Lake Mountain

Charlotte experienced snow for the first time this weekend, when we took a trip to the Lake Mountain Ski Resort.

Snow in Australia? Yep, there are a few mountain ranges around Melbourne where you can find snow during the winter months. Lake Mountain is actually less than 90 minutes drive from where we live, so yesterday me, Sara, Charlotte, John, Jack, Andy, Laura, Caitlin and her friend Melanie wrapped ourselves up in warm clothes and headed out for a day on the slopes.

Having seen the website beforehand I was a bit skeptical sceptical, thinking it would all be false man-made snow, but I was wrong. As we started to climb the twisty road from Marysville the rain turned to sleet, then to proper snow, I realised it was going to be the real thing.

We hired sledges and the kids had a great time. Charlotte had a whale of a time building snowmen and chucking snowballs around, she didn’t seem to mind the cold at all.

It’s bizarre having such contrasting weather only a few kilometers away — today is a beautiful sunny morning, 15 degrees with clear blue skies. We’ll definitely go there again, it’s a great day out.

I’ve put together a short compilation of all the photos and video clips we took. Right-click and choose “Save Target As” on this link to download the movie (31 Mb).

Back from the UK

Well we’ve been back in Australia for almost a week and, except for the jet-lag, have settled back into our daily routine.

I should’ve blogged more frequently while we were back in England, but I just didn’t get a chance because we squeezed so many things into this trip. I’ll upload some pictures as soon as Sara empties her digital camera.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Sara and her mum spent a few days at Ribby Hall, near Blackpool, with Charlotte and Geoffrey whilst I was in Germany. Believe it or not, it took Sara 4 hours to drive the 50-odd miles from Oldham, somehow stopping off at Leeds and Bradford on the way! 😮
  • When I arrived in Manchester I upgraded my pre-booked hire car to a brand new Mercedes E330 Estate, as a little treat to myself. b-)
  • We had a night out around Lees with Rob, Lynda, Max, Diane, Stuart, Phil, Ian and Louise. Nothing has changed there, really.
  • We went to Chester Zoo with Sara’s mum and dad, June, Geoffrey and Louise. Charlotte absolutely loved it and we took plenty of pictures and video footage. 😡
  • I really enjoyed watching United in the Black Horse with Tom Dean, even though Chelsea settled the title within a few minutes of kick off.
  • I had a great all dayer in Manchester with Adrian, Duncan and Paul and, as well as the usual pubs, we landed up in a emo/goth bar in Ancoats. 😕
  • We caught up with Sara’s cousins Collette, Sally and Hayley.
  • We paid a flying visit to the College with Charlotte, but didn’t get a chance to see many people. Caught up with Pete and Talei, went for a pint with RobH, bumped into Dave Mills one evening in the Kings Arms. By chance Chippy Steve and Gary were also in the pub one night.
  • Sara and Charlotte stayed over at Rachel’s house in Crewe, where Charlotte enjoyed playing with the dolls house and stealing Sian’s wine gums. :-@
  • I had another all dayer in Manchester with Rob, Stu, Phil and Max, ending up in the charming Wetherspoons pub on Piccadilly. #-o
  • Sara had a couple of nights out with Cathy and Karen.
  • The weather was great most of the time, we even managed a sunny day trip to Blackpool with Sara’s dad. b-)
  • We satisfied our cravings: Two curries at Vamasaki, two curries at Blue Tiffin, four dodgy kebabs, rag pudding at the Black Ladd, Hollands Cheese and Onion pie, black pudding, hairy pork scratchings, Pizza Hut, chips and gravy/curry, salt-and-pepper ribs…
  • … and over a hundred bags of crisps. :@)

We also had some business to take care of: closing some old bank accounts and carrying out an inspection of our old house on Ripponden Road, which is currently vacant again and desperately needs a lick of paint. :)]

We were stunned by how cheap things are in the UK. We’ve become used to having less choice and paying over the odds for groceries and clothes in Australia; our visit to the new HUGE Tesco on Huddersfield Road made us realise what we’re missing down under. The Aussie supermarkets are very poor in comparison. $-)

It was fantastic seeing everyone again but, as happened on our last visit, we just ran out of time and couldn’t visit everyone. :((

Luckily we managed to avoid the volcanic ash cloud and the British Airways strikes on our way home. I was back in work the next day, which forced me to adapt to the different time zone, but Sara and Charlotte are still struggling. It’s nice sleeping in your own bed though, after three weeks away from home. |-)

I’ll upload some photos to t’gallery when we’ve had a chance to sort through them.

