Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Not Again Dad! by Thurley Fowler, illustrated by Craig Smith- Review by Carlyn

When I was in third grade, my teacher read Not Again Dad! to the class. It was a new book at the time and Miss Taylor assured us that we would love it. We did love the book that she read it twice to us. The teacher in the following year, read the book to the class as well.  I read the book a few times as a child too. I’m currently collecting all my favourite books, so I wanted to have Not Again Dad in my collection. It was difficult finding the book as it is no longer in print but I was lucky to find a copy in a thrift shop.

Not Again Dad!  is an early reader chapter book. It’s about the Robert family and how they cope when the mother goes away for a conference. The Dad is an office worker who takes time off work to look after the children for three weeks. The mother is a homemaker who recently returned to the workforce.  Paul is aged 11 who loves to play sports. He is the cricket captain and fastest swimmer in his class. His younger sister Juliet is learning to play the piano and how to dance ballet.

The children soon find that dad taking care of them is different to how their mother does it. The children have to walk to school by themselves instead of being driven. Paul learns that if he wants to wear clean school uniforms, he must put his clothes in the laundry to be washed. He learns this the hard way when he has nothing to wear. Juliet learns that she is capable of tying her own bow in her hair and keeping her shoes clean. Both Children have to make their own beds and wash the dishes after meals.

The children realize how much their mother did for them. At first they grumble at having to do chores but they both get better at doing things for themselves. Paul takes the longest time to adjust as he doesn’t think the fastest swimmer and cricket captain should do those things. He’d rather concentrate on his sports.  Juliet is proud that she can tie her own hair ribbon and shine her shoes. He teacher commented on it and it made Juliet happy.

The dad unknowingly embarrasses Paul while taking him to his extracurricular activities. Paul is at the age where parents can be embarrassing. He tells his father that he can’t talk to his swim coach while the lesson is progressing nor should he talk to the mums along the sidelines. So the dad stops doing those things and becomes seemingly busy with other stuff. Paul then complains that the dad is not paying enough attention to him. A parent can’t win!

Juliet gets on better with her father but is upset that he always forgets to pick her up from ballet and piano. A mishap which leaves her almost bald causes Juliet to not talk to her father until he fixes things.

Despite the mishaps, the dad always tries to do things better. One thing the children love about him is his cooking. For a couple of nights, he cooks a stew he learnt to make in cub scouts when he was a boy. His children love the stew until he serves it almost every day, hence why the book is called Not Again Dad.

I hope I can read this book to my own class one day and that they will like the book. I think it has so many conversation points that I could discuss with them about home life. I think there are many families where one parent does most of the childrearing and domestic work. It’s not a bad thing at all and it is not the only way families work.

What I did get out of this book is that if I were to have children, I would like them to have chores. It would not only help our family but it will give children life skills needed when they are adults. While people can learn how to cook and clean when they are adults it would be easier for them if they already knew how to do those things.

I think this book is a good bedtime story book and something that children can read independently. The font is a good size and there are some pictures in the book. If you ever come across Not Again Dad! I recommend that you buy it. It’s a cute little book for children and it can be a nostalgia trip for adults.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Entertainment Monday: Belle (31 August 2015)

I have a terrible habit of procrastinating. I’m easily distracted when I am on a computer and instead of doing what I’ve intended to do, I end up reading blogs, Buzzfeed, looking up stuff on Wikipedia and watching Youtube. I am more aware of that bad habit and it has been my goal this year to not be so distracted.
On one of my deviations, I ended up reading about Dido Elizabeth Belle (1751-1804). She was an English woman who was the illegitimate daughter of Captain John Lindsay and an African woman named Maria Belle. Her father took responsibility for her when her mother died and asked for her to be raised by his uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. The Earl was reluctant at first but welcomed her into the family. She was like a cherished daughter to the Earl as his wife could not bear children.


Dido’s circumstances were extraordinary in her time because she was half black and illegitimate. Most children who were from unmarried couples were shunned by society. Usually, they were hidden away and their true heritage would be kept a secret. The father was not obligated to pay for child support and some abandoned women when they got pregnant.  

Mixed race children, especially those where one of the parents is not Caucasian was considered scandalous. During colonial times, some men got into relationships with the local people and slaves which were frowned upon. Their mistresses were kept back in their homelands and were a secret.

Belle is a film about Dido Elizabeth Belle. It begins with Dido being taken by her father to be raised by her uncle William Murray after her mother died.  Initially, her family is reluctant to take her because of her background and worried about their reputation. The Murrays also raise their other niece, Elizabeth Murray who is also illegitimate but unlike Dido, she is not of mixed race.

