What Can you do with a Giant Sand Dune?

IMG_1546Approximately 100 km north of Perth, Australia, nestled in between Indian Ocean Drive and the Indian Ocean is the small quaint fishing and tourist town of Lancelin. This literally  ’don’t blink or you’ll miss it’ kind of place, is home to gigantic beautiful white sands dunes. A place where you can play and enjoy in a way you may have never thought of before. Whether it be 4 wheel driving or sandboarding, exciting adventures await in this neat little town. Lancelin is one of those hidden gems on the west coast of Australia that you don’t want to miss.

IMG_3974We had decided to rent a car for the day and go north of Perth. Our main goal was to go see the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park but had a couple of other stops in mind that day. We had already toured Yanchep National Park where we saw koalas up close in their natural environment as well as wild kangaroos; a must see for kids and any adult that wants that ‘classic taste’ of Australia. I had heard about the white sand dunes and the possibility of going sandboarding and this intrigued me. How cool would it be to sail down the gorgeous white sand in the warm spring sunshine. Shorts and bare feet a must?

One of the things I really feel is important when traveling is to vary the kinds of experiences you have. Not only is it great to see the tourist spots, the museums and well known sites, but it is very cool to experience it in an adventuresome way. An active way that will provide you with an experience that you will never forget. Besides especially with kids, you need to interject these kinds of activities into your touring. Plus honestly the adults need it to.

IMG_3978We were on our way back from the Pinnacles, about 45 minutes north of Lancelin. We had planned to stop in on our way back and check out the sand dunes. I was getting very excited about the prospect of these sand dunes and going sandboarding! My sister had been there before and said it was quite cool. And I knew Matthew and D’Wayne would really enjoy it.

We had timed it just right, as it was about 4 in the afternoon, so we still had a couple of hours of sunlight left. We stopped at the local gas station and inquired about the dunes and renting sandboards. Turned out it was super cheap! Only $20 a board for 2 hours, with a $100 deposit, which of course we got back when we returned the boards.

We rented 2 boards and were off. Just a short drive through town (about 2 minutes) and a turn to the left we came upon these magnificient sand dunes. Massive is exactly what they were and going on for miles and miles. Some of them looked pretty steep as well! Even steeper then some of the ski hills I have been down.

The boards themselves are actually just snowboards with no bindings attached to them (You can rent the ones with the bindings on them if you want). You waxed them with a light coating of wax (provided by the rental place), and then up the big hill you went to slide down.

IMG_3989The sand dune itself was fairly steep and a good climb. Matthew took off like a shot and was up the hill in no time, zooming down. His eyes alight and sparkling. I treked off with Chloe to go down. It was a steady walk up but we made it to the top no problem. It was when I looked down that I had to catch my breath. Yes there was stunning view of the sun shining over the ocean, but it was not that that had me with a lack of breath. It was a lot steeper than I thought it was and I was actually a little apprehensive about going down.

IMG_3991I knew I couldn’t disappoint Chloe who was very excited to go down. I took a breath and sat on the board, putting Chloe in front of me. I pushed the board and tried to get us going down the dune, but was having a heck of a time. Because of the weight of both of us, and not having done this before, we were a little stuck in the sand at the top. I called for back up :)

D’Wayne came up the hill with Luke and gave it a go. Of course he got them going no problem, so I quickly nominated him to go with the kids going down with each one at a time. I watched and took pictures and video for a while, enjoying the fabulous view of the sun setting over the ocean and watching all the kids go flying down the hill. Screams delight carrying over the hill.

IMG_3966Up and down, up and down, over and over they went, loving every minute of it. Eventually the kids ditched the boards altogether and started sliding down on their bums or stomachs, Matthew even rolling down the hill (that my friend is a brave young man). I eventually took my turn as well, first going down on the board by myself, then taking turns going with Luke and Chloe.

One thing we made sure Luke and Chloe did when they went down was to cross their legs in front of them. This was for safety as you could get going pretty fast and it’s easy for a leg to get caught and bent behind you (or in some other position you would prefer not to have it in).

We crashed a few times, I crashed by myself. Yet it was all a lot of fun. And it was the most perfect timing, zooming down the dunes as the sun was setting over the ocean.

After about an hour we were done. Not only had we gone about 100 times, we were tired and our legs were burning out from climbing the dune over and over. We gathered our things, put on our shoes and headed back to the rental shop to return the boards, everyone charged with excitement. It was an absolutely fabulous experience! It was definitely one of the best parts of our trip to Australia. And the only reason I had even inquired about it was because I had read in one of the tours to the Pinnacles that they stopped somewhere to go sandboarding.IMG_3973

We finished our evening ordering fish and chips for dinner to eat on our ride home. Happy and satisfied we drove back to Perth, ready to share our adventures and pictures, with those who would listen to us babble on about our fabulous day and the adventure and experience that sandboarding provided. An experience not to miss!

