Thursday, 30 June 2016

Currently... June

Currently we are in England at Andy's parent's house where we've spent the past 10 days. We are just about to head off to Gatwick airport to pick up my mom and dad and I can't wait to see them!

Reading:

A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi. This novel is about the use of Indian women as surrogates for couples from wealthier countries who can't have babies. The story follows the couple (and in particular the mother) who can't have a child, and the woman in India who is carrying their baby. It was interesting as it's not a subject matter I've ever given any thought to, or even really knew existed. Some moral issues are explored, such as the exploitation of these women from poor families through organisations that set this up. Small spoiler ahead: A good read but a bit disappointing as it had a "happier ever after ending" which I didn't think was realistic given the moral/ethical subject matter.

I'm in the middle of reading In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch. It's about a group of friends who reconnect 20 years after university. So far I'm enjoying it as a light, easy, holiday read. Also it has made me think back to the fun of my own university days which is always nice.

Watching:

The BBC news coverage of the Brexit Referendum (see also: Hating). 

Listening To:

I've got into a bad habit of only listening to the Hamish & Andy podcast. Not that there is anything wrong with that. They make me laugh and listening to them always puts me a in good mood. However there are five new episodes each week (highlights from the previous afternoon's radio show), and I don't have time to listen to much more than that.  My other podcasts are becoming neglected, and my feed of unplayed episodes slowly building up. So I've instituted a new podcast policy, where I just listen to them in order so that I can get some variety in my life! If it doesn't capture me in the first few minutes, I am free to delete the podcast from my feed and move on.

The most interesting one I've listened to recently is a Freakonomics Radio episode called "Why Does Everyone Hate Flying? And Other Questions Only a Pilot Can Answer". It's an interview with a pilot called Patrick Smith, answering random listener questions about air travel. It's made me realise how lucky we are to just be able to fly around the world whenever we want, and perhaps I shouldn't complain about it so much! Smith has a book called Cockpit Confidential which I'd be interested in reading.

Looking Forward To:

Lee and Claire's wedding in two days' time. Andy is the best man, I'm nervously looking forward to his speech.

Wearing:

Jeans, leggings, sweaters, and a jacket, even though it is supposed to be summer in England. Ah, British summers! Always a bit hit or miss.

Loving:

Having some "time off" while Andy's parents have helped out with Ella. Dave has been chief bather and has taken Ella on a walk almost daily to get her to nap and give us a break. It's also been nice to go for a run with Andy, it's been a long time since we've been able to do that together. 

1 Giant Mind - my new go-to meditation app. The founder led the meditation at Wanderlust which I attended last month, and I've been hooked ever since.

Hating:

Brexit. I can't believe that the UK has voted to leave the European Union. I've spent a lot of our holiday here watching the BBC coverage of the aftermath of the "Leave" vote, feeling utterly devastated at the result. And I'm not even British!

Needing:

My yoga practice. I've managed to get to only one class since being in England, and I've been pretty terrible at keeping up any sort of home practice. My body is feeling pretty old and creaky. 

Wanting:

Continuing from above, I'd really love this travel yoga mat from Manduka. I've mentioned it to Andy as a possible gift in the future. He just told me to send the details to his people. I think that means he's ignoring this request.

Obsessing Over:

How to make our flight back to Australia less of a nightmare. I need ideas!! Unfortunately I don't think leaving Ella in England until she is old enough to watch movies on a plane is an option. (Kidding!)

Considering:

Whether or not to get a (natural looking) spray tan tomorrow in time for the wedding. My head says no, totally unnecessary... but my heart says YES! I've only had a spray tan once before, for my own wedding, and I have to admit it did look nice!

Working On:

I've almost finished my online course Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance. I've learned a lot about the science behind meditation and mindfulness and some useful tips. One being about how unproductive multitasking is. This video called How Multitasking is Affecting the Way You Think  really made me think.

Another take away from the course for me was understanding that our brain is hardwired to focus and remember negative experiences and feelings more easily than positive ones. This because the brain has evolved to anticipate and overcome danger, so danger (ie negativity) is what it registers easily. This is called the brain's Negativity Bias. If we want to think more positively we have to actually train the brain to do this. This is where mindfulness comes in handy. One way to train the brain is to consciously "hang-out" with a positive emotion/experience - really notice what you are feeling instead of just moving on to the next thing. In this way it is more likely to transfer to our long term memory, and we will remember it more easily. If we do this enough we will start to remember more positive things happening in our lives, instead of always focusing on the negative.

