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. 

Bubbles!

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). 

http://www.darebin.vic.gov.au/Darebin-Living/Parking-and-Transport/Transport#Cycling
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!