Connecting Children through Nature with Parent Me in the Park

IMG_4149Crisp autumn leaves crunch beneath our feet. The morning is crisp yet fresh, as we move along the wooded trail exploring. The kids are playing peek a boo amongst the trees, peeking out from behind tree trunks or hiding ‘obviously’ within the twigs. The pace is relaxed, amiable, and comfortable as we explore the natural world together.

This is how we spend our Thursday mornings at Parent Me in the Park. Exploring the beauty and wonder of Edworthy Park with other parents and children. Enjoying all that nature has to offer as the season changes and shifts, learning and discovering new things each week.

IMG_4150I love this program. It is one that is close to my heart as I am an outdoor enthusiast myself and believe strongly in the power of teaching and bonding with children in nature. I also believe there is huge value in connecting children to their natural environment at a young age. “More and more research is highlighting the benefits of spending time in nature. Rain, shine or snow… (Parent Me in the Park) a morning of fun and discoveries.” If they use that childhood wonder and curiosity to learn and appreciate the planet through the outdoors, then they will take good care of it as they grow up.

Lead by Nancy Richard, a certified PCI Coach and Early Childhood Educator, Parent Me in the Park is a wonderful program that does just that. Through exploration, songs and stories, she not only connects the children with nature but teaches us, as parents, to connect with our children as well, creating a bond with them, like no other.

IMG_4130I discovered this program when I was at Angel’s Cappuccino and Ice Cream Cafe earlier this Fall (which was also a wonderful new discovery) parousing the bulletin board and saw a poster for the program. I was intrigued and excited, so we went the first week to find out what it was about.

Now our first week was actually in Griffith Woods, which is located in southwest Calgary in the community of Discovery Ridge. Due to our whacky snow storm that hit in early September, Edworthy Park had been closed due to all the damage and fallen trees from the snow. The location didn’t matter though, Nancy weaved her magic with all the children quickly and easily.

IMG_4131Luke and Chloe were engaged right from the start with Nancy’s calm and easy going manner, and Chloe’s new ‘job’ pulling the wagon full of all our supplies for our morning. The layout of the program is similar each week with a short circle of songs and games, then a walk (or meander) through the park pausing and discovering along the way. We choose a path and go and explore, finding sticks, pine cones, rocks, etc. along the way. Nancy goes with the flow, finding those teachable moments, whether it be about berries or pine cones, as our walk progresses.

After our walk, we enjoy a fantastic snack of fresh bread and apple butter, with warm tea. For some, this is the best part, enjoying this delicious and nutritious snack together in the outdoors. Once snack is completed we sit on the blanket together for a short story, which Nancy tells with the use of hand puppets. All in all a very relaxing, very enjoyable morning.

IMG_4151Both Luke and Chloe love it, as I never have trouble getting either of them ready or out the door. In fact, Luke who is sometimes hard to move, always jumps up after breakfast and gets dressed, standing at the door waiting. I think it’s fantastic!

And I love going to Edworthy Park as well. Looking forward to discovering a new area each week. My favorite so far being the Douglas Fir Trail; considered one of Calgary’s finest hiking trails with some of the most easterly Douglas Fir trees on the plains. It is a beautifully treed trail that leads along the cliff above Edworthy Park.

I was also pleased to discover there is a lot of Calgary history around Edworthy Park, which I always find interesting and fascinating to learn. Nancy will share tidbits she is familiar with, but there are also signs throughout the park describing the history of the area and how the park served Calgary in its growth and development.

IMG_4152Another benefit of course, is the friendships that are forming between the parents, as we come together each week with our children. Finding out about each other, things we like to do, places we like to go and the challenges we also face as parents. Creating another opportunity for support in our parenting journey.

IMG_4155It is a beautiful morning, one that provides many benefits for the adults and children alike. We always leave feeling happy, satisfied and full, ready for whatever comes with the rest of our day. I would highly recommend Parent Me in the Park to any parents with young children between baby to 4 years old. It is an experience you’ll never forget and a bond that you won’t create anyway else.

For more information on this program and to register contact Nancy Richard or find Parent Me in the Park on Meetup.com.

Exploring the Alder Trail

IMG_4171One of the things I love about Thanksgiving weekend (and Fall in general) is that it is usually a beautiful sunny weekend, with crisp mornings, blue skies and warm afternoons, surrounded by the gorgeous colors of leaves turning. This is the time of year when I really enjoy getting out hiking, or for short walks in nature. With or without kids, I love to explore the forests, park, mountain or whatever location it is that we decided to go and check out during this beautiful season.