Grateful For:

Grandparents, and the time we have had to spend with them over this holiday period. 

Pic of the Month:

This has already featured on the blog, but I love this shot of our family enjoying a sunny winter's day on the Yarra Trail next to our house. It is all that I love about living in Melbourne.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

MEL to LHR with Etihad

Well we made it to England in one piece... barely. 25 hours of transit time with a nearly one-year-old is not fun, in case you were wondering.

We arrived last Monday at Melbourne airport just before noon, a good three hours before our flight to London, and were given the good news that we had bassinet seats. The airport was actually really quiet, which I wasn't expecting as it was the start of school holidays in some, but not all schools in Victoria. This was the first trip where we brought a stroller with us to the airport (previously we just took a baby carrier). As a gift for Ella's first birthday my parents got us a Mountain Buggy Nano, which is an awesome stroller for travellers. It's super lightweight (under 6 kgs) and folds up small enough to fit on the carry on luggage compartment on most planes. We were able to take the stroller right up to the gate, quickly fold it up, and then take it on the plane with us. Very handy! We're really happy with this stroller so far, and would recommend it to anyone that travels a lot with small children.

Once we cleared airport security we got some breakfast and coffees and let Ella roam around a little. This part of the journey was pretty stress free and I was feeling almost relaxed about the next 24 hours.


Ella next to the Mountain Buggy Nano
Ella exploring Melbourne airport - Andy looking concerned!
Well that all changed once we got on the flight. We flew with Etihad, our first time doing the journey with this airline. We chose them over some cheaper options because they have a reputation of being very family friendly, with a designated "Flying Nanny". On the Etihad website the description of the Flying Nanny states:

Do you ever wish that more help was available with children on long-haul flights, so you can sit back and have a little "me time"?

Why, yes, yes I do. That would be amazing. Unfortunately, the Flying Nanny did not live up to expectations. I definitely did not think someone would come and take care of Ella for the whole flight while and I slept and watched movies. But I did envisage someone coming over and and introducing themselves as the Nanny so that we would know who to ask when we needed help. This didn't happen at all, I have no idea who the Nanny was, and the crew in general were pretty rude and unhelpful on the first leg of our flight, from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi.

This leg was 14 hours long, and we were in an older style plane so the seats were pretty narrow and uncomfortable. We had the bulkhead seats which give you extra legroom, so we could put Ella down to play there. But it wasn't long before she was trying to crawl out into the aisle, and was not happy when we stopped her from doing this! Our seats were a window and middle seat, with a very tall guy sitting in the aisle seat beside us. He no doubt paid a bit extra for his extra legroom seat, and was probably pretty disappointed to see that he had a couple with a baby sitting next to him. To give him credit he was incredible patient with us as we got up out of our seats often to get things for Ella or to walk her around the plane. 

About four hours into our flight the food service was finished and the lights were dimmed, and it was what would be Ella's regular bedtime. So we thought it would be a good idea to get the bassinet set up and try and get her to sleep. This worked like a charm for us when we flew with her to Canada at six months old, and she ended up sleeping about seven hours straight through the nighttime flight. That was not to be this time! An 11-month-old is very different to a 6-month-old and once we finally got the bassinet set up (after asking a flight attendant three times for this) we tried putting Ella in and discovered she was pretty much the same size as the bassinet. It looked like she was laying in a little coffin, and was definitely NOT going to sleep in there! We did leave her in for a few minutes and all we could see were her little arms and legs kicking about, trying to get out of the bassinet, which was kind of hilarious. Totally beaten, we picked her up and let her sit in the bassinet which she thought was hysterical. 

In the end we just tried to make her comfortable sleeping on Andy's lap, and she did, fitfully, for a few hours. But 14 hours is loooong and it was a pretty stressful experience. Ella was overtired and bored and there was not much we could do.

Tired baby at Abu Dhabi airport
Arriving in Abu Dhabi was a relief, and we found a quiet, empty lounge to let Ella crawl around in while we took turns freshening up in the washrooms. Not much to say about this airport, I wasn't a fan but we didn't really explore much. I find airports with low ceilings (like this one) somewhat stifling; after a long flight you sort of want a nice, airy airport to somewhat disguise the fact that you are inside for more than a whole day. There is a kids play area somewhere in the airport that we might check out on the way back, but didn't this time as we were all so tired.

