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Preschooler Craft: Fun with clay

DS’s clay carrots and potatoes, made at Peel Pottery in Mandurah.

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Scribbles from our Travels: Day 11 – Perth – Singapore

Today is our last day in Australia and we have to be at the airport by 1:30pm. We decide to just drive around Swan Valley and see where the wind takes us.

DH sees the name Bell’s Rapids on the map and suggests we check it out.

Not very rapid, haha, but that’s to be expected in winter I guess. 🙂  [Bells Rapids is a popular viewing location for the annual Avon Descent whitewater race.]

While we’re there, DH and I spot a tiny hole in the soil where ants are crawling out. It’s fascinating, and we stand there for some time, observing them. They’re quite big in size… I imagine a bite from one of these fellows would probably sting something fierce.

So engrossed were we, little did we realise that the whole slope was swarming with busy ants until we suddenly turned around and saw that the slope appeared to be “moving”. Yeeeks! It was like a scene from a B-movie!

Ok lah, not really. They were big but they weren’t human-sized ants or anything of the sort. But it still gave me the heebie jeebies for a while.

Luckily the kids are safely in the car!

We also drive around Brigadoon, a township in the Swan Valley area.

It’s horse country, we drive past one estate after another, each with multiple paddocks and a horse or two in each of the paddocks. Out of curiosity, we also pop into the Equestrian Club. There was a girl dressed in full riding gear, trotting a horse around the field.  The kids wanted to watch for awhile, so we stayed for about 5 minutes before driving off.

We’ve been really fortunate to get a close-up view of horses this trip. 

That aside, in general, I think it’s been a very enriching experience for both ourselves and the kids – we’ve seen and learnt so much in the space of the 11 days spent in Western Australia.  

*****

When we reached the airport, we found out that DH’s clay bowl was broken. It was a shame, because we’d tried our best to carry the two bowls carefully all the way since Mandurah to here. 😦

I was disconsolate. But DH philosophically reminded me, that maybe that was just one more thing to learn from the pottery.

Unfired clay isn’t all that durable until it’s passed through the intense firing in the kiln. In a similar fashion, for us to be able to withstand the pressures of the world, “hard-pressed on every side but not crushed”, we, the clay, need to also be subject to the purifying fire of God’s kiln.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-9.

(In case you get the wrong impression that I am calm and spiritual all the time, let me say, I am not. 

I was really upset. I sat brooding for twenty minutes on a corner bench in the airport, with a face like thunder. In that space of time:-

I took out the broken pieces of the pottery to see if there was any chance they could be glued back together. Not a hope.

I wished so hard that it was mine that had been broken, and not DH’s because his was the nicer of the two.  Wishing and hoping and hoping and wishing – to what end?

I analysed to death every minute and every second, from the point I’d packed the bowls to loading the luggage in the car to see if I could pinpoint when it could have cracked. But I guess that’s why it’s called analysis paralysis…it doesn’t move a single nanosecond of time backward to reverse what has been done.

I tried to rationalise what DH said, to console myself – that without firing, the clay was still fairly weak and there’d be traces of powder in our palms every time we handled the bowls. And so, if the bowl hadn’t broken in the car, it may have broken in the airport, or in the overhead luggage compartment, or in the airport when we reached Singapore, or…

In short, it took me a looong while to get over it. So, I didn’t actually look this verse up and consider the life application, until some time after we’d reached home from the trip.) 

*****

We touched down in Singapore at 9:05pm. I always love coming back. Changi Airport has got to be the most efficient and friendliest airport in the world.
I don’t know of any other airport in the world where one can clear immigration and customs, pick up luggage from the belt, AND be in the car on the highway back home within 30 minutes.

It has been a fun and adventurous trip but it feels good…real good, to be home.  🙂

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 10 – Whiteman Park – Swan Valley

We’re in Whiteman Park – I forgot to take pictures of the playground structures but they have a couple of well-designed ones that provide a good challenge to children to develop self-confidence and train up their problem-solving skills to navigate their way up the structures.

If you need to make a choice between the train or tram rides at Whiteman Park, I’d recommend the tram.

Why?

