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”.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Weekend in Inverloch

Last weekend Andy and I had the rare chance to go away together, alone, as my mom is still here with us. She generously offered to watch Ella for two nights on her own while we escaped from the city to the seaside town of Inverloch. Inverloch is located in Gippsland, about 160km southeast of Melbourne. We headed there straight after work on Friday, arriving at our boutique hotel, Eugenie’s, just in time for dinner.

Eugenie’s offers four rooms and is located in the centre of Inverloch, right across from the beach. Once we got settled in our room we headed off in search for some dinner, and ended up a short walk away from our hotel at The Black Sheep. We shared a selection of tapas, and finished off with the Chocolate Obsession for dessert. Full and tired, we headed back to the hotel for some shut eye.

Saturday morning we both slept in until about 7:30am, which is unheard of these days. Ella doesn’t actually wake up until that time or later on the weekends, but our body clocks are used to our 6am weekday alarm, so we usually end up getting out of bed just after that time on weekends. It gives us some quiet time to have a coffee together before the madness of a toddler takes over for the day.

We lazed around in the fluffy king size bed (a luxury compared to our teeny tiny double bed at home), drinking coffee and watching the news before venturing out for some breakfast. We headed to the Beach Box Café, which was about 100m down the street from Eugenie’s. I took the opportunity to get the paper, as I almost never have time to read a weekend newspaper anymore. That is probably one of the “pre-child” luxuries I miss the most. We had a relaxing, uninterrupted brunch (good food, average coffee) and then headed off to a nearby farmer’s market.

The market was held at Koonwarra, about a 15 minute drive from Inverloch. It was smallish, featuring organic produces, herbs and flowers, and local businesses selling things like honey, candles, bread and fudge. We bought my mom some loose leaf tea from Finch & Wren. The tea was especially for a “mature woman” to help with hot flashes, so we thought it was the perfect gift! (Although my mom will joke that in our freezing cold house, her hot flashes are almost welcome.) Koonwarra is located on the Great Southern Rail Trail, which is a 72 km trail connecting local towns in Gippsland. You can walk or cycle the trail, stopping in each local town on the way. We didn’t do any of it, but it gave me great ideas for our next trip to Gippsland, with Ella being pulled along in a little bike trailer!

After the market we headed around Anderson Inlet to Venus Bay and did a short walk along the Point Smythe Nature Trail. The trail is an easy 6km loop. We took a little detour on to the beach on the Bass Strait side, which the sea that separates Australia from Tasmania. The sun was out and the weather pretty warm so we took some time to enjoy the fresh sea air.

While looping back to the car, we passed a family walking together who were all wearing wellies, for reasons that became apparent shortly after. Nearly at the end of our walk, we came across a large part of the path that was flooded, surrounded by thick forest on either side. Our choice was to either get very wet, or climb our way through the fallen trees and bushes in the forest. We chose the latter, ducking and weaving our way through until at last we’d gotten past the flooded path.

Once our walk was completed we headed back to Inverloch for some much deserved lunch at Vaughan’s Café and Deli, and then we headed back to the hotel for a bit. Andy wanted to do some school work and finished off reading weekend papers. We then went for a walk along the Inverloch foreshore beach just as the sun was setting.

Our hotel had a hot tub and sauna area, so we got some champagne and drank it while enjoying the hot tub. Fancy! I did have a picture of this but it's pretty grainy, and also I'm not sure how many people would really be interested of a picture of my husband in a hot tub.

Before heading out for dinner, we FaceTimed Ella. She was super excited to see us. She pretended to cuddle my mom’s iPad that she was using to talk to us, and gave the screen lots of kisses.

In the end we were so tired that we got some red wine and takeaway pizza from The Bayside Lady (I had the prosciutto with dates and blue cheese… yum. Obviously Andy was not interested in that pizza at all). We ate while watching a movie on our laptop in the hotel bed. Nice.

Sunday morning we woke up early and decided to go for a walk on the beach to catch the sunrise. It was so peaceful and calm outside, not many people were out except for the odd jogger and dog walker. After our walk we headed back to Vaughan’s Café for breakfast.

When we got back to the hotel and turned on the morning news, we were faced with the horrible news of another terrorist attack in London. Thankfully we heard from our friends who still live there and everyone was safe, but it’s so difficult to understand the world we are living in right now, and how often we are hearing of these kinds of attacks. It really sucks.

We decided to head home after that, driving along the Bunurong Coast on the way back. The drive is 14km, linking Inverloch and Cape Paterson. There are gorgeous views of the Bass Strait and beautiful isolated beaches. We went when the tide was out so there were a lot of flat rocks to climb over and even some caves to explore. Interesting fact: Australia’s first dinosaur fossil was found along this coast in 1903, and it is currently an active dig site. Hundreds of millions of years ago, you could walk from this point to Antarctica without getting wet. Crazy!

