Saturday, 14 October 2017

Bike ride to Coburg Lake Reserve

Last Sunday we had a beautiful, warm sunny day here in Melbourne so we decided to go for a family bike ride. We actually bought Ella her own balance bike on Saturday which is the coolest, cutest thing ever:

Both Andy and I had to stop ourselves from buying our own Lekker bikes while we were at the shops, they are sooooo nice. This is what happens when you are a parent, isn’t it? Your kid gets cooler stuff than you. But it’s still a bit too big for her, she can’t quite touch flat footed on both sides. Still, she is obsessed with it and we have to hold her steady while she rides it around our garage. For this bike ride though, we put her in on the back of Andy’s bike in the baby seat. I was momentarily afraid she would refuse the baby seat now that she has her own bike, but thankfully she was happy to get in it and ride behind Andy.

We rode our bikes north along the Merri Creek, about 5.5km to Coburg Lake Reserve. We’ve never rode our bikes this far north before, and I’m not sure why not! The path is paved the whole way, so it’s completely safe and easy to ride on. The view is beautiful, with the path crisscrossing over the creek many times, going over some huge and sometimes wobbly bridges.

Coburg Lake Reserve was much bigger than I was expecting. There are plenty of walking tracks and hills, along with an outdoor gym if you are looking to get some exercise. The grassy areas beside the lake are perfect for a picnic and Ella enjoyed watching the ducks and swans. There are also a few pretty epic playgrounds, where we spent most of our time. As it was such a lovely day, the area was pretty busy. Someone was having a delicious smelling BBQ which we were pretty jealous of.

This will definitely be a place we will frequent more as the weather gets better. The only downside is that you can’t swim in the lake. But it’s the perfect distance for a bike ride from our house, and you could easily spend a few hours exploring the grounds and playgrounds. Next time we will be sure to bring a picnic lunch!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Holiday in Peregian Beach Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our holiday here and here.

With a forecast of thunderstorms on the last full day of our holiday, I pre-booked tickets to the Sea Life Aquarium in Mooloolaba for us. Pre-booking at least a day before gives you 20% off the cost of tickets, which are $39 per adult (kids 3 and under are free). Not a cheap activity, but I was feeling rather desperate after the downpour we had on Monday.

Tuesday morning we headed off to the Aquarium, which was about half an hour drive from our Airbnb. We stopped at The Pool Café in Peregian Springs for some breakfast on the way. The café is part of a members club and overlooks their beautiful pool, which was behind a locked glass wall. Ella was desperate to get to the pool, and tried to climb under the glass wall to get to it. The girl certainly loves to swim!

Ella reluctantly left the café with us after we promised her we were going to see “the fishies”. She is obsessed with Finding Nemo at the moment so we thought she’d love the aquarium. We arrived about half an hour after opening and had to queue up for about 15 minutes before getting in and realizing we could have waited in the shorter line as we had pre-booked tickets. D’oh! What a rookie mistake. My dad would be so disappointed in me… on family trips he made sure we got up at the crack of dawn and we always got to theme parks exactly when they opened to beat the crowds. That’s usually my intention but I don’t seem to have the organisational skills to actually make it happen. (Probably something to do with not having my dad there to wake us up at 6am.)

Anyway, Ella enjoyed the aquarium for about 10 minutes. She was able to reach in one tank and touch a starfish and a sea cucumber which was fun. But she pretty much lost it when we went into the Ocean Tunnel. It was super cool with huge sharks and stingrays swimming around as you walked through a glass tunnel, but Miss Ella was desperate to go in the exit, instead of the entrance. We did try to explain that they both led to the same thing, but that kind of logic is lost on a two year old. She basically screamed the majority of the time, until we gave in and let her have her dummy. She wasn’t the only screaming child in the Ocean Tunnel so you can guess how fun that part of the aquarium was for all the parents. Yay for family trips!

After the ocean tunnel we visited the Sea Lions and Octonauts display area, which Ella liked, but were pretty crowded. Next we took her to the kids soft play area, which was conveniently beside a café. I swear there is a soft play/toddler play area in like every major attraction in Australia, which I am forever grateful for. We spent just under two hours in the aquarium, where Ella bounced between being delighted with the fishies, and super pissed off about something (probably another child looking at or playing with what she wanted to look at).