Because on the tram ride, the driver and conductor are more easily accessible to chat with the passengers, tell us about how the tram works and answer any questions we have about the trams in general. On the train, it’s just us and the other passengers, and the driver is in the engine up front so there is less opportunity to learn something about the train.

Shane, the conductor of the tram, gives us a really informative discourse on trams.  It was a highly interesting conversation, and below are the snippets I managed to recall:-

  • The Whiteman Park tram is a Melbourne W2 electric tram model.  The proceeds from ticket and souvenir sales on this tram are directed towards the cost of restoration of a couple of Perth and Fremantle tram models by the Perth Electric Tramway Society.
  • The tram has a rope that runs across the ceiling.  This rope is used to communicate messages to the driver.  One pull signifies that passengers are boarding.  Two pulls means “ready to move”.  Three pulls is used to alert the driver that there is an emergency. Four pulls means that the tram is full and should not stop for any more passengers.
  • Melbourne, Perth and Fremantle trams are all designed differently.
  • Melbourne trams have two saloons, one at each end and the middle is a drop floor which has a back-to-back seating arrangement.  
  • Perth and Fremantle trams are built with saloons throughout and no drop floor. 
  • On Perth trams, the seats face one way only, so if the tram reaches the end of the line, then passengers are seated in the opposite facing, when the tram travels back along the line.
  • Fremantle trams have seats that can face either way, so when the tram reaches the last station, it is the duty of the conductor to run through the carriage and flip the seats to face the direction the tram will be travelling next.  However, the seats are not in perfect alignment, so he has to be careful not to get his fingers caught when running down the carriage. 
  • Perth and Fremantle trams use manual brakes with three separate settings – engage, hold and release.  This means that the driver has to go through these three steps each time, whereas Melbourne trams are built with a single braking mechanism, which allows for smoother driving.
  • The “steering wheel” in a tram is not meant to steer the tram – it is actually the brakes which are applied only in an emergency.  The tram is operated by a lever, which works somewhat like a dimmer switch, i.e. if you turn it more towards the right, the tram will go faster.

 

We almost didn’t take the tram. Sitting at lunch, we wondered, “How different is the tram from the train ride anyway? They both run on rails.  And although it’s a different circuit (round the park), the bushland scenery is pretty similar.”  

But. As we walked past it, on our way to the car park, DS asks if he can ride on it. 

Hmm. The ride isn’t expensive and he gets on for free.  We ask the conductor when the tram leaves next. And he says, “In about half a minute, as soon as the driver gets back.”  And the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂  

I’m really glad we rode the tram. 🙂

*****     

On our way back from Whiteman Park, we stop at Coles to get some fish to cook for dinner. But it turns out that the whole Bassendean Shopping Centre is closed on Sundays! Alamak…how?

Then DH spots this Fish n Treats corner store. So we walk in, hoping to buy some cooked fish instead.

The proprietor recognises our accents and identifies us to be from Singapore. We strike up a conversation and he tells us that his family migrated from Singapore years back, and now they hold Australian citizenship.

As we leave, he hands us the wrapped package containing the cobbler and barramundi fillets that we’ve ordered, and tells us that he’s included some complimentary chips as well. That was really nice of him.  😀

We pop by home and leave the wrapped package on the dining table – dinner settled, yippee!

*****

The kids awake from their nap in the car, so we decide to visit Cape Lavender for some scones and tea.

The scones are good. The jam is also infused with lavender, so that makes for a twist on the usual strawberry flavour.

We also order a tier tray to share.

The only thing that spoils the experience is the service quality (or lack thereof). The lady attending the tables never smiles.

And she wasn’t very friendly or forthcoming in locating a table for us. We found ourselves a table for two and squashed our party of five around it, because she said we weren’t allowed to pull extra chairs up to our table. (???).  Anyway, shortly afterward, a larger group vacates their table so we shift to the other table.

I thought lavender is supposed to make one feel relaxed and happy, not morose and taciturn. Maybe it’s just an off day for her, but if that were the case, I guess for today she wasn’t a very effective poster girl to the tourist crowd for the products they’re selling… *shrug*

There are some paddocks nearby with horses in them. After tea, we stroll around and one of the horses comes right up to the fence and allows us to pat him.

