Back to School

Today my big almost-four year old girl woke up cheering – “School today!!”. She was so excited to get back into the swing of preschool (which is quite intense, five mornings a week in HK so more like school) and play and learn, because she is a born nerd like her Mum. And just like that our endless summer came to an end.

Only a Mum can tell you how much a three year old can grow up and change in three months, and so it was a different little girl we dropped at the door this morning. My heart was in my throat a little bit because, what would I do without her?! She’s been my little sidekick this summer as we’ve gotten to know this crazy city. And yes it’s been long, and I could have killed her at times, but I am going to MISS her. I mean surely just yesterday it was me and her against the world, when her brother was just a star in the sky and her Dad was working way too hard? Sometimes you can just feel the time slipping through your fingers, you can sense it, and I’m having one of those moments right now.

But there are bonuses to the whole back-to-school thing. It means getting back into a routine, getting some structure back into our days, which I think is really good for my mental health. It also means little Walter gets his time in the spotlight. “The Destroyer” as his Dad calls him is signed up to “Little Kickers” and gymnastics AND music! I’m excited to spend the mornings with him and then some time with Heike in the afternoons once our helper starts in a few weeks.

I’m also looking forward to doing some things for myself. I feel like I have been a bit of a slave to my children for the last few months and while I love them I’d quite like to not go insane. I like my sanity, thanks. So I’m going to book in some manicures and some hair appointments and some long hikes. I’ve also just done a bit of freelance work and have some more lined up, so it will be nice to not have to feel like I’m just-barely fitting everything in all the time. Breathing room.

Also let’s face it, I get a break from Madame for a few hours each day! I’m not going to lie the house is lovely and quiet.

But anyway, my little girl, my big kid, my preschooler. I’m so proud of you, my science-loving, tree-hugging, sometimes impossible, fiercely independent daughter! Have a great year at school pretty girl – I sense big things in your future. But for now enjoy learning how to hold a pencil.

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Do you have any little ones starting school? Any tears?

Z x

Five Easy Outings with Kids in Hong Kong

With two kids in the under-5 age group I find my day is often split into halves – Walter still naps through the middle of the day and Heike is still young enough that she’s exhausted after a full day out. Plus during school terms she’s at school half days anyway. So we’re usually either out in the mornings or out in the afternoons, or both, but we’re always home for lunch and a rest in the middle of the day.

In Sydney this was easy – we’d walk to our favourite cafe for coffees and babyccinos, go to the playground and walk home. Repeat in the afternoon. Repeat the following day. Of course there was some variation occasionally, like ballet class or a different park (!!) but that was our general routine. I find Hong Kong much more difficult. For starters, walking to a playground is often not possible (our local is up an extremely steep hill and currently mosquito infested) and the heat can mean it’s not pleasant. It can also be quite a difficult place to get around – no one has cars, the stairs make strollers a nightmare and the hills make for tired Mums and kids!

Gradually though I’ve discovered a few outings that are relatively stress free for me and fun for the kids. They also take around 3 hours which I think is the perfect time for little ones. I like to get out in the mornings and spend the afternoons at home doing crafts, or having playdates with friends, so I’ve shared them with you as morning activities but can also be done in the afternoons!

Kennedy Town Pool

Catch the bus or MTR to Kennedy Town and stroll over to Kennedy Town pool. Use your Octopus card for entry (Adults $17 Kids $8). Pop your things in a family locker ($5 coin deposit) and use a family changeroom to get changed (these are life savers if you have crazy kids like mine who can’t be trusted in a large changeroom!). Kennedy Town pool has a great kids area that will keep your kids entertained for hours, but we usually stay for about an hour as that’s my limit with a one year old! Head back to the family changerooms, then take a snack and some water across the road to the great kids playground. Make life easy on yourself and take a taxi home!

Happy Valley Playground

Catch the tram from Central to Happy Valley. It’s slow, but it’s cheap and the kids will enjoy it. Once there, walk to the Eric Kayser bakery on Ventris Road for coffee (you) and pastries (kids). Then walk down to the large outdoor playground on Wong Nai Chung road, just outside the race course. If you still have energy after your play, take the kids to the Chameleon Palace on Shan Kwong road – a very cool pet shop with loads of reptiles including giant turtles for sale.

