Review: “Lord of the Darkwood” by Lian Hearn

I’ve long been a fan of Lian Hearn, and reviewed the first edition of the new series here. This series is a little different in that it has been published in both two- and four-book formats, with the two-book series having Part 1 & 2 in the first edition and Part 3 & 4 in the second edition. If I was buying this for a teenager I might buy the four book series (one part per book) so that the reading was a little bit more bite-sized. Regardless, I think it would be enjoyed, especially by those hard-to-please teenage boys!

LordOfDarkwood

This series follows on the story of Shikanoko but he almost takes a backseat to the rise of his sons and the next generation, infants in the first edition. In particular, one son – Mu – rises from personal grief to become the closest thing that the story has to a classical hero. Another brother, Kiku, takes advantage of circumstances and mystic power to build a personal empire.

This novel continues on the mysticism of the first edition, with a much clearer presence of the tengu – bird-like goblins that are part of Japanese mythology. The inclusion of the tengu felt natural rather than a handy plot device, despite the assistance that they offer some of our heroic characters. Spirits, both good and malevolent, abound and there was a moment (I won’t spoil it for you) that was almost Disney-like in magic.

If I had one peeve with this novel, it was that the ending felt a little rushed. In limiting the series to four books rather than the five from the Tales of the Otori series, the last few chapters of Lord of the Darkwood were a little action-heavy as loose ends were tied up. I did like, however, the connection that readers were able to make at the end of the novel to the Otori series – while it’s not a necessity to have read these books to enjoy Emperor of the Eight Islands and Lord of the Darkwood, it was a nice nod to long-time readers. Still a quality read, one I would gladly recommend to any lover of fantasy fiction.

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At two and a half…

Originally I thought that I would do this annually but the reality is that you are changing so fast that I worry if I don’t capture this moment now, there are things I might forget.

You know your first sight letter – E – and you love to pick it out in words. You actually understand now that writing means something and you often ask me what other letters are. It blows my mind. On the other hand, you really do not seem to care about colours at all. I’ll admit I get frustrated that you’ll say that you want the green one when you want the blue one and I honestly sometimes wonder whether you are colourblind – I’ll feel like such an ass if you actually are.

Every dang time we take the stroller anywhere

You are so well-mannered – well, most of the time… you are two after all. Your carer tells me how good you are with sharing, and that makes me happy. I worried as an only child that it might come as a challenge to you but I needn’t have. The girls at the chippery we often go to on a Friday night fall over themselves with how polite you are when you order – “Hot dowg, pweeez. No sauce, bank-ooo” – and how you sit patiently with one of the “books” and wait for your order.

Speaking of hot dogs, you are OBSESSED. We have a tradition of getting takeout on Friday and for a while, you wouldn’t choose anything else. Now, it’s a pretty even match between hot dogs and sushi for your favourite fast food, which I’m a little happier about! You’re a typical toddler in that you aren’t much of a vegetable fan, but you would quite happily eat chilli beans all day every day! You’re also insistent that you get a “fluffy” whenever we go to a cafe… I have no one but myself to blame for that one.

You hated Spider-Man. At a party a couple of months back, “Spider-Man” showed up to surprise the birthday boy and you weren’t having a bar of it. You refused to play pass-the-parcel because Spidey was in the circle. You’d play with a Spider-Man toy, but the real-life character freaked you out. You were very brave and gave him a high-five when he asked but that was as far as you were willing to go and you were so happy when he went away. Yet you’ll choose the Spider-Man socks. You crack me up, little buddy.

You are animal obsessed. Your carer has a cuddly cat called Lacey and whenever you talk about her, it’s “my Wacey”. I can’t wait until we’re in a position (hopefully in the next couple of years) to get a pet that’s actually yours, one that you can grow up with. It won’t be a cat, thanks to mummy’s allergies, but you also love doggies and bunnies so I’m sure we’ll work something out.

You freak people out with how quickly you pick up lyrics to a song. We generally listen to Six60 and Ed Sheeran in the car and you sing along to both of those, but you only really need to hear a chorus once before singing along… it made me laugh when I got a message from your dad asking if I was listening to a lot of Ariana Grande because you were singing along with Dangerous Woman on the TV. I’d never even heard that song! Your favourite song right now is one from music class – “Wobbly Jelly On A Plate”!

