Sunday, 19 February 2017

Beers, wine and cheese

Last Saturday ended up being an unintentionally jam-packed day for us. After a family breakfast, we rode our bikes to Brunswick Baths for Ella's swimming lessons. Lately we have been arriving half an hour early for the lesson, so that Andy can get in some laps in the outdoor 50m pool while I get Ella changed into her swimsuit and then play with her in the shallow kiddy pool, or if is is warm enough, the outdoor splash pad. Then Andy takes Ella for her lesson while I swim laps. It's the perfect way for both of us to get in some exercise, while also spending time with Ella in the pool.

Splash pad at Brunswick Baths
Enjoying the splash pad with daddy

On the way home we stopped at what I thought looked like a cute café called Ray's on Victoria Street in Brunswick. I don't think I could have picked a less child-friendly place! No high chairs, children's menu, or room for a pram. On top of that, their glass display case at the front was full of delicious looking desserts and sandwiches, along with some fresh green apples. As soon as Ella spotted them she kept pointing at them saying "ap-ple! ap-ple! ap-ple!" I asked our waitress if we could buy one but she said no. Harsh! So we took turns taking Ella for a walk outside to distract her while we waited for our food, then ate quickly and headed back home. If we didn't have a child I am sure we would have found the Ray's absolutely fine, but we do, so I don't think we will be back there any time soon!

When we got home we thought Ella would be tired and ready for her nap. However Ella had other plans, and we spent the next two hours trying to get her to sleep with no luck. Defeated, we decided to take her for a walk in the pram, and headed out to my friend Kristin's brother's new brewery, Tallboy and Moose, in Preston. It was a 50 minute walk from our house, so we thought Ella would fall asleep for sure. We were right, about five minutes into the walk she was out like a light. It's strange, she normally goes to sleep very easily, both at nap time and at night, but every once in a while she just decides she doesn't want to. She resists putting on her sleeping bag, she cries as soon as you walk towards her bedroom, and if you actually make it to the rocking chair in her room she just cries and points at the door. And of course the harder and longer you try, the worse it gets. In hindsight, we probably should have given up fighting her and gone on the walk much sooner than we did. Live and learn, I guess.

Ella was obviously very tired by the time she fell asleep, as she was out for the entire walk to the brewery and stayed asleep for another hour after that. That was very nice of her, as we were able to relax with some beers and catch up with Kristin's brother, Steven, without having to run around after her. You might be wondering why we thought a brewery would be a good place to bring a toddler. Tallboy and Moose (Steven, as a Canadian, is the "Moose" in the partnership) is in a long, converted warehouse with a super relaxed and family friendly vibe, complete with table tennis and play area at the back. In the afternoons there are quite a few families in the back area, although the place is big enough that if you want to avoid children (which, if you haven't brought any with you, is fair enough) you can sit near the front or even at the tables and bean bags outside. They don't make food there (yet) but there are Food Trucks outside with snacks and small meals. 

Tasting beers at Tallboy and Moose

Enjoying some beers with a sleeping baby in the pram
Ella slept most of the time we were there so she didn't have much of an opportunity to explore the play area, but I'm sure we will be back another time with her. 

We had to rush home after that as we had dinner plans with our friends Chris and Ness. They have a 10-month-old son, so it is rare that we can both get baby-sitters at the same time (Chris's parents are visiting from England, and we used one of our Nannies that watches Ella during the week). We headed to Milk the Cow in Carlton for a dinner of cheese, cheese, and more cheese. We started out with a cheese flight: four different cheeses matched to four different wines for Ness and I, and four beers for Chris and Andy. We were advised that the proper way to taste was to take a sip of the wine (or beer), then take a bite of the matched cheese, and then sip more wine with the cheese still in your mouth. I was sceptical about this method, but having the two in your mouth at the same time really did make both the cheese and wine taste amazing. After our flights we had some extra cheesy dishes - Saganaki (a salty Greek fried cheese), fondue, and truffled mac and cheese. This is definitely a place that I will be taking my mom when she comes to visit - she is a big fan of cheese and wine (mostly wine). We had a great evening, the four of us very appreciative of the fact that we could have a few hours of conversation together without any small children demanding our attention.

Cheese Flight menu at Milk the Cow

Wine and cheese flight
Chris and Andy with their beer and cheese

Mmmmmm look at all that cheese!
All in all it was a great Saturday, though between the beers in the afternoon and the wine at night, it was more alcohol than I am used to having, and I did feel it the next morning! Luckily we didn't have much planned for Sunday, and Andy's soccer game was cancelled, so we were able to have a pretty low-key end to the weekend.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Ella Update - 19 Months

Well I am happy to report that or second week back at work was much better than our first. Ella was over her sickness by Sunday night and back to her old, smiley self. My day off was Wednesday, and needless to say it was the the highlight of my week. Now that I am working four days, the one day that I have to spend with Ella is just so, so precious. 

We had a busy day planned. First up was a trip to the Collingwood Senior's Centre for Ella's 18-month immunisations. Every month there are places set up around each council where you can get any immunisations done for free. The senior's centre was where we always went when we lived in Abbotsford as it was a 10 minute walk from our house and never very busy. None of the dates in our new council really suited us, hence going back to Abbotsford, but I am happy to find any excuse to visit our old neighbourhood. (Have I mentioned how much I miss it there? Oh yes, I talk about it all the time! I need to get over it! I am actually starting to like Brunswick more and more as I get to know it.) We arrived nice and early so I took Ella for a walk along the Yarra river, past Collingwood Children's Farm, stopping for coffee and a croissant at One Fine Day café:

Breakfast and coffee with mummy. I don't think she liked me interrupting her eating to take a photo!

Beautiful morning views over the Yarra River 

Gotta love a café with toys!
Ella handled her immunisations like a champ, actually watching the needle go in to each arm (ew!) before screaming her head off for a few minutes. However she was quickly distracted by bubbles (thank you nurses!) and by the time we got back to the car she was absolutely fine. After that we went to check out a daycare centre that is close to our new house. I have been doing daily checks on the website Care for Kids to see if any local daycares were advertising vacancies. Suddenly this one came up, so I quickly called them and booked in a tour. I did not have high expectations and expected to walk in and hate it... I mean, why would they have vacancies unless it was sub-par? But I was pleasantly surprised by the centre. It was really nice, and all of the children and educators seemed calm and happy when we visited. On top of that, it is located 1.5km from our house and is $21 per day cheaper than our current centre in Abbotsford. Winning! So I signed Ella up then and there, she starts at the end of the month. I am SO happy we will not have to commute back and forth to Abbotsford for daycare in a few weeks, it will save either Andy or me over an hour of commuting time!