The film then progresses to when the girls reach adulthood. Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) have two different futures because of their circumstances. Dido’s family doesn’t think anyone of rank would want to marry her and will not allow her to marry anyone who is socially beneath her. They ask her to prepare for life as a spinster and running the household. Elizabeth is to prepare for her debut into society and must marry someone rich as she has been left with no fortune.

Dido attracts the attention of Oliver Ashford (James Norton) who is prepared to overlook her heritage. Dido’s family approve of the match as he is from a suitable family. While Dido finds Oliver pleasant enough she is displeased by his stance regarding her African heritage and believes he only wants her because of her fortune.  In addition, she is also wary of Oliver’s brother, James (Tom Felton) who thinks having a mixed race person in the family would sully their name.

Dido also meets John Davinier (Sam Reid), a young law student who is championing the ending of slavery. They are both interested in the case of the Zong Massacre which involved the deliberate drowning of diseased slaves. Dido’s uncle, Lord Murray is deciding upon the case which will set in motion the path to abolishing slavery. Her uncle doesn’t understand why Dido would be concerned over the case as her own circumstances are so good.  Dido explains that she’ll always be a daughter of a slave and that it could have been her life without the intervention of her father.

I really enjoyed this film because it’s based on a real person and I liked the romance and the issues about race and social divide. I knew that Dido would have a happy ending because I had already read her biography but I didn’t know how they would show it. There isn’t much written about her but people speculate about her life. I read that she was an intelligent and charming woman.
The real Dido with her cousin Elizabeth 
I gather from watching the film that she lived in extraordinary circumstances. While she was a noblewoman who lived in a beautiful estate and had her own fortune, she was still stuck by the conventions of her time. Her family preferred for her to eat alone when company came over to avoid shocking them with the presence of a mixed race person. She was too high born to eat with the servants but too inferior to eat with guests. People stared at her and said unkind remarks just because of the colour of her skin.

Dido was always an outsider because of her heritage which is a little saddening. Thankfully people are more accepting of people of different races in modern times. If Dido was born in our time, she could be whoever she wanted to be. I’m guessing with her intelligence, good looks and fortune, she would be in a position to have a successful life.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Entertainment Monday: Saratoga Race Track (Monday 8/24/2015)

Saratoga Race Track: Horse Racing

This past Wednesday 8/19/2015 Momma Bear, Jon Bear and Jon Bear's sister in law Shirley Bear all went out to see a day at the races at the Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York, which is only a hop, skip and jump away from Albany, NY where Jon Bear lives.  Prior to the race we had a very nice lunch at The Old Bryan Inn in Saratoga. 

Old Bryan Inn Link

For an appetizer we all shared the Rosemary Garlic Duck Lollipops and the Crab Meat Watermelon salad.  They were two unique appetizers that I had never had before.  The Duck Lollipops were a lot like meatballs on a stick, but were drizzled in some kind of cheese and were very tasty.  The Crab Meat and Watermelon Salad was even better.  It had a spicy kick to it though, as there may have been some jalapeno mixed in with the salad portion.  We needed spoons, which Corey our server did provide for us, for the salad as it was quite watery with all the cut melon.  Jon Bear had their Filet Mignon Cheese Steak sandwich,  while Shirley Bear had the French Onion Prime Rib Sandwich.  Momma Bear got the Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya.  We also picked up a Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya to go for Robert Bear, Jon Bear's brother, who was not able to make the trip with his wife and our Mom.  

We all enjoyed our meals and the entire meal for 4 was reasonably priced as I also had a couple of beers with my meal.  All told the bill was around $125.00 after tip I think.  A gift certificate was used so I'm not exactly certain of the final bill, but given we were in Saratoga Springs, all in all it was a reasonable fare. 

Prior to the race we also tried to go to a specialty Olive Oil Shop in downtown Saratoga, but unfortunately they were closed for an Employee Appreciation Day.  Their Burlington, Vermont store had mentioned on the company website that it would be closed for the Employee Appreciation Day, but no mention was made as to the closing of their other locations.  Needless to say we were a bit let down and disappointed.  We did not let it spoil our mood for the races though.