The straw that broke the camel’s back was one of those stupid rides for toddlers that you need to put $2 in for a 20 second ride… you know the ones that are often found in shopping centres and grocery stores? There was a Finding Nemo one with 3 clownfish to sit on inside the café. Ella was perfectly happy to just sit on her fish until another little girl came along and her dad put $2 in the slot and the fish started moving in a slow circle. Great. Ella’s face lit up and she was having the time of her life… until it stopped. She frantically tried pushing the button to make it move, but of course I refused to put $2 in the thing so it didn’t start up again. I managed to convince her it was broken and distract her with something else while Andy finished up his coffee, but then of course another dad came along and put another $2 in the ride. It would be an understatement to say Ella was “unhappy” that the ride started again and she was not on it. If there was ever a cue to leave a place, this was it.

When we got out of the aquarium we were surprised by bright blue skies and no absolutely no sign of the predicted thunderstorms. I tried very hard not to be annoyed that we had wasted our time and money in the aquarium when it was actually really nice weather. Lesson learned: don’t pre-book tickets based on a weather report! Wait until the actual day and see what happens.

At this point it was too early for Ella’s nap so we drove 15 minutes to the Buderim Forest. We did a lovely walk through the forest with Ella. The first 700m was on a wooden boardwalk, so it was very easy to walk with Ella. We were all delighted to be walking around in nature. Second lesson learned: we all prefer being outside exploring to pricey, indoor tourist attractions.

Once the boardwalk ends you need to climb up over rocks and tree roots to get to a stunning waterfall and rock pool. This part is not great for young children, and Andy ended up carrying Ella most of the way. It wasn’t too far and Ella had a great time splashing around in the shallow parts of the river. The waterfall and shallow swimming pool were breathtaking and you could easily spend an afternoon exploring the area. Luckily we had beautiful sunny skies for the walk and the predicted thunderstorms were still nowhere to be seen.

At the start/end of the walk is a café called Harry’s, but we did not get to try it out as it is only open Wednesday - Sunday. On our way back to Peregian Beach Ella fell asleep in the car within minutes, and we had our usual chill out time while she had a couple hours napping back at the Airbnb. When she woke up it had started to cloud over but we took her to the beach across the street from our place for a play before dinner. The beach was deserted and there were dark cloud in the sky, but we managed a good time playing in the sand before feeling the first few drops of rain.

The next morning we woke to sunny skies, and went to Peregian Village for a takeaway breakfast from Skål to eat at the playground. Ella and I shared another smoothie bowl, this time a peanut butter one which was delicious. Andy had the lamb belly bacon and egg roll which was probably one of the best breakfast items I’ve tasted in a long time - the lamb belly bacon was so tender.

After eating we wandered down to the beach to make a very pleasant discovery. Due to the rain the night before there were huge puddles all along the beach. Ella had a fantastic time running and splashing through them. She started fully clothed but was quickly drenched, and we stripped down to her nappy, and then eventually took that off too. I think Ella felt super liberated to be buck naked running around on the beach. It was hilarious. We must have spent like an hour there, and had to drag her away as we had to leave for the airport.

Our drive back to Brisbane airport was uneventful as Ella napped the whole way, exhausted from her morning on the beach. Our last bit of excitement for the holiday was that we had Qantas Club Lounge access - a first for both Andy and I. And what a lovely way to spend time before a flight! There was a small children’s area and the whole atmosphere was so much calmer than the main part of the airport. Not to mention the free food and drink. Ah, how the other half live! It was the perfect way to end our little family beach getaway.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Holiday in Peregian Beach Part 2

Read Part 1 of our Peregian Beach holiday here.
After arriving in Peregian beach on Friday afternoon, we spent the next two days of our Sunshine Coast holiday enjoying the glorious weather, spending time at a few different beaches along the coast, playing at various playgrounds, and sampling the food at local cafés.
Saturday morning we woke to a hot and sunny day, and walked the 10 minutes from our Airbnb to the Peregian Beach Village to get some breakfast. We ate at Periwinkle, one of the restaurants with outdoor seating that looks out onto a huge grassy courtyard where kids can run around while their parents attempt to enjoy a civilised meal. We ordered two crêpes, one savoury and one sweet, to share. We then headed to Peregian Beach, spending time building sandcastles and splashing in the waves. Thoroughly tired out, we took Ella home where she had a monster three hour nap, giving Andy and I some time to just chill out in the sun.

