28 July 2014

The Storms of War {Book Review}

I have to start by saying that if you are a fan of Downton Abbey, you will absolutely love this story, set in a similar time frame and with similar themes. 

Everything about this book is epic. Take its size for a start. At 500 plus pages of smallish print, it's not your average sit down and finish it in a couple of hours historical happy-ending romance novel. Then there's the epic world period it's set in - just as the Great War of 1914 is about to begin - a time that will change the course of the modern world.

On first appearances, the de Witt family seem like your average upper-class wealthy English family. But on closer reflection, their very name gives away an entirely different heritage. And one that will tear the family apart as the war takes hold.

The story centres mainly on the youngest daughter Celia who is just fifteen when the story begins. Her life so far has been an easy one. She has nothing more to concern herself with than her dreams of studying at Cambridge University and her adoration of her older brother Michael who is doing just that. She envies the beauty of her older sister Emmeline, set to marry a wealthy English sir and seal the respectability of the family. She is half in love with a local boy whose status is really quite beneath her and the kiss they share in the garden has her dreaming of a future with him in it.

But nothing can stop the coming tide of war. The signs that their fortunes may no longer be in favour are evident when the family host their annual village party and they are snubbed by the whole village when no-one turns up. They try to ignore the slight, but within days war comes and very quickly the family's lives unravel. From wealthy landowners, they descend into a muddled chaos of jilted love, suicide contemplation, alienation and imprisonment, deep depression, and desertion to the army.

I still feel quite haunted now thinking of Celia's experience as an ambulance driver in France. I cannot contemplate the horrific sights, sounds and smells she would have been assaulted with driving men broken and near death to the nearest war hospital at seventeen years of age. Men crying out as wild animals, the rotting stench of decaying flesh and having to clean out the ambulance after each wild, terrifying ride.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like for those in London, opposing the war in secret, and risking imprisonment and worse to fight and hide those opposed to the draft. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be imprisoned far from my family for the entire war just because my ancestry posed an imagined threat. I cannot imagine being so determined to prove my 'Englishness' that I might run away to join the army and yet tragically find myself incapable of giving orders to my men with awful consequences.

We live in a world so removed from this one of 100 years ago. I have a feeling we don't really know how lucky we are. Whether we possess the same grit and determination has potentially never been and may never be tested. I would like to think I could have similar courage in the circumstances but until that is tested I guess I could only hope.

Much as I would have liked a nice, tidy ending to this story, especially after investing so much time learning to love the characters and cheer for their eventual happiness, I'm already looking forward to the next installment in a series that will eventually take the de Witt family all the way through to the Second World War. I hope I don't have to wait too long!

The Storms of War by Kate Williams published by Hachette NZ and available from 15 July.

RRP: $37.99

Thanks to Hachette NZ for the review copy.

Disclaimer:  I was given a copy of The Storms of War in exchange for my review.  I am not being compensated in any other way.

27 July 2014

30/52: Into the light and a sous chef

A portrait of my children once a week every week in 2014

Noah: this weekend when I asked if you wanted to do some of your maths workbook, you said "I'd much rather bake" and so that's just what we did. You helped me make some almond butter cookies (don't they look delicious!) as well as our favourite savoury herb crackers and you made quite the little sous chef measuring and mixing. Here you are chopping the garlic to go in the crackers. I really can't believe you will be eight this week!

Mylo: you have always loved your fruit, but you're certainly not such a fan of finding pips in them (you take after your mama there - it took me such a long time to appreciate passionfruit growing up!). After getting frustrated at finding the odd pip in your mouth when eating your mandarins, this week I showed you how to hold your mandarin segment up to the light to check for pips before you eat them. You have been doing it ever since!

25 July 2014

Morning comes in diffused light {Scorching Bay, Shelly Bay, Wellington long exposure photography}

Last weekend we experienced what was really the first properly dismal, cold, rainy weekend of the year. It had been wet, cold and grey all week, but it seemed to ramp even more in time for the weekend. Football had already been cancelled by midday Friday and so I was unsure whether I'd be able to make it out to take some early morning shots as has become the regular weekend routine for me these past weeks.

