Monthly Archives: October 2013

Murrays Beach

On Friday, Icklegen and I headed to Murrays Beach. It is a top spot tucked away on the Wallarah Peninsula just out of Swansea, perched on the sparkling waters of Lake Macquarie and surrounded by national park. It’s a short windy road off the Pacific Highway to get there but worth every twist and turn of the steering wheel.P1000841It is so peaceful, or at least it was on the morning that we chose to visit. For the first hour after our arrival, we only saw a handful of people: three men fishing off the jetty that juts out into the lake and a lady out for her morning walk. Bliss. And yet, this is a residential area and it’s still very much under construction. There are signs up informing you of Land for Sale, and extolling the various key selling points of the development. But, when you are down on the lakeshore, the human aspect seems to blend inconspicuously into the surrounding bushland.

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We had brought Icklegen’s little trike with us, so our first stop was the “racetrack” to give it a bit of a spin. Well, it’s not really a racetrack so much as a concrete pedestrian circuit that runs parallel to the lakeshore, before looping back to the main settlement. The surface is smooth, so perfect for everyone, including this mum, her toddler and our little set of wheels. On this occasion, Icklegen opted to ditch the trike for most of the way and walk and run along the circuit, retracing her footsteps several times and giggling as she launched herself across the grass towards the lake. She expended so much energy in her excitement that we soon had to stop for a snack or two so she could recharge her batteries.P1000863

Next, we headed to the kiddies playground near the village green. It’s not huge, but the equipment is good quality and well thought-out. There’s a slide complete with runged ladder and fireman’s pole – I found it alarmingly high, but I’m probably being over-protective; Icklegen loved it, and so did her teddy! The two swings cater for all ages; the baby version is like a space-age reclining car seat with multiple straps to keep even the wriggliest child safe. There are wooden beams to run along and clamber up (a bit beyond Icklegen at the moment). And finally an abacus and noughts-and-crosses combination for little hands to move along and and spin around.P1000889P1000884

We were feeling a bit peckish after all of this, so headed to the Lakehouse Café. The café is what first brought me to Murrays Beach. I love cafés, especially ones that serve decent food, coffee and cake. I found this one on Google as I hunted around for decent places to hang out and chill near our new home. The café is light and airy, with a wrap-around sheltered veranda and fabulous lake views. It may be a bit on the pricey side, but worth a visit for a treat now and again.P1000913

Icklegen had her first babycino here one Saturday, and it was presented to us like this. Colourful and fun! And she polished the whole lot off too, marshmallows, sprinkles and all.Babycino

Today, we ordered a ham, cheese and tomato croissant from the breakfast menu. It was delicious – the croissant was buttery and flaky on the outside, the cheese melted through and tomato warmed to release its flavour. And it came with a decent side salad of mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. We shared it, although Icklegen possibly got more of the ham than I did.

The coffees alas did not compete with our last visit. The babycino was good, but not a patch on the dotty multicoloured froth Icklegen enjoyed last time; however it did come with a marshmallow on the side. My flat-white was disappointing: it lacked the silky smooth texture and slight sweetness of a really good coffee. And there was no heart or leaf design on top either – a travesty for someone like me who loves the emphasis on coffee art and presentation in Australian cafés.

My coffee aside (and I’m no real expert), we still love this place! It’s a peaceful, safe location, ideal for kids, and the café is an added bonus. You can also walk to the ocean (Caves Beach) from Murrays Beach, along the Wallarah Peninsula track. At two hours one way, Icklegen and I didn’t tackle it this time. We’ll have to look into the logistics and rope in a few extras before we set out on that adventure – watch this spot!

Do you have a favourite café? What makes it special?

The Bushfire

Bushfires have been blazing across NSW for days now, with firefighters working tirelessly to contain them. But it seems as soon as one blaze is brought under control, another flares up somewhere else. Wildlife and bushland have been decimated, homes and businesses destroyed and, in our local area, one life lost as a man fought to save his property from the flames. Who knows what the final toll will be?P1000809

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I have never experienced a bushfire first-hand before. I didn’t grow up with them. Like many though, I have seen pictures in the news and read articles in the paper; but I had not really thought twice about them afterwards. A big mistake, as this is bushfire country and it’s a very different story when one is burning on your doorstep. This is my account of our lakeside community’s narrow escape from disaster as a local bushfire raged through the bush and scrub engulfing everything in its path.

It all happened so quickly.