Anyway, 3.5 hours later we boarded our second flight, another 8 hours to London Heathrow. This time we were in a new plane, an A380, and boy what a difference it made! It was spacious and the seats were wider, and as an extra bonus we had an empty seat beside us. Score! Also, the crew on this flight were SO much better. We still didn't know who the designated Flying Nanny was but a lot of them were super helpful and great with Ella, playing little games with her and making her giggle. We also had an older lady a few seats over who was smiling with Ella and took her and played with her for a while, which Ella loved and was a nice break for us. Ella still didn't sleep well on this flight (we didn't even bother setting up the bassinet this time) but the attention of the crew and the atmosphere on the plane made it a much more tolerable flight. And 8 hours is significantly shorter then 14.

We arrived at Heathrow at about 7am London time and made it through customs quickly, meeting Andy's dad who was there to pick us up. Ella was very tired but gave Dave a big smile which made us think she recognised him from all the FaceTiming we do. It's about a 90 minute drive from the airport to Andy's parent's house near Portsmouth, and it was lovely to arrive to a "home" instead of a hotel or something. 

Once we settled in, Andy's parents took Ella for a walk so she would have a nap, and Andy and I had showers and then took our own nap for a few hours. We then spent the afternoon in the back garden, catching up, eating ice cream, and blowing bubbles. Ella was so much happier being in the fresh air and crawling around exploring this new space. She has actually adjusted quite well with the time difference. I think that not sleeping much on the plane sort of paid off as she was so tired by the time it was evening in England that she feel asleep straight away at night. She's not yet slept through the night but is basically sleeping at the right times.

We've had a busy week since arriving and I'll update about that in the next post. Needless to say, I am dreading our flights back. I'm racking my brains to think about what we can do to improve things in a few weeks. A few new toys perhaps, and we didn't use the episodes of "The Wiggles" we had downloaded on the iPad, so perhaps we will try that. Any ideas would be gratefully received!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Queen's Birthday Long Weekend

I started this post on Monday intending to write about the long weekend we were just finishing up. I got about four lines done, and now it is Sunday, the school term is over, and our holidays have begun. We have had an exhausting week in the Noble household and I am so, so glad we have three weeks off to recuperate. Although we do have some pesky flights to England with a (nearly) one-year-old to survive first. Poor Ella and Andy have both been sick, which means no one has been getting much sleep at the moment. Ella seems to have pretty much forgotten that she learned how to sleep through the night... sigh. Well, that was a good six or so weeks while it lasted! Andy has been getting up to help in the night despite being ill himself which I am pretty thankful for. 

Anyway, back to the post, which is about our activities over the Queen's Birthday long weekend, which is always the second Monday in June. This is the last public holiday in Australia until September, when we get a long weekend for the AfL Grand Final. (Funnily enough the next one after that is for Melbourne Cup, the big horse race. Sports is obviously a big priority here in Australia!) Anyway, my point being, it's a long public holiday-less winter here, folks. I think I've complained about the planning of that previously in that blog. Although I'm sure my non-teacher friends are rolling their eyes about a teacher complaining about the lack of holidays! Ok, seriously this time, back to the post.

On Saturday we skipped swimming as Ella had a virus, and drove down the Bellarine Penisula for a day trip with Charlotte and Adam. Our first stop was Portarlington for brunch at the PostScript Cafe. Now, I'm going to start sounding like a major Melbourne food snob, but this was a very average brunch, just like the weekend before. I think Melbourne has spoiled us in terms of food quality at cafés and I just need to stop expecting the same elsewhere. Despite the mediocre food, the service was very lovely and they all thought Ella was cute, and the atmosphere was good, so I guess that should count for something.

After brunch we went for a walk down to the pier where there were loads of fishermen. Portarlington is apparently famous for its mussels and looks like it would be a great place to visit in the summer. Unfortunately for us, the weather was pretty terrible in the morning with intermittant wind and rain so we ended up heading back to the car and driving to the other side of the Peninsula to Point Lonsdale. It ended up taking Andy and I ages to get there as we had to stop and change Ella - I swear every time we put her in the carseat that day she decided it would be a good time for a massive poo. Classic baby timing. Changing a baby in the back of your car in windy/cold/rainy weather is not super fun, in case you were wondering.

