Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Four places to check out down south

Over the July school holidays, my folks flew over from Malaysia to visit. It was just a relaxed, chilled out trip with no particular agenda planned. Just spending time together with us and their precious grandchildren.

On one of the weekends, we went on a mini getaway down south (which in Perth-speak refers to the Margaret River region and located about two hours drive south of the Perth metro area).

We usually stop by the usual suspects such as Busselton Jetty or the Margaret River Chocolate Factory. But there are definitely thousands of hidden gems tucked around every corner waiting to be discovered. I don’t think it’s possible for a single person to uncover them all. However I can do my little bit by sharing a couple of our own discoveries with you.

I left most of the photography to my dad and his trusty Olympus DSLR. But I did manage to snap a few photos here and there to give you a little peephole glimpse of some of the places we visited during our trip.

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Happs Wines

I’m not quite sure if this particular ‘gem’ can be considered hidden one as I believe this winery already has quite a sizeable following of loyal customers of which we are one of them. Hubs and I are ardent devotees of their Fuschia range of sweet wines.

Their estate in Dunsborough is a fairly large one but somehow still exudes a warm and inviting ‘homey’ feel to it. As you walk down from the carpark to the main building, the cobblestone steps leading down to a little glass door tucked away under some low hanging vines give a sense of walking into someone’s front yard. Very different from the sprawling, grand entrances at some of the larger wineries.

The staff are gracious with their tastings and I have never received a sniff of superiority from them (unlike some wineries where the staff look at you disdainfully like you’re simply there for a freebie). They even have a bowl of complementary crackers and cheese to nibble on as you sample their selection of wines. They also have very thoughtfully set up a corner with books, blocks and puzzles to keep little ones busy as their parents enjoy their ‘happy hour’ time.

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Goanna Cafe & Gallery

Located just around the corner from Happs estate in Dunsborough is this super family friendly restaurant. They have an amazing outdoor space with a terrific little play area for children. Unfortunately it happened to be pouring with rain that day, so we stayed dry and cosy indoors instead.

They offer a terrific ‘Goanna Platter’ for kids with a toasted cheese sandwich, milk or juice, sultanas, choc button, marshmallow and activity kit. Their Jerusalem artichoke risotto with truffle oil was so incredibly good that it turned me into a risotto convert on the spot (before this I always thought of risotto as glorified rice congee) and their polenta chips were just absoutely yummos!

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Harwood’s Cottage

Our accommodation for our short family getaway was a wonderful little estate called Harwood’s Cottage owned by a lady named Norma. I stumbled across it by chance on Airbnb as I was hunting around for places to stay around the area. It is just the loveliest little place.

The ‘old barn’ we stayed at is a beautifully restored heritage building. It is rather snug but we were happy to stay cosy and warm together inside, especially with the pouring rain outside. Unfortunately it meant that we were not able to take full advantage of exploring the grounds and various historic relics around the estate. But I guess it just means we will just have to make another visit in the future.

There are heaps of gushing reviews from previous guests on Norma’s delicious home baked bread and cookies which she leaves out for her guests together with a dish of her homemade marmalade. We spent a lovely afternoon in front of the wood fire, sipping hot tea and munching on freshly baked bread and marmalade and cookies. This is for sure a place I would recommend to stay at if you are planning a trip down south around the Margaret River region.

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Gnomesville

For our trip back up to Perth, we decided to travel via Fergusson Valley so we could pay homage to the little residents of the famous community of Gnomesville.

So who are the mysterious little residents of this community?

Gnomes. Yes, GNOMES... GNOMES!!! 

The place is literally an ocean of thousands upon thousands of these creatures, stretching on and on, far beyond your eyes can see.

I’m not particularly partial to gnomes. But there is just something exhilarating and magical about being surrounded by these thousands of gnomes that makes me feel like a child all over again. You can’t help but feel excited and energised at the sight of so many of these happy creatures congregated together in one place.

