Circus Antics

Ickle spotted them first, the giant inflatable clowns positioned at various strategic locations around Swansea. A dulll are-we-there-yet car journey suddenly became exciting, because there was something different to look at, something fun! Yes, folks, the circus is in town. And we wanted to see what it was all about. So last weekend, we headed to the Big Top in Quinn Park.

We had opted for ringside seats. Although at the more expensive end of the range,* it was so worth it. Sitting just two rows back from the ring, we had an unobstructed view of the action (give or take a few stray heads).

Webers Circus are currently on tour in NSW with their “Wild West” show. In keeping with the theme, we were treated to whip cracks, Cowboy and Indian costumes and line dancing. The real attractions, however, were the main acts – but which was the showstopper?

Perhaps it was the talented juggler.Or the queen of hula hoops.Or the Lyra, where the circus artists performed aerial acrobatics, and succeeded in folding their bodies in ways I didn’t think were humanly possible.Perhaps it was the Wheel of Death, where the star performer kept impeccable balance, and a huge grin on his face, as he ran inside a huge metal hoop. And then outside it. And then did it blindfolded. High above the circus ring.

Or the grand finale, the Russian Swing, which catapulted acrobats high into the air onto a crash mat. And, more daringly, onto a chair held aloft by another performer. And even into the arms of a catcher, hanging upside-down by his feet.

There was barely time to pause for breath during the two-hour show. Even during the interval the action continued, with a jumping castle, teacup ride and refreshments outside the Big Top.

We loved it, although the girls were more than apprehensive at the start of the performance. Ickle was terrified the performers were going to fall, and Mivvy announced after the first act that she wanted to go home. By the time we got to the second half, however, the circus had worked its magic on both of them. They want to go again, right now, but we might leave it until next year.

*$32 per adult, $22 per child over 3 (ringside seats)

The Reptile Park

Getting up close to dinosaurs was an unexpected bonus of our recent visit to the Australian Reptile Park. Ickle leapt out of her skin when they roared into the show pit. Her cousin lasted a tad longer. “They’re not real,” she said. “They’re not real.” But she failed to convince herself, and we ended up in a trembling huddle with Mivvy, who had been playing in the dirt, oblivious to the excitement.

Located in Somersby, not so far from the beautiful falls we visited last year, the Reptile Park is one of NSW’s premier tourist attractions. At $95 for a family pass or $35 per adult, it is an expensive day out.* And the site is not that extensive, either. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for with its “hands-on zoo” experience, allowing everyday folk the chance to view crocodiles, turtles, snakes and the like at close quarters, along with some of their well-known furry friends. The park is also home to a snake and spider venom-milking program – worth the entry price several times over, I reckon.

Shows are scheduled throughout the day, where visitors not only see the animals but learn about them too.  As well as the Dinosaurs Alive and Reptile show, we hung out with a Galapagos tortoise at feeding time, and then with Elvis the Crocodile. It happened to be the cranky croc’s 50th birthday. He’d already snapped up half a cow that morning, but still had room for two chooks a few hours later.Boy, was it busy when we visited, despite the overcast skies and drizzle. Our trick was to look ahead at the day’s programme and get in early to guarantee top spots. So, two of us spent 30 minutes staring at an uninterested crocodile lazing in a small pool of green water so the littlies could see him strut his stuff during showtime. But it was worth it! Elvis is one of Ickle’s top memories from our visit.

Oh, and one last word before I go: coffee. If you are a aficionado of the barista-made beverage with freshly-ground beans and textured milk at just the right temperature, you have come to the wrong place. The Reptile Park has yet to adopt Australian café culture, it seems, and only serves instant coffee with skim powdered milk.*We saved the cost of one adult entry by using an Entertainment Book voucher. 

Me Time

I’m a New Year’s Resolution kind of girl. I get excited about fresh challenges and the chance to put my best foot forward. So, as this year draws to a close, I’ve chosen two goals for 2017. One will be revealed in due course (once I’ve got my head around the finer detail); the other is me time.