Smiley face babycino at Periwinkle

Fun at Peregian Beach
Once she woke we drove five minutes down the coast to Coolum, where we found a lovely coastal walk with views of Coolum Beach. We finished off our walk with a play at the Coolum foreshore playground and some takeaway pizza, looking over the beach as the sun set.

Coolum coastal walk

On Sunday we visited the Peregian Beach Market, where you can browse a range of crafts, jewellery, clothing, homewares, fresh produce (and more) for sale. I managed to resist buying anything! Next we headed out to Mudjimba beach, about 15 minutes away. One of Andy’s friend’s recommended this beach, but it honestly was like every other beach along the Sunshine coast in my opinion! The main appeal is that it was quieter and less touristy than some of the other beaches. There was a lovely playground on the foreshore that we spent some time at, and a great café called The Island. On the drive back Ella fell asleep and again had a huge nap in the afternoon. When she woke up we took her for a walk to the Peregian Viallage playground and then ate a simple meal of cheese, crackers and salad for dinner at our Airbnb. (We’ve worked out that spending a fortune on a nice meal for dinner is totally not worth it with Ella – it’s just too stressful to keep her happy the whole time, so a picnic or just eating at home is much better for everyone involved.)

Then, the weather turned. The weather reports predicted rain, thunderstorms, and more rain for the last three days of our trip. Is there anything more disappointing than constant rain on your beach holiday?! When we woke Monday morning it was cloudy, but not rainy yet. We headed down to the village to get coffees and let Ella have a run around at the… you guessed it…  playground. She had a great time there – she was able to climb up and go down the slide by herself, so she was happy to amuse herself without much intervention from Andy or me.

We all shared a delicious cacao smoothie bowl from the café Skål, which reminded me of the bowls we ate while in Bali (this one just cost about three times as much!). It did start raining while we were out so we headed back to the Airbnb, and spent some time playing with Ella inside. Luckily the toys in our apartment were a novelty to Ella and kept her amused for a while.

Cacao smoothie bowl from Skål
However, there is only so much small space/indoor action that Ella can handle before she starts to get cranky. Also her nap only lasted about 10 minutes, so she was doubly cranky. After frantically googling “things to do on the Sunshine Coast when it is raining with a toddler” (answer: not much) I found The Ginger Factory, located about 20 minutes away in Yandina. It took a bit of convincing for Andy to agree to go, however the website mentioned a covered play area and a train ride which sounded infinitely more exciting than staying in the beach pad all day in the rain.
The Ginger Factory was possibly the most random, yet unexpectedly entertaining tourist attraction I’ve ever been to. The entertainment factor was clearly heightened as the alternative (rainy, indoor play in tiny apartment) was clearly not an option if we wanted a happy toddler. We first went on the Overboard Boat Ride, which was something like the “It’s a Small World” Disney World ride. The gingerbread man has escaped the clutches of a hungry chef and goes on an adventure around the world. As your boat travels through scenes from different countries and regions you have to try and spot the gingerbread man. Ella loved trying to find him, and was thoroughly entertained for the 10-minute ride. As it was not very busy they let us stay on for a second loop, and I was surprised that she was totally engaged by it the whole time and didn’t get bored.

Looking for the gingerbread man as we sail through Tahiti

The gingerbread man is now in India!

Hello London!

Next we went for a ride on the Ginger Train, a 116 year old ex-sugar cane working train. The 15 minute ride meanders through the Ginger Factory’s grounds and lush sub-tropical forest on the property. This was another winner for Ella.

All aboard the Ginger Train!

Before leaving we had a play in the playground (of course), where Ella surprised us by being able to climb up higher than expected, crawl through tunnels, and even go down a tunnel slide on her own. Our little girl is getting brave!