 Saratoga Race Track

The Saratoga Race track is a little bit tricky to get in to.  We got in line to get tickets to enter and for tickets to sit in the grandstand.  We paid for tickets to the grandstand for $10.00 a piece but were not given (nor did we pay for) the tickets to enter, which we had asked for.  Therefore we had to go to another line to get our tickets to enter the premises for an additional $5.00 a piece.   I am not entirely sure why the could not sell us the entry tickets and the grandstand tickets together instead of putting us through the small hassle of having to wait in two lines.  Thankfully it was not a very busy day at the track though so we moved through rather quickly.  The weather was pleasant, albeit a bit warm as it was a mostly sunny day with temperatures around 90 F or 22.2 C.  So sitting in the grandstand kept the warm summer sun off of us at least.  

Shirley was the only one of the three of us who knew how to place a bet, so she acted as our bookie. I have been to the Saratoga Race track in the past but had never bet on any horses before.  I bought $80.00 with me but only ended up spending $28.00 on bets as I am not a big spender or adept gambler.  Shirley got in a bet for the 1st race but Mom and I did not begin placing bets until the second race.  I ended up picking the winning horse in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th races of the day.  There were 10 races on the bill.  I also picked the Place Winner correctly in the 7th race.  I only bet on races 2-7 and quit when I had a net gain of $3.00 with my winnings.  I think my mom and Shirley also roughly broke even for the day.  Shirley was the most ambitious better of the three of us and was in rather poor shape going into the 8th race of the day having lost around $180.00.  Mom and Shirley decided that that 8th race would be their final race of the day so we could all beat the traffic home prior to the finish of the last two races.  Thankfully Shirley pulled off the miracle trifecta in a photo finish on the 8th race and won a little over $200.00 ultimately salvaging her near net loss of $180.00.  We had a lot of fun and it was a nice thing to do for a change, as none of us are regular race goers.  Mom and Shirley had last gone to the races 2 years ago.  

As a bit of a side note the horse I bet my most money on was named Lemon Song.  I placed a $4.00 bet on him to win the 3rd race of the day, and he came through for me! YAY Lemon Song! *Jon Bear does the Lemon Song dance*.   His name stood out to me because of a fun little inside thing that Carlyn and I share about Lemons.  As soon as I saw his name I knew I had to bet on him even if he was not the favorite.  It turned out he had the 2nd best odds to win so his payout was not a whole lot on my measly little bet.  I am sure Carlyn will appreciate that I took a chance on him and be equally delighted as I was that he won his race! 

Next weekend the big race of the year, The Traver's Stakes (with roughly a 1.75 million dollar purse) will be taking place in Saratoga.  Tickets are already sold out and it was just officially announced that the triple crown winner American Pharoah (the horsies name is actually spelled incorrectly as Pharaoh is spelled with the A prior to the O, but when you win millions of dollars who really cares how your name is spelled?)  will be racing for the Traver's Stakes.  I imagine it will be something of a madhouse at Saratoga Race track and that the pomp and circumstance will be accompanied by a sellout crowd in full race day regalia.  I'm sure that the parents of students returning to Skidmore College in Saratoga will be delighted by all the additional traffic, with the college opening up on the same weekend for returning students. >.<  Ah, such is life though.  Perhaps they will attend the races and win a bit of cash to make the traffic headaches a bit more bearable.  =)

I would absolutely go to the races again, as the racetrack and town are both beautiful places to visit.  The betting makes it a bit more fun too.  Especially if you are able to break even or win a little bit of money.  =)  I think the Travers can be a bit of a zoo (I actually went to watch the Travers one year even though I did not bet on any horses) but some people don't mind that as much as I do.  So for myself, I'd likely go on a non Travers weekend. 

The track is only open from late July to beginning of September so racing season is not long.  I believe their is a short harness track racing season following the regular racing season, but don't quote me on it.   If any of our readers get the chance to visit the Capital Region of New York State in late Summer, the track and Saratoga town itself is a must visit.  

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Cairns Story Part 7

Paul’s special request during our trip to Cairns was to visit Crystal Caves. Crystal Caves is located in the neighbouring town of Atherton. It’s actually not a real cave but museum and gift shop specializing in gems, minerals and fossils. The museum is set up as a cave with stones and such inland into the walls.

Paul and I were given construction helmets to enter the museum. I asked if the helmets were for fun and the clerk said they were needed to provide protection in the cave and the headlights added light. We entered the tunnel into the cave which was cramped and dim, the lights from our helmets shone on the crystals and other rocks. There were little labels and information to show what the rocks were; we were told we were allowed to touch them too.

The cave opened out to other areas and rooms. The best feature was the Empress of Uruguay which is the World’s biggest Amethyst Geode. It was three meters tall and placed in a dark room with a water feature. It was spectacular to see because its size and beauty.  