He looks a little like the horse in the watercolour illustrations from a book in our collection – “Horse”, written by Malachy Doyle and illustrated by Angelo Rinaldi.

Can you imagine the joy on our little horse enthusiast’s face? 😀

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 9 – Perth King’s Park

Today we start towards the last leg of our holiday – back to Perth.
It’s an easy drive back up north towards the city and we reach Kings Park at about 10.45am.

We stroll around the park a little, looking at all the plants and find this one – I forget the name that was inscribed on the metal plate, but it’s a good reminder of a book we’ve been reading about plants, “Ladybird Read it Yourself: Amazing Plants”, which describes the life cycle of a plant from seed to sprout, then leaves and flowers and fruit and back to seed again.

This is a stone wall that is part of the Court of Contemplation war memorial monument in the park, commemorating the lives of Western Australians slain in conflicts.  The walls feature the names of major battlefields. You can see a better picture of the memorial on this link.

While we’re standing at the wall, DH suddenly recalls something he was told, although he doesn’t remember who told it to him. If one of you stands at one end of the wall, and the other at the other end, and you speak into the bricks, you can hear each other as if you’re standing right next to the person.

So, just for the fun of it, we try that, and it works!
How do you explain that? I don’t know but it’s tons of fun – the kids were surprised at first, and then they couldn’t get enough of it after the first time.

*****

It starts to rain heavily after that so everyone sprints helter skelter for shelter. We run into the park café, and sit down to wait for DH’s parents, who’ve arranged to meet us there.

The café staff are just removing the breakfast menus and getting the place ready for lunch, so we can just literally sit back and not be pressured to order while waiting. Great timing. 😉

We have a leisurely lunch, after all, with it pouring cats and dogs outside, there’s effectively nowhere else to go.

And then we decide to meet up again for dinner in the city.

Dinner is at Corner Café – an Asian restaurant at Hay Street, which can’t make up its mind whether it sells Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese food. 🙂 We order a steamed fish fillet in Thai sauce, sweet and sour pork, stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and kuey teow chicken noodle soup, with servings of white rice all around.

Piping hot comfort food that’s close to the heart of home, on a cold winter’s evening – indescribable!

The rest of the night is spent with all of us sprawled on the queen bed in our unit, watching Kungfu Panda, the movie. It’s one of the kids’ current favourites.

*****

Oh I have to tell you about our unit in Perth Vineyards Holiday Park.

We booked a six-sleeper cabin, but when we first arrived at our unit, I almost wanted to double back to reception to ask if we could upgrade to a bigger one.

This metal container can sleep six? How? Opening the sliding door, we walk into a space where a two seater sofa is backed against the wall. Beside it is a queen sized bed with two bedside tables. At the end of the bed is the kitchen, and beside that, directly opposite the sofa, is a round dining table. Bathroom’s at the far end. Beside the bathroom is the bedroom with four bunk beds in a L-shaped configuration.

The ceiling is low – I can touch it if I jump and stretch my hand up.  Next time I use the phrase “cabin fever”, I can back up my statement with a real life experience! 😉

I’m the only one feeling claustrophobic though. DH is indifferent, Mum is busy checking out the kitchen. The kids are thoroughly delighted; they’ve immediately made themselves at home at the top bunks.

At the end of the day, everyone sleeps really well, and Mum says the cooking facilities and utensils are cleaner than the ones in our unit in Mandurah. Heater and hot water in the bath are top-notch.

The place didn’t look impressive at the start but turns out to be more comfortable and better equipped than our motel unit in Mandurah, which looked impressive on the surface until we started testing the facilities.

A good reminder to me, that I should never judge a book by its cover. 🙂

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 8 – Lake Clifton – Halls Head

Today we’re driving to Yalgorup National Park to see thrombolites.

A lot of place names end with “up” – Yallingup, Cowaramup, Meelup, Yalgorup. “Up” in Nyyongar Aboriginal language means “a place of”. “Yalgor” means “a swamp or lake”. So, a place of swamp or lake.