Ella enjoying her toast at the PostScript Café
Point Lonsdale was beautiful, but again, probably much better in the summer! We walked along another pier but I ended up turning back with Ella as it was so windy I thought we might get thrown in the sea. However it had stopped raining and the sun was out which was nice. I love crisp, sunny, winter days here. (When I say crisp, I mean about 14 degrees. I've become a major wimp when it comes to the cold.) We did a short walk to a lighthouse and then Andy, Charlotte and Adam went to check out the beach. I did the mum thing and stayed in a sheltered spot with poor Ella, who I think desperately wanted to sleep but couldn't because of the wind on her face.

Point Lonsdale pier
After Point Lonsdale we headed back towards Melbourne and stopped at the Little Creatures Brewery in Geelong. This was actually the main point of our day trip, but by this time Andy and I were so exhausted that we nearly just went home. I am SO GLAD we didn't! This place is awesome! It's a kid-friendly brewery and restaurant... I mean, it doesn't get any better than that, does it?! The restaurant is huge and casual with excellent food (and of course beer), there is a little play area for kids, and around the outside seating there is a sandbox as well. I'd say we will definitely be returning to Little Creatures in the future. It's a shame as there used to be a location close to us in Fitzroy but it recently shut down. We had been there before but I never noticed the kid-friendly features, as this was in our pre-Ella days.




We arrived home that evening tired, but full and happy.

On Sunday afternoon we met up with Adam and Charlotte again. (We do have other friends... I swear!) We visited the Heide Gardens and Sculpture Park in Heidleburg. Another hidden gem in Melbourne that I had no idea existed! There is a Museum of Modern Art (we didn't go in - $18 admission fee!) surrounded by 15 acres of beautiful gardens featuring 30 sculptures. We spent a sunny afternoon strolling around, and then having a coffee in the museum cafe. Ella was being extra cute in here, playing a sort of peek-a-boo game with Adam and giggling her head off at him. It is so amazing to watch her actually initiate play with others, as this is a relatively new thing in her development. 





On Monday we had a low key day at home. Andy was already starting to feel unwell and Ella was still getting over her virus. We did take advantage of the lovely sunny weather to go for a walk by the Children's Farm and stop at the Farm Café for lunch. Ella is fascinated by the animals so it's really fun to go for walks along there with her at this age, and I can imagine will only get better as she grows. We are so lucky to have this right on our doorstep! 

Ella and her bodyguard at the Farm Café


Checking out the sheep
And that was it - Tuesday was back to work for Andy - he lasted one day and has been home ill ever since. I've spent the week taking care of my sick babies who have started to recover and will hopefully be in better form for our flights to England tomorrow - eek, super exciting!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Organ Pipes National Park

Last weekend we took a little day trip to Organ Pipes National Park, which is located about 20km northwest of the city:


The weather that day was pretty yucky: rain with a high of 14 degrees. Winter has certainly arrived here in Melbourne! We started the day with our usual Saturday morning routine of yoga (for me) and swimming (for Ella). For the first time I did the lesson with Ella while Andy watched on:


I feel like in this photo Ella is thinking "dad, help me here, mum has no idea what she's doing!" It was a lot more awkward to hold her in the water for half an hour than I thought it would be. I think I will be leaving the swimming lessons to Andy from now on!

After swimming we met up with Adam and Charlotte for lunch near the park, in Keilor East. The cafe we went to was called East Pantry, and it was very, very average. We felt like it was trying very hard to be a funky Melbourne cafe but coming up a bit short. For example, Charlotte's tea came out on a wood-looking board that was actually plastic. Tacky! That's what happens when you eat in the suburbs I suppose ;)

It was still pretty rainy when we finished lunch and part of me wanted to sack off the walk and do something indoors instead. But I'm glad we didn't! The park was beautiful with really interesting rock formations as a result of volcanic activity 2.5 million years ago. The park is named after the rock formation below of basalt lava cooled into vertical columns:



We were lucky to spot two kangaroos eating some lunch only about 20 metres away. It was the closest I've ever been to a kangaroo and Ella's first sighting. It still gives me a bit of a thrill to see these animals in the wild!


We recently purchased a footmuff for Ella's pram which, along with the rain cover, kept her nice and cosy during our walk. 


It felt good to get out and brave the crappy weather and it reminded me of a quote that I have no idea where I heard, although it definitely sounds like something a dad would say. It goes something like this: "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing". 



It's lovely to find parks like this so close to Melbourne, and had inspired us to make the most of the winter season finding more walks like this.