After that busy morning we headed back home for Ella's nap. Currently she sleeps from about 12pm-2pm every day. I spent nap time time cooking a child-friendly chicken curry from my One Handed Cooks cookbook. This is my favourite resource for finding food to cook that is both healthy and yummy. Ella likes pretty much everything I have tried from this book so far. There are sections for purées and baby led weaning for infants, toddler friendly dishes, healthy snacks, and dinner for the whole family. It's great.

Once Ella woke up she had some of the curry for lunch (loved it). We then headed off to visit the Maternal Child Health Nurse for her 18-month check up. (Yes, she is 19 months. Yes, we were behind on both her check-up and immunisations... I blame our busy Christmas holidays!) Ella walked into the nurses office excitedly pointing at pictures and saying all of the words she knows: "Apple! Monkey! Baby! Ball! Flower!" The nurse wrote in her book that she has "an expansive vocabulary" and said her demeanour is more like a two year old. Even though I know it doesn't mean much, and all babies develop at different rates, I was a very proud mummy! The nurse also weighed and measured Ella. Her height and head size are nearly in the 75th percentile, so it is looking like she may take after Andy in the height department. She weighs 10.3kg, which was less than I was expecting, but the nurse said their weight gain starts to taper off once they reach 18 months. I think her weight is around the 50-60th percentile.

It was a super hot day on Wednesday, about 35 degrees and full sunshine, so we finished up the afternoon at Brunswick Baths, our local pool and where we take Ella for swimming lessons. We have spent a lot of time there over the past few weeks, trying to cool off in the heat. Ella loves the little children's pool and the outdoor splash pad, and has the biggest smile on her face as she runs around checking out all of the different features. Finally, around 5pm, we headed home to see Andy and get the dinner/bath/book/bed routine on the go. It was a busy, but satisfying day!

Splash pad at Brunswick Baths
Here are some other updates about Ella and her development so far:

  • Food. I swear she would eat non-stop if given the choice. Current favourite foods are: pasta and veg sauce, chicken curry, cherry tomatoes, raisins, apples, pears, frozen berries and yogurt, cheese, toast and peanut butter, bircher museli.
  • Bunny. She basically carries bunny around with her everywhere now. We have given up  on making her keep it in bed.
  • Her dummy. We are trying to wean her off this following the Christmas holidays when it was a dummy free-for-all. I don't mind her having it for bed, or even if she is really upset. But I hate her having it in when she is just happily playing. We've had a few little tantrums this weekend when we refused to give it to her but I think she is starting to get the idea. 
  • Her new toy kitchen and her little couch. I think she loves that they are the right size for her!
  • When you put on a funny voice and pretend bunny is talking to her.
  • Dancing around to The Wiggles.
  • Playing with balls. She basically plays fetch with herself. 
  • Swimming, playing in water. 
  • Bubbles. Though she now wants to control the bubble wand herself, which doesn't go well.
  • Books. We have had to limit her to four books before bed, which she picks out herself. Otherwise she wants us to read an unlimited number of books. 
  • Dogs. She loves petting them and when they get all up in her face with their wet noses. This is where Ella and I differ.
  • Putting on clothes. Normally one pant leg over her pants, or a leg through the arm of a shirt. She also loves putting on her shoes, I think she knows this means we are going out. Children are a bit like dogs in this way.
  • Different/new foods. It takes some coaxing to get her to try new things sometimes. My current plan with dinner is I give her a few different foods, mostly things I know she likes with maybe one new item that I hope she'll at least try.
  • Bath time. Well she doesn't exactly dislike baths, she just isn't as excited about them as she used to be. We went through a period where she refused to sit down in the bath, so you had to simultaneously hold her and bathe her at the same time. I'm glad that phase is over! Now I just think she realises that after her bath it is bed time, so if she is not ready for that she is more resistant to the bath. She does love "naked cuddles" which is when we get her undressed for her bath and then she runs back and forth between Andy and me giving us a big hug. We all need a few naked cuddles in our lives!
  • When she wants to do something herself and you try and help her. 
  • When you pretend to steal some of her food. This is mostly an Andy move, and he gets a death stare from Ella. She does share her food occasionally, but it has to be on her terms. She is very happy to share any vegetables!

Things Ella does:
  • Pretends to feed bunny or other stuffed animals. 
  • Takes the toy dummy off her Cabbage Patch baby doll and puts it in her own mouth. When she does that I pretend the baby is crying until she gets her dummy back. Ella does not see the irony in this.
  • Talks and repeats words a lot. We now have to watch what we say around her. She is also starting to say two words together. Most recently "daddy where's mummy" and "mummy's coffee". Clever girl.
  • When she hears a new sound she puts her hand to her ear and makes a surprised face. She never misses the sound of a plane flying overhead!
  • Waves at trams and trains. 
  • Digs through her nappy bag looking for snacks and food.
  • Blows on her food when it is too hot to eat. 
  • Falls over. A lot. When will she work out that it is useful to actually look where you are going?
  • Has started to say "poo poo" and doing the sign for "change" when she's had a number two. 
  • Gives you her plate when she is finished eating. You need to get it quickly or else all the leftover food ends up dumped out. 
  • Knows baby sign language for: more, please, thank you, all done, milk and water. I love baby sign language and will definitely try and teach it to our next child.
What's that sound?

Saturday, 4 February 2017

It's been a long week.

We have just barely survived our first full week back at work. What a week it has been! A sick toddler, bike calamities and sleepless nights have resulted in two very exhausted parents this weekend. But let me start from the beginning...

We have a somewhat complicated schedule this year. Andy is working full time, and I am working four days a week. However as my school operates on a ten day timetable, I don't have the same days off each week. One week I'm of on Tuesday, the next I'm off on Wednesday. This makes childcare a bit tricky, as daycares certainly do not operate on a ten day timetable. They do the normal five, as you'd expect. Added to that, we are still on waiting lists to get Ella into a local daycare, so we are still driving back to Abbotsford for that. This adds nearly an extra hour on to our daily commute, and to poor Ella's already long day in care.

To try and manage this situation and alleviate some of the commuting time, we decided to put Ella in daycare two days a week (Mondays and Thursdays), and have a Nanny the other two days. We already had a girl, we'll call her Nanny J, who has done some babysitting for us previously and was available to watch Ella on Fridays. Perfect. However, she has another job working in a café, so is unavailable for the Tuesday/Wednesday alternating days that we also need a Nanny for. Enter Nanny C, who is a nursing student, and has been super flexible with her time and agreed to watch Ella on the Tuesday/Wednesday. So, although not an ideal situation, it has worked out pretty well so far. Once the end of March hits, we have grandparents visiting for about three months, so we won't need to continue with the Nannies until July. By this time I'm hoping we will have got into a local daycare.