This weekend we went out to Bragg Creek, which is only a 30 minute drive from our house, to the provincial park. It is a beautiful spot with picnic tables and fire pits, just up from the river with lots of lovely walking trails, of various lengths.

The kids were excited to pack up and go for a picnic and have a fire. In fact, I have not seen Luke and Chloe get ready so fast and out to the car, chomping at the bit to go! I was still packing things up and they were already in the car!

IMG_4178Once we got out there and claimed our spot we went for a short walk before enjoying our picnic (which would be roasted hot dogs and banana boats). A few weeks earlier I had been out there and came across the alder trail, which is a 1.6 km loop. At the time I wasn’t sure how long the trail actually was so decided not to complete the loop that particular day due to time constraints. I was looking forward to discovering this trail and what it was all about.

It turned out to be a beautiful trail, through moss covered floors and old growth forest. The trees were tall and covered in old man’s beard, which I pointed out to Luke and Chloe. They looked on in amazement and giggled as I asked them if they would like a beard of lichen.

IMG_4182The trail is fairly flat and great for kids, with interpretive signs along the way describing the life of the forest. With information on everything from the animals that live there to why we experience chinooks and the effect they have on our environment. Both Luke and Chloe asked me to read every sign and listened attentively as I read. Matthew even stopped at each sign and read what it had to say before moseying on.

Luke was often stopping at trees and knocking on them or giving them hugs, Chloe and Matthew (my more adventurous ones) attempting to climb the trees. Our pace was not rushed but not too slow and everyone enjoyed exploring the trail. All in all our hike took us about an hour (which I thought was pretty good with two 4 year olds) and we returned to the picnic area ready to roast hot dogs and enjoy the fire.

We rounded out the afternoon with some soccer and frisbee, yes it felt like the perfect family scene, tacky but nice; and a short trip down to the river. Exploring along the river bed and tossing rocks into the stream.

IMG_4203Exhausted, satisfied and happy we hopped back into the car for the short drive home. I feel blessed living so close to such a beautiful area that we can enjoy and explore. To me getting out in nature with kids is so important, and not just going out for a picnic but going for a walk or hike of some kind. I had to pry my oldest away from his iPad, but will do so again (and again) as we all need to get outside more and enjoy our natural environment. Cause each time you go out there, it’s different. You find something new to share, learn about and appreciate that you may not have before.

The Pumpkin Martini

IMG_4205Last year when I was experimenting with different pumpkin recipes, I discovered, quite by accident a recipe for a pumpkin martini. Now I have never been a big martini fan but love pumpkin so thought that I would give this baby a try!

Of course the original recipe calls for sugar and cream, both of which I had to adjust, but was able to do so easily and without compromise on taste. In fact, my friend who was not a big martini fan either, and really just enjoyed a good beer or maybe a glass of wine, loves these things! And told me just the other day (while we were sipping our pumpkin martinis pre Thanksgiving dinner) that he had no idea there was milk of any kind even in them!

The first time I made them I followed the recipe, making all the necessary adjustments, doing the sugar rim, etc. But I found that the sugar rim was not to my liking and that I could easily do without it, which made things very easy in the sugar department, as the martini itself was sweetened with maple syrup. Being a natural sweetener I did not have to change it.

images-22For the milk I substituted coconut milk, though I have recently used almond milk in a pinch, and it works just fine. I do prefer and recommend the coconut milk though as it provides a creamier and a little sweeter taste. I use the coconut milk beverage (unsweetened) by SoDelicious, as it is a little bit lighter than the coconut milk you get in the can, though I am sure that would work as well.

Now having enjoyed these martinis so much, I have ventured into the martini world and am trying/ discovering all kinds of great mixtures. Last Fall while in Banff I tried a new martini the bartender had just created with lavender, so good, and one recently at Halo restaurant in Calgary, called the Purple Dragon.

pumpkinI do love the pumpkin ones though, well because there is pumpkin in it, and I can easily make them at home instead of paying $10 a glass while out. I have only one problem though, they are so good, it is hard to have just one!

So if you’ve got some extra pumpkin leftover from that pie you made on the weekend, or just want to treat yourself and try something new, give this fabulous recipe a try!

 

 

Pumpkin Martini

1/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spiceIMG_4206

3 tbsp. vodka

2 tbsp. coconut milk

1 tbsp. pumpkin puree

1 tbsp. pure maple syrup

1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a martini shaker filled with ice, combine the vodka, coconut milk, pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and the pumpkin pie spice. Shake vigorously, then strain into the prepared glass.

Serves 1

Like I said I enjoy it without the sugar rim, but if you choose to do so combine 1 tbsp. coconut sugar with 1/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice on a plate. Dip the rim of martini glass in water then dip in the sugar mixture to coat.

