Saturday, 22 July 2017

School Holiday Highlights Part 2

We've just finished our first week back at work, following three glorious, stress-free weeks hang out in Melbourne together as a family. I wrote about the first two weeks of the school holidays here. Our last week was pretty quiet as we were all a bit under the weather, battling colds at various stages. We spent lots of time in the local area, visiting our favourite playgrounds and cafés. It was nice to just slow down and spend time enjoying our days together. I got to do a lot of reading, listening to podcasts, and yoga, which are basically the ingredients to a perfect day for me. We did manage to go on a few adventurous outings through.

We started the week with a second visit to the Werribee Open Range Zoo. We got there right as it opened, so that we didn't have to wait for the safari bus tour. On our previous visit the week prior it was a 40 minute wait, which we thought was too long for Ella. We met up with one of Andy’s colleagues and his wife and son, who is a few months younger than Ella. The two little ones had a great time chasing each other around the park, checking out the different animals. The safari bus was pretty cool, open air and we saw a range of animals such as giraffes, rhinos and zebras wandering the grounds. It was nice to see them in more of a natural environment and with much more space and freedom than in a regular zoo.

Later in the week we caught up with our friend April at The Boathouse, located in Moonee Ponds along the Maribynong River. April is our first Aussie friend, she was our airbnb host way back when we first moved to Melbourne. I love that we are still friends with her! The Boathouse has a fantastic playground on the lawn with a kiosk selling coffees and small treats (muffins and cookies). It was great to catch up with April. She recently moved into her new house, bought at an auction a few months ago. She talked us through the process of buying a house at an auction, which seems to be the way most houses are sold here. It sounds like a pretty stressful and intimidating process!

Playground at The Boathouse
On Friday Ella had daycare so Andy and I went in to work for the morning. The exciting news around here lately is that Andy got a new job… at my school! We had a Design Technology teacher leave unexpectedly near the end of last term, so it all happened very quickly. Andy’s old school were very supportive and managed to find someone to replace him, and he was able to start at my school on Thursday. I know some people would hate the thought of working with their spouse, but we did it for about three years in London and it was absolutely fine. We work in completely different departments and areas of the school so chances are we won’t see each other during the day unless we plan to meet for lunch. And the nice thing is we get to both drop off and pick up Ella from daycare. I think I will miss riding my bike to school though, as it's such a good way for me to fit in exercise. So I might still choose to ride my bike on occasion so that I don't lose the habit totally.

Our last day of the holidays, we took Ella to the Eltham Miniature Railway. It’s open every Sunday from 11am - 5pm, and for $3 you ride around in a mini train. It was so cool! And as a happy surprise we saw my colleague Michelle, her husband Steve, and their little girl Gemma, who is the same age as Ella. Ella and I stayed with them at their beach house in the Mornington Peninsula during the first week of the school holidays, so Ella and Gemma were very well acquainted and happy to see each other. The train ride was about 15 long and was tons of fun. You ride through scenic bushland, passing other miniature trains on the way. It was definitely $3 well spent.

After the train ride we took advantage of the sausage sizzle and playground, with Ella and Gemma running around happily together. As we were about to leave we spotted pony rides for $5, which we just had to do! I don't know who had more fun: Ella and Gemma on the ponies, or their parents watching them!

All in all we had a pretty great "staycation" here in Melbourne. Usually we are so tired from travelling/jet lag over the school holidays that the week we return to work is torturous. This week was different though, I returned in a very positive frame of mind, feeling refreshed and ready for a new term. I even managed to wake up early on Monday morning to fit in some meditation and yoga… a very productive start to the term if you ask me!

Monday, 10 July 2017

School Holiday Highlights

Andy and I are currently on school holidays, which is obviously the best part of the year for all teachers. Not so much for parents of school aged children, I assume. I’m just starting my third (and final) week off, Andy has had one week less. My school has an extra week of holidays during the winter break; it’s a private school thing. We have enjoyed not travelling for once, spending our time enjoying the crisp, sunny winter days together. Ella has still gone to daycare two days a week, which are luxury “days off” for Andy and I. We’ve got lots of jobs done around the house, and spent time doing things we enjoy: Andy is playing golf right now, and so far today I’ve gone to a yoga class, done a bit of school work, and now I’m sitting in a café writing this blog post on my Mac. I’m pretending I’m some sort of freelance writer doing my work. Ah, what a life that would be! (In my mind... In reality I’d probably hate it!)