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Trust me. Go visit the place and feel the magic yourselves. As for me and my household, the next time we visit, we’ll pack a picnic lunch to spend a longer stretch of time there to soak up all that gnomish vibe (and possibly bring a little friend to join the gnomey community).

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What hidden gems have you discovered during your travels?

Sunday, August 07, 2016

‘Three’ is just perfect

My baby girl turned three last month.

Three.

THREE.

It seems too big a number to assign to my little baby.

Or maybe I’m just living in denial.

Probably.

Definitely.

We should just stop right here. It’s a very good age to be anyway. Three is just perfect.

We celebrated the occasion with a custom-mummy-made cake, specially requested by her highness. The theme was based on her current favourite animated film--‘Tinkerbell and The Legend of the Neverbeast’. (It should be noted that the mummy was pretty pleased with her own cleverness at putting together the various elements of the cake design all by herself).

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The grandparents indulged her with her very first fashion doll. They chose a Disney Rapunzel one because, in the words of her grandpa: “I think she will find the hair is very nice to comb!”. And as predicted, she has been combing Rapunzel’s hair very diligently almost every day until it’s all hopelessly frayed and tangled. And yet she zealously combs on.

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So what is ‘Three’ looking like for little Gracie?

Well, despite all my efforts to minimise the external girly-influences, she has definitely developed a decidedly girly-girl side to her character. Twirling. Dancing. Butterflies. Princesses. Pretty dresses. Tutu skirts and the lot. Though her favourite colour turns out to be blue (not pink).

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On the flip side, she fits right in with the boys, being an equally ardent fan of superheroes, firefighters, Lego, cars, trains and other boy business. She enjoys watching Transformers and Lego Ninjago just as much as a good princess movie. She’s always game for any superhero or firefighter role play--and not as the damsel in distress.

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She has her very own uniquely-flavoured quirky sense of humour and original ideas. The other day when she was playing with some playdough outside, she smooshed together her own creation and announced, “Look! I made a ‘Pottle’!”… “A bottle?”… “No, a ‘Pottle’!”… “A pottle? What’s a pottle?”… “Here it is! A Pottle!”. Another time she made something in the sandpit and told me it was a ‘Krista Barnum Pie’.

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Food-wise. She is game to try anything. I mean ANYTHING. A couple of weeks ago I was preparing dinner, chopping vegetables, meat etc. Grace came over to sit at the kitchen counter to watch. “Can I try some carrots?” she asked. So I let her have a piece. “What’s that?” she asked pointing to something green. “Sugar snap peas”…. “Can I try sugar nap-pees?”… I let her have a piece of that as well. “What’s that one?” she said again pointing to something white. “Onion”… “Oh! Can I try some?”… “It’s a little bit spicy” I warned… “Okay!” she responded nonchalantly as she chomped up a piece. I then turned around for a minute to heat up the wok to cook the ingredients. When I turned back around, I caught Grace holding a piece of raw chicken halfway to her mouth. I stopped her just in the nick of time.

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One of our friends aptly nicknamed her the little ‘pocket dynamo’. A tiny person who can pack a lot of punch. Size is never a limiting factor for her.“I DO IT MYSELF!” is one of her classic top favourite phrases she often repeats throughout the day. Whatever she sets her mind to do, she will do all she can to make it work. Thanks to this particular trait, her toilet training progressed pretty quickly and she graduated from the potty the big toilet almost overnight once she was on a roll.

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She’s on a roll to race on growing and growing and growing. I can only watch helplessly on the sidelines as she speeds on. What’s the hurry, baby girl? Please don’t grow up just yet. It can wait till tomorrow. And maybe one more tomorrow after that. How many tomorrows can you spare?

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Monthly play roundup: A very busy July

Phew!!! July has been an absolutely crazy busy month for us here. So, so, so much to update but so very little time. Anyway before we get too far into this next month of August, I shall give you all a good, solid photo dump just to show you some snippets of just a few things that have been keeping me busy this past month in the family day care department…

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Scissor skills and cutting stations
A number of my kiddos have been showing a lot of interest in practicing their scissor skills. A simple activity I sometimes do is to draw some lines along plain paper for them to cut along. I also set up a scissor/cutting activity station to make some paper-patty-pan flowers for added dimension to our scissor practice.

