Sunday, 25 December 2016

MEL - SFO with an 18 month old

We've made it to California! We have spent our first week in the Lake Tahoe area, about 3.5 hours north east of San Francisco. It's Christmas Eve and the snow has been falling for two days straight, so we are certainly going to have a white Christmas for the first time in years!

Ella was a super star on the plane. We flew with Qantas from Melbourne to San Francisco via Sydney. We arrived at Melbourne super early, at 8am for an 11:30am flight. When we checked in we were put on an earlier flight, and also told that we didn't have a bassinet for our flight from Sydney to San Francisco. Momentarily panicked, the flight agent told us that was because they put us in a row of three with an empty seat in the middle - amazing news! An empty seat beats bulkhead/bassinet seats any day, especially now that Ella is way too big for the bassinet anyway.

Our flight to Sydney was quick and painless as Ella slept the whole way. It was timed perfectly with when she would normally have a nap. We then had a 3 1/2 hour stopover in Sydney, giving us plenty of time to get through immigration, have some lunch, and let Ella run around the airport, hopefully burning some energy before the 13 hour flight to San Fran. Her favourite activity was pushing around our carry on luggage: 

Very helpful, thanks Ella!
Loving these "dogs" at the airport!
Last Christmas we went to Toronto for Christmas to see my parents, and we flew from Melbourne to LA for the first leg. We were in an A380 plane which I loved, it was so much bigger and airier than older planes, the seats have more legroom and on Qantas flights they have space at the back of the plane with snacks available for the whole flight. Not bad for economy! I assumed we would be on the same type of plane, but unfortunately Sydney-San Francisco is not nearly as popular a route and we were instead on a 747, which seemed so much more cramped and old in comparison. I had to remind myself that complaining about flying on an older plane when you get to go to California for Christmas is definitely a first world problem, so I probably shouldn't get too annoyed about it.

We boarded the plane early with the other families with young children. Whenever I read tips on flying with children a common recommendation is to wait until the last minute to board so that you have the least amount of time on the plane possible. But I disagree, I like boarding early and getting all our "stuff" organised on the plane while there are no other passengers around. As the plane started to fill up, we held our breath, hoping that we did indeed have an empty seat in our row of three. We gave each other a huge smile and did a silent fist pump as the captain announced that the cabin doors were shut and we were preparing for take-off and the seat between us was still empty. Major win! 

Ella definitely burned a lot of energy in Sydney airport as fell asleep in Andy's arms almost as soon as we took off. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, Andy carefully lowered Ella onto the empty seat between us and, lo and behold, she stayed fast asleep. Andy and I couldn't believe it, what an amazing start to a long haul flight with our very active toddler. I tried to watch the Louis Theroux Scientology movie, but this (old) plane was very loud and I found it hard to hear, so I just gave up and read my book (The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty - perfect holiday reading). I have very low expectations about being able to watch a movie when we fly with Ella now anyway.

Fast asleep in her own seat!
She woke up about 45 minutes later, and we spent the next five hours or so entertaining her: reading books, colouring, eating, walking up and down the plane, and of course letting her play on our phones and the iPad. Ella is just about getting to the age where she will watch a little bit of TV. She loves The Wiggles, so we downloaded a few episodes before the flight for her. I hopefully bought kid headphones as well, but there was pretty much no way she was leaving those on her head. The loudness of the plane came in handy at this point, as we could put on The Wiggles at a very low volume where Ella could hear it but other passengers couldn't. I also downloaded a Bubbles app and a drawing app, each of which killed 10-15 minute at a time. I find that breaking a long flight like this into 15 minute blocks of time can help with the tedium of it all. 

Once it was about 9pm (Melbourne time) Ella slept pretty well for about five hours. We probably spent about an hour trying to get her to sleep, she kept fighting it and we would have to walk her up and down the plane trying to tire her out. Once she did fall asleep Andy and I did our best to shut our eyes and rest, curling ourselves around sleeping beauty, who took up not only her free seat, but about half of Andy's and mine as well. About 2 1/2 hours before we landed the crew turned the cabin lights on, so all hope of any more sleep was lost, but by this time in a long haul flight the worst is over and you can handle a couple more hours knowing the end is near. All in all, Ella was an excellent little traveller; though I'm not sure how things will go if our flight home is full and we have to have the little darling on our laps the whole time!

It took us ages to get through immigration, but that was sort of our fault. There were two lines, one for citizens and one for other visitors. We joined the visitors line, but it turned out that because I am Canadian and Ella and Andy were travelling on their ESTA visa waiver for the second time, we could have joined the citizens line. I feel like that was very poor signage, but at least we know for next time. Luckily we had one of my favourite travel accessories with us, our Mountain Buggy Nano stroller. It folds up to be small enough to take as cabin luggage on the plane, so we don't have to check it in. That way we can have it all the way up to the gate and during stopovers. Once we got off the plane Ella was super tired and went to sleep in the stroller, and she was out the whole time we were in the immigration line, which was about an hour. If we hadn't had our Nano one of us would have had to carry her that whole time and she probably wouldn't have slept so well. 