Anyway, in an effort to be organised on the Friday before school started, Andy and I sat down and looked at our week ahead. We worked out things like:
  • Who would drive and who would cycle to work each day (we are a one car family, and with driving comes the long commute on daycare days. If I had a choice, I would always cycle!)
  • When we each had meetings and would have to stay late at school
  • A meal plan for the week
  • When we could each fit in some time for exercise/yoga
I felt pretty happy over the weekend that we'd have a great start to the school year. I should have known better. Here's how it actually panned out...

Daycare day. Wendy driving, Andy cycling. 5:30am alarm. This is probably a bit earlier than needed, but we like to be out the door by 7am to avoid the heaviest traffic times. Ella seemed to get the memo that we had an early morning, and helpfully woke on her own at 6:20am (unusual, I normally have to wake her at this time). We are super prepared and out the door by 6:40am. I get to daycare when they open, at 7am on the dot. Ella is the first child there, which I feel a bit guilty about. Even more so when she curls into me and cries as I try to say good-bye. I try not to cry myself, as I hand her over to an educator and leave her there sobbing. Toddler separation anxiety sucks.
I have a super full on day of meetings and workshops that are not scheduled to end until 5pm. It's a "professional learning day", meaning no students are in. We would normally get a bit of individual planning time during these days before the students arrive so you could sit with your teams and prepare some lessons. However, we had some "disappointing" Year 12 results last year, resulting in lots of extra meetings and thinking about what went wrong, so that it doesn't happen again next year. It's a tough start to the year! At 4:10, I get a phone call from the daycare. Ella has a fever. I need to go and pick her up. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit relieved to leaving the very full on workshop I was in - I'm pretty exhausted by this point. I pick up Ella and get home around 5:30pm. Andy arrives soon after, and we work together to get dinner ready and then do the bath/book/bed routine with Ella. We have a rough night with Ella, she wakes every few hours and is still feverish. We give lots of Panadol and ibuprofen (well, the recommended doses) and this helps her calm down and sleep.

My day off. Andy cycles to work so that I can use the car to run some errands that day. My original plan to wake up early with Andy so that I can get myself ready before Ella wakes up goes out the window due to lack of sleep the night before. I stay in bed until Ella wakes up. She seems better. We have a lovely lazy morning together, eating breakfast and getting ready, and then I take her grocery shopping with me. She is the perfect child. We get home, have a bit of play time, and then she goes down for her nap. I spend some time writing my last blog post, and then start some food prep for the week. I feel super productive and start to rethink this whole "working mom" thing. I totally rule at stay-at-home-mom life. I hear Ella wake from her nap and think, no problem, I'll just give her some lunch while I finish up the rest of the food prep I intended on doing. Easy. HAHAHA. This is when it all goes pear-shaped. Ella literally screams for an hour while I try everything I know to distract her. She doesn't want to play with my iPhone, watch The Wiggles, or eat any of her favourite foods (not even raisins), so I know something must be wrong. I'm beside myself. I finally give her a dose of baby painkiller and she calms down when it kicks in. Whew. Thank goodness. In the meantime, Andy lets me know that on his way to work, part of his bike tire blew up. He's getting public transport home which takes ages from his school, and this starts to mess up some of our plans for the week. Most importantly, I don't get to go to my scheduled in yoga class that evening. When Andy finally gets home, he and Ella cuddle up on the couch while I make dinner, which is cute, but unlike her. She has another feverish night, but it's being managed by the Panadol and she is still eating and drinking so I'm not super worried that anything is wrong yet.

Nanny C day. The original plan was I would drive, however with Andy's busted bike tire we have to swap. Nanny C is due to arrive at 8am, which means it is cutting it close for me to get to work on time on my bike, but luckily I don't teach first period so I have a bit of wiggle room. Before Nanny C arrives I make sure we don't have anything embarrassing lying around the house, and try to tidy so that we don't look like slobs. Andy is complaining about how complicated our routine is. I snap that it's not that hard, we are just tired. Sleepless nights are not great on a marriage. Luckily we are both able to mostly ignore each other's behaviour when we know keep down it's due to tiredness. I am somewhat nervous about leaving a sick Ella with Nanny C on her first day. (She has babysat Ella previously for a few hours, but this is her first whole day). But she is in her last year of nursing so is probably much more knowledgable illness than me. Plus, Ella is her usual self once the Panadol kicks in, so I'm not sure she is even that sick. I explain the situation to Nanny C when she arrives, telling her to call me if Ella gets worse and I will come home. Nanny C seems much less anxious about the whole thing than I am. My work day goes well - it's my first day of teaching since I went on maternity leave in June 2015, and it is great to be back in the classroom. Throughout the day Nanny C sends me text message to assure me that Ella is fine, although her fever returns after her nap. I start to wonder how long we should let a fever go on before going to the doctor. Andy googles this - the answer is 48 hours. He promptly makes a doctor's appointment for 4:30pm, almost exactly 48 hours after we got a call from daycare regarding the fever on Monday. Andy leaves work early to take Ella to the doctor. Surprise, surprise, it's a virus. We are to continue treating with Panadol unless she gets worse. It is nearly always useless taking a sick child to the doctor's. However you don't want to risk not going, just in case it is the one time that something is actually wrong.  We have a slightly better night's sleep, and Ella wakes without a fever, yay!

Daycare day. Wendy cycles, Andy drives. Andy drops Ella off without any tears for the first time since we returned from our Christmas holidays. Another yay! Daycare lets us know Ella has a good morning. But then, around 3pm... the dreaded daycare pick up call. She's got a rash. Rashes and daycare DO NOT go together. Andy picks her up. I have a meeting after school which seems to go on forever. I'm pretty tired by the time I leave, but make myself go to yoga, as planned. As always, I feel much better after my class. By the time I get home Ella has just gone to sleep, which makes me a bit sad. But Andy says she seems ok, despite the rash. She has been like this before, we think it is roseola infantum. Basically, the rash is harmless and signals the end of the virus, but we won't be able to go back to daycare until it has disappeared.