Thursday had been a fairly ordinary day; Icklegen and I had spent most of it close to home. As I was clearing up after tea, I commented to my partner that it looked like a sepia photograph outside: sky, water and trees all in varying shades of cream and brown, and slightly hazy around the edges. A while later, I noticed my mobile phone was flashing with new messages and casually picked it up to check them. And on the screen in huge letters appeared an EMERGENCY WARNING from the Rural Fire Service, advising me of a fire a couple of kilometres away and to “seek shelter as the fire arrives.”

Suddenly, our peaceful little world was turned upside-down. Heading outside, we found our neighbours gathered in a small group, watching vast clouds of smoke billowing in the near distance. Way too close for comfort. And with the smoke came a distinct bonfire smell, not too strong, but ominpresent. We were locked in by road: as the only access in and out to the highway was a fiery battlezone. There was discussion of potential evacuation, but the general consensus was to stay alert and wait for further updates.

Needless to say, it was a very unsettled night. The smoke grew thicker, and the smell grew stronger, over the hours that followed. When I woke in the very early hours of the morning, the sky was red with flames and the wind was gusting outside. It was terrifying and I don’t think I slept a wink until dawn; I was regularly checking the Internet for updates on the fire’s status in case we needed to take action, and popping in on Icklegen to see that she was sleeping safely.

The situation did appear to have calmed by morning, but in reality the fire was far from out. In fact, by the early afternoon it had escalated to such an extent that we were close to being evacuated, then the alert level was reduced again, and so it continued until news went out that the fire was finally under control and the access road to the highway open. We were no longer locked in, or locked out, by flames, but the world out there looks very different to how it did just last week.P1000813

{A touching gesture: a water container left out for local wildlife in the burnt-out bush}

The beautiful access road in from the highway is almost unrecognisable. The glorious array of green, gold and brown has been replaced by blackened stumps, brown crispy leaves and a thick layer of ash as far as the eye can see. The Big Prawn on the Pacific Highway is still lying atop his post, but the accompanying business venture is a tangled ruin. And this is just a small section of the 2879 hectares devastated by flames in our area.P1000814P1000817

Of course, the phoenix will once again arise from the ashes: the bush will regenerate, businesses and homes will be rebuilt and people who have lost everything will gradually piece together their lives. But the wound is still very fresh, the fires are still burning, and, in this country of extremes, who knows what may lie around the corner.

What is your experience of bushfires? Do you have any useful advice to share?

Pasta and String

It was hot on Sunday, so hot that Icklegen and I decided to stay indoors for the afternoon with the air-conditioning on.

We had a great time playing with various toys, reading books and generally messing around. And then she made a bee-line for our craft cupboard. Well, if I am totally honest here, it’s not much of a craft cupboard at the moment; it contains three tubs of Play-Doh and some plastic cookie cutter shapes.

Outside of playgroup, Icklegen and I have not done much craft as yet, but Play-Doh is a regular activity in our household. At some stage of the day, little hands will hammer on the cupboard for it to be opened, and off we go. Purple hearts, pink stars, green bangles, multi-coloured worms and flowers, and those are but a few. We might only have a basic craft kit, but there is no end to our repertoire!P1000769

Today though, I thought, let’s do something different. So I stopped Icklegen in her tracks by diverting her attention with a ball of string that happened to be handily lying on the kitchen counter. I fetched some penne pasta and poured a small amount into a bowl and we sat down at Icklegen’s little table. She proved to be an excellent sous-chef, handing me the pasta pieces which I then threaded onto a length of string. We had soon made a beautiful necklace that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pandora window display.

Although actually, that is the simplified version as, in between passing me the penne, Icklegen played with the ball of string, unrolling it, passing it through her hands and waving it up and down. She had even more fun with the penne, dipping her hands into the metal bowl and moving the pieces around; she even had a couple of crunches on a piece before deciding that it wasn’t any good, and then she threw a handful on the floor.P1000760

Icklegen wasn’t very interested in wearing the necklace; in fact, although it has been hanging over her little table for the last couple of days, she hasn’t paid any attention to it at all. The fun for her, I realise, was not in making the necklace, but in using her senses – sight, hearing, taste and touch – to explore the pasta shapes and string. I think craft activities are going to be a lot of fun for both of us.

Do you have any ideas for easy-peasy craft activities for toddlers?

Ickle Feet

Icklegen has ickle feet, as we discovered back in June, when I took her to have her feet measured for her first pair of shoes.

“Ah”, said the sales assistant, “She’s a size 3D – very small feet and narrow too – I don’t think we’re going to have any shoes in her size. Pre-walkers, maybe.” And she was right. There was nothing suitable for toddlers with size 3 feet who are already up and about on their feet. And no other kiddies’ shoe shop in the centre we had just trekked to especially for the occasion.