When we finally got out of the arrivals area my brother Mike was waiting for us, Starbucks in hand. It was the biggest coffee I'd seen in ages; I always forget about the giant sized coffees in North America! Mike lives in Campbell, just outside of San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley. In fact he lives around the corner from the eBay headquarters. It was about a 45 minute drive to his from the airport, where the grandparents were waiting impatiently for their little Ella to arrive. It was very cute to see Ella smile and giggle when she recognised her grandparents. (Or maybe she was just excited to see the stars from her favourite FaceTime TV show...)

Andy and I quickly showered and then we were off for Lake Tahoe, where we have spent the past week. This post is already long enough so I will continue the next post with our three days in South Lake Tahoe.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Meeting Santa

Thursday was the last day of school for both Andy and me. Six weeks of sleeping past 5:45am, no horrible commute, and of course spending lots of time as a family to look forward to. Ella must have known that Friday was the first day of our holidays, as she slept in until 8am! This is on the back of two weeks of terrible sleep (we think it may have been the dreaded 18-month sleep regression) so it felt pretty good to have a full night's sleep and a lie in on the same day. That almost never happens!

Feeling refreshed we headed out early to Birdie Num Nums in Carlton North. We last visited this café in August when my mom was visiting. My mom and I weren't super impressed with our cake that time, but on this visit Andy and I ordered full brunch items and we were both pretty happy with them. Mine was the special of the day: avo on toast with poached eggs, bacon, asparagus, ricotta cheese and strawberries... kind of sounds like they just threw everything they had extra of together in one breakfast, but they were all things I like, so it worked for me. Ella also enjoyed her ham and cheese toastie (and my strawberries), which is our "go-to" item to order for her when we are out at the moment. 

We enjoyed a leisurely brunch while Ella checked out the play area, favouring the "walker" type toys that she could push around. After that we hopped on the tram, aiming to check out some of the Christmas displays around the city. Ella loves trams and waves "bye" every time she sees one go past. It is super cute. 

We took a detour through the Emporium, which has an excellent parent's room that Ella and I have frequented often during our trips into the city over the past 18 months. Andy and I took turns watching Ella run around in there while the other went shopping at Uniqlo, which is currently my favourite store. After lunch in the Emporium food court Ella had a nap in her pram while Andy and I did a bit more Christmas shopping, and then walked along South Bank to Crown Casino. 

Birdie Num Nums
There is a really good Christmas display every year at Crown. The main attraction are these giant Fabergé eggs lined up a wide staircase near the main entrance. Every half hour there is a light and music show, where the eggs open to show a scene from a Christmas carol as the song plays. The main huge Christmas tree also lights up in time to the music. It's pretty cool and ever though Ella is still too young to really understand Christmas, she was completely mesmerised by the lights and the scenes inside the eggs. 

Checking out a Christmas tree

Fabergé eggs at Crown Casino

Christmas tree at Crown Casino

Santa inside the Fabergé egg
You can take a picture with Santa for free (using your own phone or camera), so we thought we'd see what Ella thought of that. Last year when we got her Santa photo she was only six months old, so she happily snuggled into Santa while she had her picture taken. This year was a different story, she cried immediately after Andy sat her on Santa's lap, so we ended up taking a family shot with Santa, with Andy holding her. She was still not super happy with this. I did get a shot of her crying, as I'm sure every parent has of their child, but I won't post it here as I'm trying not to post things of Ella that she might find embarrassing when she is older. 

We then walked a bit further down South Bank and came across two traveller/buskers making giant bubbles. Ella pretty much thought this was the best thing ever and we spent some time watching her happily chase the bubbles across the grass. 