This is because Yalgorup National Park protects 10 lakes that run in a chain – Lake Preston, Swan Pond, Duck Pond, Boundary Lake, Lake Pollard, Martins Tank Lake, Lake Yalgorup, Lake Hayward, Newnham Lake and Lake Clifton.

Lake Clifton is a very elongated lake spanning about a quarter(?) of the length of the Old Coast Road that leads from Mandurah.

The thrombolites, which are found on the eastern edge of the lake, are rock-like structures apparently built by micro-organisms too small for the human eye to see. Within these structures are living communities of diverse inhabitants with population densities of 3,000 per sq metre.

It’s intriguing, but it also sends shivers down my spine a little.

DH says it looks like a scene from the movie, Alien. 😛

*****

After the visit to Lake Clifton, we drive to Miami Bakehouse for lunch.

This episode is so funny I just have to recount it.

We picked up these cards at the Tourist Information Centre in town.

They entitle the bearer to one complimentary cup of tea or coffee, so we took three of these cards, one each for the adults. We order our pies and when paying, furnish our cards to redeem the coffee.

Whilst they do give us our free coffees – one decaf flat white, one latte and one cappuccino, DH says that he overheard the cashier complaining about the cards.

Now isn’t that a strange business model – why print complimentary coffee cards and leave them freely at the tourist i-centre if you’re not happy for people to use it?

And even if you do, there’s nothing on the card that legally binds you to include premium coffees, I’d have had no issue if they had said the complimentary would only be a standard black coffee, any requests for premium stuff would require a cash top-up. 

There’s more – if one wanted to be thoroughly exacting, the card should state “limited to one coffee per person”, not “one coffee per card”.  Can you imagine if someone turned up with like, I dunno, thirty cards, and wanted to redeem all thirty of them! 

Okay, I think I’ve quite analysed the verbiage to death…

Anyway, these cards are stamped with a validity of up to 31 Aug 2011…so if you happen to be in Perth or Mandurah, and happen to be near the tourist i-centre, you know how and where to get a free specialty coffee. 😉

My personal opinion is that Dunsborough Bakery‘s pies are much better though. The difference between them is that the Dunsborough meat pies have more chunky meat pieces inside, whereas the Miami Bakehouse ones are mostly gravy.  Depends on what one’s preference is, at the end of the day. I like chunky. 🙂

*****

After lunch, we drive to Peel Pottery Studio in Darley Grove, Halls Head. The brochure says that they do demonstrations and allow children to make their own clay pieces to bring home.

It sounds like a promising and fun activity, so we rung up Murray Lewis, the owner, earlier today and have made an appointment for 2pm.

Murray meets us at the gate and we chat a bit about his garden. The hibiscuses, (Malaysia’s national flower) in his garden are way bigger than the ones in Malaysia. He also proudly shows us three pumpkins growing in the vegetable patch.

In the pottery studio, Murray hands the kids a blob of clay each to play with, and then he sets up the spinning base, draws a lump of brown ordinary looking clay from an amorphous pile in a bucket, puts the clay onto the wheel and starts spinning the base. How fast the base spins is dependent on the amount of pressure the potter puts onto the pedal – pressing down more speeds the wheel up.

We watch, mesmerised as a tallish bowl begins to take shape and results in a beautiful, refined vessel – ready to be left to dry and fired in the kiln.

Next, Murray offers DH a try at making his own piece of pottery. He tells DH that he’s very good for a first-timer. After that, it’s my turn. He tells me that I shouldn’t give up my day job. Ah, drat… 😉

Some things I learnt today about pottery (on its own as well as from the biblical angle):-

  • It’s not easy to shape the clay while the wheel is spinning. The potter has to apply a fair amount of pressure to get the starting shape he is looking for. Too little gets one nowhere. Too much causes the clay to go out of shape.
  • I had to focus and pay attention. If I got distracted just a little, my bowl would be history. It would just turn into another lump of clay. Which did happen – one side of the the rim of my bowl went completely out of shape, because I accidentally took my fingers off the side. So Murray stepped in and helped to reshape the rim again.
  • Pottery requires patience, patience and more patience. It takes a lot of patience to shape, refine, shape again, refine again, and keep repeating the process until the desired curvature, diameter and height are achieved.
  • It takes a few days for the clay to properly dry out and firm up. However, an air-dried clay vessel, although fairly firm is still very fragile as any very light pressure exerted, e.g. just carrying the bowl, will result in some clay residue or powder coming off in my hands.
  • For a clay vessel to be optimally hardy for actual usage, it needs to go through the fire of the kiln. Which is around 450-950 degrees Celsius.

~~~~~

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

~~~~~

Am I glad that He is the master potter, and my life is in His hands, and not my own clumsy ones!