Nanny J day. Wendy cycles, Andy drives. Before Nanny J arrives I'm in a good mood. On Nanny days I don't leave for work until 7:45ish, and the morning feels endless. Why have I wasted so much of my life going to work so early? Having a leisurely morning is divine. I even have two coffees! Nanny J arrives just as Ella is waking. Her rash doesn't look too bad, and Nanny J is not concerned at all that she has been unwell. Ella doesn't seem to mind me leaving her with Nanny J, and I leave happily on my bike. It's a glorious morning and I'm feeling great... until I hear something hit the wheel of my tire. There is a clanging noise, as if something is stuck in the spokes of the tires. I pull over and check out my bike. My heart starts to sink as I hear the hissing sound of air escaping from the tire. It sinks even further as I spot the huge nail sticking out of it. The clanging sound was the nail hitting my mudguards as it went round and round. The faint silver lining of all this is that I am not actually that far from home. I walk back and take out my phone to call Nanny J to let me in the garage (she has my set of keys). As I look at my phone I notice a text message from a colleague/friend. She's asking if I can cover a class period 1. Noooo! There is no way I will make it to school on time to cover that class. I hate letting people down. I frantically try and contact someone at school to make sure they know I won't be there, while also googling the quickest route via public transport. In the end I'm only 15 minutes late for school, which isn't bad, all things considered. I just can't believe that both Andy and I have ruined our bike tires in the same week! I get to school and it is mostly fine. But at lunch I find out that I'm expected to go on Year 7 camp, which is three weeks from now! And for a whole week. I'm a bit annoyed that I haven't been told sooner, and stressed at what Andy's reaction will be. After a bit of back and forth, it looks like I will be able to switch to Year 8 camp instead, which is in Term 2 and when my mom will be here, so at least Andy will have her around to help out with Ella. But the whole thing makes me feel anxious... I hate feeling like I'm not able to totally commit to things at work. I don't want to be seen as a slacker, or get any special treatment. It's not like I'm the only person with a young child on staff! But it just feels that much harder as we don't have any family to depend on here. It makes me want to go back to Canada sooner rather than later. But perhaps I should leave the major life decisions to a week where I've had a bit more sleep. Anyway, I leave work as soon as I can. A lovely colleague gives me a lift and stays for a glass of wine, which is a nice end to a long week. Ella seems ok when I get home and Nanny J says she's been eating and drinking well all day. But her rash has gotten worse. Ella is pretty hard work that evening, crying at every little thing, and Andy is coaching soccer so I'm on my own. When I finally get her to bed I collapse on the sofa with a glass of wine and watch The Crown. We order pizza when Andy gets home and go to bed soon after. We are woken at midnight to the sound of Ella vomiting in bed. It's scary as it sounds like she is choking. We cuddle her and calm her down while changing the sheets in her cot and cleaning it all up. We all finally get back into bed but now every time she coughs I jump out of bed to make sure she is ok. She vomits a second time at 3am, and we change her sheets again. Andy makes another doctor's appointment for the morning. This time I take her in to sleep with me and Andy goes to sleep on the couch. Thankfully, we all sleep pretty soundly after that.

Today. Everyone is tired. We wake up later than usual and rush out the door to the doctor. Again, we are told it's a virus, but the vomiting was probably due to a different one than the fever/rash. We just need to watch her to see if she gets worse. On the way home we get two new tires for our bikes. Ella is pretty tired all day, but starts to perk up around 6pm and has a healthy dinner. We have a fun playtime after that and she goes down to bed easily. I pour myself a wine and settle on to the balcony to write this post. I can hear a large group of people singing along to a DJ, there is some sort of music festival going on at Ceres today. It reminds me of another lifetime. It sounds like fun.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Currently... January

Currently I am sitting outside on our balcony, drinking a coffee and enjoying the peace and quiet as Ella has just gone down for her nap. It's my day off, and I've designated my day off "food prep day" in an attempt to get organised now that we've gone back to work. I took Ella grocery shopping this morning (at Woolworths, always Woolworths, as they have free fruit for kids which makes the trip infinitely easier) and now I have a list of dinner things to prep and snack items to make before she wakes. But first a little rest and "me time" while I finish off this post.

Reading: Yes Please! by Amy Poehler. I started this book while in California. It belongs to my brother's girlfriend, who we were staying with. I only got halfway through before we left and had to leave it there, but I would like to finish it. I didn't love it at first, but it grew on me as I read it. Parts of it where she writes about people from Saturday Night Live and certain sketches (in particular Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin during the 2008 election) have made me go back and look up old episodes on YouTube. On motherhood, she has a motto that I love and want to apply to my life: "Good for you, Not for me". She also has a chapter entitled "Every Mother Needs a Wife". Amen! I'm looking forward to reading the second half at some point. I also read The Girls by Emma Cline for book club. I liked, but didn't love, this book. It's set in 1969, told from the point of view of a teenager that ends up getting involved with a cult. I found out later that it is a fictional telling of the Charles Manson murders, which I knew next to nothing about before reading this book. So that made it more interesting. I kind of wish I had known the context before reading it though.

Watching: The tennis! I love the Australian Open. We didn't go this year, because... Ella. But we watched a lot on TV. The Federer/Nadal final was intense. I'm not going to lie, I went to bed before the end as it was a Sunday night and we had to get up for work the next day (ugh). Either would have been a deserving winner, but I was pleased to wake up Monday morning to see Federer win. He is such a legend.

Drinking: My copycat 'cacophony' coffee from Barefoot Coffee in San Jose. I was obsessed with this when we were in California over Christmas and tried out my own recipe the day after we got back to Melbourne. I think I got the proportions ok: 1 tsp of cacao, 1/2 tsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper added to my Linizio Lungo Nespresso pod, topped with steamed milk. I've made up a big batch of the mixture and both Andy and I add it to our coffees every morning.

Realizing: That I actually don't like shopping anymore. Before our trip to California, I was really looking forward to shopping in America. I thought I'd find some great deals after Christmas. But it turns out shopping really wasn't all that exciting - it is certainly an activity I have come to enjoy less and less lately. Maybe it is just because I am missing my best shopping partner - my mom! But frankly our budget would be out of control if I shopped as much as I did when I was in my 20s!

Enjoying: All of Ella's words! I swear she learns a new word everyday. It's amazing. I'm loving how much she can communicate, although I'm not going to lie, she learned the word "apple" last week and now she constantly asks for apples, which can get on your nerves. But mostly its hilarious and great.

Wanting: Our house to be in order. We are very nearly there. I just want everything to have a place. My big pet peeve is a constant pile of papers on the kitchen table. You know, bills, mail, and things that you have to do something about so you leave them out to remind yourself, but that pile is just a constant, annoying reminder of some sort of boring life admin you should be doing. I long for a constantly cleared kitchen table!