You think that falling over is hysterical, whether you do it intentionally or not. “Oh wook at me, I falled over” followed by a giggle is a common utterance around the house, after which you like to do the replay just to make sure I see. Then you jump up and run off yelling “I better now”😆

One of my favourite moments with you is lying in bed, as  you are getting ready to go to sleep. Since I sung it to you one night, you have loved “The Rainbow Connection”. It really does fill my heart up to the brim to lie there singing with you as you chirp along… “Why are dere so many, song about rainbow…”. No matter how cruddy the day has been or how frustrated I may have been with you, everything feels good in that moment.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s totally easy being a full-time worker and your full-time parent; sometimes I feel like I don’t have the energy that you deserve. This cuddly stage that you are going through has some perks though – it means that even on the days where I feel like I’ve been running from the moment I hop out of bed until I finish cooking your dinner, the feeling of you wrapped around my legs or in my arms still makes me feel like I’m giving you what you need.

You have shot up like a weed; it feels like you jumped from Size 1 to Size 3 clothing in the blink of an eye. Nothing on the benches is safe from you and you can open every kitchen drawer. It’s not usually a problem, apart from when you tried to help me by putting your dirty spoon away in the cutlery drawer 🙈

A couple of weeks ago, we were getting out of the car at the end of the day and you pointed upwards. “The moon, mummy. Why the moon out when it still day time?”. I told you that I didn’t know why it happened but that we could go and find out together… and we did. I can’t promise you I’ll always have the answers but I’ll help you work things out.

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Another place I call home…

 I posted on Instagram a while ago that it had struck me that when I move out of my family home, it will be the first time that one of us hasn’t been living here since my parents got engaged. As life progresses and we all go our separate ways, this will become the home for a new family – we won’t have the familiarity of walking through the doors and this being home. It got me to thinking what other places I call home, and one stood out – Kariotahi.

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Five years old, feet burning on the black sand, impatiently standing like a scarecrow while my mother smothered me in sunscreen

The time the car broke down on the way to the beach and we rolled down the hill to the mechanic with only the handbrake working

Watching people hang-glide off the cliffs

The first time I gathered up enough guts to bodyboard in on the massive surf waves

Walking down the beach with mum to “Jenny’s Rock”

Taking my boyfriend’s mum’s Toyota Camry to the beach and him getting it stuck in the sand… Twice. I didn’t even know about front and rear wheel drives… I think he did and just didn’t care

My seventeenth birthday where we carved our names in the cliff, toasting our “maturity” with bottles of Mondoro

Fish and chips and so many picnics, watching the sunset with friends 

Smoking a cigar on what would have been my mother’s 50th birthday – she gave up smoking cigarettes when she got engaged, but would still have the occasional cigar with friends so it just seemed fitting


Taking the little dude for his first ever beach swim, watching him feel the water (and taste the sand)

Cruising down the beach with Corrine in my SUV while our babies slept in the back seat, wind blowing through our hair and feeling young and carefree again – by then I’d learnt that you need a 4WD to drive on sand

Walking down the beach to “Jenny’s Rock” by myself in the biting wind, wishing that mum was waiting there to talk to

Standing, looking out westward over the Tasman Sea, looking towards the horizon and remembering how, when I was very small, I thought that if I squinted hard enough I could see Australia

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There’s something really comforting in knowing that no matter where I roam, the beach will always be there and so will the memories.

Confessions, #7

Another round of the insights into my brain (and in this case, my stomach)…

  • I am in a serious relationship with caramel right now, especially if it’s salted. It was never my go-to flavour when I was looking for a treat, but right now I am all about it. If I wasn’t being careful about my diet I swear I’d eat it every day. It weirds me out because I have never had a sweet tooth, ever.
  • I’ve started doing guided meditations and they’re actually really helping. I use the Stop, Breathe & Think app. I know at some point, when it’s more financially viable, I should really go and see a therapist and just unpack everything that has happened in the last five or so years (which is a bit mind-boggling when I actually think about it) but until then, this is my way of being kind to myself.
  • Being “the one who left” has put me in a really odd position in my groups of friends – I’ve become party to a surprising number of people (and surprising people) sharing their secret unhappiness in their relationships, asking for a sounding board. I think that sometimes unhappiness in relationships can be incredibly isolating and people will reach out when they finally find someone that they think will understand; in hindsight I did the same thing. Some have chosen to stay & it’s been a great decision, some have chosen to stay for other reasons and my heart breaks for them. Some have chosen to leave and I share both their joy and sorrow. Their stories are not mine to tell, but it’s interesting to me how the thirties are more tumultuous for some of us than our twenties ever were. Maybe we’re more confident in ourselves, know what we need and are wise enough sometimes to know when our spouses just can’t and won’t fill that need.
  • I’m surprised I’m even admitting this, but I’m hyper-vigilant about watching CJ for any behavioural regression that would indicate autism. Even though my sister’s autistic tendencies are part of her condition (one that is not hereditary), even though there is sweet FA I could actually do to “stop” it happening… Still, I watch.
  • For the last few years, I’ve been happy to claim that I “can’t run”. Back in 2010, a physio told me that given my wide-set hips and tight IT bands, I just wasn’t built for running and should focus on other lower-impact sports. Last week I was at the gym after a day that had been immensely frustrating on so many levels. I hopped on the treadmill and I just ran. And I ran and I ran and I ran. I actually was surprised how long I could run for. And the only part of me that hurt? Let’s just say I need a better-fitting sports bra. It’s still not my favourite form of exercise, but man did it cure my scratchiness. Stuff you, Mr. Physio.