Covered playground in The Ginger Factory
We stocked up on a few treats from the ginger store on our way out: Ginger Beer & Spiced Rum, ginger Anzac biscuits, and of course a gingerbread man for Ella.

On the way home we stopped in Coolum for some fish and chips. No lovely sunset dinner on the beach this time! It was absolutely pouring with rain, and it didn’t stop all night. All in all though, it was a pretty successful day despite the terrible weather.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our beach holiday!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Holiday in Peregian Beach Part 1

Aaaaand relax. We are enjoying some beautiful weather on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland for a few days. I booked this holiday for us back in August when Melbourne was cold and rainy, and everyone in our house was sick. I was initially thinking we would go to Noosa, where we travelled back in Sept 2013, and then again last year (though Andy missed out on that one). However, as we have to travel in school holidays I left it too late to book accommodation that was affordable, I widened my Airbnb search to the smaller towns on the Sunshine Coast, and eventually booked an Airbnb in Peregian Beach.

Peregian Beach is about 115km north of Brisbane, and about 10km south of Noosa. I picked this location purely based on the Airbnb, which is pretty much perfect for us. We are in a 2-bed beach pad, which is an apartment attached to a main house where our host Maria lives with her husband and three teenage kids. I chose this place because it was close to the beach and super child-friendly; Maria had a high chair and cot for us, as well as toys, books, kids DVDs, beach towels, beach chairs and umbrellas. Perfect, we barely had to do any extra packing for Ella! We are about a 10-minute walk from most of the restaurants and shops of Peregian Beach, and about a 2-minute walk from the beach itself. I can hear the ocean waves as I sit here in the courtyard and write this post!

Yesterday we left Melbourne on an 11 o’clock Qantas flight to Brisbane. This is the first time we have had to buy Ella her own seat, as she is now over 2 years old. Although it’s obviously and added cost, it was a relief to know she wouldn’t have to sit on our laps the whole time. There is a much closer airport to Peregian Beach, the Sunshine Coast airport, but as mentioned above I booked the holiday quite late and there were only very limited, expensive options to fly there from Melbourne – with a lot of routes passing through Sydney. I had the genius idea of flying into Brisbane and renting a car instead. Genius… or so I thought!

Checking our bags at Melbourne airport 
Ella was ok on the flight, but didn’t want to just sit quietly in her seat and watch a movie for the two hour flight. (When will she be old enough to do this?!) You’d think we would be pros at flying with a child by now, but every time we have flown with Ella she has been at a different stage in her life, so the goalposts keep changing. She was interested in the little TV but was annoyed that she couldn’t hear it, nor would she keep her headphones on. Some distractions that did work were a little colouring book and pencils they gave us at the start of the flight, “cleaning” the space around her with a wipe, reading a book, and of course food. We didn’t actually need to get the iPad out though, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. She of course had a massive poo halfway through the flight, and those little airplane toilets are pretty cramped. Changing a toddler’s dirty nappy in one of those requires an efficient operation and quick hands. I did giggle when Ella announced “I had a big daddy poo” to the cabin when returning to our seats.

Ella in her own seat
In classic Ella style, she fell asleep with about 10 minutes left on the flight. This always seems to happen, no matter how long the flight is. Andy carried her dead weight off the plane, and she stayed asleep for a while on some seats while we waited for our bags, but was woken up by an airport employee noisily collecting up the luggage trollies.

Once our baggage was collected it was time to get our rental car. Renting a car with a toddler is never straightforward. (Actually, nothing with a toddler is ever straightforward.) First, in an attempt to save some money and not make this into a super expensive holiday, I rented our car from Bargain Car Rentals. Ya, I’d never heard of them either. But they were the cheapest option when I booked. One reason they are cheaper than the competition… the car rental desk is not actually at the airport. Instead you have to take a shuttle to their office, which was about a 5-minute drive away. Not a huge deal, but figuring out where to catch the shuttle, waiting for the shuttle, and then getting to the car rental agency all took quite a bit of time. Then of course our budget rental agency did not fit the car seat for us, so we had to do this ourselves. All in all, it took us about an hour and a half from when our flight landed to leaving the airport.