I also want (Andy) to build this "Learning Tower" for Ella. It's so that she can safely stand up to the kitchen counter and learn more about food and cooking.  

Considering: What my "rhythms" should be. I've been reading Allie Casazza's blog on purposeful living. One article talks about working out your rhythms. These are basically your habits that you do automatically in your day, that help make things run more smoothly. So some things I'm trying to build into my daily routine are:

  • Meditating first thing in the morning (see more on that in my last blog post). I've done this nearly every day since we got back from holidays.
  • Before leaving for work, making sure the kitchen counter and sink are clean and free of dishes. I normally do the cooking in our house while Andy plays with/distracts Ella. I really hate having to clean up dishes from breakfast or the previous night, before starting to cook. It just seems to make the whole process take a lot longer. So I've decided that taking an extra few minutes in the morning and being a few minutes later to work is totally worth it.
  • Packing bags the night before. We were inconsistent with this last year, but both realise that the morning is so much easier if clothes are picked out and bags are packed the night before rather than the morning of. 

Loving: Lots of things lately! My new yoga studio, Australian Yoga Academy in Northcote. It's a beautiful studio and I love all of the teachers. After trying out two other studios in the area I'm happy to find one I love as much as Kindred Movement to continue my practice. I'm also loving our new balcony furniture and plants which have made the space much more inviting - sitting outside on our warm summer nights with a glass of wine reading a good book is the perfect end to a day for me. 

Hating: Trump. Nuff said.

Wearing: Lots of cotton summer dresses and flip flops (or thongs as they are called here in Oz). This last week I've had to start wearing work clothes again which is a bummer.

Planning: A weekend away in March, for Labour Day. We are leaning towards Bright, which is about three hours north-east of Melbourne. Two days into the school year and I'm already looking forward to the first long weekend!

Pic of the Month: This pic of Ella playing with her new kitchen. She absolutely loves it. She looks so grown-up in this picture, I can't even believe it!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

A New, Simpler Year

So, this comes a bit late as a "New Year's Resolution" type post, as we are already nearly into the second month of 2017. But with the craziness of our holidays I haven't really had the time or space to write down all my thoughts on how I'd like this year to go. I love the start of a new year: looking back on the past 12 months and thinking about how to improve myself over the next 12 months. I know that statistically pretty much no one sticks to their New Year's resolutions, and it's not like something magical happens on January 1st that changes people into the person they've always wanted to be. But even still, I love the sense of a fresh start that you get on 1st January every year.

This year, instead of setting goals such as "I want to run a marathon" or "I want to eat better" as I've done in the past, I'm taking advice from this podcast on purposeful living. The idea is to think of a word or a phrase that acts as a theme for the year. Hopefully this word will be reflected in my daily actions, and can help me to clarify my priorities. The word I've thought that should define 2017 for me is something I've been working on over the past year, but I would like to give it my full focus this year. The word I've chosen to help define my goals and actions in 2017 is SIMPLIFY.

In a nutshell, I want to focus on living more simply and purposefully, through continuing to cultivate a practice of mindfulness. Our lives these days seem ridiculously busy, but I firmly believe that we have more control over this than we think, and we choose how busy we are. I really enjoyed this TED Talk by Laura Vanderkam on gaining control of your free time. One of her points I totally agree with is that when you say you don't have time for something, what you are really saying is that it is not a priority for you. People always find a way to make time for the things that are truly priorities. Living a more simple life, with less "stuff" (both material items and "things to do" in the schedule) means that you have more time to give to your priorities. 

One other piece of advice Vanderkam gives in her talk is to think about the start of next year. What would you like to say your year was like? (Or at work, what would your performance review say about you next year?) This is an excellent way to really define what is important to you, so that you can choose how to spend your time. I don't think that next year, when I look back at my year, I'll be happy if my biggest accomplishments are how many posts I put on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat or that I watched all of the hot new TV shows on Netflix. So maybe I need to re-evaluate how much time I give to these activities, seeing as I wouldn't like to think of them as my top priorities!

My biggest motivation for wanting to simplify my life is Ella. I don't want to feel like my life is too "busy" that I can't enjoy just sitting on the floor and playing with her. She is already 18 months old and changes so much every day. I want to make sure that the time I am spending with Ella is quality time, where I am living in the present, and free of thoughts like "I need to get x, y and z done". Because surely whatever x, y and z are, they are not more important than spending time with my child.

So living simply, for me, is firstly about choosing to be less busy, and making an effort to ensure I am spending my time doing things that are important to me. It is also about trying to consume less. Last year I  read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo, and it inspired me to examine my possessions in a new light. Kondo claims that if you use her method of tidying, the "KonMari" method, you will forever live in a place surrounded by things that bring you joy and you will never have to tidy again. Sounds like bliss. However, the KonMari method is pretty brutal, and basically you have to examine every item that you own, and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If the answer is no, or if you even hesitate to say yes, then it means you have to get rid of it. I did a pretty ruthless job of KonMari-ing my clothes after reading her book, though I know there are still items in my wardrobe that don't really bring me joy, but I still have an inexplicable attachment to. We also did a good job of getting rid of a lot of our "stuff" before we moved a few months ago. It's all a work in progress. And I still have to work on not making impulse purchases, especially when it comes to things for Ella! 

I think that practicing meditation and mindfulness can help with both of these aspects of living simply. When we are being mindful we are better at making decisions and that is at the heart transitioning towards a more simple life. In the spirit of simplifying my meditation practice, I've been doing a very short meditation every morning as soon as I wake up. I recently read this book by Leo Babauta on developing habits, and he talks a lot about mindfulness as a way to get over the resistance we have to developing new, good habits. Some of the advice that really resonated with me was to start out with a really simple (theme!) habit, and that consistency is key. So, to develop a habit of meditating daily, it is better to spend just a few minutes every day meditating, rather than doing a half hour meditation once a month or something. I started by doing just two minutes, because there was just no way I could tell myself that I didn't have time to meditate for two minutes in the morning! I've been gradually building on this time, but Babauta advises not to add on more time until the habit you are developing has actually become just that, a habit. Something you do automatically without really thinking about. If you try to do too much too quickly, it is easy to find excuses as to why you don't have time for your habit, and failure in creating the habit will be highly likely. 