Saturday in Munich

I’ve been wide awake since before 4am this morning, thanks to jet lag. So, after a quick breakfast at the hotel, I jumped on the S-Bahn and headed into the touristy part of Munich.

Unfortunately all the shops are closed until at least 9:30am on Saturday so the city was totally deserted, but it was very pleasant wandering around the old city, admiring the architecture with the church bells ringing out. Took a few photos.

A few coffees later, I grabbed a some essential supplies and took them back to the hotel. The public transport is so good here that it’s easy to just pop back with my toiletries, bottles of water and juice, rather than lugging them about with me all day. ~o)

No sign of Sara on Skype, no SMS from her (we ordered Tesco pre-paid SIMs a couple of weeks ago), no emails. I guess I’m not being missed at the moment. :)]

OK, back outside and it feels like beer-o-clock to me. But its only 11am, what shall I do? I see lots of locals wearing Bayern Munich replica shirts, they must be at home today. United aren’t playing until tomorrow afternoon, so I figure I’ll take a walk and go for some “lunch” somewhere where the Bayern fans might go.

The map tells me that the Augustiner Keller, Munich’s second largest beer garden — it can accommodate 8000 people, apparently — is only a short walk from the hotel, so off I go.

Wow. Fantastic place, great atmosphere, an oompah band, lots of singing Bayern fans, excellent Augustiner beer served in 1 litre measures. What’s not to like?

It reminded me of standing outside Lou Macari’s or in the Bishop’s Blaize at Old Trafford a few years ago, but without the oppressive policing or edgy atmosphere as if something’s always about to kick off.

They’ve got it absolutely right here: superb public transport to the ground from anywhere, cheap tickets (including safe standing areas), relaxed pre-match drinking and good food, without being ripped off or treated like a criminal. Even the weather is good.

I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I might just have another “mas helles”.

Sara — if you read this, give me a call, email or text.

Edit: Bayern Munich beat Bochum 3-1 today, all but securing the Bundelsiga title. The bars and restaurants were packed with happy Bavarians after the game.

The Journey From Hell… Not so bad

I had been dreading the flights back to England since the day we booked our tickets, knowing that Charlotte can’t keep still for 5 minutes let alone 21 hours. 😮

I needn’t have worried, she was brilliant. In the few weeks before travelling we kept telling her how we were going on an aeroplane to see Granny, how it was going to be a very long journey and how important it would be to keep her seatbelt fastened. She took it all in, pointing up at passing planes and mimicking exactly what we’d said. She even played aeroplanes in the house, lining up her little chairs with her Elmos as passengers.

We chose the right time of day to fly and packed plenty of things to keep her occupied. The sedatives (for her, not me) helped too. #:-s

On the plane, once she was in her pyjamas and had drank her milk, she conked out watching Mickey Mouse on the Playhouse Disney channel — just like she does at home. Sara and I snatched a brief hour or two, but Charlotte was out for the count. /:)

She got a bit fidgety during the last couple of hours on the longest leg, but Sara’s bagful of small new toys kept her entertained, although she wanted to slip out of her seat and play on the floor.

Altogether she ended up sleeping for two thirds of the time, including one of the take offs, both the landings, the whole of our transit time in Singapore and the bus between terminals at Heathrow.

We only had a couple of hours to kill before going our separate ways, so we played chase to tire her out for the final leg. I packed them off on their shuttle to Manchester and had only 15 minutes to cross Terminal 5 to catch my flight to Germany.

I’m typing this on my Blackberry on the train to the city centre — I felt wide awake when I landed, despite more than 36 hours on the road — so decided I didn’t need a taxi, as I knew exactly where I was going. I’ll tidy up this post and add some pictures when I get proper internet access at the hotel.

They found it!

As mentioned in the last blog post, Sara hasn’t been feeling too well recently. The doctor initially diagnosed an inner-ear infection, so Sara took the prescribed tablets and followed the recommended exercises, but the dizziness didn’t go away. After about six weeks of this, they finally referred her for an MRI scan.

We went to the Radiography Clinic at Maroondah Hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Whilst Charlotte “rearranged” the magazines in the waiting room, Sara went into the big scary machine so the doctors could photograph her brain. See picture, above.

