02/05/2014

Some days are like this for me...


(From the ever hilarious XKCD)

...And blogging is like this for me some days too. I have things to say - I want to talk about our holiday, my kids school, my new fresh uni degree, religion (!), my wonderful mates, my inlaws, the list goes on - but making it all coherent isn't happening. Maybe it might work out as exams get closer and I need to procrastinate from study...

23/03/2014

More travel!

The whole family was SO excited! Thailand then Singapore! Seeing Clare! Then Tim and Jen in Singapore! Elephants! Legoland! Singapore zoo! We found a someone to house-sit, got packed up and went to the airport for our 9:40pm flight. We started the check in process only to find that the kids couldn't travel on their passports because they only had five-and-a-half months validity. Apparently they would have just flown us all straight home once we got to immigration in Thailand. Now it's one thing to have a 9 hour flight, 4 hour layover in the early hours of the morning in the KL budget terminal then another couple of hours on a plane before reaching one's holiday destination, it's a completely different kettle of fish to be sent back after that kind of ordeal. We called the passport office, we pleaded with the airline, we looked at Asher's face as his big eyes flilled with unshed tears. We then caught a taxi home. The passport office was monumentally unhelpful, telling me that the quickest they could guarantee a passport was a week away (her: "we can have it done quickly at extra charge, which will take you two days from the interview but the soonest I can book you an interview is Friday, so you will have the passports on Tuesday" me: "WHAT?!?")

After we accepted that we were not going to get on the flight (and I stopped arguing tearfully with the passport office at 8pm) our luck changed. The kind lady at the airport post office stayed open to take passport photos, and we got the passport forms, the kind Air Aisia supervisor told us we could change the flight to the next night for free, our house-sitter is the director at Kiran's preschool and she and I sat up til midnight filling in forms and using black humour to take the sting out of the situation. We didn't really tell anyone (except to let Aunty Clare know at the other end) because we were so unsure of what was going to happen next, and to be perfectly honest I was mortally embarrassed that I hadn't seen that one coming and organised around it. The next morning a lovely, lovely woman at the passport office took pity on us and we had the kids passports within five or so hours. We picked up the passports with luggage in tow and caught the train to the airport. The kind supervisor booked us in (no queue) and gave us express passes so there was/will be less queueing at every airport. Even the hotel was very accommodating and changeged our booking without charge.

So after what felt like two and a half days in transit we arrived in Chiang Mai and we are having a fabulous time. More to come about our great visit to Baanchang Elephant Park later....

24/01/2014

Toadstools!

I've been getting my crafty on, partially due to my natural inclination, but I can't deny that Pinterest, a dry spell (no alcohol at all for a week), Christmas and school holidays haven't been major catalysts. 

After making the dinosaur habitat for us I got all excited and made fairy gardens for two families with little girls as their Christmas present. Nothing too overboard, just a few easy plants, some sparkly white pebbles, butterflies (shrinky plastic and florists wire) and air-dry clay magic toadstools and birdbaths. I thought I might so a little tutorial here while I still remembered what I did.

First I made the stem and the cap out of air drying clay. I didn't think too much about size, I just went with what felt comfortable in my hand.


Then I used water to make slip 'glue' to join the two pieces





After carefully joining the two pieces I inserted a wooden skewer. This was to enable me to stand them up in pot plants, obviously you couldn't use a wooden skewer if you were going to fire your clay.


It also made the toadstools easier to hold while I worked on them.


I used the pointy end of one of the skewers to make the gills of the toadstool. I got a bit fancy with some of them and made them a little more toadstool like.



They took ages to dry. For the first 24 hours they should dry under plastic to avoid cracking. You will know when they are dry because the colour will change to a much lighter colour (for this clay the pieces turned white) and they will not feel cool to the touch anymore.

You can see one of the birdbaths, a couple of christmas tree ornaments and a cheeky little gnome in there too.

I used student acrylic to paint them. I just painted the top of the caps red and gave them white spots, but you could get as crazy or as traditional as you liked at this point. I think I gave the red about two coats? And the white spots about four coats so they really stood out.