And so, there you have it, my theme for 2017. I'm looking forward to trying to put this into practice in all aspects of my life, especially as the summer holidays come and I we start back into the routine of working for another school year. 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Back in Melbourne for the past two weeks

We've been back in Melbourne from our Christmas/family holiday for nearly two weeks now. Although I miss constantly having family around, I have enjoyed getting back into the routine of our lives here. I have especially enjoyed returning to the southern hemisphere for the summer, and leaving winter behind! Luckily as teachers we don't go back to work until the end of January, and so have still been on holidays these past two weeks.

Ella seems happy to be back in the familiar surroundings of our house. As soon as got back home from the airport she promptly walked over to her little sofa and sat down, grinning from ear to ear. She has spent a lot of time on that little sofa, reading books to herself and playing with all her little toy animals on her own. She is starting to role play more now, she does things like pretend her animals are talking to each other, or tries to give them her bottle, or dummy, or some of her food. It's very cute. Her main Christmas gift from my parents is a toy kitchen, this one from IKEA:

We haven't built it yet - it needs to be fastened to the wall for safety, so we just have to double check with the landlord that we can drill into the wall. It's times like this that I long to stop renting and own our own house!

We have been having typical Melbourne weather since being back. That basically means that it varies wildly from day to day. Some days it is so hot you can barely be outside, some days are a lovely perfect temperature with a mix of sun and clouds, and some days we get a cool change and it feels like autumn is already here. Mostly it has been good though. We've been enjoying lazy summer mornings, keeping our pyjamas on and playing with Ella in the house, or taking her to the park and swimming at our local pool, Brunswick Baths. I've been trying get ahead by cooking and freezing food for Ella, in preparation for the busyness that will no doubt descend on us as we get back into our work routine. I am going to be working four days a week this year, which I will admit I am not looking forward to at all! 

Last weekend we were pretty busy, catching up with lots of friends. On Saturday we checked out Brickvention, a Lego Expo held at the Royal Exhibition Centre in Carlton. The main hall was filled with some very impressive Lego models, including replica cities and very elaborate train sets. This isn't normally my thing, but I'll admit the creations were very impressive.

On Sunday we had an early morning catch-up with my mother's group at the park near Collingwood station. This is where we used to meet every Tuesday afternoon when our toddlers were just little babies. Oh, the memories! We used to just sit on picnic blankets while the babies stayed in one place, happy to just gaze at the trees or play with a little toy. (I'm purposely not remembering the times when a baby would be crying inconsolably, and that mother would have to take it on a walk around the park to calm it down. That happened at least once an afternoon!) They are not so easily amused now, and were running around, playing with cricket bats and balls and climbing all over the playground equipment. Being back there made me really sad that I can't catch up with these ladies and their little ones on a regular basis anymore.

Andy, Ella and I then went for brunch at our old local, Mavis the Grocer. We shared the zucchini and haloumi fritters, and Ella enjoyed a green smoothie:

After lunch we headed to Little Creatures Brewery in Geelong. It was just over an hour drive, and Ella slept pretty much the whole way. It's always a major win when her nap times fall into place with driving times on a packed day out! Little Creatures is super kid friendly, with lots of outdoor seating and a sand pit for kids. There were lots of children running around so Ella fit in perfectly. Our friends with an 8-month-old were also there, and Ella was fascinated with him. She kept pointing to him, saying "baby" which was cute. We spent a good few hours there trying different beers, eating good food, and enjoying the sunshine before heading home.

After a very busy weekend it was nice to have Ella in daycare on Monday so that Andy and I could get a few house jobs done. I'm not going to lie, we also enjoyed brunch in peace at the fabulous Kitty Burns, conveniently located near the daycare. I've been virtuously ordering the "Kitty Greens" (pic below) which still seems indulgent despite being solely made up of green veggies. I've also been sampling cold brew coffee from different locations. Cold brew is coffee brewed in cold water for 24 (or so) hours, and then served over ice. It can be slightly bitter, I guess based on the beans or length of brewing time. I've found it to be smoothest, not to mention presented the best, at Kitty Burns.

Daycare drop offs have been a bit harder since arriving back. Ella gets very tearful when we try and leave, which she never was before. She is obviously used to having us around all the time and is not happy to leave us. Apparently she is okay again a few minutes after we leave, but that still doesn't stop me wanting to cry as well when we say good-bye. Hopefully after a few weeks she will be back into routine.

During our free days we have been working on our citizenship application, which I just finalised this morning. We had to list all of the countries we have visited in the last 10 years, so it took some time to get all those straight! Now we just wait for our application to be processed before we are given a date for our citizenship test. The current waiting time is 80 days.  I also wanted to get some furniture for our balcony so that I can enjoy the lovely summer weather while it lasts. That required a trip to IKEA, which is never a simple or quick task. Andy and I managed to complete this still married and talking to each other, so although long, it was a successful IKEA visit in the end. Furniture bought, we now need to build it, a project I'm hoping to complete this weekend!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

California Holiday Highlights

This is my fourth (and final) post on our Christmas holiday in California. Read part one about flying with a toddler here, part two about our time in Tahoe here, and part three about our weekend in Santa Rosa here.

We spent the majority of our three weeks in California at my brother's place in Campbell, California. Campbell is located just outside of San Jose, about 45 minutes from San Francisco, in the heart of Silicon Valley. My brother moved here 10 years ago to take a job as a video game programmer, and is now working as a software engineer for a start-up company. His girlfriend Ashley works for Google. Yes, their jobs are way cooler than mine.

Here are some of the things we got up to and places we went to while we were here:

Eating, eating, and more eating. Mixed in with some drinking. I think we sampled the majority of Campbell's eateries during the time we were there. A highlight was Ashley and Mike's favourite restaurant, Orchard City Kitchen, owned by a former Michelin-star chef. OCK has a creative range of cocktails and a tapas style menu, so we were able to sample a lot of different dishes. We also loved Aqui's, a Mexican restaurant serving healthy, organic food at affordable prices. I think we ate here three times as the food was so good, on top of being quick, cheap, and Ella-friendly.

Barefoot Coffee. It's hard to find good coffee in America, especially when you are used to Melbourne's finest. The place is saturated with Starbucks (there were three within a ten minute walk of Mike's place). However walk a little bit further and you get to Barefoot Coffee. We visited this place almost daily - best coffee in Campbell - or maybe even all of California! But also slowest coffee in Campbell. We waited nearly 20 minutes once and Andy swore we would never go back. The next day we went to Starbucks, and while it only took three minutes to get our coffee, it tasted like shit (or more specifically, hot milk with a little bit of terrible coffee mixed in). So we sucked it up and went back to Barefoot the next day. When on holidays you can afford to choose quality over speed. I LOVED one of their speciality coffees: the Cacophony. A cappuccino with cocoa, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. So yum. I have already tried to recreate it now that we are back home, with very pleasing results!