I’m bowled over (pun entirely accidental, heh) – the kids have had fun and we got ourselves a free-of-charge but invaluable experience today.

We get to bring home the clay bowls we made (the larger one is DH’s), plus a life-lesson that has made the biblical analogy of God being the potter and us being the clay, more real to me. I will remember this for life.  🙂

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 7 – Busselton (finally!) – Mandurah

Today we have to drive north anyway, so we make one last attempt in Busselton to try our luck. What d’ya know – the jetty train is operating! Yay!

The UWO is still closed but on chatting with a staff member at the counter, I’m told, in reality it doesn’t really open in winter, the peak season when the UWO is open daily is really in summer time.  This is because, in order for the water to have sufficiently clear visibility to view the underwater reef, there needs to be several consecutive days of good weather.  Which you can get in sunny summer, but not in typically rainy winter!

Ahh.  So now, you know too! Nowhere on the internet has anyone has said anything about this and the website says it is open all year round.  Not true!  While it does caveat with the phrase “weather permitting”, this now gives us a little more clarity what the phrase really means. 🙂

We buy tickets for the 12pm train and since we have 45 minutes to spare, we quickly run to settle an early lunch.

There is only one restaurant within walking distance of the jetty, the other is an ice-cream café that sells regular white bread sandwiches at what I’d consider expensive prices for a small serving. 

So we walk into “The Goose”.  Cute name…I forgot to ask them why it’s called that.

The waitress informs us that lunch won’t start till 12, and currently they are offering only the breakfast menu. A quick glance at the prices shows the breakfast menu is cheaper anyway. Heh, even better – I love having an excuse to eat breakfast for lunch. 😉

Time flies and 11:50 creeps up on us!  Here comes the train returning from the other end of the jetty. Cue to settle bill!

While DH makes payment, I shovel the last mouthful of bacon and eggs into my mouth(I know, terribly unladylike…but I’ve a train to catch), grab a napkin, wrap my toast in it, and shepherd the kids out.

DS is so thrilled with the train ride, he can’t stop grinning. DD is busy experimenting with Daddy’s camera and taking pictures of us all – she’s getting to be a real pro photographer.

I cuddle the two of them and sigh happily as I lean back in my seat, munch my toast and hum the song, “It’s a happy day, and I praise God for the weather…”

After our train ride, we hang around the beach a little while, chasing seagulls and other birds, and picking up little pebbles, seashells, pine needles and other assorted treasures from the ground. All’s well and calm till DS puts his fingers into some bird droppings…eeeeeerrrggh!!

*****

After Busselton, we drive north to Mandurah. And we find out that the place where we’re booked in – Comfort Inn Crest Mandurah – is under acquisition by another motel chain. What this means:

  • The reception was closed. We drove round and round the city and marina area trying to find the acquirer’s reception to collect our keys. Grr.
  • The laundry facilities were locked.
  • The place was fairly deserted. Only a few other cars were parked outside the other self-contained units.
  • Although our unit had fairly large rooms with comfy beds, the heater unfortunately was not working properly, and neither were the hot showers. 😦 DS had a rude shock when the water suddenly turned freezing cold in the midst of his bath, and our nights were cooooold!

What an experience… I’ve never stayed in a place that is in the midst of being taken over. 

I hope they will repair the necessary – the place is really quite nice, barring the poor facilities maintenance, but I suppose that’s just part and parcel of the process of acquisition.

Looking on the brighter side though, driving round and round the marina gave us the opportunity to ooh and aah over the massive luxury homes in the canals, each with one, some with two, or three(!) boats moored in their own private berths. 