SO happy to be chasing bubbles
We headed home after that for a nice quiet family evening at home. The rest of the weekend has been spent preparing for our flight to California tomorrow and listening to Christmas carols. I am definitely getting into the Christmas spirit now! I am so excited to be spending Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere (I can never get into Christmas properly in the hot weather), and more importantly, with family. Tomorrow can't come soon enough!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Cycling to Work

Since moving to Brunswick East we have had a pretty rough time with our daily commute. Unfortunately, we have not been able to get Ella into a nearby daycare yet, so we are still driving all the way back to Abbotsford for the daycare drop, which takes 20-25 minutes in the morning, and around half an hour in the evening. From there it takes me anywhere from 20-30 minutes to drive to school depending on how early we leave home. The upside is, I am no longer nervous driving on the left side of the road as I drive much more consistently now. The downside is, obviously, a horrendous commute. It is even worse for Andy, his school is more like 30-40 minutes from the daycare. We normally leave between 6:45-7am. Any later and the traffic is terrible, adding at least 20 minutes onto the journey. We usually get home around 5:30pm, resulting in a long day for poor Ella. Needless to say, she is on a few child care waiting lists in Brunswick, but the waiting lists are long for any of the "good" ones. We love her current place, Explorers Early Learning, so when checking out other centres I always feel a bit disappointed. But a big part of what makes Explorers so good are the Educators who work in Ella's room, so when I've taken a tour of another centre one thing I always look at is how happy the people working there are. There are two in Brunswick that I really liked the feel of when I went to check them out, so fingers crossed we get into one of them soon!

Anyway, Andy and I alternate who drives according to who can leave work the earliest in the afternoon. The other person cycles. If I had a choice I would cycle every day, I honestly hate doing the drive. But I'm sure Andy doesn't love it either! 

My cycle route is just under 8km, which takes me about half an hour. I know that is a pretty slow time, but I don't like being in a rush when I'm on my bike. I shower before I leave the house so I don't want to get too sweaty on my bike, at least not on the way to work, and I don't completely trust Melbourne drivers so I tend to be overly cautious. I also bought a "city" bike, with an upright seating position and only seven gears, so it is designed more for leisurely bike riding. I love my bike, it's a Tokyo Bisou, and I get lots of compliments on it. I think the design is very sleek and elegant, a step-through frame without being overly girly. I added mudguards on to mine so I don't get mud splattered up my back when it rains, and also a basket on the front to carry my bag in. 

The first part of my route is down a busy road with a pathetic bike lane, which is sometimes there and sometimes not. Thankfully this is for less than a kilometre and not very busy in the early morning when I usually leave. The road I turn on to is a SUPER busy main road that runs north/south from the northern suburbs into the city. Here there is separated bike path running down the middle traffic island that divides the road in two. There is also a tram line running beside the cycle lane that is separated from cars. This is such a great example of prioritising cycling/pedestrians and public transport over adding in an extra lane for cars. It is a great feeling being able to ride down a main road feeling totally safe. I'm sure the drivers are also happy they don't have to look out for cyclists on the road, so this type of city planning is surely a win win?

Separated cycle lane St. Georges Road
At the south end of the path you can join up with the Merri Creek trail and the Capital City Trail which leads into the city, which I wrote about here. I head east instead, towards Ivanhoe where my school is located. At this point I could take a very direct route to work but along busier roads, which would save me 4-5 minutes of riding time. Instead I opt to use a very quiet route that follows the Hurstbridge train line, which is the train I used to get to school from our old house. I've since found out that this is a designated "shimmy route" by Darebin council. A shimmy route is a a route that wiggles through quiet back streets, avoiding busy main roads. I don't usually see a lot of other cyclists on it, but I do tend to ride pretty early in the morning, and I am also going the opposite way to most people, heading away from the city instead of towards it. I found the map below on the City of Darebin website, the blue line is the route that I use. (For reference, we live near Ceres Environment Park which is on the left hand side of the map).
If you follow that blue line east you can see that it stops at a big green park. This is Darebin Parklands and my favourite part of the ride. The bike path passes a pond with lots of wildlife (including very cute ducklings at the moment) and then weaves its way through the parkland following Darebin Creek. The early mornings here are so peaceful and lately I have been stopping at the pond to meditate for 10 minutes before work. It is a beautiful start to the day. In a previous life I would have thought I didn't have time to stop for 10 minutes. I would have been wanting to get to work as soon as possible. But I have realised that taking the time to stop and focus at the start of my day makes me much more productive and calm then arriving 10 minutes earlier at work would. 

My lovely Tokyo Bisou, stopping for a rest in Darebin Parklands

Mama duck and her ducklings

Sunny summer mornings

Bike path, Darebin Parklands

Bike path under horrible, busy Hurstbridge Road
Once I ride through the parklands I am pretty much at work, just a few side streets to navigate. Uphill mind you, so that is often the hardest part of my ride. But at least it is downhill on the way home!

My other alternative to get to work via public transport isn't so straightforward. It would take me about 40-45 minutes and I would have to time it right with a bus timetable. Not a very attractive option. That has forced me to cycle every day that I am not driving, whereas before I might have found excuses as to why I should take public transport instead of cycling more often. The weather is pretty good at the moment and we have long daylight hours so this hasn't been a problem, but talk to me in the winter and I might be totally over the cycling and wishing for better public transport options! 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Ella - 17 months

I thought it was a good time for an Ella update, seeing as she is now mastering a major milestone - walking! Over the past month she has gone from taking one or two steps between Andy and me, to pushing herself up and taking some tentative steps, to toddling around all over the house. I still get a surprise when I'm in the kitchen area and I think she is playing on her play mat, and then all of the sudden there she is, walking around the corner to see what I am up to!

