty, and yet she is enmeshed, trapped with her now Shitty Boyfriend. 

The language and soundtrack is like a flashback to my own teenage experiences. 

The week before you meet him, you race into the disco full of excitement, 'Born to be Alive' pumping out on the dance floor, darkness punctuated by strobe lighting and punters packed in like sardines. 

Thankfully that's where any similarities end though. Suburban Girl is all too soon living with SB, working to support him, cooking his meals, and being beaten and abused by him in a myriad number of ways on a daily basis. She soon works out that he is a pathological liar and his past and present is a tangled web of lies.

So you battle on. You are not stronger than him physically but inside you have all sorts of plans and thoughts and ways to kill him off. You feel like damaged goods- a dented can of corn at the supermarket, a bag with a ripped corner and the rice is starting to spill out. You keep a big brick wall around a special part of yourself and none gets access to it, and that damaged part of yourself that lies behind the wall, is your secret, your shame, your craziness, and your strength to keep going.

All the time while reading I was hoping that this was indeed a true work of fiction, but it does ring awfully true. Turns out it is indeed based on Deb Kandelaars' life experiences, Wakefield Press released it in 2011 to coincide with White Ribbon Day, a campaign to end violence against women. Memoirs of a Suburban Girl is much more than an issue based story though, it's a great read for its own sake.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Birds of Lake Macquarie 2

On my recent trip to Lake Macquarie we of course saw lots of fabulous birds.

Pelicans of course. Pelecanus conspicillatus. I love the sight of such massive birds sitting on street lights.

They don't seem to think that they look preposterous...

even though they do.

It helps to take a photographer on a walk too

There were lots of herons and egrets about. It was only going through the photos that I realised we had seen two different egrets! All looking spiffy in their breeding plumage. 

Little Egret. Egretta garzetta.

Great Egret. Ardea alba

Great Egret. Ardea alba

We saw many white faced herons too. Egretta novaehollandaie

I think the Noisy Miners could see themselves in the reflection!
They perched themselves on the car door every day
and scrabbled about on the roof.
They've never done that before

I've show you some birds at Lake Macquarie before.

Today is World Migratory Bird Day, an important day to think about ecological impacts on the estimated 50 billion birds that set off on their own extraordinary journeys. 

The image quality improves markedly when you click on a photo and look at it with the lightbox. 

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Monday, 6 May 2013

Into a Paris Quartier

I came across Into a Paris Quartier after reading Imagined London a few months ago. Imagined London was part of a series of books called National Geographic Directions. Naturally I checked out if there was a Paris book in the series and here we are.

Into a Paris Quartier couldn't be a more perfect book for me to read in preparation for my upcoming Grand Tour. Diane Johnson is an American, but she divides her time between San Francisco and the flat she and her husband own on Rue Napoleon in the historic 6th arrondissement. The flat we will be staying in this trip is in the 6th too! Too much coincidence. So very soon I was buying it online and it arrived at my door soon after.

Just as a young Anna Quindlen was forming lifelong passions for England with her childhood reading, so was Diane Johnson, who discovered Alexandre Dumas aged 9 or 10 in Moline, Illinois thanks to a Francophile librarian in her town. As an adult Diane was to marry a man whose work took him to Paris, and she came to live there in the shadow of La Reine Margot, with whom she has become mildly obsessed.

I was excited to read that the 17th century is still present in the 6th, as our flat dates from that era, and was apparently a residence for musketeers. It is rather astonishing to those from the antipodes to know that the "characteristic buildings are from the 1600s, and still form the infrastructure of everyday  life." The Left Bank opened up particularly after Pont Neuf was finished in 1606. La Reine Margot, recently divorced from Henri IV, was one of the first influential residents at that time.

Diane tells us the heyday of St Germain was from the 1940s to 60s, when it was famous for jazz and existentialism. It is somewhat dispiriting to see her call it now a glossy consumer paradise, even though it is still a haven for the foreigner/stranger/escapee, and is the most expensive arrondissement in Paris.

There is a fascinating section on the history of the Eglise St German des Pres, a church being present on the same site since the 6th century, it has been sacked and rebuilt several times. It was accidentally blown up during the revolution whilst being used as a gunpowder store. "After that, the whole wreck was in danger of being demolished, but was rescued by Victor Hugo, among others, who led a campaign to save it."

Diane has some interesting insights into modern French and America societies and the role of violence.

But we aren't yet hardened to violence as a means of social change, or only as a last resort, while the French seem to believe that actual or symbolic violence is a necessary prelude to revolution, acted out each day in the endless numbers of demonstrators marching (cheerfully these days) about something- elementary school reform, gas and electrical worker salaries, war- with festive banners and music. Is it paradoxical that with its origins in violence, theirs is a safe society and, even with our peaceful gradualism, our is dangerous and gun-ridden?

I always enjoy learning fascinating random facts.

Mirrors were an Italian technology.

Dr Guillotin experimented on sheep to perfect his instrument.

Diane recommends the Plan de Paris par Arrondissement, available at any newsstand, as an essential guide. She also recommends four left bank English language book shops- Village Voice Bookshop and San Francisco Bookshop on Rue de l'Odeon, Shakespeare and Company, and Abbey Books in the fifth.

The sixteenth century was one of constant religious turmoil in France, including the St Bartholomew Day Massacre, orchestrated by Catherine de Medicis and her son Charles IX. Many prominent Protestants had travelled to Paris for the wedding of (protestant) Henry of Navarre (who became Henry IV) to (catholic) Queen Margot.

Paris was on sale after the Revolution and "well-off middle-class people were able to buy real estate that had until then been the property of aristocrats and friends of the king- people who were beheaded".

Antoine Lavoisier was beheaded during the Revolution.

Josephine lived at #1 rue Bonaparte

Parisian buildings are required to be cleaned every 10 years.

The Bibliotheque Mazarine still has a card catalogue, the oldest entries handwritten in the 17th century.

There were 13 bridges over the Seine in Napoleon's time, 40 now.

Tuileries Palace was built by Catherine de Medici.

I enjoyed my time wandering about the sixth with Diane as my guide, it was over all too soon.

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog
Books on France, a great 2013 challenge from Emma at Words and Peace

Saturday, 4 May 2013

A week by the lake

Last week we spent a lovely relaxing week on the shores of Lake Macquarie, an hour and a half north of Sydney. 

We walked by the lake every day. It was warm. It was lovely.

No matter whether it was morning. 

Or evening. 

We saw lots of interesting characters on our walks too. 

That cat was remarkably disinterested in the birds,
just sitting enjoying the sun
I love pelicans. 

He didn't move. But why
 would you when you've got such a great pozzie?

I'm quite disappointed with the picture quality this week- not sure what is happening, they're changing by the upload somehow becoming soft and blurry, and not my gorgeous sharp photos. Anyone else having photo problems with blogger? I can't find any photo settings, and certainly haven't changed anything. 

Actually, the image quality improves markedly when you click on a photo and look at it with the lightbox. 

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books