Saturday, August 30, 2014


A work-in-progress.  It's pretty rough, but I'm not too sure I should spend much more time tinkering.  I think it gets the gist across...  Maybe a crown and a few little tweaks...  I can't believe we're closing in on five years as parents.  I know it's cliche, but it barely seems like yesterday that I was a penniless student wandering the streets of Wellington in soggy Chuck Taylors.  Eleanor was our game-changer. Thanks, Mer-chick!

And if I can get my head around png files, I'll be back with some free overlays for ya x

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On My Nightstand - August (review)

'The Jewel' - Amy Ewing

Okay, so the same day this ARC arrived in the post, I also received a package of jewels intended for Eleanor's birthday celebrations.  I mean, c'mon!  Naturally:

This cover is already pretty (gold lettering?  Um, yes please!), but the plastic jewels...  Ahhhhh....  I get my kicks where I can.

Jewels and pretty covers aside, I felt this was another solid YA debut novel.  The book blurb had me at 'auctioned as a surrogate', which is weird, because normally that line wouldn't exactly float my boat ;-).  But when it comes to YA fiction, the crazier, the better (general rule, only).

I was lured in by the premise, and after a slightly shaky start, Ewing ensured there was tension and intrigue aplenty throughout the novel.  I especially enjoyed the relationship between Violet and her 'owner' (yeah, creepy alright), and some of the side characters were favourited early on (for those who read it - Raven & Garnet - let's discuss).  The setting was luxe and this is one aspect that I particularly look forward to seeing described further in the next two novels.

The writing, though in general very smooth (the pacing really hit the sweet spot - not too crazy-fast, and def not slow), contained a few descriptions that were either clunky or unnecessary.  This occasionally grated.  Also, I would've loved to see more fleshing out of Ash's (romantic lead) character.  It didn't feel as though there was time enough for me to fall in love with Ash, so I mean, how could Violet?  Lolz (but true).

On the flip side, this really didn't resonate as a romantic novel (though the final act dedicated a bit of time to the romance, it still felt secondary), and to me that was actually a strength.  I think this story would have been every bit as interesting without any romancing, and that's to Ewing's credit.  The other relationships had enough substance to add flesh to an already interesting plot, and there were definitely enough twists and turns to keep you hooked.

I have to say, I dug the cliffhanger at the end and I'm definitely keen to see where things are taken in the follow-up novels.  Exciting possibilities = opened up.

On reading the synopsis, my mind immediately swept to 'The Handmaids Tale', but there actually isn't much that is similar.  There have been comparisons drawn with 'The Selection' (reviewed here by Angela of Striking Keys), and 'The Hunger Games' - To that I would add the 'Birthmarked' series too, both in terms of setting and themes.   This should give you a fair idea of whether you have a place for 'The Jewel' on your bookshelf.

'The Jewel' by Amy Ewing (published by Harper Collins) will be available September 2nd :-)

Harper Collins provided me with a review copy of this book.  All opinions are my own.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Disney yo

My whipper snappers are pretty lucky.  Our Playcentre paid for a trip to Disney On Ice a few weekends back, and it was almost too much excitement for our country bunnies.

They only knew who a few of the characters were, so there was lots of questioning.  This did not detract in the least from their enjoyment.  Mine either.  I didn't grow up on a diet of Disney, but I knew most of the stories one way or another.  

I wasn't sure it would completely be my cup of tea, to be honest, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Okay, some scenes dragged, and there was this whole 'pretty princess' bit that did my head in, but watching these little faces light up when Peter Pan descended, or a song began.  So worth it.

It was a lot of traveling, just for one night out, which made us all the more glad to arrive home to this.  Hello, Happiness!

Best friends are for life

But when you're little, sometimes your best friend is a tiny fluffy seal, and sometimes that best friend is also your baby.  And when you lose said bestie/fluffy-seal/baby, how exactly are you supposed to move on from that?  

I spent a good deal of time online, tracking down the replacement of a toy I'd purchased in my tweens.  To later find the real deal jammed behind the car seat.  And that's how it was that Baby Seal's cousin came to stay...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Heeeeey, Orange. I mean, Peach.