Some people are better than others at making room for “me time’ in their busy lives. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to carve out those moments of freedom since becoming a mum – there always seems to be something more important to do. And that’s where I’ve been wrong. By allowing child care, household chores, and work to take precedence nearly all the time, my sense of self has definitely suffered. And I’m sure I’m not alone here.

So, recently, I’ve started to do things for me, like join a local writers’ group, or simply sit in a café and drink from a real cup rather than race away to my next destination; I’ve even ducked into a nail salon a couple of times for a pedicure, just for the sake of it. I relish these moments of me time. They help me feel good about myself. And my girls love to hear that Mummy has done something exciting and different, especially if it involves bright pink toe nails!

This month, though, I surpassed myself with an unprecedented 24 hours away from home. It all started with an invitation to a work Christmas party. In Sydney. Daddy Ickle encouraged me to go, and even suggested I spend the afternoon shopping for last minute goodies in the CBD. What a great idea, I thought. Then I thought a bit more. What if I do all my Christmas shopping another day? What if I spend the night in Sydney? So I did – both.

[View from my hotel window – 33rd floor. If you look closely enough (with a magnifying glass), you might spot the beautiful Christmas tree outside Town Hall.]

Free as a bird, I checked into my hotel and headed out into the Sydney drizzle. I skated along the paving slabs on George Street, slick with rain, dodging the chaos of umbrellas and people all the way to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Down at the harbour, ferries were zipping in and out of Circular Quay, and a mammoth cruise ship honked loudly as it farewelled the city.

I toured the MCA Collection, Today Tomorrow Yesterday, an exhibition of contemporary art by Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The standout for me was Fiona Hall’s Manuhiri (Travellers), a driftwood installation mounted on a black background. Another highlight was Minyma Punu Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters Tree Women) by Tjanpi Desert Weavers: this dance-like installation was created with rustic materials, including native grasses, wire and aviary mesh. But the real treat was having the time to explore the works at my own pace, and even read the accompanying exhibition notes as I went.

What about the party, I hear you ask? Well, that takes us to Grandma’s Bar on Clarence Street.Would you have ventured through this door? (It was open on Friday night – I returned on Saturday to take the photo.) I hovered outside, double-checked the address on my phone and then headed down into Sydney’s subterranean bar world. Grandma certainly has a weird and wonderful taste in decor (wacky wallpaper for one), but she serves up some mean cocktails. Dinner followed at Lotus in the Galeries, where I sampled some of the most delicious Chinese food I have ever tasted: jade prawn dumplings, native crystal ice plant, crispy skin duck pancakes…in the company of a beautiful team and some stubborn origami butterflies.

And, afterwards, it was just a short stagger back to my hotel for bed. At 12.30 am. Way to go! What adventures will 2017 have in store, I wonder.

Christmas Shortbread

Shortbread is a treat at any time of the year but at Christmas, with those wonderful festive shapes, it comes into its own.

You don’t need much in your pantry cupboard to whip up the most delicious buttery, crumbly biccies. Forget the rice flour, cornflour, etc. Ickle Chef and I used this shortbread recipe last weekend to make some goodies to take into preschool on her last ever day (sob). It uses just three ingredients: sugar, margarine (I substituted butter) and plain flour. Sooooo easy and child-friendly too.

Ickle is becoming a professional sous-chef these days, although I think she is aiming for the top spot. She definitely does not want my help most of the time; she can do it by herself, thank you very much. And so she can. She is a whizz with the hand beater, the rolling pin and the shape cutters. And she really focuses on those finishing touches. I may not have rice flour and cornflour in my pantry cupboard, but I possess enough multi-coloured sprinkles, silver and pearl beads, mini pink hearts and coloured sugar to stuff a small Christmas stocking.

Merry Christmas!

Pavement Graffiti

20161105_164847As you know, Ickle and Mivvy love art. I’ve written about their various creations on many occasions, and most recently here.

But I haven’t written about their passion for pavement graffiti before. Some afternoons, the little maestros take their chalks and artistic talents outside to decorate the best canvas ever. The alley between our house and next door is a welcome retreat from the sun and the perfect spot for creative activity. Sometimes the boys-next-door join in too and the mummies hang out by the rubbish bins while a rainbow of colour appears at our feet.