Looking at this scan, although I’m not an expert in this field, I reckon there is normal sulcal anatomy and the lateral ventricles and basal cisterns are normal. The corpus callosum appears within normal limits as well and no pituitary or suprasellar pathology is seen. There is no posterior fossa mass lesion and the fourth ventricle is midline and symmetrical. No CP angle or prepontine pathology is seen. The seventh and eight cranial nerves are well visualised bilaterally. No acoustic scwannoma is iseen on either side. The membranous labyrinth appears normal bilaterally and no middle ear opacification is seen. The mastoid air cells are well aerated. There is an incidental finding of mucoperiosteal thickening and polyp formation in both maxillary antra with partial ethmoidal opacification on the right, with slight mucoperiosteal thickening involving the right frontal sinus. There is an additional incidental finding of asymmetry of the globes with prominence of the right globe when compared with the left. There is no proptosis and no intra or extra-conal mass lesion seen. There is normal patent flow void signal intensity within the intracranial vessels, and the diffusion weighted images are unremarkable. :d

So, basically, there’s nowt wrong with Sara’s brain and the doctor’s diagnosis of an viral infection still stands. He says it will clear itself up in due course. 🙂

Even though this is a relatively minor problem, when they start arranging brain scans you can’t help but worry. Thankfully Sara will be around for a while longer, so I won’t have to raise Charlotte on my own in a dirty hovel, dressing her in pyjamas all day and feeding her chocolate and bread until she’s old enough to run away and join the circus. Phew. #:-s

PS. I wonder how many hits this page is going to get because of people googling these medical terms!

A perfect end to a great week… not

The past week has been a nightmare. ~X(

It started last Saturday when Sara came down with an inner-ear infection which made her nauseous and dizzy. Obviously that meant she couldn’t really drive anywhere, so it’s been a pretty tough week and Charlotte’s usual routine has been affected. The doctor prescribed something to control the main symptoms, but it hasn’t really cleared the underlying problem at all, so another appointment is needed next week. :-&

Work wise, without going into detail, it has probably been one of the worst weeks I’ve ever experienced. A new major “challenge” to deal with every day, all caused by external factors. Long hours for me, a unhappy team, lots of complaints from users and knock-on delays to other important projects. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s a long weekend in Victoria — it’s the Labour Day public holiday on Monday — but we had a pre-scheduled IT maintenance day on Saturday which couldn’t be avoided, so it feels like we’ve missed out on the extra day’s rest x(

The icing on the cake, though, was the freak storm we had yesterday.

The weather was absolutely perfect as I was driving home from the office — 22 degrees, clear blue skies. I actually considered taking the roof off the Land Rover and taking Sara and Charlotte for a scenic afternoon drive out to Buxton. But almost as soon as I got home the clouds rolled in overhead, it turned pitch black and the heavens opened like I’ve never, ever seen before. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain and… hailstone.

When you hear people say “hailstone the size of golf balls” you take it with a pinch of salt, but I swear these ones were even bigger — well, just look at the picture above. The sound of them pinging off the roof was incredible, like a machine gun. %-(

Here is a youtube clip showing what it was like elsewhere in Melbourne — it was much, much worse where we live. We genuinely thought the house would be seriously damaged. :-ss

Once the main storm had blown over, our garden looked like someone had crumbled polystyrene all over it. We noticed that a huge gum tree had fallen down at the end of our street, landing on the electricity and telecommunications lines — our lights had flickered a few times during the storm but we didn’t actually lose power. We only lost cable TV and internet, fortunately. We drove around the corner to the CFA to let them know, then went to get some takeaway food. Driving around was surreal, the hailstone had washed gravel and stones onto the roads, shredded overhanging trees and damaged a lot of property.

This morning I checked the house and cars for damage. Except for the leaves and branches, the only visible damage is a couple of holes in the laserlite roof above the patio — not worth claiming on the household insurance, we’ll just fix it ourselves.

However… both our cars are now covered with dents from the huge hailstones. I’ve got a couple on my roof and half a dozen on the bonnet; Sara has about ten all over her Micra — it looks like somebody has been at it with a toffee hammer. A few neighbours are in the same boat and, unfortunately, the guy across the street might also need to replace the bank of solar panels he put on his roof just last week.

So, 2x insurance claims to make, 2x $500 excesses to pay, 2x repairs to arrange and 2x increased premiums next year. $-)

It’s been a shit week, actually. >:p

Charlotte’s 2nd Birthday

Charlotte is two years old today. <:-p To celebrate the occasion we hired "Croc's Play Centre" at Knox yesterday and invited around 20 of her little friends from her playgroup and Sara's mum's group. They all had a whale of a time on the climbing frames, slides, ball pools and bouncy castle. It was chaos! :-t We also had a fantastic Elmo birthday cake made by a local shop, which went down really well. (It came up well too, when Jack spewed up all over the floor!) :-&

Charlotte got loads of great presents — a pram (for Elmo), a doctor’s kit, a tea set, clothes, lots of books, play-doh, a drum set and a Wiggles guitar, to name but a few of them. :d

We took plenty of photos and video, so I’ve just thrown a short movie clip together. Right-click and choose “Save Target As” on this link to download the video clip (41Mb).

