It is that time of year when folk have either blocked school from their minds completely for mid-year vacations or they are eagerly planning their next year’s schooling. Either way we have been back in school a couple of weeks and just when we were needing some inspiration our new books arrived and in the world of Sonlighters we say “we have been boxed.”
And after years and years of buying one core at a time we finally have almost the entire Sonlight library, from K through 500, book by book we have got there… The only core books we don’t own are the American Government of core 400. One of my kids is mad about American History so we may have to add them to the pile next year.
This year our youngest will be in his first year of Sonlight and our oldest in his final year, and well everyone else is inbetween. As I begin this journey all over again I just can’t believe that we are doing certain things for the very last time. Surely not. There is a very different focus when you are wandering through for the eighth time… a lot more lingering and a lot less of getting it done.
There are a couple of new things in the boxes that we are really looking forward too… All of us are ready to dive in and listen to the Story of the World CD’s… I think we might need a very long road trip. We have so loved these books for history and I think everyone would like a good long listen. Also these math books were ripped out of the boxes so fast and and we are already winding our way through the first one as our lunch time read aloud. They are not math books in the traditional sense, it is a story of the amusing kind and tells the bigger picture behind math concepts. Delightfully not pages of exercises to do, just a fun story to listen to, introducing new ideas.
Otherwise apart from the the Core for hood #1 we buy mostly math work books, especially this year which I am planning to focus on math. Last year the focus was on reading and now that most of our students have a habit of reading we are ready to work on math consistently. And then we always get a couple of treats… and this is what my kids are diving into the boxes to find: more public speaking, because I did it with my high schoolers last year and they loved it, so more of the same; Microscope slides full of interesting goodies to look at, it is time to haul out our microscope and use it; and the Second year of Latin, after years of the first year course sitting on the shelf, our kids are suddenly of an age to enjoy it and we are dashing through it at speed and loving it.
For once it appears that I haven’t left out critical components of our kids school curriculum, so far every year I forget something absolutely fundamental. We always seem to get by, so school can definitely be done despite having everything you “need” or not. It appears that my brain was in gear and I am hoping that I don’t discover that I haven’t left someone’s schooling off the list, when we dig a little deeper.
Most of our gang of age to put their own files together. I am guessing that this weekend folk around here are going to spending there time putting all their papers into their files and getting ready to crack open some fun new books on Monday morning. Gotta love that about Sonlight, you really can just one the boxes and dive right in.
The Sport Science Centre is a gym, but so much more… it is a research centre where they explore health and fitness… not just for elite athletes pushing the boundaries of performance, but regular folk looking for a healthy lifestyle. They provide a holistic approach to exercise and well being and look at the mind and diet and lifestyle of the athlete all the while honing their performance.
So yes, we definitely wanted to stop by and learn about the work they do. The best way to learn about anything is really by doing. So we had a morning of very interactive learning. The gang were lined up and put through their paces. A morning of scheduled stops. They got to meet the folk behind the scenes: what they studied, what they do, and a picture of a day in their lives.
Turns out, while it looks just like a regular gym, until they started telling us about the work they do… and then you discover the science behind it.I have to say, that amidst all the very athletic looking athletes, and the obviously rehabilitating from major surgery athletes, there were quite a few regular looking folk. Doing regular looking gym.
Grand Tour of the Science Centre
Stop #1: The Grucox with Jackie
What is the Grucox, we had no idea… they are electronic bicycles, that are used for rehabilitation and strength training. It is a special kind of “eccentric” training that elongates the muscles instead of shortening them like regular exercises. Anyway, however they work, they require a certain amount of finesse to work… and anything new and novel is cool to try out!!!
Then we stopped by a real classroom, with real desks – and that was a first for most of my gang… And they had a great chat with a very wise dietician. She was lovely and asked lots of very pointed questions. With so many diets abounding and so many ideas flying around about the “best possible diet for peak performance…” and the long and the short of it is that there is no one perfect diet. Super athletes, like us, are individuals and the best diet for each of us is the one that creates the healthiest body and so the best performance. She wanted the gang to rank their health from 0 to 10, where 10 is awesome. Certain very confident kids were quite convinced their were “10’s.” As they get older however, they know that one or two things like too many late nights, might just affect their score somewhat.
Everyone was interested in what she had to say. The High Performance Centre is where you discover the link between the athlete, the scientist (biokineticists), and technology. Suddenly, the computer kids were listening just as hard as the ones that want to run faster and climb higher. Pop an athlete on the bike and pedal like crazy… and then watch the screen to see what is happening…
And I think we need to do some research on heart rate monitors and just what can an athlete can expect to achieve. This is where athletes with a dream can discover just how much potential they have. The balance between potential and just plain hard work is discovered right here in this room.