What are some of your favorite martinis?

 

The Playground at Darling Harbour

IMG_3416

Darling Quarter Playground

One of the things that I discovered while traveling with 3 kids is that the pace of things is much different than with one child, or for that matter just adults. You do not get to see as much as you would like in one day as there are smaller legs to walk on, more pee breaks and more frequent stops for food or snacks. You also have to remember that even though you may want to see 5 different museums in a day, though you can successfully engage the kids in one, further engaging them in another could be quite the challenge.

It is important to slow things down a little and do some ‘kid stuff’ not only for the sake of the children but for your sanity as well. Let them play and run off some steam and be kids. This does not mean that you have to give up seeing the one part of the city you really wanted to see. It just means you may experience it differently.

Chinese Garden of Friendship

Chinese Garden of Friendship

One area in Sydney we did this (and is definitely worth touring) was Darling Harbour. Home to the Powerhouse Museum, the Chinese Garden of Friendship, the Imax, National Maritime Museum and Sydney Sea Life Aquarium to name a few. Yet this time around, we decided to go for the kids and experience it ‘their way’.

Hence, my friend Dana recommended we go and check out the playground there, as she said it was a fabulous place for kids. She described the different water games, slides, and swings that were down there and explained how massive it was. Though I thought, well ok it’s a playground, I was intrigued, so decided that we should go and check it out.

I have to say I was super impressed. A definite ‘must do’ for all families, this spectacular playground features an array of activities that promotes learning and imagination for all ages. The Darling Quarter Kids Playground as it is called, is absolutely amazing and definitely not one to be missed. The range and variety of activities, engages kids of all ages, and will keep them entertained for hours! From the huge Octanet, giant slide and flying fox, to the swings, supernova and waterworks, there is something for every age and ability.

As soon as we arrived the kids were off like a shot. The challenge was the 3 of them were off running in different directions. Matthew I knew could hold his own and would check in periodically, but it was the twins exploring new skills that had me running around trying to make sure they were safe and in sight.

IMG_3415

Giant Slide 8 metres long!

They were definitely expanding their comfort zone that afternoon, as both Luke and Chloe really enjoyed the giant slide and were going up and down over and over. To go up, they had to climb up the ‘climbing wall’ at the back of the slide, with a rope to aid them; then they slide down. It wasn’t the slide that concerned me, but the 3 metre high ‘climbing wall’ to get there. I felt it was a little high for my four year olds and was a nervous about them climbing up. You know with their attitude of being untouchable and all. I was proud and freaked out at the same time as they very agilely went up to the top.

To be honest I was not worried about them climbing up but more about them falling down. I guess this is one of the lessons a parent must learn in letting go and trusting in their children.

The slide itself, was super fast and 8 metres long. Well super fast for an adult, probably about the right speed for a little person (yes I did go down it once, then decided that it was much too fast for me and I would just supervise the climbing).

IMG_3413Matthew really enjoyed exploring the different water works such as the water scoop and water screw and also successfully climbed up to the very top of the Octanet – at 10 metres high, giving me a heart attack, as I calmly congratulated him when he called “Mum, look at me!” and then asked him, very calmly to come down.

There are also sand diggers and smaller slides, plus swings of all sizes. All 3 of them enjoyed the giant ring, which is like a huge tire swing but with room for a lot more kids and swings a lot wider. The flying fox was the one that really impressed me, similar to a small zip line, but one that kids can easily navigate themselves and is not too far off the ground. Even I wanted to go on that one!

The playground is well set up and laid out, with an area for shade on hotter days and bathrooms right there. The promenade adjacent to the playground is lined with a variety of cafes and restuarants for those adults who require coffee or refreshment as you monitor the children at play.

The best part of all is it’s free! And a wonderful opportunity to enjoy this area of the Sydney Harbour while the kids are fully entertained! Whether you stay for an hour or the entire afternoon, adults and children alike will be engaged the entire time.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Unfortunately, we only stayed for about an hour ourselves that day as we had spent the morning down at Bondi Beach and needed to head back for supper after a full day of activities. But it was definitely worth the trip down to have the experience. Both Luke and Chloe still talk about the giant slide and is one of the many things that they ask to go back to and do again and again.

What fantastic or unique kids playgrounds have you found in your travels? whether local or abroad?