Everyone has always said how much harder it is once your toddler starts walking, but so far I'm finding it a nice change. Maybe it's because Ella has started walking a bit later than lots of babies, so I feel like we've been anticipating this next step for a while now. She also understands a lot of what we say, so we can direct her to follow us or to go in a certain direction - not that she is always compliant, of course! It has also made our trips out to the park much more interesting, and I think she is happier now that she can walk on her own. Not to mention my back is very thankful that she can walk on her own, as it seemed like we were stooped over helping her walk for months leading up to this!

Added to the walking it is wonderful to watch how much she is learning every day. She seems to soak up everything we say and do and I'm amazed at how much she retains now.

Here are some things about Ella at 17 months old...

Ella loves:
  • Eating, especially fruit, cheese, bread, pasta, yogurt.
  • Colouring, although she is still learning that we would prefer she colour on the paper we stick to her table, rather than ripping that up to draw on the table itself.
  • Listening to Andy play guitar - she walks around in circles shrieking happily and clapping her hands whenever he plays. Her favourite song is "Time of your Life" by Green Day (great song - though Andy's repertoire is limited so she doesn't have a lot to choose from).
  • Books - especially "lift the flap" books and books with a lot of detail in the picture. She points to her favourite things like dogs, birds, and bowls of fruit in each illustration.
  • Her bunny comforter - this love started when she was about five months old, and the bond between Ella and bunny grows stronger everyday. We have two back up bunnies which thankfully she seems equally enamoured with, as I'm not sure what we would do if we lost original bunny and she didn't like the replacement. 
  • Playing in the sand and going to the park.
  • Dogs and birds and animals in general. I'm ready for another trip to the zoo now that she is walking, I think it will be a whole new ball game.
  • Long naps (yay!)
  • Pushing things around (her walker, chairs, her stroller, etc).
  • The Wiggles, which she does wiggle around to. I find it hilarious now but I'm sure it will soon become annoying!
  • Trying to put on clothes. Often she will get a pair of underwear from the washing line and put it around her neck like a scarf, and then walk around happily with it on, which is too funny. Trying to put on clothes can also be a source of frustration for her when she can't get them on at all.
Ella does not like:
  • Sleeping past 6am, which is a bit of a killer lately. The early sunrise this time of year doesn't help to convince her it is still time to sleep!
  • Sharing her toys when we are at our house... whenever another baby is over visiting it takes Ella a while to warm up to them and be ok with them using her toys. I read somewhere that children don't understand sharing until they are 3-4 years old. That seems like a long way away!
  • Finding an iPhone and then having it taken away from her. I am really trying to keep my phone hidden and not use it around her now.
  • The gates that block off the stairs.
Things Ella can do:
  • Walk! Yay!
  • Point to her nose, head, hair, ears, tummy, toes and mouth. Pointing to her eyes seems to confuse her though.
  • Make animal sounds for a duck, elephant, gorilla, monkey, snake and crocodile. 
  • Say the words bye, hello, mama, dada, Ella, bubble, ball, blue, no, nana (for banana, or I think that actually means just any kind of food) and cuddle. Perhaps others that I haven't decoded yet.
  • Use baby sign language to signal that she wants milk and when she is full.
  • Shake her head to signal "yes" and "no" (mainly no).
  • The educators at daycare have said she can say (or repeat) the other children's names and that she is starting to role play - playing with dolls and pretending to cook in a little toy kitchen. 
I am now trying to brainstorm ways to keep our active little girl busy on our upcoming flight to California. Something tells me it won't easy!
Little Miss Independent!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Currently... November

I've just put Ella to bed after a particularly long day at work. Andy is out enjoying the Australian soccer final, and I've just finished making dinner and tidying up from when Ella and I got home from daycare/work. I'm enjoying the quiet and calm with a small glass of wine as I finish writing this post.

Reading: Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I'm about 80% of the way through this book and loving it. I love anything by this author. The genre is sort of one step up from chic lit and is perfect holiday reading. We're not currently on holidays so I've been staying up way past my bedtime reading "just a few more pages..."

Watching: Animal Kingdom on Netflix. We are four episodes in and I'm still undecided on whether I like it or not. It's somewhat uncomfortable viewing. I'm going to push on for a few more episodes, mainly as there is nothing else that interests me at the moment. I want to watch The Crown but that will have to be one for when I'm home alone as Andy isn't keen.