This weekend, Ickle and Mivvy were the only artists in residence, but this didn’t stop them from having a lot of fun.20161105_165131Hello! Anyone next door? Hello! Hello!

20161105_164813Ickle was exploring forms: parallel lines and circles in various colours. And making trails with her chalk as ants scuttled across the concrete.20161105_164946Mivvy drew a puddle of water in yellow, but was actually more interested in wandering up and down the alley.

There’s no trace of their artwork now – the recent rain has washed the chalkboard clean. Don’t you just love the transient nature of pavement graffiti?

Winnererremy Bay Park

20161023_090231Not so long ago, the Winnererremy Bay foreshore was a storage area for waterway operators, cluttered with mooring blocks, piles and sundry building materials. Infested with weeds, it was also used by local equestrians as a horse-training arena.

Hard to picture that now as you look over the manicured park, dotted with shrubs and trees, a sparkling Pittwater as your backdrop. The area is now home to the Flying Fox playground, rated as one of the best in Sydney. Most people I know refer to the whole park as the Flying Fox park. Well, try saying Winnererremy in a hurry, or texting it to a friend…20161023_084841The Flying Fox is our preferred place to play down Sydney-way, although the Apex Park playground opposite Mona Vale beach comes a close second. Why do we like it so much? For starters, we can walk/scoot/bike there from the in-laws. It’s a flat run most of the way, so Ickle flies along. The playground itself is fully fenced, on soft-fall, and bursting with colour. And the setting is simply beautiful.20161023_093441Ickle loves the giant basket swing, spinning see-saw and pirate ship. She’s not so keen on the flying fox (yes, there is one!), but has had her eye on the spider’s web for months. One day, she’ll make it to the top and I’ll be a gibbering wreck waiting for her to come down. Meanwhile, Mivvy likes to hang out in the tots’ corner. With a mini slide, spring rockers, swings and a ship built for tinies, this spot in the shade ticks all the boxes.20161023_09014220161023_09144220161023_092059There’s plenty of fun to be had outside the railings too. Like examining the sculptures planted along the dry creek bed just outside the gates. Or scooting on the track that loops around the park. Or mucking around in the sand and dabbling toes in the salt water down on the foreshore. Or pretending to be civilised over a flat white and babyccinos in the Flying Fox café.20161023_093728Nope – never a dull moment at Winnerreremy, even when the weather is, well, dull. Which it was on our most recent visit. Still, it did give us the run of the place, until the sun came out and the hordes arrived.

Smiley Faces

p1040174Ickle and Mivvy love creating works of art, especially with chalk, paint and texta.* Although yoghurt is their current medium of choice at meal times.

Mivvy’s pictures are still experimental scribbles, but Ickle’s have come to life this year. I’m not sure when this happened exactly. But just after she turned four, I suddenly started noticing little details in her artwork. First, faces with eyes, noses, smiley mouths and hair. Then bodies, sometimes with arms and legs attached. And, occasionally, wearing clothes.

Over the last couple of months, Ickle has developed a keen interest in rainbows and flowers. I put this down to her inherent girliness. But, as I recently read here, it has more to do with these shapes being “fairly simple things to draw”. And also the praise the little artists receive when others recognise what they have drawn or painted. What a beauuuutiful rainbow, Ickle! What lovely flowers – I can almost smell them! Ah. An incentive to draw more. And more of them.

Here is a selection of my favourites from Ickle’s growing art portfolio. In no particular order. Titles are the artist’s own.two-peopleTwo Peoplebig-schoolBig Schoollittle-girlA Facelittle-girl-3Another Facepainted-rainbowA Rainbow

*A texta (Australia) is a felt-tip pen.

Trumpets of Spring

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Nature is telling us that spring has sprung: the wattle is in flower, warmth fills the air on a good day, and those magpies have started to swoop…For me, though, it’s still about the daffodils, those golden trumpets of spring that push their way through the earth after months of lying dormant. I have yet to see any in our little patch of Lake Macquarie, but maybe I haven’t been looking closely enough.