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‘PERFECT SQUARE’
A fun book to extend on scissors and cutting activities is ‘Perfect Square’ by Michael Hall. We followed through with our own ‘perfect square’ craft activity. Each child started with their own perfect square of coloured paper. They then had free reign to use all the tools set out before them to see what they could create from their ‘perfect square’. Some creations had a clear subject, some were more abstract, while some children were just happy to just simply focus on the process of cutting and exploring the materials and tools at their own pace—which was perfectly fine too.

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Exploring shapes and patterns with coloured popsicle sticks
We’ve also been focusing a lot on shapes and pattern matching activities. I set up some activity trays with shapes and coloured pattern cards using coloured mini popsicle sticks for the children to explore and play around with. I also converted some of the coloured popsicle sticks into magnetic props with the aid of some sticky magnet strips for the children to play with on the magnet board, creating their own pictures and shapes.

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Extending learning on shapes and patterns
I extended on our pattern and shape exploration with other activities such as Lego/Duplo pattern cards, matching colourful bottle caps, and a shapes-pass-the-parcel-game. For the latter, I hid various magnetic shapes within each layer of nesting bowls. We then played a simple ‘pass-the-parcel’ game in a circle with music. Each time the music stopped, each person had a turn to open up a layer of the nesting bowls to reveal a magnetic shape and match it to the corresponding outline on the magnet board.

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Mini clothesline fine-motor activity
My personal favourite activity last month was this mini clothesline I set up with some string, pegs and fabric scraps. The children spent ages ‘hanging up’ the laundry on the mini clothesline. It was a terrific way to get the children practicing their fine-motor skills and strengthening their pincer grip with their fingers.

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‘STICK MAN’
Another favourite book we read several times over the past month was ‘Stick Man’ by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. And of course we had to make our own ‘stick men’ with sticks, leaves, googly eyes, and chenille pipecleaners for the limbs. We extended on this to use our ‘stick men’ for story-telling and role-play.

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Rainbow cookies and popcorn
We did some cooking and baking—rainbow cookies and popcorn. Perfect for these cold, wintry days we’ve been having lately. The popcorn was especially a fun cooking activity to do. I used our portable stove so the children could have a closer view of how popcorn actually ‘pops’. I started with showing them what the uncooked popcorn kernels looked like. I dropped a couple into the pot for the children to watch it pop. They shrieked in laughter and delight when they did. I poured the rest of the kernels in and I popped on the lid over the pot. The children giggled and laughed as they listened to the kernels popping away inside the pot. When the popcorn was all popped, I tossed it in some butter and salt and we all munched on it together for a special morning tea treat.

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Bird Watching
I borrowed a ‘Bird ID Toolkit’ from our library to extend on learning about birds as we often see many birds during our walks around the neighbourhood. The weather has not been the best over the week when we had the kit to maximise full use of it. But we did manage to spot the usual ducks (which are in abundance at the pond around our neighbourhood) and a family of beautiful Purple Swamphens.

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Staying dry and cosy indoors
On really wet days when we had to stay inside, we kept busy and active with lots of music and dancing, made cosy forts and tents, snuggled down with a good book, and did some stretches and exercise with Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube.

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Soaking up sunshine and fresh air outside
But at every opportunity, we would head outside as often as we could to soak up all the sunshine and fresh air. We made roads and towns with chalk on the ground to zoom our cars along, cooked gumnut pies in the play kitchen and sandpit outside, and made our own obstacle course with the outdoor play equipment.

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Heading out
Sometimes,we might head out to the park nearby or drive out to the play group in our area… just for a change in scenery and environment. But we’re always glad to be back home again.

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And that marks July off the calendar. Stay tuned later this month to see what we get up to in August.


If you enjoyed this post, you can check out last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The real hobbies series: The art of Kombucha

And in a blink of an eye, we’re halfway through the year already!

Before the rest of the year slips through my fingers, I’d better get a move on some of the key things I wanted to get checked off my to-do list for 2016.

One of the ideas I wanted to try out in the bloggy space this year was to do a small series of feature posts on unusual hobbies or interests. It would be a very dull series if the series focused only on my own narrow range of projects. So I decided to turn to my cosy little network of friends to see some of the cool things they get up to in their spare time.

So without further ado, here is the first post of this series which will feature: The Art of Making Your Own Kombucha.

I first found out about kombucha from my friends Jon and Naryn when we went out to check out a raw food restaurant in Fremantle which apparently served up an amazing selection of their own housemade kombucha.

I then found out that Jon had been keeping himself busy brewing up his own house brand of kombucha at home. How cool is that? The next time we went over to visit him, Naryn and little Elliot, Jon showed us his little kombucha brewing station.

So who better to talk to than this guy to find out about making your own kombucha.

When Jon is not moonlighting as kombucha brewer, he works as a signalling engineer. His wife Naryn, works part time as an educational and developmental psychologist and they have an adorable little one-and-half year old toddler, Elliot.

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So what is kombucha anyway?
Well, in essence, kombucha is basically just fermented tea.

Tea? Fermented tea? I didn’t realise tea could be fermented.
Yeah! You can ferment pretty much any kind of tea… black tea… green tea… oolong…

So what’s with the fruit in the bottles?
Well, the different types of fruit basically make up the different kinds of flavours and variations of the kombucha.

And can you use any kind of fruit?
I think so. We’ve tried all kinds of fruit. Apple, pear, orange, strawberry, pineapple. Some fruits produce stronger flavours than others. And they also produce different variations on the colour of the kombucha as well.

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What are some of your favourite types of fruit variations on kombucha you’ve made?
Pineapple is really good. And it also produces a really great fizz. Orange is pretty good as well. We’ve tried blueberry as well which produced a really pretty colour, although the flavour is not as strong.

How about banana?
I have not tried banana. I don’t think it would work well though.

So basically more acidic and tart fruits seem to work best?
Yes, it seems so.

Okay, so what’s the brewing process like? How does it go? Is it very complicated?
Not at all. it’s actually surprisingly easy. The key ingredient you start with is something we call a scoby——which is sort of like a yeast starter. You can get it off someone else or even buy it online. I first started out with some scoby from a colleague.

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Really? So anyone can just give you some scoby?
Yeah! Like I could give you some anytime if you want to get started. It’s a byproduct of the fermentation process. I usually have so much leftover that I just throw most of it away. Some people even save theirs to dehydrate it into little discs and sell it online.

Right, so what do we do with the scoby next?
Okay, then you make a big batch of tea. I use eight bags of tea and soak them in a quantity of three litres of hot water and one cup of sugar. That is the optimal amount that works best for our own consumption. So that goes into the two large glass dispensers there together with one litre of leftover tea and scoby from the last fermentation.

How long does it take for it to ferment?
It depends. Around two weeks or so. It varies depending on the temperature and seasons. Usually much quicker in summer and slower in winter. It can get pretty tricky in the summer sometimes and some of the batches taste more sour because they ferment so quickly.

How do you know it’s fermented?
It’s a bit of trial and error. You will see a thick layer of scoby forming on top of the liquid. But I sometimes also pour a little out through the dispenser for a taste to check.

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And after that you add the fruits?
Yes, when it’s ready I prepare the fruits by chopping them up into small pieces, decant the plain kombucha into bottles and add the fruit in. Then let the bottles rest for a couple of days to soak up the fruit flavours. And then store them in the fridge to stop the fermentation process.

So why kombucha? Is it simply because you like the taste?
Well, that’s one reason. But it also it supposed to have good health benefits for digestion.