Of course, everyone want to have a try. In fact, this is how athletes can train and create their race environment in the lab. While watching a video of their race course they can cycle the route and the computer will tweak the gradient and the camber for them… Tour de France here we go!!!
Stop #4: A Tour of the Centre with Rodet
So much equipment, I think we would get no work done if we had any of this in our work space…
One particular person was convinced that we need to take a rower home with us… I think they might have a good point. So much fun!!!
There were some basic fitness tests… the Agility-T test, the Yo-Yo test, and well the “To and Fro” test.
There literally was a mad dash around the track and a chance to stretch their legs and then it was back to the classroom to meet the Sport Psychologist… who spoke really well and explained the ins and outs of how athletes gear up for an event. Basically they figure out what really works for them… they look at the conditions around their best performances and then try to re-create them. Some athletes need peace and quiet and to look inwards and other athletes might need the crowd to really get into their performance. They keep detailed diaries and figure out what an athlete needs to perform their best. They are not trying to change an athletes personality, but they may need to add some skills to their repertoire. Any skill you learn can be used to perform better, so keep on learning.
Stop 7: Aqua Class with Cath
And finally they had an aqua class… oh exciting times. Let’s just say my gang have never had any sort of professional swimming lessons… it showed in the gym pool. They have never done anything other than play and get from one end of a pool to another… so some of the exercises were quite a challenge. And they loved it. Heaps of fun and lots of listening… not to mention plenty of chilling.
We would like to thank the Sport Science Institute of South Africa for their great welcome and their fabulous program. This is not a sponsored post, we were not paid to write about our visit and the opinions expressed are as usual our own. We had a fabulous time and our kids may have completely changed their idea of what gym is all about. They had a blast learning about the work that sport scientists do, the can do attitude and friendly enthusiasm of the people they met was just inspiring.
It’s not often, when you live at the Southern tip of Africa, to literally bump into an author… but we did. We met at a nail bar – I know, of all places!!! Pan Macmillan South Africa invited me to a book function and I have to confess that I had never ever had my nails done before, I could never see the point (I have totally changed my mind since then). Well fabulous nails and a heaps of chocolate and good books… turns out together they make a very fun evening. Add to the mix a friendly book lover and life couldn’t get much better. We recently reviewed books by South African author Liz De Jager, and we got chatting and chatting. Pop a writer and a blogger next to each other for half an hour and there will be so many words toing and froing that I literally had to interview her. Here is someone that absolutely loves books… and reads and reads and reads. She has heaps of book loving to share with us…
Meet Liz De Jager
“Hi, I am Liz De Jager and I am a South African author living in London for the past fifteen years. I’m an avid reader, writer and tea drinker. I’m also addicted to stationery and I have a fondness for pretty bags. Send help.”
Se7en+1 Questions For Author, Liz De Jager
Do you have a typical working day? Are you a disciplined writer that works to a strict schedule or do you write furiously when the inspiration grabs you?
No, I like to think I’m a pretty disciplined writer. I write forty minutes to an hour before work, then again during my lunch break then also in the evenings from say 9pm to midnight. On weekends I try and make sure I have at least one day free to write. I’m lucky that my husband is also a writer – adult fantasy novels – so we’re both pretty in the zone.
Could you give us a word picture of how you work: In a quiet spot, with a clear desk… or in the midst of life, with background music… do you have a favourite snack when you are writing or are you too involved to even think of eating?
I can work anywhere and I think I’m lucky like that. My main writing space is my untidy dining room table with my writing playlist blaring through the tiny house we rent in Kent, UK. I’m surrounded by my thousands of books on higgledy piggeldy bookcases and I love it. It’s also very handy to grab names from for walk-on secondary characters – just looking around and trying to find names on those spines facing out to me. I also love working in café’s. There’s a local café that I adore writing in – they know me, they know I’m a writer so they just keep the tea coming. Occasionally the owner would stop by my table and ask me if I’ve eaten anything yet. They are very sweet and I love them. And yes, I always write to music. Music and writing is essentially my life. I have a playlist that acts as a sort of Pavlovian instinct: I hear it and I have to go write. When I’m at the café, my snack is their toasted cheese sandwiches on soda bread. It is the food of the gods. If I’m at home…tea, buckets of them.
In your books you have created an entire world, how do you keep track of it all? How do you get on with everyday life when in your head you are living in the world of the fae?