So, last week, Ickle and I made our own. With just a few basic supplies: an egg box, card, paint, and a few drinking straws. We were spurred on by the knowledge that Friday 26 was Daffodil Day.* Ickle’s preschool were keen to support the event, and – as well as donate – we wanted to make something special too.

So Ickle painted.P1040070And cut (with a little bit of help).P1040075And stuck.P1040081And we ended up with a beautiful spring bouquet.P1040087And some equally beautiful brooches.P1040110And, later, Ickle and her daddy gave Zizi the bear a complete makeover to mark the occasion.P1040090*Daffodil Day is an annual event run by the Cancer Council. It raises funds for cancer research, support services, and education and prevention programmes.

Those Magnificent Flying Machines

P1040011Where we live the skies are full of birds: kookaburras, cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, ducks, seagulls, and the occasional pelican, to name but a few. But we don’t often hear the roar of a motor overhead. Perhaps this is why Ickle and Mivvy have developed a fascination with flying machines.

We scan the horizon to spot aeroplanes before they disappear from view. And we jump up and down and wave like crazy when the local helicopter zips in and out. Much in the same way that, on Tuesdays, we race out of the front door to greet the rubbish truck as it rolls down our street. Mivvy has recently announced that she would like to fly. (She would also like to catch her shadow and touch the moon.)

So, on our holiday in the UK, Daddy Ickle and I took both girls on a family expedition to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Ilchester, Somerset. I haven’t visited this destination for as long as I can remember. Housed in a huge hangar is an equally huge collection of naval aircraft, from the early days of flight through to the current day. Exhibits include beautiful old biplanes, a range of flying machines from WWII, helicopters, and – this one truly takes your breath away – the first British-built Concorde.P1030982Opportunities abound for hands-on/interactive experiences. Ickle dressed up in naval gear (a radical departure from her usual princess get-up); we dived into a life raft. I braved the simulated helicopter ride through to Hall 3, where I found myself on board the fleet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, alone in the semi-darkness. So what did it feel like to be an naval officer on watch? Um. A bit disorientating. In fact, I struggled to find my way back to Daddy Ickle and the littlies.P1030997P1040004We stopped at The SwordFish Restaurant, actually more of a classic canteen (think bacon, eggs, pies and chips) for a quick snack, before heading to the museum’s adventure playground. Despite the weather (yup, we copped a lot of rain during our stay), the girls scrambled up cargo nets, conquered balance beams, and steered a model ship into harbour. Mini naval cadets in the making. Magnificent.

Another Stuffy Stately Home

P1030919The rain was tipping down; I was feeling slightly apprehensive about the day ahead. I had arranged to meet friends at Barrington Court, a National Trust property tucked away in the Somerset countryside in the UK. The main draw hadn’t been the Tudor manor house, but a special nature day they were holding in the grounds. I figured the girls, big and small, could run around in the fresh air and let off steam.

Doom and gloom, I thought, as I looked at the raindrops scurrying across the car windscreen. We will have to go *inside*. Ickle and Mivvy will run amok amongst the antique furniture and furnishings with us in hot pursuit. We’ll be whispered about in loud voices by visiting coach parties of stately home enthusiasts. No, this was not good at all.

And then, as we drew into the car park, the rain decided to stop. So we squelched across the lawns to look at the wildlife specimens on display (a hedgehog’s spiny pelt, a grass snake, various animal bones…and so on). Then the girls tried their hand at some classic English games – skittles and quoits.P1030885P1030908P1030917 And we all admired the beautiful gardens and giant koi. It was fun, and way better than I had hoped – not even the teeniest bit stuffy.P1030873P1030878We did summon up the courage to venture into the old stately home, which incidentally has been empty of all furniture and furnishings since 1991. The remaining architecture and fittings are beautifully impressive and well worth a visit. And so is the *surprise* in the Long Gallery: a feathered friend who has only recently taken up roost in the rafters. Want to know more? You’ll have to visit Barrington Court to find out!