Anything you’d like to confess?

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Review: “Les Parisiennes”by Anne Sebba

Something a little bit different this week – I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, and when I do it tends to be goal-focused, helping towards goals or experiences I’ve had. But I’ve always had a fascination with the second world war, and coupled with my Francophile tendencies this seemed like a perfect fit. Les Parisiennes tells largely the stories of the women who stayed in Nazi-occupied Paris, and those that managed to epitomise the “Parisienne” ideal in times where this was anything but easy.

 Sebba covers a large span of time over the course of the book – while the focus is on wartime occupied Paris, she often mentions events that have led the women in her book to make the choices that they do. Stories of late-night marriages as men head off to war, dreams unfulfilled as the world as they knew it stopped, difficult choices made as options became limited. It’s an insightful look at the human condition and what we do to survive – and what survival means to different people.


If I had one complaint it would be that in the breadth of covering these stories, there is not often the amount of depth I would like about some of the more intriguing characters. While I understand the author’s choice in showing how a cross-section of society functioned in a time of war, I often felt like she was dropping tasty little bits of bait that hooked me with no large reward.

Sebba is a careful curator with her words, mixing her own tales with the quotes of her subjects to bring situations to life. Very early on in the book she tells a story of Janet Teisser du Cros escaping Paris with her young son on an open cattle truck who notices the style and composure of another female passenger:

She was like a breath from Paris. Though she sat on the floor with us she never lost her air of neat elegance and the sight of her struck guilt into my soul; for it reminded me that I had been taking advantage of circumstances to let my standards down, an unpardonable thing in France. 

My goodness, that stuck in my mind. In times of struggle it is so easy to let things fall apart but what a powerful choice to keep it together with your head held high. Be the class amongst the muck.

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42

Being raised by sci-fi nerd parents, I knew from a young age that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, as calculated by Deep Thought, was 42 (bonus points if you get the reference!). The joke in the books, of course, is that no one actually knows the question. Sometimes life has felt a bit like that… that I feel like I’m getting close to the answer, but I’m not even sure what the question is anymore.


I’m a planner, that’s no secret. I love lists and goals and working towards them. I had plans for my life that followed that really traditional pathway of finding a man, getting married, settling down and starting a family … and they all lived happily ever after. Of course, if you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll know that’s not quite what happened. And it’s really changed my perspective on the way that life flows.

Despite losing my faith in church, I feel now, more than ever, a real belief in fate. That as much as we have free will in our lives, some things were just meant to happen. I was meant to get married to my ex-husband, otherwise our amazing wee son would not exist. I’m currently in the only job I interviewed for last year, all other offers coming too late – and it was the right fit. People I have met in the most peculiar of ways at the most random of times have ended up meaning so much to me, in ways I could never have planned or imagined.  Even the crappy sucky stuff in hindsight seems to have had a purpose, even if it wasn’t what I wanted at the time.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have goals and ambitions – far from it. I still have things that I am working towards, and I throw myself into them wholeheartedly. While amazing things can happen when you least expect it, I also strongly believe that you need to bring your a-game too… I can’t just trust fate to help me lose the weight I want to lose (she’d probably do it by giving me food poisoning LOL), I need to come to the party as well. What it does mean, though, is that I’m more accepting of the way things flow once I’ve put my 100% in – sometimes the answer is an ending, or a not yet, or more amazing than I could have imagined. 