When all else fails, glue some tissue paper to a balloon.  That'll do.

This is me dressed as James and the Giant Peach.  Obv.  Are you a dress-up party fan?  How obscure do your costumes get when a) strapped for time and b) strapped for cash.  It's more fun this way, keep 'em guessing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mer-peeps party - sneak peek

So originally Eleanor and I agreed on a Fairy Party to celebrate her 5th birthday, but plans change and I'm supa glad this one did!  Because now we're prepping a Mermaid/peeps party and alllll the jewelsssss!!!  I have some seriously over the top ideas swirling around in my brain /deepbreathstaycalm.

This tiny treasure chest and most of the fake jewels were purchased off ebay.  The flatter, glass jewels (red, pink, clear) were discovered in a $2 store in Mt. Eden.  I have some strings of beads too, and hope to create a Mermaid grotto down at the beach somewhere.  I have already roped friends in to dress as mermaids.  Yuss!

 I'll keep you posted as ideas develop into for reals, but couldn't resist this little sneak peek.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Party: /ˈpɑːti/ — n, pl -ties. 4. Games

Hmm, party games.  I'm gonna keep this one brief, though I think there are some super cool ways to bring it to the party games devision of party planning.

It's just that there are many, many peops who are much more inventive than I, when it comes to creating party games.  This is something I'm working on, actually, because with growing kiddos, pass the parcel isn't always going to cut it anymore.   I still maintain that kids are naturals at creating their own entertainment, so really, setting the scene is sometimes all you even need (and yep, often you don't need even that - but for the purpose of these posts, let's just roll with it).  It's good to have a plan though, eh.

Really I only have a couple of super lazy tips to give (directed at a party throwing newb, not all of you experts out there):

+ Don't reinvent the wheel.  Take an old favourite and put a spin on it to suit your theme.  Pin the feather on the flamingo's bum, dinosaur salad (like fruit salad, but with dino names), whatever.

+ Read them a story.  So underrated, but actually a really effective way to keep the tone of the party nice and calm.  They can do some running around later to burn off some sugar, but an on-theme story is such a nice simple way to set the mood when guests first arrive.

+ Self-directed games ftw!  The less you have to do with it, the better.  If you can rope in an older child then yuss!  Even better if you can give your kiddos some instructions and and leave them to it (with some supervision, of course).  Obviously this is easier with older kids, but if you keep it simple, this can be achieved with younger kids too.

+ Balloons, balloons, balloons!  Kids never seem to get tired of these, and so often they seem to be the biggest winner at birthday parties.  If all else fails, start handing out balloons *nodding sagely*...

Told ya I didn't have much!  But I'm working on something a bit more exciting for a certain lass's 5th birthday, and it involves hiring some mates to do the entertaining.  My laziness knows no bounds...

More party posts:
Birthday Invites
Party Decorations
Party Food

Saturday, August 16, 2014

On My Nightstand - July (review + giveaway)

'Spark' - Rachel Craw

So a few months ago, my reading challenge ground to a standstill.  I'd just finished some really great books, and couldn't quickly enough find myself a new one.  So, I just... stopped.  Luckily for me, a book on my To Read list was released not long ago.  This one came pre-recommended by Miriam of Create Hope Inspire, and received a glowing review from Angela of Striking Keys, two bloggers that I wholeheartedly trust.

Okay, preamble over.  Needless to say, I immediately got my hands on a copy (two, actually, as it turns out), and finally broke the book drought.  Double-yay!  And the book was great!  Triple-yay!

'Spark' sets out with an unusual and super interesting premise, wherein 17 year old Evie (protag) discovers that she must act as a human shield for her bestie, thanks to some government-experiment-gone-wrong-and-now-I-am-a-human-weapon revelation.  There's also this wannabe-and-trying-really-hard-to-be assassin for her to deal with STAT, offering immense amounts of intrigue and tension.  Because, dude's a psycho, and unfortunately he has the same freaky-deaky powers that Evie does.

Oh man, I had a thousand theories about who the assassin was, which is the bestest funtimes when you are reading/watching a story unfold.  I'm a closet CSI fan (um, not so closet any more), so yep, this book was fun.  And nope, I predicted none of the happenings in the final leg of the novel.