I varnished them, using a glossy varnish for the tops of the caps and a satin varnish for the rest of them. I was really pleased with the way they turned out.

Enjoy!

























21/09/2013

Dinosaur habitat


My sister Clare is in Cambodia and blogging, my mum is travelling and blogging, my friend Megan is planning the trip of a lifetime and will be blogging, so I thought a post was in order. None of that exotic travel for me at the moment though. My life is all about parenting my kids, gardening and trying to make our house more organised and liveable (hence my Pinterest addiction) and here is a little project we did yesterday afternoon that covers all those bases.

I had a tired grumpy four year old and wanted to look at wardrobe systems in Bunnings, so I bribed the tired kid with the promise that we would buy some little plants and make him a dinosaur garden. We also bought a wide-ish, flat-ish pot, which was unnecessary but I'll use it for bulbs next spring. I was drawing my inspiration from cool terrariums I'd seen on Pinterest and originally planned to use plants I had at home, but I just couldn't resist the mini mondo grass ($1) and a few small-leaved sedums as well as something called 'corsican mint' which is a tiny little thing ground cover thing. I wanted all small-leaved plants because I think the scale looks better (same reason I don't like large leaved bonsai).

I probably took us about 10 minutes to put together, including taking a blade to a disposable water bottle to make the pond and wandering around the garden looking for appropriate rocks.


I wish I had chosen a sealed pot with a base, rather than terracotta, so it was easier to put in the boys room (although that *might* be a recipe for disaster) and I might work on the pond a bit (make it much flatter and fill it with blue glass decorator bead things rather than actual water) but I'm pretty happy with it. More to the point, Kiz loves it, and has given all his dinosaurs drinks, baths, and plants to munch on.


18/07/2013

Travel Diary - The Bong

The way Cambodians pronounce the name of the city Battambang sounds more like 'BattaBONG' so we 'old Cambodia hands' refer to it as 'the bong.' The word apparently means 'town of the lost stick' in  Khmer, which is somehow appropriate. There's a Khmer folk tale, that i don't know, associated with the name but even without that the town gives off a slightly lost stick kinda vibe. if I was making up a folktale to fit it would probably talk about the three year old son of a god or hero who had a favourite stick and lost it. Maybe the child's mother distracted him by taking him to splash in the river, or the town marks the spot where he held his breath till he turned blue. Nothing as energetic as a tantrum would fit in though, Battambang isn't like that.

It's a dusty, flat town, surrounded by rice paddies with a brown river snaking through the middle. There isn't a big tourist scene (really the only thing to do, besides buying junk at the market, or cycling out of town, is the bamboo train, which requires a post of its own) but there is a small and tight expat/volunteer community that seems to be centred around the Handa hospital, CCT and Phare circus. There are probably a bunch of others as well, but those were the organisations that I encountered. There is good coffee (by Cambodian standards it is EXCELLENT coffee), beer in tins, fixies everywhere and even the odd attempt at a moustache but still manages to avoid being hipsterish, so I think it's a really good place for Clare to be spending a few months. If I sound like I'm vacillating between loving the place and some misgivings it because I probably am. That's Battambang for you.

Clare has her work cut out for her at Handa. I went on a tour of the hospital, had a drink with the director of nursing and got a pretty good idea of the scale of the difficulties. I think she's up to the challenge but I don't think the results will be as quick as she'd like. It was really hard leaving her there, at the beginning of such a big task (particularly because we were both rather hung-over) but I take comfort from the fact she has a really good friend there and an endless supply of some of the best pot sticker vegetarian dumplings I have ever tasted.

So I left Clare and caught the bus back to Phnom Penh, and spent the afternoon just moseying about. I didn't get a cap for Sanjay or a cheapie pedicure but I did get a great massage from a blind guy, a ruby ring so big that people will assume it's fake (I don't think it's fake, I think it's just a very low grade ruby, but I don't know much about gemstones). I had dinner and a beer at the Foreign Corespondents Club and tried to get a glimpse into the past and imagine how it might have been to drink there during the American war with Vietnam and Khmer Rouge years. I think I need to find a memoir to read!