I was watching The Prince of Egypt with one of my classes recently and I loved these words in the song sung by the character, Jethro:

No life can escape being blown about
by the winds of change and chance
and though you never know all the steps
you must learn to join the dance
You may think my belief in fate is out-of-character or airy-fairy woo-woo nonsense…well,  I don’t care 😜. Letting go of feeling like I can control every outcome (and what a laugh, that I ever thought I could do that) means that I get to relax more and just enjoy the dance!
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Totes Inappropes songs of my childhood

Driving home last night, CJ calls out from the back seat “Mummy, I sing to you okay?” and then proceeded to break into Ed Sheeran – “I the cap-in of a sinky boat, an a man carry me home”. It was super cute and I was kind of glad that it wasn’t some of the more questionable lyrics I listen to, but that lead me to thinking of the many “inappropriate” songs I loved growing up. And not just the smash hit of school discos circa 1996:

Alice

2 Become 1 (Spice Girls)

Silly games that you were playing, empty 
Words we both were saying, 
Let’s work it out boy, let’s work it out boy, 
Any deal that we endeavour, 
Boys and girls feel good together 
Take it or leave it, 
Take it or leave it 
Are you as good as I remember baby, get it on, get it on, 
‘Cause tonight is the night when two become one

My mum rolled her eyes at Wannabe… I can’t even imagine what she was thinking when we were dancing around the lounge to this one. Boys and girls feel good together… when they’re hanging out playing touch rugby, right? The song even talks about making love – I’m pretty sure that I hadn’t made the connection between my scientist mum’s explanation of sex and “making love” at that age. Shaking my head.

You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Meatloaf)

On a hot summer night
Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
Will he offer me his mouth?
Yes
Will he offer me his teeth?
Yes
Will he offer me his jaws?
Yes
Will he offer me his hunger?
Yes
Again, will he offer me his hunger?
Yes!
And will he starve without me?
Yes!
And does he love me?
Yes
Yes
On a hot summer night
Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
Yes
I bet you to say that to all the boys…
Memories of random obsessions with the Heaven & Hell album my parents bought when I was nine. Memories of melodramatically lip-syncing this with childhood friends. I’m still not sure I really understand who the wolf with the red roses is.
Wrong Way (Sublime)
You know what? There’s actually nothing even clean enough for me to feel comfortable putting on the blog… read the lyrics here LOL
I don’t remember exactly how old my sister and I were, but we were hella bored waiting for the start of Round The Bays one year and ended up breaking into a song and dance routine to Wrong Way. What can I say? We were theatre kids.

If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Backstreet Boys)

And if you want to get it done
Babe you gotta get the one
The one who’s got it goin’ on
If you wanna make it last
Gotta know just who to ask
Babe he’s gotta be the best (tonight it’s me)
If you want it to be good girl
Get yourself a bad boy

Memories of singing along with my mum, aunt, cousin and sister on road trips the summer before I turned 13. No memory of actually making the connection as to what “it” was that we were hoping bad boys would make last.

My gosh, the innocence of youth… looking back does give me a lot of laughs at how worldy I thought I was at the time and how naive I actually was. I’m actually looking forward to being appalled at what CJ thinks is cool music a few years from now!

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Sometimes, you don’t heal…

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Not so much features as mannerisms in common, just like his mum & nana (CJ at 3 months)

Not completely, anyway. Sometimes it looks fine to the outside world but it’s always going to have that little twinge, like an arthritic hip in the morning. You’re always going to walk with a subtle limp, that people may not even notice, but you do.

Yesterday, it was four years since my mother died. I write this on the couch, staring at the spot in which the hospice-funded electronic recliner sat for the last couple of months of her life. Funny how four years have passed and yet I remember that night vividly. Checking my voicemail during a break in parent-teacher interviews, handing my computer to a friend and telling her I didn’t know when I would be back. Breaking every speed limit as the tears streamed down my face on the forty kilometres to get here. The rest of the night you can read about here… But I remember.

I knew there would be times it hurt. The big times. When I became a mother. When I made the decision to leave my marriage, I wished she’d been there to talk to. I expect to feel like total emotional garbage on July 31 every year. What I didn’t expect was the small things, those little tugs and pulls that remind me that I’m motherless at the age of 31, a still fairly unique position amongst most of my friends.

That twinge hits when I hear my friends talking about their mothers looking after the kids; when I see the mother of a girl from school pushing her grandchild about town. It hits when CJ does something quirky and I don’t have the chance to ask if I did the same. It surprises me in the most random of moments when I realise all over again that I will never get the chance to experience anything new with her. It throbs harder when someone asks what my mum would think of certain things I do or choices I make – well, I guess we’ll never know, will we? I’ve just got to go through life listening to my heart and doing what I think is right, hoping that I’m making her proud.