On Youtube Russell Brand has restarted episodes of The Trews. And of course I watched a lot coverage of the US election. My favourite post-election reaction is from John Oliver on the season finale of Last Week Tonight.

Listening to: Lots of podcasts! Mainly This American Life, Planet Money, and of course, Hamish and Andy. I have lots of time to do this because since we moved we have a horrendous commute taking Ella to her old daycare in Abbotsford, where we used to live, and then going to and from work. Andy and I are alternating doing this drive while the other person cycles. I'm trying not to get annoyed at all the time I now spend in a car by thinking instead about how great it is that I have all this time to catch up on my podcasts.

Loving: My new cookbook: One Handed Cooks. Healthy, simple, delicious recipes for babies, toddlers, kids and families. Ella pretty much loves anything I cook from this and there is a huge range of recipes from breakfast to snacks to dinners for the whole family. It's also Australian which helps when reading the ingredients list and the measurements, and has helpful tips for raising good eaters at any stage. I wish I had this book when we first started Ella on solids, and it is my first port of call when meal planning now. 

Planning: A trip to Bali! Easter next year is our five year wedding anniversary and we've managed to coordinate both sets of grandparents, plus my brother and his girlfriend, for a 10 day holiday in Canggu, Bali. I. can't. wait. Of course we also have our Christmas in California to visit said brother/girlfriend and my parents to look forward to in three weeks. Gosh, we are lucky people.

Wanting: Some new luggage. Our current set was a gift from my parents quite a few years ago and has definitely got a lot of use! But there is a lot of wear and tear so some new cases for our trip in three weeks would be useful. We are currently on the hunt but it has to be one of the most boring things to research and shop for. Ever.

Wearing: These "smart joggers" from Uniqlo. I can wear them to work and they are so, so comfortable. I have them in black and grey and I love them. And at $40 how could you go wrong?

Enjoying: Watching Ella learn to walk. She took her first steps a few weeks ago and is growing in confidence every day. She looks so proud of herself when she walks, and the best thing is that if Andy and I hold our arms out and say "cuddle" she walks over and falls into us for a hug. I can't think of anything better than when your child starts to cuddle/kiss you on purpose!

Missing: My mother's group! It's been lonely during the day at our new place. I miss being able to send a text to my mother's group to see who is around for a walk or a park visit. I still take Ella for walks and to the park on my days off, and usually manage to strike up a pleasant chat with another mum who is there with her kids. But I can never summon the courage to ask for their number or take it further. Making friends when you are an adult is hard! But today another mum who I was chatting with at the park asked me for my number, yay! Hopefully it's the start of making some local mum friends.

Trying: To get back into yoga. After about a month off after our move I've started going to a studio in Northcote called Good Vibes. It's about a 12 minute cycle from our place, so not nearly as convenient as my old studio but not impossible to get to, especially in decent weather. I felt a big difference in my body with the month off yoga. My back was a lot more sore and my hips felt really stiff. I'm so glad I'm practicing regularly again. I do really like the studio and all the teachers/classes I've been to so far, although it is a bit more expensive then my last place. But in the long run I think it is worth investing in yoga, for the long term benefits on both my body and my mind. 

Feeling: Tired. Typical teacher end of the year burnout. I am ready for the summer holidays! 

Grateful for: The fact that although we live far from both of our families at the moment, we can all afford to take holidays and fly to see each other fairly often.

Pic of the Month: This was so hard to choose! We've had so many lovely weekends this month, but I've already written about them and used some of my favourite pics on the Healesville post and the Beach Baby post. But last weekend we took Ella to a shopping centre and stumbled upon the mall Santa Clause and winter scene. Ella was totally entranced, she stood looking at the fake polar bears and reindeer for ages. It was so cute and made me excited for Christmas!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Beach Baby

The weekend before last we had a brief glimpse of summer, with some glorious hot sunny days.You'd be forgiven for thinking that was just a dream based the weather that followed.. We went from 34 degrees on Monday to 15 and rainy on Tuesday and it pretty much stayed that way the whole week. Oh Melbourne, you are such a big tease! But seriously, I am ready for summer now, please. (Update: I'm pleased to report that now that I've got around to publishing this post we have had some spring like weather thy past two days, and it seems like it is here to stay).  

Anyway, on the Sunday we decided to take advantage of the rare sunshine and head down Brighton beach with Ella. We decided to leave earlyish that morning, while the temperature was still in the low 20s and therefore not too hot. (It's so typical, all winter I complain about the cold and long for summer, and then bang! It's over 30 degrees and I'm way too hot!)