During the first week of the holidays while Andy was still at work I took Ella to Rosebud, on the Mornington Peninsula. A colleague/friend of mine, Michelle, has a daughter that is the same age as Ella. We were lucky enough to work and be pregnant together, and then have maternity leave at the same time. We saw a lot of each other with the girls when we were on maternity leave and they were little. Michelle and I still grab coffee together at work almost weekly, but now it's much harder to get together outside of work with our toddlers.

The girls had a great time together, most of the time. Their favourite activity together was “jumping monkeys”: two girls jumping up and down in a port-a-cot and then collapsing in a heap of giggles. Ella also loved playing fetch with their dog, Beau. Being normal two-year-olds, they always wanted whatever the other was playing with, so we had to try to manage sharing and taking turns. Sharing seems like a rubbish idea to a toddler. I mean, why would you want to share the best toy anyway?

We spent a lot of time at playgrounds in and around Rosebud. There is a pretty epic park on the Rosebud foreshore, which I didn’t get any pictures of, but there is a good review of here. We also visited the playground in Rye, located right on the beach, which was immense. Both were pretty quiet as it’s winter, but I’d imagine they get pretty packed in the summertime.

We took a trip up to Arthur’s Seat and watched the new cable cars, which give an amazing view of the Mornington Peninsula. We then stopped for lunch at Epicurean and a play at yet another playground (sensing a theme here?) in Red Hill.

Before we left Ella and I spent some time running along the empty, windy beach in Rye.

Still on my week off without Andy, Ella and I took a trip to the Melbourne Museum. Normally I wouldn’t venture here on school holidays with her, as the Children’s Area can be a bit of a madhouse. But we went in the late afternoon, and the place starts to empty out by about 3pm. Those two hours before the museum closes are the quietest (and therefore the best) time to visit , in my opinion.

The first weekend of holidays for Andy was Ella’s birthday, which I wrote about here.

Last week we took a trip to the Werribee Open Range Zoo which was pretty cool. We all have zoo memberships, which gives you entry to the Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary, and Werribee. We have visited the other two but this was our first trip to Werribee. The main attraction is a safari tour in an open bus. The wait for this was about 40 minutes, plus 40 minutes on the tour itself, which we thought was too long for Ella. We are planning a trip back tomorrow with an aim to arrive as the Zoo opens so that we can get on the bus quickly.

There was still plenty to see however. There are four lion cubs with their parents, along with gorillas, wild dogs, meerkats, monkeys and hippos. The landscape and grounds are really well done, and there were lots of areas for Ella to enjoy, such as a playground, sand pit (for finding fossils) and a small indoor play centre. Ella is also equally excited by fake animals (statues and the like) as she is with real live animals. She's pretty easy to amuse at this age.

Another morning, Ella and I met up with one of my mother’s group friends, Trudie, at the Collingwood Children’s Farm in our old neighbourhood. I really miss that area! We had a brilliant day at the farm with Trudie and her son. Ella and him were running around, chasing each other.  It’s so lovely to see her actually playing with other children now.

We’ve got on the bikes a few times with Ella, once just to get some groceries, and a second time to meet Adam and Charlotte in Abbotsford (again to the old ‘hood!). We went to our old favourite Kitchen for brunch, and I had the most delicious Buddha Bowl filled with all the good stuff: Quinoa and pearl barley, roasted pumpkin and mushrooms, charred cauliflower, smashed avo and a poached egg. Delicious and healthy. To drink, I didn’t want another coffee, so I had their Spiced Cacao, which was a rich hot chocolate made with cacao and soy milk, with hints of ginger. It was very warming on a chilly winter day! I’ve already googled how to make something similar on my own, this version looks like it would be pretty yummy.  On the way home Ella fell asleep in her bike seat, which is always pretty funny.

Sunday afternoon Charlotte and Adam invited us over for a yummy roast dinner. Their other friends also came, who have a six-month-old. Ella interacting with the baby was SO CUTE. She was talking to the baby, showing her toys, hugging and patting her. I am gutted I didn’t take any pictures! But it made me really excited that one day in the not too distant future (hopefully - this is not a pregnancy announcement!) she will be a big sister.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ella Turns Two!