You can function without the people you love; I know that from experience. You can have joy and laughter and find happiness again – I know this to be true. But there will always be those quiet moments in which you feel the prick of pain and know that underneath your shell, you’re still just a little bit wounded.

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CJ Says #7

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“No Dinosaurus in this hole…”

When he sees one of his idols (and the mispronunciation of captain never gets old):

  • CJ (sitting in Coffee Culture Christchurch Airport, when a pilot walks in): Oh my gosh, is a bacon!

When he’s starting to use his negotiation skills:

  • CJ: Sushi!
  • Me: Yes, that’s a sushi shop
  • CJ: I want sushi for dinner
  • Me: Not today, sweetheart. I left my money at home
  • CJ: I have a monies. I buy a sushi for you. Yes?

When you realise that your OCD-ish tendencies have rubbed off on your kid:

  • Me, after searching through his sock drawer, unable to find the matching bedsocks, throws it in and puts one white and one blue sock on CJ
  • CJ: One sock, two sock… Hey, not same!
  • Me: I know, sweetheart. But they’ll keep those tootsies warm
  • CJ, chuckling: That one b(l)ue! Two not-same socks!
  • Me (with pained smile😆): Yes, not the same.

When he shows his hangry side:

  • CJ: Mummy? I hungry
  • Me: OK sweetheart, I’m driving right now but I’ll get you something when we get home
  • CJ (very serious, quiet and low voice): Excuse me Mummy. I hungry. My wunchbox empty, I have no food. You make me dinner soo(n) we get home
  • Me: (dies from holding in the laughter, seriously, he sounded like the Godfather)

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Getting back on the (healthy) horse: Why the weight loss?

It’s just under a year since I started going to the gym. At the time, it was one of the ways I was trying to seize control of a life that felt like it was spiralling out of my grasp (I would be separated three months later) but there were also some solid reasons why I was choosing this particular method of putting myself first. I’m not sure I’ve ever really talked about that in great detail, so here we are🙂

Okay, obviously aesthetics: I’m not built to be a slender person… I’m just not. Even at my lowest (and potentially my most unhealthy) weight as an adult, I always had a booty. Even in my ballet pictures as a scrawny kid I had a booty. I’m a generous hourglass and I can still look in the mirror and like myself, don’t get me wrong.  But I can’t deny that I prefer my own look with a little less sand in the hourglass. That’s personal preference, nothing else.

Knees: I have a family history of notoriously shonky knees and I’ve done myself no favours with falls in gymnastics and ballet and with a scooter accident when I was 19. While I may not be able to prevent future surgery, losing weight and reducing the load on my knees should hopefully mean that I can use the joints I have until I’m old and grey. Doing leg-based weights is also helping my ridiculously loose right knee ligament, which in the past has done a pretty cruddy job at keeping my kneecap in alignment.

Active Motherhood: I have a typical little kid – he has SO much energy! He’s on the go from the moment he gets up until he crashes out for afternoon nap. And then on the go again until dinner time. About the only time he stops is for meals. I love that energy in him and I don’t want it to change, so me getting fit enough to keep pace with him as he grows is important. I don’t want to be that unfit mum that watches from the sideline and I like that I have the energy to handle the wrestling on the floor with him that comes along with each little testosterone boost he gets.

And there’s been a couple of side benefits that have kept me on track too:

Endorphins: Since starting a regular exercise programme, I’ve definitely noticed the difference that exercise has on my mood. I can be having a foul day (or just be in a crappy mood) and taking it out on the treadmill or “blowing the cobwebs out” with a fresh air walk can be a huge mood improver. There’s no denying that while the last year has had some massive highlights, it’s had some pretty dark times too. Exercise and endorphins have definitely helped me through that.

Me Time: Gym time/ walks have definitely become my “me time”. Even when the timing works out (which, to be honest, it rarely does) for me to hit a group fitness class, I don’t. I used to love them, but not anymore. I’m so switched on for people so much of the time that I just want to lose myself in my music, my heartbeat and my thoughts for an hour or so.

It amazes me how much it has become a part of my life; that I’m the person who will actively seek to take the stairs (well, most of the time), that I feel bugged and unsettled if I’ve missed going to the gym for a week, that I enjoy the ache in my legs after a long day of walking (I’m looking at you, recent trip to Melbourne!). Good change though!

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