Dairy Free Pumpkin Ice Cream

f27135f65da3b8e4ec8f43df3f65bea5With Thanksgiving approaching I always like to post a new recipe to add to your pumpkin feast – oh did I say pumpkin? I mean Thanksgiving feast. If you have been a reader of mine for the past couple years you will know how much I like, no love, pumpkin, and that I am always on the lookout for pumpkin recipes of all kinds. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin lattes are all ones that I have found, tried and enjoyed so far. But I also love pumpkin muffins and last fall found a fabulous recipe for a pumpkin martini! (oh yes I will post that one soon)

My other love is ice cream, and going dairy free was not easy in that respect (peppermint ice cream is my absolute favorite!). But in my transition I have found some great recipes for ice cream that I can make at home and are very yummy. From orange avocado sorbet to good old fashioned chocolate, I have been very satisfied with these discoveries and now no longer feel denied at having to eliminate dairy from my diet (because honestly if I fall off the wagon, I may enjoy my delectable delight in the moment, but I feel so sick after, seriously just not worth it).

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

So imagine my delight when I discovered this recipe for Pumpkin Ice Cream! Two of my absolute favorite things in one combination. And super super easy to make. It’s easy to do with the kids too as you literally put all the ingredients in the blender, mix it and freeze, that’s it. The hardest part is waiting for it to freeze so that you can enjoy it.

Of course, it was a huge success with the kids and D’Wayne, and D’Wayne’s Mom. Luke and Chloe were asking for some daily until it was gone, which was really only about 3 or 4 days tops. Chloe was even asking for it after breakfast for mid morning snack! which honestly with what’s in it would have been fine, but I delayed her to afternoon snack and felt a little better about that.18470lrg

It’s also great if you’re in a pinch for a quick dessert you can whip this up and it’ll be ready in no time! Quick, easy and yummy, no one will complain about only having ice cream for dessert on Thanksgiving. Mind you, you could serve pumpkin pie with pumpkin ice cream on top….now we’re talking!!

However and whenever you decide to enjoy your pumpkin ice cream this fall, whether it be a part of your Thanksgiving dinner or simply a snack for another time, you’ll enjoy this quick and easy recipe, full of good nutritious foods and taste galore.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

4 bananas

1 c. pumpkin

1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice

4 tbsp. pure maple syrup

Blend together. Freeze.

halloween-pumpkinWhat are your favorite pumpkin recipes? Cause you know…I am always on the lookout for more delicious ways to use pumpkin :)

The Healing Rhythm of the Drum

images-19Last week was a very stressful week. For whatever reason, because honestly I am not sure why, I felt like I couldn’t get anything accomplished, I felt rushed and like the things I enjoyed were being pushed to the side in trying to get everything else done. It was crazy!

I was so wound up by the end of the week I was melting down on Friday, trying to finish up some writing and clean the house, so I could go out and have some much needed ‘me’ time by going out. And the place I wanted to go I knew would help me.

hands-in-circleI was heading to a Community Drum Circle, a beautiful place, where you let go of your stress and commitments for 2 hours, letting the world melt away as you bang on the drum. You may go in feeling lost and angry, but you come out feeling relieved, revived and energized!

This was my second time attending the circle, as I had attended with my Mum, son and friend back in early September. We all loved it! I had been to other drumming experiences before but this one was absolutely phenonmenal! The power, the energy and the sense of community that exists within this circle was absolutely amazing. Everyone is accepted, everyone is there for you, everyone is banging on that drum and having the time of their life!

images-21Judy Atkinson, facilitates the evening, and brings such joy, energy and enthusiasm to the circle. No one feels self conscious or left out, no one feels like they have to or are being judged, we are all just there to drum and let go.

Not only is this experience so much fun, it also has so many health benefits, as drumming resonates through every cell in your body, therefore assisting you in releasing negativity, emotions or stress, anger. It helps you to remove any blocks, healing and deeply relaxing us.

It also puts us in the now, the present moment, something which many of us are not; often thinking about what’s next, or reviewing something we did in the past. It connects us with ourselves, permeating the whole brain increasing our Alpha brainwaves, creating feelings of euphoria and happiness.

images-20It is a fantastic night and a great stress release! It is also a wonderful activity for the whole family. Kids love it and get right into it as well, sharing in the experience.

Worried about not having a drum? The drums are provided and there are a few different kinds to choose from, and you can mix it up throughout the evening.

A word of caution though, with this kind of experience you can experience a type of ‘release’ afterwards (which is actually good). This can manifest in a number of ways, physically or emotionally – so you may feel very emotional the next day, experiencing strong emotions such as anger or sadness, or you may actually feel physically ill, feeling sick to your stomach, nauseas or an ache in the body. The good news is is this is your body’s way of releasing what you have moved in the drumming circle and it is moving it out! Releasing those toxins you no longer need, things that no longer serve you. And the more regularly you attend the less extreme these releases will be.

images-18I felt like crap going into the circle on Friday night, I was angry, frustrated and lost. I was crying before I even got in there. We got our drums and sat down and I half heartedly started drumming, but I couldn’t resist the energy, the rhythm and banging of the other drums and before I knew it, I was in there giving it my all, smiling and laughing just like the everyone else. By the time we went home I was tired, but I felt much better, optimistic, relieved and ready to take on a new day. And I plan on going next week. It may seem odd to give up your Friday night to go and drum but the benefits are worth it. And I don’t look at it as giving up my Friday because regardless of how my week goes, I know that there is this little light at the end of the tunnel, a warm loving community waiting for me, and a beautiful experience of growth and connectedness that I need to have and to share with you.