We stopped on the way at Big W for some beach supplies: a pail and shovel for Ella and a pop up beach tent to provide some shade. We then headed to The Pantry in Brighton for a pre-beach breakfast, which was awesome as they have paper covering all the tables and crayons for kids to draw with while you are waiting for your food. I am so appreciative of things like this now - we don't go out for meals with Ella very much at the moment as sitting still for an hour while we eat isn't her idea of fun. Also, keeping her occupied while I wolf down my meal is not my idea of fun. But the colouring definitely kept her busy and happy, as did her ham and cheese toastie when it came. Andy and I shared the Kabir Scrambled Eggs, which came with chilli, garlic, onion, smoked potatoes, avocado, tomatoes, coriander, sriracha and a side of roti bread. It was so so good, I really wished we hadn't shared! (By the way, I have no idea what Kabir is. I just tried to google it and it's a name of a 15th century Indian poet... so I guess the naming of the dish is meant to imply that it is Indian? Who knows... I should have asked while we were there I guess.) We also had an order of scones with cream and jam, also super yummy. Our friends who live in Brighton always rave about The Pantry and I can see why... we would definitely come back again for another meal. 

Ella at The Pantry
Once on the beach we set up our tent (super easy, love a pop up!), and Ella happily played in the sand for way longer than we expected. She even tolerated wearing her hat the whole time! I am in love with her matching swimsuit and hat - my uncle gave us some money for a birthday present for Ella when my mom came to visit in August and we bought them with it while we were in Noosa. It fits her perfectly (which means it is a little big and will hopefully last the whole summer) and has a SPF of 50 so some good protection from the hot Australian sun.

Ella playing in the sand at Brighton Beach

Ella finding the cooler bag full of food! This girl loves to eat.
We took Ella down to the water to splash around and she loved it! She has always loved her swimming lessons but when we went to the beach in Noosa a few months ago she was a little fearful around the water - I think she was confused by the waves and the fact that the water kept coming up to her and then disappearing back into the ocean again. This time, however, was totally different and I can already see that we will be taking a few more trips to the beach this summer!

Loving the water
Every time we visit "bayside", the area of Melbourne along Port Philip Bay, I regret taking a job in the north east end of the city, far away from the beach. When I initially started thinking about us moving here, I did fantasise about living near the beach, spending evenings and weekends going for walks and lazing around in the sand reading a book. But the thought of an hour plus commute across the city to work was enough to put those fantasies aside, and when I really think about it, I'm not even a huge fan of the beach. Once and a while, yes, its a great way to spend a nice afternoon. But really, sand can be irritating, you get super sweaty, the water is salty, and at times the flies in Melbourne can be pretty annoying. Also, beach weather is limited to 3-4 months a year here. Even if we lived by the beach we probably wouldn't actually go there that often. Much better to live near a nice open air pool! Haha. On a serious note though, we've always lived close to the Yarra River, and I have loved being near all the different cycling and walking trails. You can't have everything!

Once it started to get hot we packed everything up and headed off to visit our friends that live in Brighton. The day was almost perfect, the only hiccup was when Andy tried to pack up our pop up tent. Easy to put up, however folding it back into it's carry case was a whole different story! 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Cycling the Capital City Trail

Last month Andy and I spent a morning cycling the Capital City Trail (CCT) during our school holidays. The CCT is a 29km loop around the whole city, which conveniently goes right past our old house. We've cycled parts of the trail before, many times, especially as I used to use part of it to get to work. Other sections were completely new to us, and it was a great to way to see the city. It's really something we should have done when we first moved to Melbourne, as we realised how certain suburbs connected to each other. It gave us a better sense of the northern part of the city, which we were pretty unfamiliar with, especially prior to our move last month.

By Stevage - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The trail is the yellow highlighted loop on the map above. We started in Abbotsford, by the Collingwood Children's Farm, which is the eastern part of the loop, riding north. This part of the trail is also part of the Yarra Trail, and the part I used to walk multiple times a week with Ella, and cycle to work. Cycling past the farm you can often see sheep, goats, horses and cows, and there is a peacock that is sometimes around as well. The farm also has pigs which you can't see from the path. A few months ago some lambs and piglets were born at the farm, which are super cute.

Collingwood Children's Farm, Abbotsford
Collingwood Children's Farm, Abbotsford
About 2km past the farm is Dight Falls, which is just downstream from the junction of the Yarra River and the Merri Creek. 

Dight Falls
Continuing on past Dight Falls the path is part of both the CCT and the Merri Creek trail. There are many overlapping trails on the CCT. A few km from the falls, in Clifton Hill, we stumbled on the Merri Creek Labyrinth and Wishing Tree. The labyrinth is made out of rocks, and the idea is that you walk the path to the centre and then back out again as a walking meditation. Apparently this is an ancient practice that is now becoming mainstream probably due to the recent popularity of mindfulness, and in fact I've come across two other labyrinth's (one during our weekend in Healesville, the other at a school I visited in Queensland) since we did this ride.