After that, we explored other parts of the cave which also had other curiosities besides rocks and crystals like one of those static spheres that make your hair stand up.

I was still a bit sick from yesterday’s experience so I wasn’t in the best of spirits. In all honesty, I wanted to get out of there as quick as possible but I took my time in the museum anyway. We had paid for it and Paul had really wanted to come here. Paul said I didn’t look enthusiastic about being there and the photos of me prove it. So I felt a bit conflicted about what to do. Sometimes when you are sick you just have to keep going forward while other times you should drop everything and rest. In the end, we both agreed that I wasn’t up to doing any more sightseeing for the day. We would go out again tomorrow. I told Paul that he could go sightseeing by himself but he didn’t want to.

Before we left Crystal Caves, we looked around the vast gift shop. There was a huge selection of jewelry and trinkets made from crystals and other rocks. I helped Paul to select various presents for people back home. The prices were really affordable and the staff was super friendly.

You can find previous Cairns stories here

Babysitters Club book: Kristy + Bart =? By Ann M. Martin- Review by Carlyn

The Babysitters Club was one my favourite book series when I was growing up. I haven’t read all the books as there are more than a hundred books including all the spinoffs and special editions. I am trying to collect them all. I am mainly interested in the old editions which are easy to find in most thrift shops. Kristy +Bart=? is the latest one I have purchased.

The Babysitters Club is about seven girls aged 13 and 11 who babysit in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, New York. The focus is on one of the girls per book. This book is about Kristy Thomas who is the president of the Babysitters Club. She is thirteen years old and she is the one that came up with the idea to form a club.

Kristy is the tomboy of the group. She is outspoken, bossy, athletic and funny. Kristy lives in a big family of six siblings and her mom, step dad and grandmother. She has a lot of practice babysitting. Kristy also manages a softball team made up of neighbourhood kids called Kristy’s Krushers. They are all the kids who are too young to go to Little League. Her team versus the Bashers who are lead by another thirteen year old called Bart.

Kristy and Bart are good friends but Bart wants Kristy to be her boyfriend. Kristy doesn’t feel like she’s ready to have a boyfriend yet. A secondary storyline is that the babysitters decide to entertain their charges by asking them to attempt their own version of world records. The children enthusiastically agree and start doing crazy records. The records include most hats worn in a single sitting, fastest rendition of I’ve been working on the railroad, potato throwing, largest dead fly collection and most bananas peeled by feet.

The record attempts were a bit chaotic and as a party pooper I didn’t approve of the wastage of food. I know that the chaos is meant to be entertaining and the book is aimed at children though.

The main storyline about Kristy and Bart’s potential romance was okay. I didn’t know which way it was going to go until the end. There is an author’s note at the back of the book explaining that the Ann. Martin wanted to address that she wrote this book to tell young people it is okay not being ready for a relationship. Kristy was the best choice to explore the issue as she is the least romantic out of the girls.

Another book review of an Ann M. Martin book

Monday, 17 August 2015

Entertainment Monday: Paddington ( 17 August 2015)

Paddington Bear was one of my favourite characters when I was growing up. I had a pop up Paddington bear book which I loved to pull all the tabs and lift up all the flaps. I was delighted to learn about the new live action film of Paddington Bear. I think it is fortunate that CGI has reached such a level that they can do this kind of movie.


The story starts with an unnamed explorer who wanders through darkest Peru. He encounters some extraordinary bears that are curious and intelligent. He teaches them to talk and how to get on in society. Afterwards, he returns home to London and tells them they can visit him any time and receive a warm welcome.

Paddington Bear is born many years later. He lives with his aunt Lucy and uncle Pastuzo until an earthquake destroys their home. Aunt Lucy is too old to take care of him and sends him to London. Paddington arrives in London and is taken in by the Brown family until they can find the explorer.

I enjoyed watching the film and I know that my younger self would have loved this film. I think the movie captures the charm of Paddington Bear. He’s a good bear who gets into a lot of mishaps. I thought the humor in the film suited in the film as well and the characters were wacky but endearing in their own way.
The humans featured in the film were Hugh Bonneville as Mr Henry Brown who use to be a fun and daring man until he had children. His family regard him as the fun police, who insists on safety and education. Then there is his wife Mary (Sally Hawkins) who champions Paddington welfare and believes he belongs in their family. The Brown’s son, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) instantly takes to Paddington, while their daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) takes some time to warm to him.
 I liked how Paddington describes preteen Judy, as suffering from something called embarrassment, which is a stage where children are embarrassed at everything that their family does and just wants to fit in with other kids. I believe I went through that time as well. It’s awfully annoying for other people when children go through that stage. They are so disdainful and moody. I sometimes see it as I a primary school teacher.
Nicole Kidman stars as Millicent, the villain in the story. Her character wants to taxidermy Paddington. I thought she made a good villain as she seemed to embrace the silly villain character with enthusiasm. Peter Capaldi had a small role as Mr Curry, the Brown’s kill joy stickler neighbor who doesn’t think it’s proper to have a bear in the neighborhood. I thought he was pretty good too.