It’s kinda weird to explain. I think I’ve learned to compartamentalise between day-job and writing. I am logical, level minded, busy as Liz the PA but then, for that 45 minutes during lunch, I shed that skin, step out of it, and I’m the crazy writer girl thinking about creative ways to try and get monsters to eat my characters. I mean, I daydream often. Especially on the train when it’s too crowded to write. I’ll have my earphones in and let the music take me and I’ll play the what if game. I really think that these time-out moments are very conducive to writing and I love them. Other time-out moments for me is walking the dog and doing ironing. It’s the no-brain activities that let your mind just get on with figuring out stuff you may need to write. As to how I keep track of my world? I have notebooks jampacked with loads of little things about the characters and the world…but sometimes stuff just happens organically and it’s weird to explain but you just feel that it makes sense within the context of your world so you’ll go with it.
Tell us about your reading journey as a child… Where did your love of words begin and do you have a favourite childhood book?
I grew up in a house that had very few books. My mum saw it as a waste of time. She was hugely active and into making things – she was hugely talented as a dress maker, wedding cake maker, leatherworker and potter. I inherited none of her skills, apart from a keen eye for what works aesthetically and what doesn’t perhaps? My dad was the reader and storyteller. But he read rarely as he worked shifts…but the books he read were all cowboy books and westerns. So that’s what I read. Until I discovered the library and bugged my mum to take me there every week. I don’t really have a favourite childhood book but I think the book that blew my mind and made me realise how vast our world was, was a book by Louis L’Amour called The Walking Drum. L’Amour is famous for writing these huge epic westerns but The Walking Drum is a historical novel and has everything I craved growing up: action, adventure, dastardly deeds, redemption, love. It is probably one of my biggest influences, to this day.
Do you like reading one book at a time, or a couple? What is your favourite genre? What are you reading right now?
I love reading. When I write I can’t read fiction, so I read a lot of non-fiction. And I’m not picky. I’ve recently read about tank warfare during WWII as my husband is really into it and the book was lying around before bedtime. It was fascinating and really brought home the terror and adventure these men went through riding these monstrous machines. As for genres of stuff I read? Again, mostly everything apart from really hard sci-fi. I love crime novels so much – set anywhere in the world. I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s, Belinda Bauer, Deon Meyer. I also love Ben Okri’s books, John le Carre, Hilary Mantel, David Mitchell, Arturo Perez Reverte. But then I also love YA books and count so many authors as friends: Tanya Byrne, SA Partridge, Non Pratt, Barry Lyga, Julianna Baggott, Karen Healey, AS King, Holly Black, Sarah Reese Brennan….the list is endless. I’m basically a black hole for books – give it to me and I will devour it. I’m currently going through a fantasy reading phase so I’m reading Karen Miller’s newest novel, but I’ve also bought Naomi Novik’s newest and Joe Abercrombie’s two newest novels too.
When you were a child what did you want to do when you grew up? Did you always know you would be a writer or did that idea grow with you?
I never thought I’d be a writer of fiction. I wanted to be an archeologist – thanks Indiana Jones – or a wild life photographer or a journalist…what I ended up becoming is an administrator after doing my business degree and I realised that I should have studied stuff like humanities, mythology and theology. I still think its nuts making kids decide at the age of fifteen what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I didn’t realise until my twenties that my love for storytelling and reading COULD ACTUALLY BECOME A VIABLE JOB! I mean, who knew!? No one told me. Thank heavens I know better know.
Your books are written for YA readers, what do you enjoy about writing for this age group? Do you think you will always write for YA readers? In fact that leads onto: Do you have a writing aspiration, a dream?
I love writing for the YA market. It’s what I’ve read exclusively for the longest time. I think that readers of YA books are clever and intelligent readers and they are pretty ruthless with what they like and don’t like and I think it’s definitely a challenge. I remember what it felt like being a teen, those crazy emotions, trying to figure out who I am, what my friends were up to and oh, god, boys were so confusing. So for me, taking that and creating a character who is an average teen but with everything amped up to 11 where she doesn’t really have the luxury to figure these things out because monsters want to kill her, was a lot of fun. I’ve had a lot of kids come up to me at school visits to say that they liked Kit because she was so practical and easy to understand, as were the situations she found herself in. And it startled me because: she hunts monsters and gets into fights and she does dumb stuff and then I realized these kids meant that they understood what she went through emotionally rather than physically. And I realized how astute these kids were picking up on how damaged my characters were even if I didn’t necessarily harp on about it on the page.