Come out to Judy’s Community Circle on Fridays at the Inglewood Community Hall in Calgary. It’s so worth it! See you there!

The Taronga Zoo

IMG_0119One of the many things I love about Australia is the range of unique animals that exist in this country. Because of their isolation from the rest of the world for so long, this allowed these unique species to develop and exist. From the koala to the platypus, more than 80% of these animals, plants, reptiles and frogs are found only in Australia.

With that, no trip to Australia would be complete without a trip to at least one of the zoos or wildlife parks, to catch a glimpse and sometimes a cuddle, with some of these amazing animals. Of course, I would much prefer to see some of these animals in the wild (I say some because honestly I am perfectly fine seeing the crocodiles and the snakes behind glass, thank you). But it is a extremely cool experience to see a koala, kangaroo or echidna in their natural environment.

Platypus

Platypus

Unfortunately, these experiences can be rare, depending on where you are traveling and how long you are spending in Australia. Therefore I always recommend at least one zoo experience of some kind so you can have an opportunity to see these unique critters.

While in Sydney, we chose to experience the Taronga Zoo, which is a natural bush area on the harbour’s north shore. It is easy to get to from Circular Quay, with a short (and beautiful) ferry ride to the zoo’s entrance. You can purchase a combo ferry and zoo entrance ticket at the terminal which does provides great savings, as opposed to purchasing them separately. Also with the pre-purchased pass you can take the cable car up to the top from the ferry terminal, which gives you a birds eye view as you zoom overtop of the zoo to the main entrance.

Fort Denison

Fort Denison

The kids were all very excited to get to the zoo, as we had been promising them we would ‘go and see the animals’ since about 10 that morning, but it had taken us until almost 2 pm to get ourselves organized, fed and down to the ferry terminal. We bought our ferry zoo combo pass and boarded the ferry for the north shore. It was a beautiful day, so we sat up top where we could catch the views of the harbour as we sailed.

This was an unique experience for me, as the last time I was in Sydney, we did not go on the water, so I got to see a different view of Sydney. Chloe and Luke asked many questions as we sailed along, wondering what this was and that was. We sailed past Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which we had been to earlier that morning; and Fort Denison, another of Sydney’s historic landmarks.

IMG_0121Once at the Taronga Zoo ferry terminal we made our way to the cable car. There were also options to take a bus to the top main entrance or a short walk. The cable car was super cool, much like a gondola for us, the car would slow down as we got on and had a seat inside, before we were whisked away over the tree tops. It was great way to see the layout of the zoo and where things were. We could see how the zoo had taken great care to create spacious enclosures for all the animals simulating their natural habitats. Luke screamed in delight as he spotted the elephants, asking to go see them when we got on the ground. We also caught the giraffes and orangatans to from this view.

IMG_0134The zoo itself has an extensive collection of Australian animals. As we passed through the entrance we received a free map to help us plan our route. Unfortunately we only had 2 hours to tour this extensive zoo (I would recommend a full day so you can see the entire zoo at leisure and take advantage of the shows and keeper talks as well), so we had to choose our route carefully. Our first priority were the koalas and we were not disappointed. Cuddled up in the trees, we got fantastic views and photos. Commonly called koala bears, koalas are actually not bears and are part of the marsupial family (animals that have young in their pouches). They are not related to bears at all!

Satisfied we moved on to the rest of the zoo. We saw crocodiles, snakes, lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, kangaroos, emus, wombats and even a goanna outside on his own. We looked diligently for the platypus in his enclosure, but to no avail (these animals are nocturnal so are hard to catch a glimpse of during the day).

Goanna

Goanna

We managed to cover about 2/3 of the zoo in the time that we had but had to leave because the zoo was closing! We didn’t even get a chance to go into the gift shop :(

The other advantage of going to the Taronga Zoo is the stunning views of the Sydney Harbour from atop the hill. Even though we would have liked to have stayed a little longer and finished the zoo, we enjoyed our time there.