Last weekend we celebrated two years with our gorgeous little Ella. Two years!  

On Friday night the lovely Charlotte came over to help me wrap presents and bake these chocolate cupcakes. We set up her main present, a teepee (furnished with some cushions and this amazing blanket) with the presents inside, ready for when she woke up in the morning. Ella loves finding little spaces just for her (which we sometimes have to squeeze into as well), so I was sure she would love the teepee. I was really looking forward to her reaction when she saw it!

Saturday morning Andy brought Ella upstairs after waking and she gave a little giggle and pointed when she saw her teepee. She wanted to investigate it, and was immediately into opening the presents inside. We only got through a couple at first as she just wanted to play with them. We had given her some pots and pans and cooking utensils to go with her play kitchen.

That morning we went to swimming as usual and then to brunch at Lux Foundry in Brunswick I’ve been wanting to try this place for a while but it always looks super busy. It was a cold but sunny morning, and we managed to get a table outside near a heater. I know I often complain about winter in Melbourne (mainly because the houses are freezing)  but it’s pretty great that you can eat outside nearly all year long!

After brunch we let Ella run around outside, trying to tire her out so she would nap. Mission accomplished: she passed out in the car on the way home. While she napped I made some vanilla buttercream icing for the chocolate cupcakes.

Once Ella woke we headed to Tallboy & Moose, a brewery in Preston that is owned by my friend’s brother. He is Canadian, so the brewery was putting on celebrations for Canada Day (which is the same day as Ella’s birthday). What is great about this place (besides the tasty beer), is it is very family friendly, with a table tennis table, couches and a few toys for the little ones. A couple of our friends met us there, and Charlotte and Adam gave Ella some play doh with cookie cutters for her birthday that kept her busy for ages! I tried their special Canada Day maple flavoured beer which was pretty good, and had a classic Canadian poutine dinner.

All in all it was a great day celebrating two years with our little girl. Here’s an update on what she is like as a two year old:

Things Ella Likes:
  • Singing songs: she can sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “ABCs”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, among others. She is also starting to sing along to the radio when we are in the car. Along with singing, she loves a good dance party. We often play music while I’m getting dinner ready, and she’ll come over to me and grab my hands and say “mummy dance”. It does mean making dinner takes a bit longer, but it’s totally worth it.
  • Food: this girl would eat all day if she could. She is a pretty good eater overall. We all eat the same dinner and she will generally eat what we give her, although veggies are more successful when they are cut up small and within some sort of sauce. She does love to munch on raw carrots and zucchini though!
  • Pushing and pulling things around. She loves this little shopping cart my mom bought her (which consequently has to stay in the garage as otherwise she would push it around our house all day).

  • Reading. She now would rather “read” a book herself than us read to her (except for before bed).
  • Her didi, which is her name for her dummy. I have no idea where the name came from. We’ve put rules on when she can have it: in bed, in the car, and in the pram. She knows she is not allowed to have it otherwise, but will now try to negotiate just holding it while she walks around. We’ve allowed this for now. She does try and sneak it in, but a stern “Ella!” will cause her to sheepishly take it out of her mouth.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine. A great distraction for when you are on your own and trying to get dinner ready. We try to limit her screen time, so often the TV is inexplicably “broken”.
  • Swimming, bath time, and water play in general.
  • Counting. She can count to about now, and although she does seem to grasp the concept of counting, she rarely counts correctly. Also we’ve been playing hiding games with her lately and she waits and counts to 10 while we hide. Her maths teacher mummy is very proud!
  • Playgrounds. We spend a lot of our time at the various parks and playgrounds of Brunswick East and Northcote. I’ve said this before, but I’m very impressed with the amount of playgrounds around this city.
  • To say the word “mine” about everything. This is pretty difficult to manage, but normal at this age. A friend sent around this poster from her paediatrician’s office which sums it up:

  • Waving at trains, trams, and the garbage truck. She can hear the garbage truck a mile away!
  • Babycinos. I’ll admit, pre-child I thought these were a bit of a scam, and a bit wanky. But now I think they are pretty much the best invention of the 21st century.
  • Toothpaste. The actual brushing of teeth is pretty minimal, it’s more like she just sucks on her toothbrush and then wants more toothpaste.