Once on the motorway we hit traffic leaving Brisbane, so the drive to the Airbnb took about two hours. Ella was not happy about this! We thought she might fall back asleep again after her short nap on the plane, but she was too frustrated at being strapped in to yet another seat. Fair enough, I was getting annoyed by it too. We finally gave in and handed her an iPhone with Finding Nemo on it, which kept her happy for about half an hour. How did people parent before iPhones?

On the car ride Andy said to me “holidays… We’ll just be doing everything we do at home, except it will be harder”, which really made me laugh. It is kind of true. I pointed out that the weather here is much better than in Melbourne, and that at least in our Airbnb there are no chores to be done (for example, right now while Ella naps we are outside, having a beer in the afternoon… at home I’d be doing laundry, or cleaning, or thinking about what to have for dinner). But, he is kind of right. I read this article recently which outlines the difference between a vacation and a trip. If you used to love to travel but now have kids, you will find this hilarious. And if you don’t have kids (or they are all grown up), you can just sit there smugly thinking about all your lovely, relaxing vacations. We are definitely on a trip right now.

Anyway, we finally made it to Peregian Beach at about 5pm, about 8 hours after we left our house that morning, so it felt like a long day. We quickly unpacked, showered, put on some lighter clothes (it was sill about 30 degrees outside), and went for a walk to the main part of town. We had a nice dinner at Kelly’s, one of the restaurants that overlooks a huge lawn and play space for kids, complete with sandpit.

Ella was able to run around while we waited for our food which was great. We stopped and got a few groceries on the way home, and by then we were all pretty shattered. Ella was practically climbing in to her cot when we got back, and fell asleep right away. Andy and I followed not long after… which was a good decision as the sun is up early here and we were all awake just after 6am this morning. But the sun is shining, we had a fab morning on the beach, and now Ella is having a nice long nap giving us some downtime together. So there isn’t really much more we could ask for! Ah, it’s good to be on vacation… I mean, on a trip.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Australian Citizenship

Last week Andy and I officially became Australian Citizens!

A quick look at our journey to get here...

It’s been four years and nine months since we landed in Melbourne as temporary residents on a 457 working visa. We were sponsored by my school, and at the time “secondary school teacher” was on the list of eligible skilled occupations that could apply for this type of visa. The list is updated every year and consists of occupations where the government has deemed there is a shortage of Australians who could fill the roles. We applied for this in October 2012, and it was a relatively straightforward process, taking less than a week to process. Since then, the current government has tightened requirements for getting a 457, and in April it was announced that the 457 will be replaced by a new Temporary Skills Shortage visa in March 2018.

Our 457 visa was valid for four years, expiring in December 2016. However, less than a year later we ended up applying for Permanent Residency through the Employer Nomination Scheme (186) visa. The primary reason for us applying for Permanent Residency (PR) was that Andy had to retrain as a teacher here, as his English teaching qualification (the GTP, for those from England/Wales), was not recognised by the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT). Without VIT registration it would be nearly impossible for him to find a job in teaching. Retraining (or leaving Australia) seemed like the only options, however as temporary residents the university fees were about 4 times more than a resident would pay. Luckily my employer agreed to sponsor us for the 186, and everything worked out for us in the end. We became Permanent Residents one year after first arriving in Australia, in January 2014. I wrote more about our path to PR here. It was a pretty long and involved process.

We were able to apply for Australian Citizenship in January 2017 - four years after we first arrived in Melbourne. At the time, the requirement for citizenship was four years living in Australia, with at least one year of PR. In April 2017 the government announced changes to citizenship requirements, most notably that you would now need a minimum of four years as a Permanent Resident, instead of just one. If this had been the case for us it would have delayed our citizenship by a year. This legislation has not yet been passed, so there is still time to apply under the old regulations.

Nearly six months after applying for citizenship we had an appointment for our Citizenship Test and Interview, which I wrote about here. After the interview, we were told it could take anywhere from 3-12 months for the Citizenship Ceremony, which is when we would officially become Australian. Luckily, it was only three months before we received a letter inviting us to a ceremony at Coburg Town Hall.  The ceremony was at 6:30pm on a Thursday night, so we opted to leave Ella at home with our friend April.