The sets were beautiful and fanciful particularly the Brown’s house and the Geography Guild. The Brown’s all had beautiful rooms which matched their personalities. I love the entrance of their house which had a spiral staircase and a big tree mural which changed to reflect the mood in the story. For example, in a sad part of the movie, all the leaves blew off the mural. Jonathan’s room with a large moon mural and mecanno toys was particularly striking.

I think this movie is good to watch with small children. I’m sure they will find the story charming and entertaining.  

You might also enjoy this review of a Paddington Bear book:

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Cairns Story Part 6

Today was the most anticipated and expensive part of the trip. I had booked a tour of the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the biggest reef in the world and is known for the beautiful sea life and coral. Things did not go as planned on this trip and it quickly became the worst five hours of my life to date.

I should have known from looking at the weather that it would be a rough journey. We booked a day cruise that would be taking us to the outer reef where we could go on a glass boat tour and submarine. There would also be a buffet and snorkelling.  

The crew warned us that we would be experiencing choppy waves due to the rainy weather. They said there was a potential that we would experience seasickness. Paul and I were not worried as we had been on boats before and never got seasick. The first few times the boat heaved, we laughed because it was exciting but afterwards the nausea kicked in.

Pretty soon, there were a bunch of queasy people and the staff started handing out sick bags. They told anyone who felt sick to go outside to the back of the boat to the most stable part of the boat. Paul and I were on the second floor and it was a little scary going down the stairs while the boat pitched. I was worried that I would break my neck. I had to hold the banister with two hands and go downstairs backwards.

When I arrived outside, there were already a bunch of people suffering from seasickness. It was just a bunch of puking, pale faces. I even vomited twice. The staff was really busy handing out bags and ice to everyone. There wasn’t much they could do. We were assured that once we got to the pontoon that it would be better because we would be out in the fresh air and the pontoon would be more stable.

At the pontoon I didn’t feel much better. A pontoon is just a platform out in the middle of the ocean. It was storming but people would get wet anyway because they were off for water activities. The rain was heavy and the wind was coming in sideways. As I was exiting off the boat, the wind blew my glasses off my face and they skidded onto the platform. I saw that one of my lenses had popped out and so I spent some time looking for it.

Unfortunately, I could not find the lens anywhere but I did inform the staff that I was missing one should anyone find it. It is probably in the ocean. My left lens sometimes popped out due to a screw being loose in the glass frame. I was soaking wet and still feeling queasy and dejected from losing the lens so I went back on the boat.

I spent the remainder of the day at the back of the boat. I just felt a bit sick from time to time so I didn't do anything but wait for when we would return to the mainland. The tour was from 9am to 5pm. Paul felt better when we reached the platform so he went on the glass bottom boat tour. He said it was interesting but that I wouldn't have been able to survive it. The glass boat was rocking even more than the main boat and the pontoon.

During the middle of the day, something tragic almost happened. A woman had drowned but thankfully was resuscitated. I remember that suddenly one of the lifeguards was ringing a bell and some of the staff ran into the boat to grab a medical kit and an oxygen tank.  Paul said he saw what happened as he was sitting in the sun lounge on the pontoon. He saw a woman being dragged back to the boat in snorkelling gear. She was unconscious and the staff quickly went to help her. I don’t know what happened to her afterwards but I don’t think she returned back to the boat. The boat tour has a helicopter at the pontoon so perhaps they flew her back to the mainland.

After that episode, the boat returned back to normal. People still snorkelled, went on the boat tours and hung out. I felt a little better so I went to join Paul on the sun deck. I wasn't well enough to do anything else so I just laid down on a deck chair until it was time to go home.

Thankfully on the ride home, the weather was much calmer. It was still a dreary grey day but the waves were not as bad. I was so appreciative of being on dry land again. So, I learned that I can get seasickness if the weather is rough. Paul wants to go whale watching during the next school vacation but I said it might be something he has to do alone. I am a bit fearful about getting seasick again.

I still it is worthwhile to see The Great Barrier Reef, it was just a bad day. 

Previous Cairns stories

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