I woke at 6am and peeked out the window. All I could see was low level cloud and the lights of the city casting an orange glow up into the cloud. It didn't look hopeful but at least it wasn't raining. I crawled back into bed till 6.30am and then had to give myself a real pep talk to get my butt back out of bed. It wasn't an easy task but I convinced myself that there must be a shot out there waiting for me that I was MEANT to take and that I'd miss it if I stayed in bed. And, in the end, that was enough to do it.

So out I went. On this morning, I'd decided to head over to the eastern coastline of the city near Scorching Bay, thinking some long exposure beach and rock shots would be the aim. I took the long route round Shelly Bay past our favourite café Chocolate Fish and as I came around the various deserted bays along the way I took a mental note of a few spots that looked worth a visit on the way back.

Scorching Bay was deserted at this time of the morning in the near dark, so I had the beach to myself. It wasn't as amazing a location as I'd first hoped, mainly because of the grey day and the fact that any light from the rising sun that might break through was well hidden behind some hills to my left.

While taking shots on the beach I somehow managed to drop my lens cover in the wet sand at one point (cue several curses from me!) and also spotted a dead seal on the beach (so sad) that I'd initially mistaken for a log. After getting in the car and heading back around the point, I saw that the light was indeed trying to break through the heavy cloud and after finding a surprisingly sheltered spot near the oyster pots - at least that's what I think they are?! I stood on the road and took a few shots looking north towards Somes Island and the Hutt Valley. I didn't see a single car the whole time I was there standing on the road - a good thing I suppose - but there was a fisherman over yonder and a fair few cyclists and walkers out early so I wasn't completely alone.


I also had two more locations I wanted to stop at - one on the point near Kau Bay where I'd spotted a black and white checkered mini lighthouse on the point. This was by far the best location of the day for photos. The light in the distance behind Somes Island was incredible. I put on my 10-stop neutral density filter and took several long exposure shots of about a minute here getting shots with incredibly silky waters and clouds. If I had any doubts about whether this particular filter would come in handy since I hadn't taken many shots with it until now I didn't have to wonder after this set of shots!


This last shot below my favourite of the day.

Despite the warning on the lighthouse, I even ventured down onto the causeway for a few shots, praying that there wouldn't be any freak waves to break over the path. And after just a few minutes I could see in the distance that the Interislander ferry was leaving its dock in the city, so I decided that would be exactly the right time to make my departure - definitely not wanting to repeat my experience of a few weeks ago when I nearly did get soaked by the rogue waves the ferry throws up as it makes its way out the harbour!

The last location I had in mind was the dilapidated pier near Chocolate Fish Café - unfortunately by the time I stopped here the showers were really threatening and I quickly got a few spots of rain on the lens (as you can see) and had to call it a day after just one long exposure shot. You know what that means, I'll just have to come back another day!

23 July 2014

A walk through Rivendell and Kaitoke Regional Park

On the way home from our night away in Castlepoint, we stopped in at Kaitoke Regional Park to explore the location of Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings movies and did a short loop walk over the swingiest swing bridge I've ever encountered.

It would have been hard to imagine the scenes without the help of some cleverly places signs showing which parts of the area had been used before other special effects were added, and yet you would never know the place had been over-run by the movie makers, it has been more than restored to its untouched beauty.


It's certainly a beautiful spot and one we can imagine returning to another time when we have more time to explore and walk some of the other tracks like the longer 1 hour swingbridge track rather than just the 2 short loops we did. The boys (as always) enjoyed the opportunity to try and skim some stones in the Hutt river, and found some friendly ducks who eagerly lapped up the rest of the loaf of bread we had in the car - and there went the boy's toast and sandwiches for the week!