The ceremony itself was quite short, only about 45 minutes. There were welcome speeches by the Mayor of Moreland and a Wurundjeri elder, and the song “I am Australian” performed by a local choir. We then had to say the following pledge:

From this time forward, under God,
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people
Whose democratic beliefs I share,
Whose rights and liberties I respect, and
Whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Once that was done, we all repeated the words “I am Australian”. I was actually a bit emotional at saying these words. I think that was when it really sunk in that I was becoming a citizen of another country. Being Canadian has always been such a huge part of my identity, so it is somewhat overwhelming to think I am something other than just Canadian.

There were refreshments after the ceremony (though no alcohol... very un-Australian if you ask me!) but we didn't stay long. Instead we got a bottle of Chandon on our way home and had a drink with April to celebrate. It was a school night, so celebrations were a bit muted!

The biggest differences between citizenship and residency are:
  • We can now vote. In fact, we now have to vote; it is the law in Australia. (Unfortunately we are too late to register for the marriage equality vote, which is currently being held by post in Australia. I will be pretty embarrassed to be Australian if the result is a no vote.)
  • Citizenship can’t be revoked, a PR visa can be. So we are free to commit a crime without fear of being deported… haha. (Terrible joke. Sorry.)
  • We can leave the country for extended periods of time and come back to live here whenever we want.
  • We don’t have to pay thousands in visa fees every five years.

Our 186 visa is now void; so we will need to get an Australian passport if we want to travel internationally. We don’t have any immediate plans to do so but we will probably apply for a passport within the next few weeks to avoid any issues. We’ve been scarred from our experience getting Ella’s passport, which you can read about here.

During the ceremony we were given an Australian native plant, a Woolly Tea Tree, which Ella helped Andy pot on the weekend.

The next day at school our teacher friends surprised us with an Aussie lunch, complete with a meat tray raffle. It was very sweet and made us feel quite loved here in our adopted country!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

BBQ Brunch

Last weekend was pretty chilled out, as Ella was recovering from yet another virus, this time a stomach bug. She had four terrible nights of sleep, where she basically just cried/screamed for over an hour and nothing we could do would calm her down. Then, on Friday morning, after what we thought was a “better” night (ie no screaming), we woke up to her throwing up in bed. Andy stayed home with her while she proceeded to throw up everything she ingested (mostly just water) for about 24 hours. Ah, the joys of parenthood! The only positive when Ella is not feeling well is that there are lots of cuddles to go around, which, I’m not going to lie, I do enjoy!

Sunday morning she seemed to be feeling much better, so we met up with Charlotte and Adam for a BBQ breakfast in Barkley Gardens. Barkley Gardens is a large 19th century park in the heart of Richmond. And what a fantastic park it is! The large grassy area has gravel paths winding through and across it, is beautifully landscaped and surrounded by huge leafy trees. There is a recently renovated playground, with lots of different pieces of equipment suitable for all ages. The most impressive piece is a gigantic climbing structure with a tunnel slide coming off of it.

We arrived around 10am and cooked some bacon and egg sandwiches on the communal BBQs. Australian’s love a communal BBQ - we definitely don’t take advantage of these as much as we should. Ella was in a pretty foul mood for the first hour or so, still a little bit unwell I guess. She wanted everything and nothing at the same time, so it was difficult to work out what would make her smile. Usually she is so excited to see Charlotte and Adam, but even they didn’t get any Ella love to begin with. While pushing her on the swings she constantly demanded “higher!” and would get upset if I was holding my coffee or (gasp!) talking to Charlotte at the same time.

After our breakfast we were joined by friends of Adam and Charlotte and their 8 month old baby. We had a lot of fun playing frisbee, watching the kids in the sandpit (Ella finally perked up and seemed back to her normal self after lunch), and of course all having a go on the climbing structure. Who says playgrounds are just for kids?!

It was such a nice way to spend a Sunday morning, and far less stressful than taking Ella along to a trendy café. I don’t know why we haven’t done this before, it was a lovely way to spend a weekend morning. It had made me very excited for warmer weather and the arrival of spring!