Merri Creek Labyrinth
Wishing Tree
We strayed off the CCT at this point (which starts to head west across the city) and continued north on the Merri Creek trail, as we wanted to check out our new neighbourhood. Our new house is just off the Merri Creek trail in Brunswick East. We stopped for a coffee at the Merri Creek Table, the café at Ceres Environmental Park, which is right around the corner from our house.

Merri Creek Trail

Ceres Environmental Park

The Merri Creek Table
Refuelled by our coffee and cake, we rode back down the Merri Creek trail to join back up with the CCT. At this point of the loop the path runs east/west across the top of the city, through the suburbs of Fitzroy and Carlton North. It's a really nice, flat bike path and super easy to ride here. At the western edge of the city the loop then starts to turn south, going through the Royal Park and past the Melbourne Zoo.

Royal Park Melbourne

The next part of the CCT is pretty industrial, towards the Docklands and under a lot of the major highways. It continues south through North Melbourne, all the way to the Melbourne Star - Melbourne's (poor) version of the London Eye. Once through the Docklands the CCT heads back East, through the city along the Yarra River/Southbank. Lots of restaurants, bars, and of course the casino along here. We stopped for lunch at Arbory Bar, which runs between Platform 13 at Flinders Street Station and the Yarra River.

Riding through the Docklands

A cool bike rack

Crossing the Yarra to Southbank


Bikes having a rest for lunch

Arbory Bar, Flinders Street Station
After lunch we continued east, riding along the Yarra towards our first apartment in Melbourne, in South Yarra.  Just past our old place are some climbing walls beside the river, so of course we stopped to try them out. The river then twists and turns towards the north, through Richmond, Hawthorn, and then finally we were back in Abbotsford. This part of the CCT we are very familiar with, having done bike rides along here often when we first moved to Melbourne.

In South Yarra, looking back towards the city

Climbing wall in Richmond
It was a lovely morning, and definitely gave me a better sense of where our new house was located in relation to the rest of the city. If you're new to Melbourne, or have even been here a few years, riding the CCT loop is a great way to explore the city!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Weekend in Healesville

We had a four day weekend last weekend, due to the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday. Gotta love Melbourne at it's sports themed public holidays (there is another on in October for the AFL Grand Final). Monday wasn’t an official public holiday but most schools in Melbourne are closed, which is a nice mid-term long weekend for us. 

Initially a group of our friends were going to spend the Saturday of that weekend at the country races in Healesville. This has become somewhat of a yearly tradition with our friends, although last year I didn’t go because Ella was only four months old. I was looking forward to taking her this year though - I think she would have really loved seeing the horses, and it is a pretty kid-friendly venue. Unfortunately due to all the rain we’ve had lately the races were cancelled as the track was too wet. Andy and I had already decided to get an Airbnb and stay in Healesville for the weekend, so although we were disappointed that there were no races, we still went, looking forward to getting out of the city for a few days.

We drove to Healesville on Friday after Andy finished work. It’s normally about an hour from Melbourne but it took us about 90 minutes due to the Friday night traffic. We arrived just in time to put Ella to bed, and thankfully she didn’t seem to have any problem going to sleep in her portacot in a new room. She is such a seasoned traveller! While I put her to sleep Andy went and got us take away pizzas and some local wine, which we enjoyed while watching the film "Catch Me if You Can". (I'm a sucker for anything with Leo in it! I really want to watch his new documentary on climate change called "Before the Flood".)

Our Airbnb was a cosy two bedroom house just off the Main street in Healesville. The furniture was a bit older styled, but otherwise it was perfect for us. The kitchen was well stocked, complete with fresh bread, milk and butter (very helpful with a baby) and there was a huge garden that backed onto a stream and had a very full orange tree. Ella absolutely loved this, oranges are a favourite of hers at the moment, and she happily tried to pick a few for herself.

Picking oranges
Saturday morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and the promise of a high of 25 degrees. Finally, some warm weather! It seriously feels like winter has gone on forever this year. Andy went to get us some coffees from Beechwood Bakery which was a convenient five minute walk from the house. We had a leisurely morning eating breakfast together and playing with Ella, and before we knew it, it was time for her to have a nap. Recently she has transition (most days) to having one big nap for 2-3 hours at around 10:30/11am. During her nap I realised one of the huge appeals to going away for the weekend - there are no chores to do when you are in someone else's home! Usually during Ella's nap time I am always thinking of what needs to get done around the house, or trying to catch up on this blog (what I'm currently doing) or on work. But that morning I just sat outside in the sunny garden, drinking tea and reading the weekend papers. Bliss! I wistfully remember the days when I used to read the paper EVERY weekend while Andy played soccer, back when we were living in London. Oh, how indulgent that now seems!