As for the romancey side of things, this was well drawn out, and had all the barely-contained tension that you'd expect from a YA novel.  Oh those young adults *shakes head*.  But really, I thought he was a well-worthy romantic lead (and sometimes they're not, amiright?), and I'm definitely curious to see where this goes next.

Which brings me to, the next up...  Two more books to look forward to, yuss!!  Oh the trilogy, happiest of story formats.  Craw has left plenty of room to explore and world-build, and I for one will be lining up for the next instalment... And did I mention that this is a debut novel?  By a New Zealand author?  Props!  'Spark' will definitely hold its own on the international stage, yay kiwis!

Okay, so in my rush to read this book I purchased myself a copy - completely forgetting that I'd requested a review copy from Walker Books.  Hmph.  So now I have a brand, spanking new copy of 'Spark' to give away to a keen reader!  Or parent of a keen reader (because much as I refute it, I'm not actually still a young adult).  Just leave a comment here, and I'll draw a winner sometime soon (deliberately vague - I know myself well enough not to give an exact date).  Open to anyone living EnZed-side xx

Thank you to Walker Books for sending out a review copy of 'Spark' by Rachel Craw. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Traveling With Kids

Before we go on, I didn't really mean to lead this post with a pic of flashing blue and red lights, but I just really quite like that photo << humble.

The prospect of a long car journey doesn't always fill me with excitement and anticipation.  Sure, the destination, yup.  But there's this whole big bit between travel planning (fun!) and arrival (fun!), and that one bit, it can be a whole lot of terrifying.  

I've found that our best bet for ensuring long-distance travel goes smoothly has everything to do with how well we plan.  And it's not just the travel either.  Taking kiddos away from their daily comforts and routines can be super challenging for everyone involved, but with a little bit of preparation, the transition can be managed without too much drama.  Some drama, yes.  

Before the trip:  I've learnt (the hard way) that a prepared child is a happy child.  Rather than springing it upon them as I have done in the past ("Hey kids!  Today we are traveling for 8 hours so that we can sleep in a different house for the next five days!" - admittedly they were younger then, but still), I now know that a little forewarning can make the world of difference.  Particularly if a little emphasis is placed on certain appealing aspects  - cousins they'll get to see, exciting activities, car treats etc.

Packing is something I dedicate a fair amount of time to (or over-packing, as I generally come to realise halfway through the trip when I can no longer zip my suitcase closed), with emphasis on those special few items that will make them feel cozy and comfortable in their new abode.  Favorite soft toys, books and other items related to nighttime rituals are the. most. important things I will pack.  Most things can be replaced, if needed (though preferably they won't), but heaven forbid I ever leave Bubba behind...

Timing our trip is also important, if this is something we have control over.  Certain parts of the day are easier to travel for a variety of reasons (road-works, traffic etc etc), and it's worth considering the optimal travel time for your babies too.  Ensuring that they can fit in a full nap before you need to stop for gas or food will save you a headache, or consider traveling at night so they can just sleep on through...

For the car trip:  Food and entertainment, basically.  Perfect road trip food for our whanau includes: fruit (particularly soft fruits that pose less of a choking hazard), juice boxes (novelty + no mess), organic sachet baby food (this is the best road trip food EVER!  My kids love it and it's mess/choke free), one square meal muesli bars and dried fruit.  Sandwiches and pizza slices work for us grown-ups, but generally don't appeal to my kiddos when we are traveling.

In-car entertainment is quite a balanced art, I have found.  Garland in particular can lose. the. plot during long road trips, so some serious preparation is needed to ensure he is kept occupied.  Of course, a well-timed nap will save everyone's sanity, but it's not something you can totally rely on, unfortunately.  Still, our last few roadies have gone without a hitch, and without, I might add, the use of electronic devices.  Wiiiiiin!!!!!!

'Happy kid, happy car-trip' strategies:  Dole out your chosen entertainment little by little.  Audio books are the shiz for road trips, but I use them sparingly, for maximum effectiveness.  By holding off for as long as possible, I have a sure-bet mood lifter waiting up my sleeve for that ever dreaded moment when I will need it most.  I'm talking about the in-car-sibling-fight.  Worst.  Also, def have some favourite music ready for when everyone needs a little pepping up.  Our last trip included a lot of Daft Punk.  It kept everyone happy.