I also enjoyed the chance to get out the neutral density 10-stop filter and try out some long exposure shots with the moving water. I think I need a bit more practice but practice is the only way to perfect a shot as I have discovered so I'll keep trying it out on other occasions too.

Just from our short visit we could tell that this area is teeming with so many lovely places to walk and explore that we will definitely be back on another day when we have more time!

22 July 2014

29/52: 3D glasses and a working clock

A portrait of my children once a week every week in 2014

Mylo: I love how affectionate you are. That you think nothing of running up and giving me a cuddle or a pat or a rub and are always so quick to check I am OK when I hurt myself. And I love that you can make me laugh. Your little face is enough to bring a smile to my face at any time of the day. Even at 7am wearing 3D glasses.

Noah: I love how comfortable you are these days going along to holiday programme and how proud you were of this working clock you made one day last week. Like any boy your favourite days are always those that involve going on excursions to the movies, pool or Junglerama but you also will knuckle down to the crafts that are on offer and enjoy showing us all your creations.

21 July 2014

On the horizon....

I'm stopping for a brief minute to contemplate what seems to be panning out as a very full and fun school term ahead at our place. And one where even before the term starts it seems to be already packed to the brim with events and activities!

This weekend Mark is taking Noah to the double-header football game at the Stadium, with the Phoenix playing Newcastle United first up, followed by West Ham United playing Sydney FC. Mylo was a little disappointed not to be heading along, until we decided we'd have a Mummy and Mylo date and watch How to Train Your Dragon II at the movies instead so he wasn't bothered after that!

Then there's an 8-year old birthday party at Laser Force next weekend. We took the easy option (not the cheap option though!) and let Noah go wild there with a few friends this year, followed by pizza and cake at our place. Hopefully the hardest thing about it will be making a quick and easy cake. She says hopefully......

I'm also taking the kids to the Disney on Ice show (although they don't know it yet) the night before. I'm hoping that will be a nice surprise for them, and I remember wanting to go last time a similar show came to town so I'm glad I made the effort to book tickets nice and early so we can get along this time, I hope they love it!

A week or so later Mark's heading to Melbourne for a week for his annual work conference. Not terribly exciting as I'll be managing at home solo that week (I'll admit it's not my favourite thing to do!) but he will hopefully get a chance to see my brother and sister-in-law and baby Maia and another of his mates whilst there too!

The following weekend we are heading for a night away just the two of us in Greytown, having booked up another White Swan accommodation and meal getaway package - leaving the boys in the very capable hands of Jackie and Heidi - they'll have a ball having a sleepover at their place I am sure. I've heard talk of an epic Lego Movie game marathon on the Playstation so they're bound to love it.

Then it's my turn to hit the big city. On the last weekend of August I'm also flying over to Melbourne for the weekend along with Nana and Poppa to go to my brother's graduation ceremony and dinner. Plus I'm hoping for lots of squishy cuddles with baby Maia - who'll be nearly 9 months old by then. Darn it, I only booked a seat with cabin luggage so I'll have to pack cleverly and leave the big camera behind this time.

So once September rolls around, I imagine we'll be in full swing planning for a 5-year old birthday party - how did that happen?! It doesn't seem possible that our littlest guy is off to school. It feels like I blinked and wow, it's here! So a LEGO Movie Party is the order of the day and we're starting to think about how we can best pull off another super fun and memorable party like Noah's epic Star Wars 5th birthday party to send Mylo off into the big wide world of school days. As much as we are looking forward to school days and all the new learning and challenges this will bring, we will be incredibly sad saying goodbye to his daycare teacher and friends - that centre and its wonderful teachers have been a part of our lives for a whole seven years!

Then after just one week at school for Mylo, it'll be the end of term and the holidays will await. I think I'll be ready to let out a big hoorah when that arrives! Especially since we have a week's holiday away in Nelson and Golden Bay to look forward to during the break.

Here I was thinking winter terms were meant to be the quiet ones...not in our house apparently!


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