Reading the paper in the garden at our Airbnb

Once Ella woke up we met with Charlotte, Adam and another couple Jim and Sophie, who had all driven to Healesville for the day. Our first stop was Four Pillars, a gin distillery located on the main street in Healesville. We did a gin tasting, which I can't really tell you much about except that I definitely do NOT like gin on its own! It was a fun change from your regular wine tasting, however it wasn't the most child friendly venue so we decided to move on after about an hour.

Inside the gin distillery

Gin tasting
We drove 15 minutes to Yarrawood Winery, which is VERY child friendly and my favourite Yarra Valley winery at the moment, for that very reason. They have an unpretentious restaurant with good food with both indoor and outdoor seating. Alternatively, there is a huge lawn with picnic blankets where you can sit and enjoy your wine and food, the beautiful views, and also some live music they have on the weekends. There is a croquet lawn set up, along with a few other games. We even saw a kangaroo and some ducks waddling around, which delighted Ella. Her favourite animal sound to make at the moment is "quack quack" (sounds more like "kak kak"), which she does when she sees any animal, and I'm not sure she associated the live duck with the bright yellow one she has in her bath, but it was cute nonetheless.

Kangaroo spotting with daddy

Playing croquet
Ella wants to play too!
We got kicked out once they had closed at 5pm, and decided to go to Innocent Bystander for dinner. This was a bit of a gamble with Ella, as she would have to sit in a high chair for a long period of time, but she was in excellent form that day. I'm sure it was at least partly due to Adam, who was sitting on one side of her for dinner, entertaining her pretty much the whole time. We discovered that day that ice is a good toy, and she had the best time putting it in and out of a glass, finding it pretty interesting that it just disappeared and turned into water after a while. As it was a hot day, and we were sat outside, she didn't make too much of a mess. 

Yum oysters... let me have some Uncle Adam!
Ella and Adam, playing on Snapchat
Around 8pm Ella started to crack it (fair enough as it was well past her bedtime), so Andy and I got some dessert from the bakery section to go and walked back to our Airbnb, which again was helpfully only a five minute walk away. I can highly recommend the brownie and canalé (a french pastry) if you are ever in the area. I'd never heard of canalé before, it has a thick pastry/custard centre flavoured with vanilla and rum, and the outside is caramelised, giving it a pleasant burnt taste. Yum!

Sunday morning we were less leisurely and got ready in time to ride the Yarra Valley Railway, a restored railway line starting in Healesville that meanders through the Yarra Valley. I wasn't sure how Ella would go on this, I thought it might be a bit boring for her, but boy was I wrong! She loved it. She was excitedly bouncing around in her seat and looking out the window when the train pulled away from the station. It was about half an hour long, which was about perfect for her. Once back at Healesville station we played at the pretty epic train themed playground outside, and then took Ella home for her nap. 

Ella and bunny, waiting for the train
Ella loving the train ride!
Family selfie!
Playground outside Healesville station
After nap time we went to the Healesville Sanctuary. Healesville Sanctuary is one of the three zoos that are part of Zoos Victoria. The other two are the Melbourne Zoo and the Weribee Open Range Zoo. We have a yearly membership now as the Melbourne Zoo is pretty close by and good for an afternoon outing with Ella. We spent an hour or two there, getting pretty up close with the kangaroos and checking out the koala bears, before heading back to the house. 

I'm coming to get you, kangaroo!
Koala bears
Ella seemed pretty tired (as I mentioned, she mostly has only one nap now, but if that nap is under two hours she will normally need a power nap around 4pm to get her through until bedtime), so we decided to check out the Black Spur scenic drive, from Healesville to Marysville. The drive winds and curves through massive mountain ash trees, with huge ferns that cover the ground, almost looking like something from Jurassic park. Ella nodded off and we enjoyed the drive listening to the podcast Sophie's Law (a Melbourne based true crime story - very interesting).

Black Spur scenic drive
Monday morning we packed up and were all set to leave in time with Ella's nap, when our first (and only) glitch of the weekend occurred - our car wouldn't start. We called the RACV and they said they would have someone out to help us within the hour. Ella was pretty cranky by then so we had to set up the portacot again and put her to sleep while we waited. I took the opportunity to walk over to Innocent Bystander to get us some coffees, and of course couldn't resist picking up another brownie and canalé to snack on - a silver lining to our car troubles! Luckily there was nothing seriously wrong with the car, just a cold night something or other, blah blah blah, Andy knows what to do if it happens again. And then we were off, back to home to Melbourne and reality, already planning our next family weekend away!