As for writing dreams: yes, for sure. I’d love to try a bit of everything. Justine Larbalestier has this list she keeps of the different types / genres of books she’d like to write and this really appeals to me. So yes, I’d like to try my hand at different things. I’m currently toying with a few ideas: a YA heist / a YA quest novel / a MG novel with a dash of tomboy adventure at its heart / and an adult fantasy that is so off the wall and weird I don’t even know…
And the Se7en + 1th…
What would you say to inspire young, potential writers to encourage them to get that book that is inside them onto paper?
I’d say: just sit down and start. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start. It’s not creative writing in school. No one is going to reprimand you for bad grammar or not forming your sentences properly. Just start. Initially it’s all for you. Don’t worry that you don’t have fancy stationery or the prettiest notebook or a laptop. Just write the first word down and then the next and then the next. The thing about writing that no one told me until it was too late: it’s addictive. Once you start, you sort of unwind that tap inside you and it just…happens. Sometimes it is hellishly hard, don’t’ get me wrong. It literally feels like you’re bleeding onto the page or screen but sometimes, when you hit that high and the words and story just flows…there is nothing like it. My other bit of advice is to read. Libraries are fantastic places to pick up new ideas. Go in there and find new books by new authors to read, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy the book. Challenge yourself. Trust me, you’ll learn from reading books you both enjoy and don’t enjoy. And the other thing about writing that very few people tend to mention: you really should give yourself permission to suck. Everyone sucks. Stephen King sucks too. He’s just been at it longer than we have. And we don’t see his draft zero or first drafts, but I bet they’re riddled with inconsistencies and bad grammar. Writing is about creating and it’s hard to do it perfectly, that’s why you get to go back and edit it, once you’re done. There’s no point in thinking your work is going to be utterly amazebuckets in your first draft. It won’t be. Writing is rewriting and edits. But first, you gotta get those words down. And that’s the important thing. Just start.
One thing I can say, without even blinking, is that I totally love reviewing cookbooks. Totally. I love trying out new flavours, I love learning new tricks in the kitchen and to be honest cookbooks have become works of art. Our family loves trying out new recipe books too and they tend to result in very fun dinners, packed with tasting new flavours and trying out new treats. When I saw that Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook was coming out I might have been more than a little excited…
The problem with this book is that I fell in love with it and I have paged and paged and paged my way through it day after day. Most cookbooks we page our way through and pick out se7en+1 recipes, try them out and then write a review… but this book we literally haven’t stopped cooking from it in weeks: just trying this, and just trying that and we have to dash to the store for this or that, to try just one more recipe. The point is I have to share this book with you… and then leave it next to my desk for every time I am looking for some creative inspiration… because this book is an inspiration.
Se7en+1 Things we really love About This Book.
It feels exactly like a notebook: It feels like the kind of journal you would toss in a bag when you are going on a trip and then fill it as you go… and this notebook has been filled with snippets and bits and bobs.
The Recipes: Well it is a cookbook, and so it has recipes… loads of them. We tried and tested more than a few of them. I confess many of them went straight onto our menu and we have had them over and over again, already. The recipes are beautifully photographed and you see exactly what you are making and how it should turn out. Always useful, especially if you aren’t actually Rachel Khoo.
The Pages In-between: Oh these are the heart of the book for me, they look and feel like a travel journal with watercolour pages and photographs stuck in… pages and pages of beautifully created collage. The pages are perfectly imperfect, they look so casual… watercolour splotches and photographs taped in, maps and snippets from outings, odd bits and bobs that you would pin on your noticeboard.
Rachel Khoo Creates Beautiful Food: Before you read the recipes your eye is naturally drawn to the beautiful photographs and the new and enticing flavours. From the photographs you are drawn to read the recipes and interwoven through the recipes are tips to help you master them. A lot of thought went into this book and a lot of effort went into creating recipes that we couldn’t help wanting to try.
The Recipes are full of Variety: What I love about her recipes is that they aren’t rigorous and set in stone: Puff pastries… packed with all sorts of different fillings; Underground eclairs… flavours inspired by the London Underground; and breadsticks, or grissini in half a dozen different varieties have become a family fave!!! Lots of her recipes were easy to adapt to ingredients we had at home already.
A Family Recipe Book: This book was one that everyone wanted to be part of, there are recipes for every level of chef… and something for everyone to be involved in. I am all for kids being able to prepare wonderful meals and being part of whatever feast we are eating.
Nothing too Obscure: There are few things more difficult than reviewing a cookbook that uses obscure ingredients for their recipes. But this book had very few obscure ingredients and plenty of alternatives. The basics consisted of basics… ingredients we either had or we could dash to the local store and grab. Of course there were some more interesting ingredients… like razor clams, but mostly just regular ingredients!!!