The highlights were definitely the koalas, the views, and the ferry ride to get there. There are other wildlife parks in the greater Sydney area, such as the Featherdale Wildlife Park and the Koala Park Sanctuary, which offer opportunities to hand feed some of their animals or experience encounters where you can be face to face! These parks though are located about 30 minutes outside the city.IMG_3383

We cuddled up on the ferry, tired yet satisfied with our afternoon at the zoo, each of us pondering what we liked best, and what our next Australian adventure might be…

 

Sugar Free Apple Crunch Muffins

IMG_0565Last week I was telling you about my discovery of apple butter and how delicious it is; and that I was going to explore making my own. With the amount of apples that we have been reaping off our tree I thought that this would be a quick and easy way to use them up. I have been looking at a large bowl full of apples for a week now and knew I had another crisper drawer full in the fridge. Some of them were starting to go soft and I knew that the time was now or never to use these babies up, or they would go to waste.

So last night I Googled an apple butter recipe, and finding one that I Iiked, went to work. This is when I realized that the recipe called for 9 quarts of applesauce. 9 quarts! I quickly converted this to cups and discovered it meant 36 cups of applesauce. Now I have a lot of apples but honestly I didn’t have enough to make 36 cups.

apple-butter-13b_thumbI knew I needed to use up these apples, and though pies and crumbles are yummy and being gobbled up, they were not using up the amount of apples I needed to fast enough. I had to do something with these apples fast or I was going to have a nice pile of brown mush for the compost. I decided to make applesauce regardless as it would use up the rest of the apples quickly. The twins love eating applesauce at breakfast, sometimes sprinkled with cinnamon and I had an apple muffin recipe in mind that required applesauce I was hoping to make.

So I did. I cored and cut them and put them in a pot to cook. Now I make applesauce all the time, but in my recent search for an apple butter recipe I discovered that there was a better way to make applesauce then what I had been doing previously.

baked-applesauceI used to cut and core the apples and put them in a pot, cover them with water and boil them til soft. Then I would drain the water and puree them in the blender. I found that though this was good, the applesauce tended to be a little watery. On this website it suggested a slightly different way. First of all they said to use only an inch of water in the bottom of your pot, as apples are 99% water and they will cook down making their own juices as they cook and soften. The second thing they recommended was that you mush the apples through a sieve, this way you get a nice thick, yet smooth applesauce. This was the method I tried.

I used only an inch of water and let them cook and soften. Then I drained whatever water was left, which wasn’t much, and strained and mushed it through a colander, leaving the peels (which I had left on) on top in the sieve and a nice thick applesauce in the container underneath. I was really impressed with how this turned out and will use this method to make applesauce going forward.

Luke and Chloe really like it too as they gobbled it up at breakfast asking for second and third helpings. I had to hide the rest in order to have enough left to make my muffins.

IMG_4146The recipe I had in mind using applesauce was for Apple Crunch muffins; one that my sister made in her home ec class in junior high. It became a favorite in our house, I think because of the yummy sweet topping, and one that was made often. I have since modified it to meet our dairy free and sugar free needs, but find it just as yummy and delicious. In fact I do not notice a difference between the original and the sugar free version.

When the muffins came out of the oven this morning, everyone was quickly asking for a taste. No one was disappointed when they took that first bite and enjoyed the sweet topping, yummy moist applesauce and fresh warm muffin. I really did find that the homemade applesauce did make them taste that much better. But isn’t that always the case with homemade? :)

So if you can, when you make these muffins I would recommend homemade applesauce if you have it. If not you can buy an unsweetened natural organic applesauce at Superstore, or your local natural food store.

Now I hope that this is finally the end of our apples (I don’t see anymore on the tree, but you never know…) So there will be no mad rush to use them up or create new recipes. Well… until next year that is…

Enjoy these delicious muffins and maybe double the batch, as they won’t last long. Ours certainly did not!

Apple Crunch Muffins

Topping:

3/4 c. coconut sugarIMG_4134

1/3 c. all purpose flour

2 tbsp. Earth Balance vegan spread

Muffin:

1 c. all purpose flour

1/2 c. whole wheat flour

4 tbsp. coconut sugar

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg

3/4 c. almond milk

3 tbsp. olive oil

4 tbsp. applesauce

Make topping by mixing coconut sugar, flour and Earth Balance; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, almond milk and olive oil. Add to dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Drop cupcake liners into muffin tin, or grease tin with Earth Balance. Fill each 2/3 full, then top with applesauce and topping.

Bake at 375 F for approximately 20 minutes. When toothpick comes out clean muffins are done. Place on a cooling rack, let cool 5 minutes in pan. After 5 minutes, remove muffins from tin and let completely cool. Muffins can be stored in an airtight container.

Makes 12 muffins

What are some yummy recipes you have that use applesauce? Share them in the comments below.

Off to the Land Down Under – Sydney Harbour Highlights

IMG_3713I love Australia! Ever since I was a little girl I have been fascinated with the Land Down Under. Koalas, the Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge, all icons of this beautiful country. I really wanted to go there and explore, see if all the magic and mystery of this country I had built up, was real. Was it all that it was cracked up to be?