Pacific Place

Pack some bubbles in your bag and head to Level Four Pacific Place. Just outside, close to the taxi rank, is Petit Cafe, as well as a large outdoor area. Get some morning tea and let the kids run around with bubble wands for a while – you can also use this as a way to keep the kids happy when you need to grab groceries at Great or birthday presents at Wise Kids. If you have more time to kill, take the lift up to the Shangri La and walk across to Hong Kong Park. You can walk along the flat past the water feature and ponds until you almost hit the CitiBank building – take a taxi home from here.

Baumhaus

Since we spend half our time here I have to include Baumhaus, which is also in the Admiralty area, just across the road from PP3 on Queen’s Road East. Head here with the kids and have a coffee while they entertain themselves in the amazing treehouse play area. Then walk up Wing Fung street and have an early lunch at Pizza Express before heading home.

Repulse Bay/Stanley

Pack the kids’ bikes and scooters and take the number 6 bus to either Repulse Bay or Stanley. Sit upstairs so you can appreciate the amazing views this bus ride offers. Both locations have amazing playgrounds with lots of space to scoot or ride around. Don’t bother packing bathing suits – too much effort for a Mum on her own and the kids will enjoy just playing. There are always loads of other kids around and there’s a Classified right by both playgrounds where you can buy a coffee (notice that almost every suggestion features coffee?!). Take a taxi home.

These are all outings I’ve made a few times (some more than a few) that rarely involve unnecessary stress and don’t end in the kids begging me to buy something or crying because they don’t want to go home. I hope you and your little ones enjoy them as much as we do!

What do you and your kids like to do in Hong Kong? Any suggestions?

Z

Mum’s Banana Cake

Hello and a happy Tuesday to all! Tuesdays have always been my least favourite day of the week, ever since my Mum used to work on Tuesday afternoons when we were kids. I hated her not being there when we got home from school and not being around for dinner time. Yes, I was spoilt!

Now I just don’t like Tuesdays because, well, Tuesdays but actually my playgroup meets on Tuesday afternoons in Hong Kong and we do enjoy that, so as a day it’s looking up. Today is also made brighter by the fact that I baked one of my Mum’s famous banana cakes yesterday and I’ve just had two slices for lunch. I know, I’m making excellent lunch choices.

My Mum’s banana cake is famous because it’s generally awesome, but two things really make it a stand out – it is lovely and dark and moist, and it has a very distinct chocolate-coffee icing. Those who’ve never tried it will always question the icing choice only to always turn around 60 seconds later and proclaim it outstanding.

So, I thought I would share this family secret with you as it is so easy, it’s the perfect way to get rid of those bananas that blacken within 24 hours in hot Hong Kong kitchens.

Mum’s Banana Cake

Ingredients

  • 60g butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • 1 1/2 cups SR flour
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda
  • 2 TBSP milk

For the icing…

  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 TBSP water
  • 2 TBSP cocoa (roughly…I never measure it)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • Milk

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius
  • Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixture until smooth. Add beaten egg.
  • Add mashed bananas one at a time.
  • Fold through dry ingredients. Lastly, mix through the milk.
  • Place mixture in a greased 20cm round tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to cool in tin for 5-10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
  • For the icing, mix the instant coffee and water together to form a paste before adding the dry ingredients and a dash of milk. You may need to add more milk or sugar to achieve the right consistency.
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This is really one of my favourite cake recipes ever and I just can’t enjoy other banana cakes having grown up on this. Great for brightening up Tuesdays or sharing on a weekend!

What’s your least favourite day of the week?

Z

A Pretty Great Sunday

Rain, rain, more rain. In our third month of a tropical summer we are pretty used to you. It really doesn’t phase us too much anymore – we put on our rain jackets and rain boots and get on with it.

Last weekend was the hottest of the year and with barely a cloud in the sky we spent both days outdoors at the pool and beach (one of those with a shocking hangover, as written about here). So we were actually thankful for rainy weather this weekend and spent lots of time at home, cooking, eating and watching the TV we finally caved in and bought.

Today, after an extremely relaxing morning drinking multiple coffees and reading while the kids played (I know! That happened!) we decided to venture out and try a few things we’ve been meaning to do for ages – The Rink in Elements mall* and The Ritz Carlton at the top of ICC.

We chose to cab it there as we were dealing with a very grumpy almost-four year old, and it wasn’t cheap – it cost us $70HK just to get through the tunnel! Still, it’s a small price to pay for maintaining sanity. Once we got to Elements we stumbled upon their cool “Sweet Summer” exhibit right away, which kept the kids happy for a while – giant gummy bears and jelly beans will do that. We also saw a huge Van Gogh replica made entirely from Jelly Beans! Pretty cool.