And the se7en + 1th…
And then there is Rachel Khoo: Of course there is heaps of the lovely Rachel Khoo throughout the book. Little snippets and plenty of anecdotes…
Se7en+ 1 of the Many Recipes We Tried.
Baked Goat’s Cheese Cigars: My gang absolutely loved these and had they known how easy it was to prepare such lovely looking food, I think they would have tried ti years ago.
Panzanella: I have really wanted to make one of these for years and have always put it off before… but just saying this goes right to the top of the favourite feast list and definitley going to be brought out foe special occasions.
London Loaf Three Ways: Well this turned out to be way fabulous… a crispy base flat pizza type bread. We loved these and have been making variations of the same ever since.
Sticky Chicken with Malaysian Salad: Well this has become Monday night dinner… and anyone who visits on a Monday will find this on the menu. So easy to prepare in advance and totally relish and more-ish.
Mushroom Stroganoff with Spinach and Wild Rice: Firstly our kids love wild rice – why don’t we cook with it more and all except one love mushrooms… this turned out to be the perfect comfort food for Sunday dinner on a wet and wintry night.
Lemon Lava Cake: Oh these were stunning and were so professional… I didn’t make them in ramekins, I popped into cupcake moulds and then tipped them over at dessert time, a bit of a cheat, but it worked and they were a lot easier to make than I had anticipated. Honestly, not much beats a lemon dessert.
Chocolate Bark: Why oh why have we never ever made this before… well possibly because it is somewhat fatal… we added dried cranberries and nectarines, but really the world is your oyster and you can add anything!!!
And the se7en + 1th…
Sweet Chilli Sauce: I confess I live with a group of chilli lovers, the hotter the better… and they could eat this sauce constantly, on everything. In fact I think they do. I literally make it by the gallon, it vanishes that fast. After chocolate bark it could be the easiest recipe in the world.
It has been cold… it is the time of year when we lurch from sunny spot to sunny spot with a pile of books. The only way to really keep warm is to keep moving… so we have been moving!!!
Otherwise… busy, busy, busy… it appears to be the season of heaps of visitors from everywhere… and interesting outings that we will be blogging about this week…
Lovely Links from This Week
Today is mid-winter… which is all good for us, because from now it is getting that little bit closer to summer every single day!!! Not to mention the northern hemisphere is all about summer – providing all the lovely summer inspiration that we need!!!
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, published by Penguin Random House South Africa: This is teen read, and a coming of age book… I think we have all felt like Sydney, the invisible gal, from time to time. Sidney has grown up under the shadow of her apparently brilliant and astonishing brother, Peyton, who in theory can do no wrong and in practise ends up with a string of misdemeanours and ultimately a serious offence for drunk driving. Still, in the eyes of his parents, he can do no wrong and it can’t possibly have been the fault of the “golden boy.” It is not a case of Peyton is perfect and Sydney is the opposite, rather a case of Peyton is perfect and Sydney is totally invisible.
Sydney changes school and makes new friends, you breathe a sigh of relief for Sydney but that’s only chapter three… and there is obviously more to come. As her friendship with the Chatham family strengthens, you feel that this could be the break that Sydney needed. The Chathams own a pizza parlour, and are once again proof that there is no such thing as an ordinary family. There is a romance with the caring Mac, and a friendship strengthened by lollipops with his sister Layla, who is one of those bubbly girls that makes heaps of wrong decisions. And then there is another sister Rosie, who has drug issues as a result of a career changing accident, which dashes her Olympic dreams. And finally the Chatham kids have a chilled out father, whose character is balanced out by their mother who suffers from MS. The characters are real and charming and you feel a sense of relief that Sydney has found a haven in the world.
Two families faced with extreme challenges, from opposite sides of town… and they cope with them in completely different ways. Despite being a teen read, don’t for a moment think this book is a your average fluffy teen romance and I would reserve it for older teens to read. A lot of issues are raised in this book, not least a very creepy friend of her brothers that hangs out at Sydney’s home. You spend a lot of time wishing that her mother particularly would notice the creep factor… and of course she doesn’t. The point is… a lot of issues are raised in this book and they are issues that teens have to cope with and there should be a safe platform for them to talk about them. This book is a conservation starter, and you will find yourself relating to Sydney… and thinking about her long after you have closed the book and moved on.
Two weeks from now I won’t be sitting at my desk writing a blog post… I will have traveled across Southern Africa and will settling into a week of working in Zambia with Greenpop. Exciting times indeed. This past week our family joined the Greenpop team and helped to create an urban park, on what was a pile of rubble beside the highway at the start.
If you would like to see a video of the work GreenPop does in Zambia, then… here you go: