Monday, January 28, 2008

Our holiday at the beach

Beach engineering

We had a great time at our beach holiday on Phillip Island. We rented a holiday house at Cowes for a week, spent a lot of time at the beach just mucking around, playing cricket, excavating canals, moats and dams in the sand, and took drives and short walks around the Island.

When we first arrived in Cowes, we thought our holiday was doomed to disaster because as we rocked up to the holiday house we had originally booked – and paid for
in full – we discovered that it was still occupied – by the owners! – and so not available. However, the real estate agents who were managing the holiday accommodation (they didn't realise the owners were over-staying!) came through wonderfully well for us and immediately offered us an alternative, and clearly better, house – at no extra cost to us!

Beach cricket fanaticJamie on the beach
I was really looking forward to the sun, surf and sand, but there wasn't much sun because we got a lot of overcast weather the first half of the week, and the waves at the beaches at Cowes are quite gentle. Perfect for young kids to play at the beach, but not much surf. My second son, Jamie, treated the beach like a giant sandpit - with water views.

We did make it to Smiths Beach for one afternoon, which was great for catching a few waves on the boogie board. I'm so glad I learned how to do that two summers ago at Wilsons Prom.

Flying a kite on the beachI really enjoyed the chance to fly my kite on the beach. It's one of the most satisfying things to do – if you manage to get the kite to fly in the first place! The first day I tried, there wasn't enough of a breeze to fly it.

The second day I tried, I managed to get it high into the air. The wind on the beach was strong enough to carry the kite to the full extent of the string, and to let me relax on the beach!

Fishing off Cowes PierShelley's mum and her partner Chris joined us for a couple of days on our first weekend. Chris took my eldest son Jacob on his first fishing trip – off Cowes pier. They caught two flathead! I had dirty job of cleaning and filleting them, but they tasted good.

It was great that Jacob got a chance to handle the rod and reel in the fish - he was so excited at catching his first fish that he had to call Nana back at the holiday house to tell her about it! I was on dad duty looking after Jamie, but after his nap I took him for a walk to the pier to visit the fisherman.

At the Nobbies The Nobbies
We also headed out to The Nobbies, and walked along the boardwalk. That part of Phillip Island is wild and windy, but the walk is worth it to get a good view of the Nobbies (above right) and Seal Rock in the distance. We also caught a glimpse of a couple of the little fairy penguins in their burrows, which was surprising considering it was daytime.

Beach remains
In all, it was a lot of fun and really great to get away from work and the usual routine, and relax. You can see the whole Phillip Island holiday set on my flickr site. I've included more detail in the descriptions for the photos, so you can get a better idea of what we did. Enjoy. I know we did.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Back from our beach holiday

Go fly a kite, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

Just a quick post to say that we're back from our beach holiday. As you can see, I had a great time, including a chance to relax, and to fly a kite on the beach! I've been busy uploading a whole lot of photos onto my flickr site, including this set from our Phillip Island holiday, so you can enjoy these photos until I have more time for a longer post on our holiday.

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Storm over Port Phillip Bay

Storm over Port Phillip Bay, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

This was the amazing view from Williamstown Beach last night. But no storm hit us before we left.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Beach holiday

We are off to Phillip Island for a week! I'm not sure if I can post while we're there, so excuse my silence.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Adventure and play

I took the boys to St Kilda Adventure Playground on Monday. We went with two of Jacob's friends from school and their respective dads and siblings (no mums!). We had a great time!

We had been there once before as a family, when Jamie was still an infant and Jacob was just short of turning six. That meant he couldn't ride on the flying fox yet. This time he could, and loved it!

Jacob also had many turns sliding on the half pipe with his friends (on cushions or free-form only – no skateboards). I found it unnerving watching them clamber up that slippery steel slope and then go hurtling down again.

But then, it is one of those requisite risk-taking aspects of children's play. I think it helped that Jacob showed so much confidence moving around the space and playing with his friends – and not taking unnecessary risks – that I managed to let go and not stress over him.

The St Kilda Adventure Playground is one of those rare public places where children can play, exercise their imaginations, be active and just be loud outdoors – without the burden of commercialism on their parents. It isn't one of those indoor private, cost-based enterprises where the grimy, plastic and steel play equipment reflects the children's cartoons and licensed products they're bombarded with on television.

Instead, children range freely through wooden constructions, tunnels, mazes, cubbies, tepees, trampolines, ropes, and a wonderful old 'deconstructed' sail boat! Pirates ahoy! There were lots of trees, shelters and shade sails for shade, and natural and recycled (or rather re-used) materials for kids to play with. It is well staffed, there's a kitchen where parents and kids can help themselves to a cuppa, water, or food (for a donation), and there are clean, well-maintained toilets. And there wasn't a single arcade/computer game in sight.

Owned and run by the City of Port Phillip – rather than a private enterprise or contractor – it is living proof of what can be done through publicly owned, community centred – and run – spaces. Unfortunately, of the few adventure playgrounds built in the '80s and early '90s – with the express purpose of giving urban children, especially those living in housing commission flats or without backyards, the opportunity for outdoor adventure play – only a few Victorian ones survived the Kennett-era funding cuts and only St Kilda and the one in South Melbourne appear to still have a thriving funding base, community involvement and support from the council.

I had to spend a lot of time looking after (and playing with) Jamie, who tried to keep up with the big kids (he was the youngest of the seven kids in our group). Luckily, the Adventure Playground had a sand pit and other activities that better suits younger kids.

All the same, when his big brother heard that Jamie was asking for him to play with, it was lovely to see Jacob take him in hand and lead him around the fantastic wooden castle maze – up and down ramps, steps, and through little holes and cubbies – with his friends in tow.

I also enjoyed taking the kids out with other dads. It's not just the different dynamic of being there with other families that I liked. It was the rapport with other men, Cisco and Leith, fathers who care for their children and like doing things with them. I enjoyed the quiet conversations, the laughs, and being able to take turns to watch each others' kids while you make a cuppa or duck to the loo.

We had fun, and when it was time to go home the irrepressible tide of three men walking out the gates and refusing to take any prolonged nonsense – and the fact that your friends were leaving at the same time – foreshortened the usual arguments about not wanting to go home yet. That was the best thing!

The Playground is located off Neptune Street, St Kilda, so the street only parking is very limited. I suggest car-pooling, as we did. It also made the long journey from our homes in the northern suburbs more manageable.

Opening times vary between school terms (after school hours only) and holidays (from 10am to 5pm). Check out the council's website for details, and bring a picnic.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Potted edible garden

The boys and I planted a potted herb garden on Friday morning. We planted thyme (my second favourite fresh herb), chives, basil (my first favourite fresh herb) and a strawberry plant in a large terracotta planter.

I'm a firm believer in growing edible gardens – even on a small scale. Living in a two-bedroom unit with a small courtyard is a huge change from our previous two-bedroom weatherboard with a large vegetable garden that we created from scratch over two years. But I think it is possible – in fact desirable – to plant herbs, strawberries and other edible plants in containers and pots in apartment balconies or unit and townhouse courtyards.

It is also a fun thing to do with kids!

Admittedly, it is a bit late in the season to plant many vegetables and edible plants – especially summer vegetables such as tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant. But as I've been a bit envious at others' ripening tomatoes and beans, I've attempted to channel envy into inspiration and planted herbs. They are pretty much good to plant at any time of the year (unless, perhaps, you're in Tasmania in the dead of winter).

I'm sharing what we did to inspire you to do the same (if you haven't already) and give you some ideas. I'm throwing in a few hints as well.

Most herbs are easy to plant and easy to look after, suit planters and pots, and taste delicious! They also make excellent companion plants for the rest of the garden. You can also conveniently water herbs in pots with kitchen water from washing vegetables. Avoid using washing-up water for potted plants, as the build up of soap, salt and fats is unhealthy for the plants.

For this planter, I mixed up potting mix with some great home-made compost. I wanted a lot of organic matter – not just for the nutrients, but also to help hold more moisture in the soil, as the porous terracotta pots tend to dry out quickly in the Australian summer. I recommend adding some worm castings or worm tea (if you have a worm farm), and organic fertilizer such as manure if you're planting fruiting plants. I used a large terracotta planter or tub, but you can use a plastic or clay tub or large pot, or other large plant containers. I've even seen old wheelbarrows used to grow flowers and herbs.

As you can see in the photographs, I also used a long window-box type container and some smaller terracotta pots
to plant the excess chives from the seedling punnet we'd bought. Window-boxes are also handy for a combo of herbs.

The ideal herbs for planters and pots are chives, thyme, and basil (though basil can get a bit leggy in pots if you're not careful), as I have used this time. So is
parsley (which is about to self-sow from last year's plants growing in a potted dwarf apple. These herbs can be planted in combination, but be sure you don't crowd them in the pot.

Rosemary and the various mints suit lager pots on their own. Sage could go either way. It can stay small
if you prune and use it regularly, but watch out if you put it in the ground - it can grow into a bush!

To date, I haven't had much luck with growing coriander in pots as it tends to bolt to seed quickly if it lacks water or the weather warms up – unless you're diligent at harvesting the leaves regularly and early.

Other edible plants you can grow in pots and planters are strawberries, lettuces, some Chinese greens such as pak choy and tat soi, rocket, blueberries, currants, and
It is probably too late to get any strawberries from this small plant so far into the season, but I wanted to include a strawberry in this mini edible garden because it is one of Jamie's (my second son) favourite fruits. If it survives the winter, it will hopefully provide some lovely red fruits next summer.

Not being keen on vegetables and herbs, my older son, Jacob, wanted to plant flowers, so we planted this marigold. Unfortunately, it's a hybrid and won't really work at deterring pests. Still, it looks pretty! You can mix in other flowering plants such as pansies
and primroses to brighten up your herb combo, though they're not too edible!

Happy mini gardening! I look forward to hearing about your potted edible gardens.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bikes and trains

The ban on bikes on peak-hour trains – both metropolitan and country – by the Victorian government is stupid.

Instead of supporting commuters' travel options that keep cars off the road, and instead of putting on more carriages and trains to deal with overcrowding, the government is using smoke and mirrors to shift the blame for overcrowding onto those who take their bikes on trains.

The anger amongst cyclists who both ride trains and cycle to work or school is powerful, but, unfortunately, the State government and private train operator Connex are counting on the train commuters' antipathy against cyclists to back them up. As Barista so aptly points out:
cyclists are actively discouraged from putting treadlies on the train in peak hour. After all, they are awkward, and take up space. Other commuters get a chance to roll their eyes, act sniffy and indulge in righteousness - a piece of pack behaviour all too familiar to cyclists, dog owners, breast feeding women, owners of young children and backpackers (no hierarchy implied in the order)
But there has been an uproar – regional and country residents can still exert some influence as long as the Labor government needs their votes. VLine, the country rail operator, backed down slightly and have delayed the ban till 1 February. They've as much as hinted that it is up to Transport Minister Lyn Kosky to revoke the ban – and cyclists to convince her to do so. It is worth noting that
The ban on bikes on V/Line services during rush hour comes despite the trains having special bike spaces. The V'Locity trains have space for a small number of bicycles, while its 32 locomotives have a special luggage carriage, with ample room for cycles.
If anything, the bike ban is further evidence of Premier John Brumby’s reputed lack of commitment to environmental concerns or principles – first approving the Bay dredging, then putting the kibosh on the car free day for Melbourne, now a ban on bikes on peak-hour trains!

I was not convinced that Lyn Kosky was committed to making public transport work for all of us when she was appointed transport minister after the post-Bracks reshuffle. This new move suggests we have further reason to be disappointed in her.

Cities and provincial or state governments elsewhere are making huge efforts at increasing sustainable transport options to counter congestion, pollution and global warming. Many cities, especially in Europe, have car free days and, as I saw in Brisbane during my trip last Easter, Brisbane transit buses have bike carriers that allow cyclists to throw their bikes onto buses to get around further – especially on Brisbane's killer hills.

Compared with efforts made elsewhere, this economic-growth obsessed Labor state government is too short-sighted and clueless when it comes to enabling our cities and communities to be truly sustainable – and reducing the pollution risk to people.

Well, there is a campaign brewing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next critical mass heads for a peak hour train. And, to support more sustainable transport options, not fewer, I would be sympathetic to them!

Ironically, while Bicycle Victoria, supposedly the cyclists' lobby, supports the ban, the Public Transport Users' Group opposes it – because they know it will do little to deal with overcrowding! I'm having second thoughts on joining Bicycle Victoria this year.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy New Year!

The problem with wracking your brains to come up with the ideal blog post to open the new year with is that you think of a number of possibilities, discard each one as too insignificant, vow to not resort to an exegesis on New Year's resolutions, and then wish you had thought to compile your lists of favourite things from 2007 (books, music, movies, blog posts, outings, etc) before the year was out!

As things get desperate, you wonder if you should resist the temptation to compile lists of things you've got planned for the week/summer/2008/the rest of your life – then give the whole thing up as too hard/obviously cheating and not blog for a whole week!

So, the lesson is there is no ideal blog post to open the year. There is only the days coming one after the other as the year moves on. And in realising that blogging is, if anything, about cheating, here are some lists:

What I'm enjoying about this summer
  • cooling off at Williamstown beach last Friday evening after a beastly hot day, especially getting there early enough to get good parking and leaving as the hoons started to mass in the car park
  • sweet, ripe peaches – white or yellow
  • cherries in season – not air-flown from North America
  • lovely, crisp blue skies
  • leftover fruitcake from Christmas
  • the cool change blowing through the unit, rather than past the front or back doors
  • the cricket – India actually gave Australia a fight at the SCG, leading to some pretty exciting viewing, especially…
  • watching Andrew Symonds play
  • fresh basil
  • ripe tomatoes
  • the fact that Victoria's bushfire season has had a slow, and relatively uneventful, start this year (touch wood)
  • drinking more white wine that red
  • blueberries
  • it being extremely quiet at work since I started back last Wednesday
What I'm hanging out for this summer
  • a chorus of cicadas – I haven't quite figured out the necessary change in temperature, humidity or pressure that inspires them to sing, but I'm hoping a change in geography later this month (see below) will allow me to hear them
  • the beach – we're going to Phillip Island for a week later this month, and I can barely wait
  • a bbq
  • local Victorian tomatoes
  • gelati from my favourite gelati shop in Lygon St, Carlton
  • getting new tyres on my bike and starting riding again
What I've been enjoying reading recently
What I'm listening to over and over
  • Radiohead's In Rainbows – which I had downloaded as soon as it was available, and pretty much haven't stopped listening to
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers' Stadium Aracadium
  • an eclectic mix Michael Franti, Lenny Kravitz, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Rickie Lee Jones, and a bunch of other laid-back grooves, including a couple of free downloads I found last year but, to my frustration, can't remember where
  • the guitar-driven, joyful rhythms of music from Mali
What I'm enjoying looking at
my favourite creative commons photos from flickr (and my own), many I've published here over the past year and a half. I've imported them into my iphoto library and onto my ipod to view on the tram. They are, in particular: this, this, this, this and this.

What is inspiring me
  • Ampersand Duck's lists – I'm going to do more lists. I may even share a few here
  • Unique_Stephen's fantastic photo of his son – I'm going to take a serious crack at photography this year
  • Kirsty's first sentence from her first post of each month of 2007 – I'm going to work on my opening sentences. It will also be instructive to go back through my posts and see how many begin with apologies for not blogging in a while. I will change that in 2008!
  • joyfully, more than I can think of to write a long list!
And though it seems rather late, I do wish you a Happy New Year!

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