And now I'm sitting at a table on the rather lovely rooftop bar of my hotel, the Kolab Sor. there is some inoffensive RnB playing, a delicious breeze keeping the mozzies away, a distant storm putting on a light-show and I'm just finishing my final beer of the night and nibbling salty-sweet peanuts. A little moment of perfect that I want to keep hold of.



15/07/2013

Travel Diary - Where was I up to?

Apsara Dancer
Siem Reap needs pictures. Well, to be fair, the town of Siem Reap doesn't, coz it's a fair bit like so many other Southeast Asian tourist towns. Full of young Japanese, French, Australian and Irish backpackers, Chinese and Korean tour groups, a generous smattering of families with young kids (mostly German, Dutch or Australian), grey nomads (North American) and 'voluntourists' of all ages and nationalities taking a break from their good deeds. There are lots of touts, a fair amount of children begging (dirty, but not deformed as they are in India) and more than
enough neon lit bars and restaurants for all of them.

Angkor Wat and the other temples however need pictures. Ideally lovely photos taken by professional photographers but if you don't want to buy a fancy coffee table book or even do a quick Google search you can see some of mine.





This is like holding the Taj Mahal on your hand, an almost obligatory cheesy tourist shot. 

They really are SO beautiful!

Angkor Wat at a slight angle. Our tour guide was not the *best* photographer, but he knew a lot and spoke great English.

One dollar for the blessing of one the guys who looks after the temple statues. Not a regular monk (no robes) but I got a red thread and lots of chanting over the knots as he tied it. 

The causeway to the temple of Angkor Wat. My fancy new camera (Olympus TG2. Waterproof, shockproof and it seems to have decent picture quality. Thanks Tim!) has a bunch of magic effects. This one is 'fisheye' which seems fitting somehow.
It was a long hot day, but really magical. We booked our tour with 'Beyond' which is owned by Australians apparently but they deserve a shoutout. It was US$28 for the full day which included all the (chilled!) water we could drink (I don't think they want any of their guests dropping dead of heat exhaustion) a hot lunch in a nice shady pavilion, a friendly guide who spoke excellent English, had a sense of humour and was really receptive to what our group wanted to see. The maximum group size is eight, but there were just four of us - me, Clare and a cheerful Malaysian couple. Did I mention the airconditioned van that took us between temples? Considering a tuk tuk would be about US$15 I felt this was actually pretty decent value.

13/07/2013

Travel Diary - Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

If you're here for cute bear picks go and see Clare's blog. It's ok, I'll wait :-)

Ah, that's better, isn't it. Cuuuute sunbears and moonbears! I actually had quite a different perspective to Clare. I haven't really been exposed to 'voluntourism' much before so I saw the idea of paying a bunch of money and getting to spend a day doing what amounts to a behind-the-scenes tour and learning a bit about the Free the Bears organisation as pretty cool. It was cool, and I recommend it to anyone who might have a spare day in Phnom Penh.

Now that we've had the cute, we get the other side. Our first day in Cambodia we went to Cheung Ek, also known as the killing fields, and S21, also known as the genocide museum. It was hard going, too much for us to wrap our heads around really. The contrast at Cheung Ek between the peaceful area and the horror we heard about on the audio guide was enough to give me whiplash. By the time we got to S21 I was kind of 'horror-ed out' and numb. I was hot and hungry and feeling guilty for wanting to complain when we were in the place so many people had been murdered and tortured. Dinner that night was subdued. I think we brought our books because we weren't up to talking.

I had also started reading 'First they killed my Father' by Loung Ung. It describes the awfulness of going from middle class city kid to persecuted peasant very clearly. So clearly, in fact, that I couldn't think of anything but my kids, and the terrifying thought of my boys ever being caught up in something so horrible. The thought of not being able to protect my kids is... Unbearable. I realised that it was turning me into a depressed and anxious mess, so I got some silly funny books from the second hand bookshop to keep me going.

Actually, Phnom Penh was better than expected. Less hassle and more.... I dunno. So we spent an extra day wandering around, finding coffee, buying weird fruit. We are now in Siem Reap and have seen the Angkor Temples, but talking about that is going to have to wait.