My heart sank. I had been so set on getting my little girl her first pair of “proper” fitted shoes. With the days getting cooler and wetter, I didn’t want her running around outside in her bare feet anymore, or in the tiny pair of fabric-soled slippers we had found for her. Something had to be done.

I called a couple of stores recommended by other mums at playgroup, but to no avail. Same old story, “She’s only a size 3…hmm”. Most littlies, it seems, are at least a size 4 when they start to toddle.

So, I sat down at home one evening with a nice mug of camomile tea and got to work on Google. And I found some really great online stores, with fabulous little shoes and sneakers for little feet of all different shapes and sizes. I finally settled on see kai run, an American brand, with an Aussie website bursting with vibrant choice for children of all ages. It has a wealth of information on little feet and shoes, and a seal of acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association (so must be good!) There is even a chart to print out so you can measure your little one’s feet at home. Not a bad idea, given that US sizings are different from those in Australia, although good luck using it. Icklegen couldn’t stay still for 10 seconds standing on a sheet of paper.

Determined not to mess up as a first-time toddler shoe-buyer, I decided to call customer care. When I explained Icklegen’s feet weren’t just small, but narrow, I was recommended a couple of models, and one stood out and said “buy me!”

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“Stevie” in hot pink: thoroughly girly and utterly gorgeous. And also very practical for my little girl who likes to run around by the lake and get wet and dirty. So I ordered, and a few days later the sneakers arrived from Victoria, where see kai run have a retail outlet. And they were perfect in every way. Robust, colourful, washable…and, I hope, comfortable (well, Icklegen never complained !). So a few months down the line when her feet had grown (almost to a size 4), I bought another pair “Peyton”: trendy black-and-white polka-dot high tops in the sale. Scrumptious, and a bargain at the price!

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Has anyone else out there had issues with ickle feet? Any suggestions to share?

Salt Water Market in Swansea

We love the Salt Water Market in Swansea and, this Sunday, there was all the more reason to go along, as Peppa Pig was the guest of honour. After months of only wanting to watch In the Night Garden, Icklegen is now addicted to Peppa Pig. She will happily watch several episodes in a row, and I secretly quite enjoy them too. And at 5 minutes a pop, I’m not so worried about excessive toddler TV viewing either.

Salt Water Market

I was intrigued to see how meeting Peppa in real life would go. Would Icklegen recognise her favourite pig, point at her and giggle excitedly, like she does when the TV is on at home? Or would she run in the other direction? And would our experience of the market be different with a star guest trotting around for the day?

Last time we visited the market, we had a gentle meander around the stalls – well, gentle is perhaps the wrong word as Icklegen darted off at every available opportunity. It was such a relief to find beautiful, original items for sale, when so many markets these days have a tendency to be clogged up with cheap plastic junk. I’m not a huge fan of all that stuff. However, I do dig gorgeous little cotton sundresses, fabric bunting and toys, hand-painted sneakers, and suchlike. And I am always partial to a spinach and feta Gozleme at lunchtime, as is Icklegen. Yum.

Dresses

Owls

Bunting

Dolls

This time, we arrived as the temperatures soared to the high-twenties. Peppa Pig was being mobbed by a bustling crowd of parents and children, and Lake Macquarie FM was pumping out tunes from yesteryear. So, there followed a gentle meander around the stalls, with Icklegen firmly ensconced in her stroller, hat on and hood down for extra protection from the rays. We opted for a breakfast Gozleme for a change – delicious, btw – and retreated to the blankets and cushions of the market’s chill-out zone in the welcome shade of the trees. 

Brekkie Gozleme

Yum

Peppa Pig was also, very sensibly, avoiding the heat of the midday sun. The earlier crowd had dissipated, so Icklegen and I headed over to say “hello”. But, as our favourite TV piggy approached – a giant in real life – a look of alarm came over my little girl’s face and she bolted into my arms, only to reach out to Peppa a few minutes later. So we took a few steps towards the pink giant, little baby steps, until we were standing right next to her. And I can only describe the look on Icklegen’s face as a mix of fear and intrigue. I’ve no idea if she realised it was actually Peppa Pig we were meeting, but she did well to come back for more after her initial reaction. I wonder how she will respond to Santa later in the year?

The Salt Water Market is held in the grounds of Swansea Public School from 9 am to 2 pm on the first Sunday of the month. It was set up less than two years ago by “the mermaids” who wanted to do something for their local community and school. Keep up the great work, ladies! We’ll be back for more soon.

Do you have a favourite local market that’s worth a visit?