Things Ella Dislikes:
  • Stray hairs. She freaks out if she sees a stray hair in the bathroom, especially if it ends up on her hand. I don’t think she can get it off… she just yells “hair! Hair! hair! “ and waves her hand at you until you remove the offending strand.
  • Avocado. She won’t touch it, no matter how much we try to convince her that loving avocado is a prerequisite for living in Melbourne.
  • Giving up something she believe is hers. See “Things Ella Likes” above.
  • Getting dressed. This is a new one for us, and a pain in the butt. It doesn’t happen every day, but some mornings she just does not want to have her nappy changed or get dressed, and fights us on it. Not fun when you are trying to get out the door!
  • Having her hair brushed. That curly mop gets pretty unruly!

It’s actually hard for me to stop this list, I feel like I could keep writing about what Ella is up to forever. She is changing and learning so much every day. I am really loving this age, she is so much fun to play with and have around. We really feel so lucky and blessed to have such a happy and healthy little girl!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Citizenship Test + Long Weekend

A few weeks ago Andy and I were lucky enough to have an extra long weekend. Not only did we have Monday off for the Queen’s Birthday bank holiday, we also both had Friday off work to do our Australian Citizenship test.

We applied for citizenship back in January, as we met the criteria at that time: Four years living in Australia, with a minimum of one year as a permanent resident. In April the government changed the criteria to a minimum of four years as a permanent resident, which would have meant delaying citizenship for an extra year. Fortunately (for us) that only applied to applications made after the announcement of the changes on 20th April.

The online application was pretty straightforward, except for a section which asks for a list of every country travelled to (including the dates of those trips) since the age of 18. Both Andy and I have been pretty lucky in that we've done a lot of travelling in our lives, so this list was pretty long. I ended up calling the Department of Immigration to get some elaboration on this requirement as I was not convinced I'd be able to produce an accurate list. They advised me to just list the past 10 years and be as accurate as possible, which took the pressure off a little. I spent a good few hours trawling through photos, Facebook, and passport stamps to put together the most accurate list I could.  Once we submitted our application online we had about an 8 week wait before being given our citizenship appointment in June. The appointment consists of two parts - and interview, and a test. We were sent a link to information to read to prepare for the test. There was information on Australian culture, important flags, laws and the government. Australia, Canada and the UK are all have pretty similar systems of government and basic laws, so overall I found studying for the test pretty painless.

On the morning of the test we dropped Ella off at daycare and then headed into the city for brunch at Cumulus Inc. with my mom. The great thing about eating out with my mom is that she is always willing to order something different to me and then share. We both seem to have trouble deciding on just one dish to eat! This never happens with Andy, he hates sharing with me and just wants his own meal. We ordered the marinated mushrooms with zucchini, black barley and egg, and the Shakshouka, which were probably the best baked eggs I’ve had in Melbourne.

Both Andy and I passed the citizenship test with flying colours, 100% for me, and Andy got just one question wrong. So now all we have to do is wait for our ceremony, which will probably be in about six months.

After we had both finished our appointments we did a bit of shopping in the city, and then took my mom to the Lui Bar for a drink. The Lui Bar is a sleek cocktail bar located on the 55th bar of the Rialto Towers, with panoramic views over Melbourne. It was a beautiful afternoon, so the balcony was open and we could see the entire city spread out below. We were a bit hungry so decided to order the Lui Bar Counter Meal: $39 for a glass of wine/beer, a main, coffee and petit fours. We thought this was an amazing deal until we received our “main” which was the teensiest portion of fish (lamb for Andy) I've ever seen. It was excellent, but in no way was it a "meal". We should have known better considering a glass of wine was nearly $20 on it's own! We all had a good laugh at ourselves when the food came out, and despite our social faux pas, had a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

Saturday morning we started the day with Ella’s swimming lesson. She is getting a lot more confident in the water - jumping in and being able to pull herself along the wall without any assistance at all. We then made an impromptu visit to the Melbourne Museum, which is one of our favourite places to take her at the moment. The Children’s Gallery is fabulous for her, although can be very busy at times. We’ve discovered she is equally happy exploring the other galleries, which tend to a be a lot quieter.