We really appreciated the time to go away together, but by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around we were both really missing Ella. She seemed to have a fabulous time with her Nannie, but I think she was pretty happy to see us when we got home too!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Currently... May

Reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s been on my to-read list for years but I kept putting it off due to the length (it’s over 900 pages). I ended up downloading it on my kindle for my week at school camp, but didn’t get through as much of it as I thought I would. I'm about a third of the way through so far. I like it, but I’m not loving it. I find it a bit slow and overly detailed, but it has so many good reviews that I feel like I should plough on. The author broke out of a Melbourne jail and ended up in India for 10 years before being captured and extradited back to Australia. The book tells a similar tale, though is fiction, not an autobiography. Apparently a lot of it is based on the author's actual experiences while in India.

Watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. We finished the series last week, and as it deals with teenage suicide it was not easy watching.  A lot of students at my school have watched it so I felt I should as well, in case any of them were disturbed by it, or wanted to talk about it. I didn’t actually enjoy it at the start, it took me a good 5-6 episodes to really get into it. As a drama, it’s pretty good. However the show has faced a lot of criticism, for good reason. This article explains why it’s so dangerous: “This show not only portrays suicide as a valid, logical option, but it shows suicide as a highly effective way to get even with people who’ve hurt you”. My mom and I are also watching The OA on Netflix, which is weird. I can't decide if I like it or not, and I think my mom feels the same. But we keep watching.

Loving having my mom here. She’s been with us since we went to Bali at the start of April and it has been the biggest help ever. Not only that, but her and Ella have the best relationship. It’s so cute to see them together.

Listening to Spotify at work. I have my own office at school, which is great in some ways, but really lonely in others. Lately I’ve been putting on one of Spotify’s recommended playlists like “Office Mix” or “Morning Motivation” to give me a boost when I’m working alone. I’ve also been listening to Russell Brand’s new podcast “Under the Skin”.  I'm a big Russell Brand fan and love pretty much everything he puts out these days.

Enjoying the stage Ella is in right now. You'd never guess that the “terrible twos” are just around the corner. She is such a curious, happy little girl. She loves going to the playground so this is where we spend most of our time these days. She can also communicate so well, her vocabulary has just exploded and we can pretty much have conversations with her now. Sometimes it takes her a few tries to be understood, but when you finally repeat back to her what she has been trying to say she gives you the biggest smile. It melts my heart.

Realizing how easy it is just to spend little amounts of money every day on coffee and food. Andy and I both downloaded this Daily Budget app. You enter your net pay, and it tells you how much money you have to spend per day. Then, you enter your recurring costs plus the amount you’d like to save. What you’re left with is how much you have to spend daily on incidentals like take aways, eating out, clothes, entertainment. You enter any spending you do and then the amount you have left over at the end of each day adds on to the following day’s amount. There is a tagline somewhere in there that says something like “the less you spend today, the more you have tomorrow”. It’s been a pretty effective way to make me think twice before buying things I don’t need, but I’ve only had it for a week so we’ll see how long that lasts!

Agreeing with this article in the Guardian on “The Gender Wars of Household Chores”. It explains things so well. Just read it.

Wearing these track pants from Cotton On. I haven’t owned a pair of track pants in years. Around the house, I usually wear leggings, but I’m always so cold throughout the winter. (The houses here are NOT built for the cold.) Wearing track pants instead of leggings has changed my life. I’m so warm and toasty at home in the evenings now!

Cooking a few things that have gone down well lately. With my mom here she normally gets some dinner prep done during the day and then one of us cooks dinner while the other (plus Andy) plays with/distracts Ella until dinner is ready. It’s been really good and we are going to miss having an extra set of hands to help with the evening routine when she goes! One dish that we have all loved, including Ella, is this slow cooker lamb and pumpkin curry which I got from the free Coles magazine. These sweet potato black bean quinoa bowls were also a hit with the three adults, less so with Ella. She loved sweet potato when she was younger but now will pick it out of any meal I try. Toddlers are so weird.

Wanting a bike trailer so that Ella and I can go on some slightly further away adventures when Andy is not home (and I don’t have a car). I am not confident enough to have her riding on the back of my bike in her bike seat, but I feel like I could handle pulling her along in a trailer as long as I stuck to bike paths and the sidewalk.

Planning on making this learning tower for Ella’s 2nd birthday. Actually I’m planning on Andy making it. But whatever. We already have the IKEA stool that is the base and Andy is going to measure out some wood at school for the rest of it. I can't wait to do some mummy-Ella baking once she can stand up at the kitchen counter!

Waiting for our results from our Zika Serology test. We recently went to Bali, which is a moderate risk Zika zone. Andy got one mosquito bite, and I got a few, so we decided to have a blood test to be certain we don’t have the virus before trying for a second baby. We should get the results within the next week or so. And then... on to baby-making! TMI?!

Looking forward to a weekend away with Andy. We are going to Inverloch for two nights, just the two of us! How romantic (see above). Ella will be with my mom for some quality Nannie time.

Pic of the Month
Ella cuddling a guinea pig. Ahhhh so cute I can’t even handle it!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

School Camp in the Grampians

A few weeks ago I spent five days camping in the Grampians National Park. That would have been pretty amazing, save for the fact that I was supervising a group of Year 8 students on their annual school camp.