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In case you can’t tell, he has been the victim of a home haircut…

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Eventually we made our way to The Rink, the large-ish ice skating rink on the ground floor of Elements. We were worried that Heike wouldn’t want to skate but she was actually very keen…well, until it came time to put the skates on and she wouldn’t wear them because they had buttons (Yes, buttons! Heinous things).

But we managed to have quite a good time. Walter, 16 MONTHS OLD everyone, got some skates on and had a whirl. I’m totally convinced he is going to be some kind of sporting prodigy but yet to decide if that’s rooted in fact or completely bias motherly adoration! We rented a push along seal thing ($150HK for 2 hours) which was great as he could sit on that and get pushed around. It also allowed Heike to have some fun as she could sit on it without skates *rolling eyes very hard* and she did enjoy herself. She has informed us that she will wear buckle skates but not lace up skates. I think we just won’t attempt it again for some time!

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The whole thing was really affordable – it cost us $160HK for the four of us to skate *had the four of us skated, still rolling eyes heavily* which is way less than something like this would cost in Australia. It was also very easy and efficient with no wait times and no need to book prior. You would have to be prepared though as it’s quite cold so long pants and jumpers are a must.

From here we walked to the main ICC area and into the Ritz Carlton, where we took the lift to the 103rd floor (!!) to see what restaurants had availability. We really want to try the Chinese restaurant there but need to be more organised and make a booking. We’ve also yet to go to Ozone, which is even higher and apparently amazing but was serving an expensive champagne brunch when we got there. In the end we went to the cafe area which worked out perfectly as it was very quiet, still boasted an amazing view and was serving up a high tea menu, which was exactly what we felt like!

That view!
That view!

The High Tea was SO delicious and while of course slightly expensive ($368HK pp for the high tea for two) it was worth it, and we shared with the kids so it really wasn’t too bad. The Ritz Carlton chocolate cake and their signature Earl Grey tea were probably my favourite things. I can’t wait to come back here with my Mum and have a glass of champagne on the side!

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We actually managed to get the train home which constantly impresses me (you can tell we’re used to having a car for everything) and on the way home from Wan Chai MTR we stopped in at the sports ground and joined some young kids kicking a ball around – such a simple thing we take for granted at home with all our green space, but really quite special in Hong Kong. It lifted my spirits to see the kids running around in open space (okay it was basically green concrete but I’m claiming it) and talking to strangers and just being kids. Those moments are rare in the highly planned and scheduled big city life that is Hong Kong.

So, all in all, a pretty great Sunday.

*Elements Mall, 1 Austin Rd West, Kowloon

How was your weekend?

Z

Never Fail Birthday Cake Recipe

We have a family recipe for a butter cake that has been passed down through a couple of generations, and it’s delicious. My Mum would usually bake either that or a version with a few tablespoons of cocoa added for all our childhood birthdays.

When Heike was turning one though, I was just starting to get into baking and I felt like I wanted to broaden my horizons for her first birthday cake. I wanted to use my brand new kitchen aid mixer too! So I looked here and there and finally stumbled upon this in the Donna Hay kids magazine.

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I was initially drawn to the ombre icing, although I baked a test version a week out from her birthday (I know, first child right?) and the icing was nothing short of a disaster, so I canned that for a simple white iced version covered in coconut.

The thing is, the recipe for the actual cake is completely delicious! It’s very light and fluffy with all those egg whites beaten in, and sprinkling the 100s&1000s inside gives it a cute look as well as that distinct “sprinkles” flavour. I now bake this cake whenever there is a birthday, adjusting the measurements depending on how many people I’m serving (you can see my scribbled 1/2 measurements next to the original!). It’s always a hit.

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One thing with this recipe is you do need a lot of eggs on hand, and you really can’t scrimp on the egg whites – the texture just isn’t the same. If you are a crazy egg household like ours, it’s usually not a problem.

Never Fail Birthday Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 12 eggwhites
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 1/2 cups caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup coloured sprinkles

Method

  • Preheat oven to 175 degrees celcius. Divide the ingredients for the cake mixture into two equal batches. To make the first batch, place the milk, eggwhites and vanilla in a bowl and lightly whisk to combine. Set aside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in an electric mixer and mix on low speed until combined. Add the butter and beat until mixture resembles fine, moist breadcrumbs. Increase speed to medium and gradually add the milk mixture, beating for 2 mins or until just combined. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Divide half the first batch of cake mixture between 2 x 20cm round cake time. Sprinkles each cake with 1 TBSP coloured sprinkles and spoon over the remaining mixture. Bake for 35-37 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow cakes to cool in tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • If you decide to make the second batch (for larger gatherings) simply repeat the process. You could even make the second batch while you have the ingredients and simply freeze the second two cakes for use at a later date.