Los Gatos Creek. The trail following the creek passes close to my brother's place, so we spent a good deal of time walking, jogging, and cycling along it. Yes, that's right, I said jogging! Andy and I went on a few runs and it felt good to get back into running after what seems like a long break, even if we only ran 4km each time. Slow and steady! Campbell Park, located off the trail, had a good size playground that we took Ella to a few times. It's where I snapped this pic, one of my favourites of the holiday of Ella and her Nannie:

Loving the merry-go-round with Nannie!

Going down the slide 

: A shop on the main street in Campbell that sells only "socially conscious" California-made products. I wanted to buy pretty much everything in this shop. I settled on some moisturising oil from By Nieves. My brother gave me a sampler of their products last Christmas and I loved the "C" Perfect Skin product. Also, the owners are a married couple, and the guy is from Melbourne! (His wife is a local). Such a nice guy, I totally recommend supporting this shop.

Campo di Bocce (Los Gatos). We played Bocce Ball here one evening which was really fun. It reminded me of when we were all in Australia for Christmas 2014 and played lawn bowls. We played on (heated) outdoor courts lit up with fairy lights, which gave it a magical feeling. Ella loved watching and "helping" by throwing the balls around.

Happy Hallow (San Jose). This is like a mini-amusement park for little kids. Ella went on her first merry-go-round and also two rides on her own! She was a bit hesitant at first and I think confused when we buckled her in and then left her to watch from the sides. But once the ride started she was loving it. The only hard part was that each time a ride stopped she screamed as she wanted it to keep going. There is also a small zoo here so plenty to do for a full day with kids.

Enjoying her first amusement park ride
Loving her second ride
Children's Discovery Museum (San Jose). This was another amazing museum aimed at kids, similar (but different) to the one we went to in Santa Rosa. Why don't we have places like this in Melbourne?!! We wisely left the water play area until last, and predictably Ella loved it and probably could have stayed there for hours. Also, fun fact: The museum is located on Woz Way. Sounds like a stupid street name, until we realised it was named after Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.

Driving a Fire Truck
Running through a giant tunnel made of tape

Fun times in the water activity centre

Santana Row (San Jose). Fancy shopping street. We stopped in to a Tesla display room which was kind of cool. I have never EVER wanted to spend a lot of money on a car, or even cared what kind of car we own. But I could make an exception in this case... It is after all, very environmentally friendly! There are high end designer stores on this street, mixed in with shops like H&M and Lululemon for us regular folk. There are some good eating options as well, we ate at Pluto's which had amazing roast sandwiches and fresh salads made to order. There were very healthy options for kids, Ella had roast turkey with peas and broccoli. (It may have come with a rice krispie treat that Andy and I may or may not have eaten in secret.) At the end of Santana Row is Westfield's Valley Fair, your regular American shopping mall.

Santana Row - the only shop I can afford, H&M!
Checking out her future car
Winchester Mystery House (San Jose). My parents took a tour here one afternoon. Andy and I declined as it was a bit pricey and not Ella-friendly. The house was built by Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Arms Company. After the death of her husband and daughter she felt her family was cursed, and went to a psychic for advice. The psychic told her that there were many spirits angry with her for all the deaths caused by Winchester rifles. In order to appease the spirits, she would have to build a house for all of the spirits. If construction of the house ever stopped, she would also die. So she took this advice and for the next 38 years she had builders working on the house 24 hours a day, 356 days a year. The result is a gigantic, complex house that is now open for tours.

Alcatraz (San Francisco). We only spent one day in San Fran, on our way to Santa Rosa. We booked tours for Alcatraz in advance as they tend to sell out - in fact we went at the end of December and there was a sign saying the next available tour was Jan 5. It was pretty eerie to walk around a former prison, but interesting to learn about the history of Alcatraz and the stories from the time it was a prison. The tour was self-guided, which I was initially disappointed about, however I thought it was really well done. The recording was of former guards and prisoners telling first-hand accounts of what it was like in Alcatraz, giving it an authenticity you wouldn't get from a regular tour guide. 

The Rock

Of course, the best part of the holiday was watching Ella get to know her Canadian (and American) family a lot better. She was very comfortable with everyone within a few days and even started saying "Mike" near the end of the trip. It was sad to say good-bye, as it always is, but a bit easier this time as we are all meeting in Bali for a holiday in April. Although it is hard living so far away from family, I am, as always, thankful that we all have the means to travel and were able to spend this quality time together.

Friday, 6 January 2017

New Year's in Santa Rosa

This is the third post about our Christmas holiday in California. Read part one about flying with a toddler here, and part two about our time in Tahoe here.

After Christmas we spent the week at Mike & Ashley's place in Campbell, just outside of San Jose, California. I'll write about what we got up to there in my next post. The next weekend was New Year's and on Friday we drove north to the city of Santa Rosa, located in the heart of wine country, Sonoma County.

Sonoma is a pretty expensive part of the world to stay in, so when booking our options were pretty limited unless we wanted to spend tons of cash on accommodation (we didn't). We ended up in a 2-bed Airbnb with a futon in the living room. It was a tight squeeze for the seven of us, but in the end we managed pretty well. Our hosts lived in the house next door, which was built in 1907 after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The earthquake destroyed a lot of Santa Rosa, our host told us it was the hardest city hit per capita. Our actual Airbnb was built in 1968 on the site of the original horse carriage house.

Saturday morning Andy, my dad and I took Ella to the Children's Museum of Sonoma County. This place is awesome! Designed for children under 10, it's full of different hands on exhibits and areas to explore. The main exhibit is the Science and Imagination Gallery, where Ella enjoyed having the freedom to wander around, checking out anything that piqued her interest. There were different rooms set up for imaginative play, such as a doctor's office, a dentist, a hardware room, a diner, etc. She was especially taken with a train that circled around the ceiling that you could watch ride by on the second floor. There was also a bubble room with huge sinks of soap and giant bubble wands. Ella is obsessed with bubbles at the moment so it was hard to get her to leave this room! In addition to the main exhibit there was also a room for "under 2s" called TOTopia which Ella also loved and was a bit calmer than the rest of the museum. It was kind of like being at her daycare where she is free to roam around and play with anything there in a relatively safe environment. Outside there was more to do - a river and water play area, a life size tractor and helicopter to play in, a pretend farmers market with fresh veg and herbs grown in the garden. I feel like I'm not doing justice to the amount there was for kids to do here. If we lived nearby it is a place I'd be taking Ella to on a weekly basis. I'm already trying to work out how I can get a similar place up and running in Melbourne...