Oh, like probiotics? No need for anymore Yakult.
Yeah, I think Naryn and I have definitely felt the difference ever since we started drinking kombucha on  a regular basis.

Have you let Elliot have a taste of some of your kombucha yet?
Not yet. He’s still pretty young I think. But for older children, a little bit should be okay.

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Grace and Nathan had a taste some of Jon’s strawberry kombucha. Grace especially went absolutely mad for it. I guess she really liked that flavour combo of sweetness and tartness. I read that kombucha retains a small quantity of caffeine and a teeny tiny level of alcohol content. So a little bit is okay, but not too much. Everything in moderation.


If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for the next post in this new series on real hobbies!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Monthly play roundup: Little Green Peas

I am a couple of days late with my usual monthly post of some of the things I’ve been up to over the past month with my family day care kiddos. But I definitely did not want to miss this one as it has been a very fun little series of activities.

Our main focus over the past couple of weeks in June has been based around one of the children’s current favourite books ‘Little Green Peas’ by Keith Baker.

Apparently there is a whole ‘peas series’ of these books featuring these adorable tiny little peas… on alphabets, numbers, months of the year. This particular one that I picked up at the library featured colours.

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My kids were just nuts over the myriads of irresistibly cute little green peas dotted all over each page. Interestingly, they were not drawn so much to the colour theme of the book (they all knew their colours down pat very well anyway). Instead they were more focused on pointing out the large letters and trying to count all the tiny little peas of each page.

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So to extend of the children’s captivation with the alphabet and counting elements in the book, I set out some activities related to letter and number recognition.


A ‘Counting Little Green Peas’ activity tray

Using green glass stones and these printable cards from andnextcomessl

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A letter matching activity tray

Using some magnetic letters and a magnetic chalkboard from Ikea

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‘Five little peas in a peapod pressed’

We learnt a new fingerplay rhyme which we took turns singing and doing the actions with both our hands,
as well as with this cute little ‘peas-in-a-pod’ set I made with some green felt and pom-poms.

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Shelling and eating fresh peas-in-a-pod

This was my favourite activity of all -- I brought out a bowl of real fresh sugar snap peas-in-a-pod to show
the children. I popped open a pod to show them the little baby peas sleeping inside. They immediately
wanted to try opening a pod themselves and tasting the peas inside. They kept clamouring for more
and more pods to shell and eat. So that ended up being part of our morning tea as well.

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There are so many options to extend on this pea theme further… like the story of the ‘Princess and the Pea’… cooking pea and ham soup… sensory or craft activities with dried peas… but I think the children had enough with peas for now. We might pick it up again in some other related version down the track. Stay tuned at the end of this month to see what else we get up to.


If you enjoyed this post, you can check out last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Monthly play roundup: Food, glorious food!

At our place, we love playing with food. So here’s a quick roundup of some of the fun foodie things we’ve been up to lately…



~ Enjoying classic fruits in new and unusual ways ~

Fruit kebabs ~ the kids helped me to arrange them on the kebab sticks, anything seems to taste better when it’s on a stick // Mini apple cars ~ with toothpicks to hold the grape wheels in place

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~ Pancake monster faces ~

We created own monster faces with various fruit pieces on pancake ‘faces’.
This was also an extension from the ‘Go Away Big Green Monster’ activity we did previously.

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~ Freshly baked pretzels ~

Sometimes as an alternative to play dough, I whip up a batch of bread or pretzel dough for the children to ‘play with’ and come up with their own real edible creations to eat for morning tea.

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~ Homemade calzones ~

Calzones are just a variation of our favourite homemade pizzas. The only difference is that the dough is folded over to make a sort of ‘pizza dumpling’ and then baked in the oven with all the ingredients tucked inside. This is another great way to encourage children to eat their veggies.

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~ Sweet Treat ~
And sometimes for a treat (or when Nathan begs me to), I mix up a batch of gingerbread men dough for the kids to decorate. And then they can pretend to be the sly fox who gobbles them up.

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If you enjoyed this post, you can check out last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!