That night we stayed in and drank wine while cooking up a random dinner, which I made up based on a suggestion from my neighbour. She calls it “Random Sh*t Dahl” which is basically whatever veg and spice you happen have on hand cooked with red lentils… voila, dinner. She says it is best eaten in front of the TV. Here’s the recipe I came up with, which actually ended up turning out pretty well:

1 onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
Curry powder
2 carrots chopped
1 large sweet potato chopped into 1cm pieces
750 ml veg stock
1 cup red lentils
1 tin tomatoes
1 can kidney or mixed beans
Green beans
1 tbsp lemon juice

Heat oil on medium. Put in onion, garlic, ginger in with curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and bay leaves. Cook for 5 mins, stirring occasionally. Add in carrots and sweet potato, cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add in beans, veg stock, lentils and tomatoes. Bring to boil, simmer for 15 mins. Add in green beans and spinach for the last few minutes. Take off heat, add in coriander and lemon juice, season. Serve with rice and/or naan bread.

After dinner and putting Ella to bed Andy, mom and I played a competitive game of Monopoly, which my mom won, much to Andy’s dismay!

On Sunday morning I made it to my favourite 8am yoga class, which is always the best way to start my day (after coffee, of course). My mom and I took Ella to the Brunswick Bike Festival at the nearby velodrome. They had some pretty cool Penny Farthing bike races which were cool to watch. Andy was coaching soccer nearby that afternoon, so we walked to his game to watch for a bit. Ella loved seeing Andy, but was quickly annoyed with the fact that Andy was busy coaching and couldn’t play with her! She was starting to get cranky so we didn’t end up staying very long. Andy's team ended up winning 8-0 so we missed out on seeing all of those goals!

We had a pretty chilled out evening at home, ordering take away and playing the longest game of Monopoly ever. I also baked a chocolate cake as we planned to have a birthday celebration for Ella the next day. (Her real birthday is not until next week, but we wanted to celebrate it while my mom was still visiting. I’m not sure whether I should have another celebration on her actual birthday… she remembers everything these days and I don’t want her thinking she has a birthday every few weeks!)

Monday was the Queen’s Birthday so we all had the day off - including Ella, who normally goes to daycare on a Monday. We drove into the city and headed for the Play Pod at the State Library. On the way there we stopped at Argyle Park in Carlton to run through the beautiful autumn leaves. Ella loved trying to catch the leaves as they were falling from the tall trees.

As we were about to leave, a university student arrived in the park with his three pet quails. Obviously Ella though this was just about the best thing ever, and we ended up spending a good half an hour there playing with the baby quails. There was one particularly hairy moment when one of the birds had scampered off and a magpie swooped down to snatch it up! Luckily the magpie didn’t actually fly off with the quail, though the poor thing was shaking after it's narrow escape. The student decided then that it was time to take his quails home, so we said goodbye and headed off for some lunch.

After filling up at a nearby fish & chip shop we finally made it to the state library and Ella had a good play at the Play Pod. This is another one of my favourite indoor places to take her to lately. It’s such a calm atmosphere and never very busy, and it keeps Ella entertained for ages. When she was ready for a nap we headed back home for the rest of the afternoon.

That evening we had a little birthday celebration for her. She was very excited about the candles, birthday cake and song, and to my surprise she wanted to wear a party hat (she usually hates wearing hats). She had a great time opening her presents, some bunny slippers from us and a tea set, sweater and very cute Country Road boots from my mom. (I think her new boots are nicer than any pair I own!) She looooves her tea set and I am looking forward to all the tea parties in my future. We let her have a tiny bit of chocolate cake for the first time, which made her super hyper and crazy for the rest of the evening. Funny as a one time thing, but definitely a confirmed my desire to keep her away from large amounts of sugar!

And that was our lovely long weekend. This post is coming to you two weeks later as it was followed by three crazy days at work, and then a work trip to England that I just got back from a few days ago. I am super jet lagged and finishing this off at 4am, so hopefully it all makes sense! My mom left to go back to Canada while I was in England and I miss her so much. The house seems a lot emptier without her here. I think she had a pretty emotional goodbye with Ella, which I am kind of glad I missed! They had so much fun together and have developed such a special relationship over the ten weeks my mom was living with us here in Melbourne. It’s times like these I have to remind myself of the Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened”.