Happy New Year 2010…
… and we’re coming back for a UK holiday

Happy New Year everyone. <:-p I'm a bit late uploading this video clip, which shows Charlotte over the past 3 months. As I was putting it together, I realised that there are probably more photos of Charlotte contained in this one short clip than there are of me covering my entire life. :-?? But the main reason for this post is to let you all know that we are coming back to England for a holiday. \:d/ I have to go to Germany on business at the beginning of May, so Sara and Charlotte will be coming along too. We'll split up when we reach London: they'll get a shuttle up to Manchester and I'll hop over to Munich for a week. Once I'm finished there, I'll fly over to Manchester for two more weeks. We all fly back to Melbourne on 23rd May. We must be bloody crazy to bring an energetic two year old on a 24 hour flight, I'm dreading it already. Any tips? 😮 So, it's time to start planning our visit, we're really looking forward to catching up with everyone. 🙂 Right-click and choose "Save Target As" on this link to download the video clip (higher quality, 63Mb).

Carols by Candlelight

We went to the “Carols by Candlelight” event at The Basin park on Saturday evening. Basically it’s an outdoor concert with various schools and community groups singing Christmas carols. A lot of suburbs hold these sort of events each year.

The organisers — the local CFA — built a stage and laid on a few stalls selling food and drinks, glow-sticks and candles. It’s a really popular event, there must’ve been a couple of thousand people on the park when we arrived at around 8pm.

Charlotte stayed up well past her usual bed time, running about the park in her pyjamas. Caitlin was singing with her school mates. =d>

Although it’s difficult to get into the Christmas spirit — sunshine and hot weather in December will never feel right — this event really put us in the festive mood. It was really nice to just wander up the road and sit on the grass listening to the music. \:d/

Next year we’ll know what to expect and take some fold-up chairs and a picnic basket.

One Two Five Six Nine… Go!

Charlotte seems to be going through a chatterbox stage at the moment. A few months ago I actually thought she was a bit too quiet, but I needn’t have worried because she’s certainly come out of her shell. Every morning she wakes up at the crack of dawn, gabbing away quietly and singing to herself in her cot, then banging and shouting until we get up to set her free.

She counts everything she does, whether it’s the number of steps she’s climbing or each item she pulls out of her toy box — sometimes she skips a few numbers along the way (as in the title of this post) or repeats her favourite ones a couple of times, but she goes through them all eventually. Everyone is commenting on how much she’s changed recently.

Charlotte’s vocabulary is growing every single day, it’s amazing. She still throws in a few made-up words and she gets frustrated when you don’t understand what she’s telling you. But she definitely knows how to get what she wants. I’ve listed all the ones I can think of at the moment, there’s probably a lot more:

No — this is definitely her favourite word
Crump (Crumpet) — she drops the last part of words quite a lot
All gone — i.e. I’ve finished my food, or I don’t know where something is
Tea — anything that mummy or daddy are drinking
Elmo — her best friend
Yog (Yoghurt)
Nah (Banana)
Shiny Show — she says it perfectly, but means “put my tv channel on”
Cook (Big Cook Little Cook) — another Cbeebies favourite
Fims (Fimbles)
Nick — she doesn’t say Dad much
Cock (Clock)
Poo — current favourite is “I’ve poo”, whilst removing her own nappy
See you
Hair — she can identify all parts of the body now
Crocs — she always gets her little clogs, but you usually mean socks
Jama (Pyjamas)
Pic (Picture)
Green — she doesn’t do colours yet, but says green now and again
Car — recognises mummy’s car in a packed car park, but likes daddy’s car best
Sheep + Baa — she’s really good at animal noises
Cow + Moo — if she doesn’t know the real answer, she always guesses at “Moo”
Lion + Roar
Dog + Woof
Chicken + Cluck — she does the actions for cluck
Duck + Quack
Cat + Miaow
El (Elephant) — and the actions for a trunk
Mic (Music) — usually pointing at the radio whilst bouncing on the bed
Fow (Flower)
Cold — usually accompanied with a pretend shiver
Hot — hot food, hot slide, hot weather
Hide — her favourite game, the giggling from behind the curtains gives her away
Pop — bubbles in the bath
Sweep — whilst grabbing the mop bucket or broom
Mine — when she doesn’t want to let go of something