And definitely, definitely, pack equal and if possible, identical entertaining items because there's nothing more frustrating (for everyone) than scrapping over a toy.  Tried and true in-car entertainment for us includes: Audio books, actual books, colouring/activity books, kid magazines, pads of paper, coloured pencils, pencil sharpeners (a whole bunch of entertainment right there, for reals), stickers, small toys (cars, Schleich, little dolls etc), simple puzzles, pinball type games, toy cellphones, playing cards (esp. Happy Families and so on).  Basically, plastic crap, which I am mostly opposed to.  But desperate times, people, desperate times...  Keep your bag of toys & snacks at your feet, ready to hand out one by one when needed.

Water and toilet stops are essential, because DUH.  But, for a newly toilet trained child (or even in the past six months), you may want to give them a nappy to wear for the trip to avoid any accidents.  On longer road trips you will probably want to stop for a walk at some point, but do not - I REPEAT, DO NOT stop too early.  It will be super hard to get your kids back into the car after this, and you will probably need some extra incentive, so save something special for this very moment.

Arriving at your destination:  The first night is always the worst, so it's best to prepare yourself for a rough sleep.   We find it helpful to have our kids assist us in unpacking and making our sleeping space cozy, using this as an opportunity to talk through what will happen.  We emphasise that everything will be just as it is at home, we'll be very close at hand and all the normal bedtime rituals will be kept to.  Having a calm and quiet first night will help your babies adjust, making subsequent nights much easier and more relaxed.

This next tip is super hard to stick to, but so, so worth it.  Most of us start planning for a trip by making a long list of all the things we would love to do.  With small kiddos in tow, it's best to plan for far fewer activities than you would actually like to achieve.  For preschoolers, one big thing per day is more than enough, and even possibly too much, depending on your chosen activities.

If you are visiting a spot with lots of attractions, I fully recommend spacing out the most exciting/exhausting ones with some smaller activities in between.  Walks to local parks, botanical gardens, cafe visits, things like that.  My biggest piece of advice would be to keep your afternoons 100% free for resting, and trust me, the kiddos won't be the only ones who need it.

Returning home:  Whatever you do, don't overlook the planning of your return trip.  This is possibly the most important part to have a contingency for.  Your kids will be tired, you will be tired, and you won't have the prospect of a fun, exciting holiday to keep you feeling chipper.  Sanity-wise, you will all be on the very, very edge.  Save some toys for this bit, find some novel snacks, keep a favourite album or two in reserve, and if all else fails, make sure your phone/tablet has a full battery.   It can be nice to plan a quick, fun stopover for your return journey, just to give everyone something to look forward too.

Plus, don't forget your own entertainment!  I managed to read a huge chunk of this Laini Taylor instalment, while we journeyed home from the Hawkes Bay.  It was like, the best long-boring-drive evah.  And sometimes(often) I take really boring photos of things we are driving past.  YOU KNOW THIS ALREADY!  I love to post these photos!  I am cool!!!  Hehe!  It's why you love me, right?!  Don't... answer that...

And plus, plus, plus, don't forget to look after your driver.  There will come a point when they really need you to play that one album that everyone else hates but they really love.  Suck it up.  Also, they like fun little snacky food too!  And coffee!  Probably.  If they drink coffee.  Well anyway, you know your driver better than I do.  In fact, maybe you are the driver!  So look after yourself!  Get hold of a really great, exciting audio book, or like, pretend you're in a movie travel montage (also a fun game for passengers, fyi).

So that's it, that's my 'traveling with kids' tips for y'all.  We don't travel that often, but when we do, our journeys are fairly lengthy (I mean, that's all very relative, but I think anything more than 3 hours in a car with kiddos and you are gonna need a plan).  

These are my tips for traveling with pre-schoolers, but I would love to know your tips for traveling with older children.  In particular if those tips eliminate the need for iPads and other devices.  Favourite car games?  Audio books?  Snacks?  We'll have a five year old soon, and we'll need to up our game, I think!