Pretend Kitchen
Activity board
Ball pit in TOTopia
Doctor's office
River demonstration
Life size helicopter

The Children's Museum is right next door to the Charles M. Schultz Museum. Schultz is the creator of the Peanuts cartoon and spent a lot of his life in Santa Rosa. There is also a Peanuts themed ice skating rink that looks like a Swiss Chalet beside the museum. We didn't visit either as we didn't think they were very "Ella friendly" activities, but both have really good reviews and would suit older children. There are a lot of Peanuts statues around the city in homage to Schultz:

Charlie Brown statue

After our busy morning at the museum we thought Ella might have a nap back at the Airbnb while we watched Canada play the USA in the World Junior (Ice) Hockey Championships. Watching this annual tournament is normally one of my favourite things about the Christmas holidays. It starts every year on Boxing Day goes for about two weeks. (I can now sadly report the Canada lost the gold medal to the USA in the final game last night. They lost in a shoot-out after being tied 4-4 in regular and overtime. Devastating!) Ella had other plans, however, and refused to take a nap in her cot, so Andy, my mom and I took a walk into the main part of the city so she would sleep in the stroller. This worked like a charm and Ella was asleep within minutes, while the three of us got coffees and browsed the shops on the main street in Santa Rosa.

We didn't have any New Year's plans for dinner, so instead of trying to get a last minute reservation we had a late lunch at Amy's Drive Thru. Ashley recommended this place - Amy's kitchen is a vegetarian brand of convenience and frozen organic food, and they opened their first restaurant in 2015. It's homemade, vegetarian fast food, at very affordable prices. I think my dad and Andy were skeptical - as soon as you use the words organic/vegan/vegetarian those two roll their eyes, even though they end up liking pretty much anything they eat. The food was delicious, healthy and cheap so in the end everyone was happy. Even Ella enjoyed the lentil soup and veggie chili! On the way home Mike, Ashley, Andy and I stopped in a Whole Foods to get some snacks for New Year's eve. Cool fact: Some Whole Foods stores have a Wine and Craft Beer Bar. A bar in a supermarket! Awesome! We thought we'd get a drink there while picking up our snacks, but unfortunately I left my ID in Ella's diaper bag, which was with my parents. Despite being a sleep-deprived, 35-year-old mom with no makeup on, in a Whole Foods on New Years Eve (surely no self-respecting, underage drinker would be trying to get booze from a Whole Foods on New Years Eve?), I was denied the right to even sit in the bar! I always forget how strict they are with showing ID and alcohol in the USA. Fortunately the other three weren't that bothered about having a drink, and didn't make me wander around Whole Foods while they enjoyed a craft beer. So we just got our snacks and went back to the Airbnb.

We arrived home to find Ella bathed and running around with my parents, not looking like she was ready for bed at all. She played with everyone for a while, demanding more food (she is obsessed with oranges at the moment) and then finally getting cranky, signalling her bed time. We've been pretty flexible with her bedtime while we've been here. I hope she has enjoyed it, as once we are home it will be bedtime at 7pm sharp like usual! Once she was asleep we spent the evening eating, drinking, and playing games: Catch Phrase and Secret Hitler. I was Hitler twice and won, woohoo! (That will sound very weird if you don't know the game...)

There was no TV in our Airbnb so I had to scramble to try and find a live airing of a ball drop - not an easy thing to do when you're on the west coast, I found out! We had a pretty anti-climatic countdown, toasting the New Year with our own estimated countdown (midnight confirmed by the sound of fireworks outside) and then pretty much going to bed. Things are pretty rock and roll when you're in your thirties and have young children. Sleep takes priority over pretty much everything, drinking included!

The next morning all of us except Andy and Ella went for a $25, hour long "Foot Reflexology" treatment at Michael's Reflexology Centre on 4th Street. At that price I wasn't expecting much, but it was advertised as coming with a back, shoulder, and head massage so I was looking forward to that, especially in my slightly hungover state. The five of us were led to the back of the "centre" (shop) where a bunch of huge leather chairs were set up. There was already one woman there having her treatment, and she did look relaxed. At this point I was thinking "a massage on New Year's Day, on your own, what a great start to the New Year. Why haven't I thought of this before?!" Anyway, the treatment ended up being a full body (fully clothed) massage (with particular attention paid to my butt, which was probably needed), and was one of the best massages I've had, ever. And I've had my share of massages! It was probably the best $25 (plus tip!) I've ever spent. We all left feeling like we were walking on clouds. I'm thinking a New Year's Day massage should be a new family tradition.

Next Ashley, mom and I did a bit of shopping at Crossing the Jordan. This is a consignment shop, with proceeds going to support their Life Transformation Program. This program helps women who have experienced some sort of trauma (trafficking, addiction, abuse) get back on their feet. I wish there were more stores like this, where you can shop for a good cause! I got a cute dress for Ella, plus a jacket and a work dress for me. The girls working there told Ashley they thought Andy looked like Ryan Reynolds. Lol. I don't even think that Andy even knew who he was, but he has since googled him, and I don't think I'm ever going to hear the end of it. An example of a recurring conversation we've had nearly every day this week:

Wendy: Why do you take so long to get ready in the morning? What are you even doing?
Andy: It takes time to look as good as Ryan Reynolds.
Etc, etc. You get the picture.

For lunch we went to Russian River Brewing Company. It's a pretty popular place, and we were told it would be about a 1 1/2 hour wait for a table for the seven of us. Ella was ready for a nap, so my parents took her for a walk while the four of us went to get a little snack to tide us over. We ended up at Tex Wasabi's, which serves BBQ and sushi. Weird combination, but surprisingly good. Unfortunately we had little time to appreciate our food, as minutes after we ordered we got a text saying our table was ready at Russian River. They were a little off on their table wait times! Scarfing down Edamame beans, we hurriedly paid the bill at Text Wasabi's and rushed back to the brewery. My parents and Ella were already there, with a tasting platter of 16 different beers. (There are normally 18, but they were out of two). Once we had all decided which was our favourite, we ordered some excellent pizza and beers to enjoy.

Tasting beers at Russian River Brewing Company

Bellies full, we took a walk down to Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, and Juilliard Park, playing with Ella until the sun started to go down. We had beautiful sunny weather the whole weekend, but once the sun went down it would get very cold.

Luther Burbank Home & Gardens

Juilliard Park playground
The next morning my parents took Ella back to the Children's Museum while the four of us packed up the house. After grabbing a quick lunch we headed back to Mike and Ashley's for our final week in California.