I wanted to go so badly that even though I was deathly afraid of snakes, of which the top 20 most poisonous exist in Australia, and greatly concerned about crocodiles; these things did not deter me – I was going. And now I have had the great privilege of going twice to this fabulous country. Truly unique in all it’s flora and fauna, animal species and human species too :)

The first time we went was back in 2007, when my oldest son was 4. We traveled for 3 months and explored a good part of the country. I actually never thought that I would go back. Then when my sister announced that she was going with her family to live there for a year, I knew that I could not pass up this second opportunity. Now with 2 more children, I made my plans to go. Would we travel to places we had been before? or would we see some of the places I had missed and wanted to go to? So I promptly turned to my Fodor’s Australia book, taking the newest version out of the library. (This is something I highly recommend wherever you travel, get a book on the area before you go and do some research on what there is to see and do. Always find the newest version as it will have the most up to date information on prices, etc. and it will save you a lot of time when you’re there; as well as give you a good framework or route for your travels.)

IMG_0134Though we were only going for 3 and a half weeks this time, we decided to do a bit of both. Enjoying the places I had been before, remembering and doing new things in those areas.  Places felt familiar and comfortable, which got me excited and nostalgic at the same time.

This is how I felt when we first arrived in Sydney, our first stop on our Aussie adventure. It was neat to recognize areas and see how they may have changed, to feel oriented in a place I hadn’t been for 7 years, and to then expand upon what I knew, as well as explore new places and with new people.

Sydney and Red Centre 078One of the unique things about our stay in Sydney this time around was that we stayed with an old friend of mine that I had met in the UK back when I was fresh out of university. Not only did we get to catch up, but staying with a local is always a rich experience as they are able to give you insight into Sydney life that you might not find otherwise. Dana was not only able to make recommendations on what to see and do, especially with the kids, but also able to orient us as to where we were and how to get to various places, whether it be the Sydney Harbour or the local Coles (grocery store) down the road.

Sydney and Red Centre 075There is so much to do in Sydney, from a plethora of museums (lots of great museums for kids, such as the Powerhouse Museum and Australian National Maritime Museum) and beaches, to walks, parks (love the Chinese Garden of Friendship) and significant monuments.

Our first day there, was a beautiful winter day. The sun was shining, bright blue sky and about 20 degrees. Yes cold for Australians, but pleasant shorts weather for us. I was already loving Australia in winter. :) We had decided that day we were going to take the kids to the Taronga Zoo, after a short walk down exploring the Sydney Harbour and waterfront where we had to catch the ferry at Circular Quay. According to Dana it was only about a 20 minute walk away.

It was a beautiful walk. Straight down from her place led us past Harry’s Cafe, famous for their meat pies (and a place I wanted to go to since my last visit), to the waterfront paths, which wound along the water past Mrs. Macquarie’s chair and the Botanical Gardens, before reaching the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay.

IMG_0101Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair is one of my favorite places along the waterfront and was one of our first stops on our walk. Having been here before I knew that this was a place I wanted to stop and enjoy again. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, otherwise known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, provides one of the best viewpoints in Sydney. The historic chair was carved out of a rock ledge for Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth, as she was known to visit the area and sit enjoying the panoramic views of the harbour. It is neat for kids as they get to sit in this gigantic ‘chair’ or climb it, as the little ones tended more to do. As adults, we took all the photos we could and enjoyed the views in between ensuring the kids did not climb too high or fall down. Somehow we all got an experience and created our memories. For me, I was reflecting on my time there before and creating new ones (in amongst ‘be carefuls’ and ‘climb over there’)

For Luke and Chloe, they were just excited to be there and Matthew well he was doing his best to ponder the meaning of life, while trying to remember being there before.

IMG_0107As we continued on our way and rounded Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, (directly east of the Opera House on the eastern edge of the Botanical Gardens), we were rewarded with the best and most famous view in Sydney, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge behind.

Also one of my favorites, and something I would not miss, no matter how short my time in Sydney. The Opera House with its ‘billowing sails’ and the Harbour Bridge behind is a beautiful majestic sight that amazes me and gives me goose bumps each time I see it. Personally I could have stopped there, or at least meandered down to the cafes by the Opera House and spent the rest of the afternoon there on the harbour. Enjoying a latte or a glass of wine, just soaking up the atmosphere. But we had promised the kids some animals, koalas and kangaroos to be specific (and honestly they would not sit leisurely while we enjoyed wine and lattes), so after a yummy lunch of fish and chips (which at this point during the trip was a novel idea – more on that later), we grabbed the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Which that was an adventure in itself!Aussie Highlights 056

Tune in next week for our discoveries and advenures at the Taronga Zoo