Talk about living in the lap of luxury – one driveway and garage to park your multiple cars, and one private jetty to park your multiple boats!

This trip has been full of adventure – date changes, weather unpredictability, fallen trees, motel takeovers – it’s our most eventful family trip to date! 😉

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 6 – Dunsborough – Geographe Bay – Margaret River

DH’s parents are leaving for Perth this morning to visit with friends, so we will be going separate ways from here till the end of our trip. The weather report from Busselton is still not positive…sigh…so we scan the map to try and make alternative plans for the day (again!)

We decide to drive to Dunsborough to try out those famed meat pies.

They’re pretty good. We liked the steak and pepper best – even the kids although they found it spicy!

A good number of locals pop in to purchase a pie or pastry for lunch, or buy a loaf of bread home.

The rainy day is a bit of a dampener though, we can’t do much except walk around the town a little, let the kids ride a coin-operated carousel in the shopping centre and then run back into the car. Mum purchases a $2.50 pack of 34 farm animal pieces for the children.

*****

We drive around a little and find ourselves along a coastal road that runs beside an inlet. The road sign says Geographe Bay or something to that effect.

It makes for a nice scenic stop to give the kids their lunch and let them run around a little on the grass.  A family of ducks swims by while we are there. 

DD asks if there are sharks in the sea waters beyond the inlet. (In our visit to the Planet Shark exhibition at the Science Centre, we’d read that Australian waters have a lot of sharks…). 

I refer to a brochure we’d picked up at the Tourist Information Centre. It says that turtles, rays and sharks can be found in the waters of Geographe Bay.  So DD is right. 🙂

Mum goes off to explore the walking trail to see if there is a way to walk out onto the little breakwater-like piece of land in the middle of the inlet.  She returns fifteen minutes later and says there isn’t, but that there is still a good stretch of road down that warrants some exploration.

With the rain starting up again, we all pile back into the car and go driving down the road.  There are some interesting homes to view, and almost all of them have a boat in the garden.  The road also has several turn offs that lead to boat ramps down to the water.  It’s been a pleasant drive, but it’s almost 2pm now, so we decide to head back to Margaret River.

*****

We drive back down Caves Road and along the way, we go past Swings and Roundabouts, and see a sign out that says “Wood fired pizzas 12-3pm”.

Should we? It certainly sounds a more interesting proposition than “going back home to do, um….(what?)”.

So we reverse the car and turn into the parking lot.

The winery has a very relaxed vibe, decked out with some worn but comfy sofas, and boardgames, books and crayons on tables beside the sofas.

We chat a little with the lady at the counter and taste some wines. Order a pizza and soup to share. The kids open up their present and are busy playing with their new farm animals set.

And we spend the rest of the afternoon just kicking back and relaxing, as it continues to rain intermittently outside. It turns out to be a splendid afternoon – indoors on a rainy day with good company, a supply of recreational games and food and drinks.

It seems as if we have sat there for all afternoon, but it’s only three when we get up to leave. I know that because the Italian guy who made the pizzas was just putting on his coat and waving goodbye to the proprietor.

Whoa – to be able to live like that…arrive at work at 12, make some pizzas and soup, leave at 3…shiok, man. Why can’t we live this kind of lifestyle in Singapore….hahaha!

*****

We return to Sunflowers and bring the kids out on their daily trek to feed the animals again. When we return to our unit, mum comes to the door to greet us, and suddenly exclaims in delight – there is a rainbow in the sky!

At about the same time, because the tv was switched on, we hear news that the airport may potentially be reopened tomorrow, as the ash cloud looks to be clearing.

We spend some time admiring the rainbow, and counting and listing the colours. I ask DD if she remembers the rainbow she drew with her new markers a couple of weeks back. How cool is that to be able to revisit our little science lesson so soon!  😀

And this, is the picture that I said was framed by God, and that we’ll be sure to give a special place in our travel scrapbook.

As DH and I stand and watch the rainbow slowly fade, we talk about how the rainbow is a gentle reminder of God’s providence and protection over us.

Truly, He has faithfully watched over us each and every step of this trip. Blessed be His holy name.