School camp is a pretty normal thing in Australia, and most teachers are expected to attend at least one camp each year. Somehow I have managed to escape this duty during my time in Australia thus far and this was my first school camp experience. I was really dreading it, but it actually turned out to be pretty fun. A nice escape from the daily grind, although I did really miss Ella. Luckily my mom is here so Andy wasn't on his own taking care of her.

I was in charge of a group of twelve 13-year-olds, along with a trained outdoor ed staff member employed by the camp. My duty as a teacher was to look after the wellbeing of the students, along with managing any disciplinary issues that might arise.

We left nice and early Monday morning for the four hour bus journey. We had about 90 students and 8 teachers divided between two buses. Despite the chatty and excited kids the journey was pretty painless and smooth.

Upon arrival at our campsite, the misleadingly named Grampians Retreat, we got straight into our first activity - mountain biking. When our instructor asked the students who had experience with mountain biking, I was surprised to find out that one of the students had never rode a bike before! So I ended up spending the session teaching him to ride a bike while the others learned some mountain biking skills and did a few rides through a track on the property. I felt a bit bad for my student who didn’t know how to ride a bike as that would surely be a bit embarrassing for a 13-year-old, however to his credit he persisted with learning for nearly two hours and was able to ride in the end. (Stopping without crashing was another story.)

The first two nights we slept in cabins at the retreat. With no heating it was pretty cold in the cabin, especially the first night when the temperature dropped to 3 degrees. Thankfully our outdoor education department had given me a super warm sleeping bag to use for the week. I also spent a small fortune at Kathmandu and Uniqlo the week before stocking up on thermals and other warm clothes in preparation, which definitely came in handy.

We spent our second day at Mt. Lion, mountain climbing and abseiling. Even I got to participate which was cool. I was pretty impressed with the students who were climbing an actual mountain and belaying each other quite confidently by the end of the day. We had cold but sunny weather and there were some spectacular views from the top of the abseil.

On our last morning at the Retreat the students worked as volunteers with Parks Victoria clearing bush walking paths. This was a good way for the students to give back to the community where we were camping.

On Wednesday afternoon, after two nights spent in cabins at the retreat, we headed out on the hiking portion of the camp. The students had to carry all their food, supplies and tents for two nights camping in the bush. I was really dreading this part of the week but it ended up being a lot less difficult than I thought it would be. It really helped that as a teacher I had a few perks, such as my tent being set up at each campsite in advance, and the option to have some of my things transported between campsites so I didn’t have such a heavy backpack to carry.

Our first afternoon we hiked 6.5km and reached camp just before it got dark. The kids did a pretty good job setting up their tents and then they all pitched in to make dinner, a big veggie and turkey stir fry. For dessert we had a camp style cheesecake: lemon curd mixed with Laughing Cow cheese, spread on ginger biscuits. It was actually very, very yummy!

At about 7:30pm the kids all went into their tents as it had started to rain. The outdoor ed leader and I stayed up for about another half an hour, making sure the kids weren’t making too much noise and were staying in their tents before getting into our own tents. It was pretty nice to just have an hour or so to read in my tent and then get to sleep at a decent time. Luckily the nights that we were camping weren’t too cold, I think the lowest temperature was about 11 degrees.

The next day we had a slightly longer hike of 11km, but we had the whole day to do it. Part of the hike was called a “Solo” where the students were spaced out in five minute intervals and had to hike on their own. This was to give them some reflection time, and although they weren’t looking forward to it to start with, most reported that they did in fact enjoy having some time to themselves to enjoy nature.

Views during the solo hike
We took quite a few breaks that day as 11km is not actually that far to walk in a whole day. The best bit was after lunch where we did a bit of scrambling on boulders, again giving us some great views of the national park.

On our last night the students had their “Survivor” night. Instead of sleeping in tents they had to work in groups of 3 or 4 to set up tarps and sleep out in the open. They were given a compass and some directions on where to find the tarp, their food and some ropes. They could only bring with them the clothes they were wearing, rain gear, a sleeping bag, and one luxury item. It sounds pretty intense but in reality they were only about 100m away from where me and the outdoor ed staff were camping.

Once the kids learned a few basic skills around tying knots for their tarp we sent them off for the night. They had walkie-talkies and had to let us know when they completed tasks such as setting up their tarp, making dinner, and when they were going to bed. Other than that they were not to contact us unless it was an emergency. I spent the evening around a campfire with two outdoor ed staff and it was all really quite pleasant, as if I was on holiday (though I probably wouldn’t choose to spend my holiday camping, but still).

The next morning the students came back tired but pretty proud that they had spent a night “roughing it”. We discussed things they were now more grateful for at home, such as heating, a roof over their heads, food in the cupboards, and how difficult it must be for those who do not have a home, and for who spending nights outside on the streets is an everyday reality. It was a small experience for the students but hopefully a start to them having more gratitude for the everyday comforts of their lives, and more awareness of homelessness, which is a big problem in Melbourne.

After hiking back to the Grampians Retreat on Friday morning, we had some lunch and then headed back to Melbourne on the bus. It was a very full and tiring week but nice to be out in nature and have a break from the very busy school term.