I didn’t manage to get any photos of the finished product as it was eaten up before I got a chance, but it is always a winner. Give it a try!

What is a recipe you use over and over again?

Z

Embracing Your Inner Child

We had quite a big weekend celebrating Justus’ birthday, with lots of food, drinking and not much sleep! Needless to say I woke up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday morning, because a) It was Monday and b) I was feeling the effects of a fun weekend. I’m not good on Monday mornings generally – I think only last Monday I burst into tears for some inane reason, which was actually just that it wasn’t the weekend anymore.

The other thing about Mondays in our house is that the place is always TRASHED! I think I am so “on” throughout the week that I kind of use the weekends as a time to just let things go, but the problem is that if I’m not doing the housework, no one is. So come Monday, I tend to be greeted with an overflowing dirty laundry basket, two extremely untidy kids bedrooms and a sink and dishwasher full of dirty dishes.

Anyway, yesterday morning I slowly began my rounds, sorting laundry, sweeping floors, locating missing items such as the baking paper (under Heike’s bed, naturally) – all the while muttering and complaining and feeling very sorry for myself. Justus announced that he was leaving for work only to be met with a cranky “Lucky you!” (I know, I’m so lovely).

I took the kids out to do groceries after realising there was no food in the house, and that’s always slightly stressful. Taxi there, taxi back, dealing with two very young children and managing their expectations when there’s shelves of chocolate and chips and cereal everywhere you turn. My mood was not elevated.

We got home and I ate some chocolate myself which I did find pepped me up a little bit, and I decided it was time to turn the day around. I mean seriously, we are healthy and happy and we have money and time and we are living in Hong Kong! Let’s do this! It had started to rain at this point but by now nothing was getting me back down.

I decided to book tickets to Ryze Trampoline Park in North Point, which I’ve read and heard heaps about. While they do have an under-6 jumping session at 9am daily (in future I probably would book this but it wasn’t a big deal), young kids can still jump any time and I knew I needed to get out while I was on a roll. I booked for 3.30pm as I knew Walt would be up by this time – you can buy and pay for tickets online which I would recommend as it’s not only efficient but guarantees you jump time on a rainy day.

We took a cab there from the mid levels which cost us $60HK and took about 15 minutes. When we got there it was reasonably busy but not too busy that I wasn’t comfortable taking Walt in. The jumping area is huge and includes a trampoline basketball area, two big tramps covered in balls, two huge foam pits that you can catapult into and tons of little square tramps.

Ryze Ultimate Trampoline Park Hong Kong

Heike was in her element – being almost four she is a great age for this kind of thing. She did get tired towards the end and is a little bit girly generally so we left after 45 minutes. Walter I can see having trouble getting out of there as he gets older – it is the perfect energy-burning activity for testosterone fuelled little boys and he was going quite crazy. Overall though he was too young (he doesn’t even really know how to jump!) and kept running onto other people’s tramps (only one person at a time allowed on the smaller ones) and generally getting himself into mischief.

Still, we had a great time. There is something so healing about just BEING with your kids, laughing, being crazy, jumping high in the air and showing them your cool tricks. I found myself belly laughing from the pure joy of JUMPING, such a physical pleasure that kids are able to embrace every time they jump on a swing or shoot down a slide. There was no time to think about anything, except “Oh god Walter is going to break his neck!” every now and then.

So, I would definitely recommend embracing your inner child at a trampoline park – even if you are the only Mum jumping, and trampolining after having two kids is slightly risky 😉 Your kids will love you for it, and Mondays will look a little brighter!

How do you cope on Mondays? Any tips?!

30 Hours In Macau(o)

Most people who have been to Hong Kong have heard of Macau (also spelt Macao), the former Portugese Colony and fellow current Special Administrative Region of China that sits just 60km away. In the early 2000s Macau was transformed into the gambling capital of Asia, and it’s seen as a must see place for many tourists who want a Vegas-like experience. It’s also very convenient if you need to exit the Hong Kong border to get a residents visa in your passport! And so it came to be that we took a family trip to Macau this past weekend.

Before I launch into the specifics of our weekend I have to say that our overall experience wasn’t great, but that’s us. We are big food/culture/history people when we travel and while we do like to stay in the odd luxury resort and do a bit (or a lot) of shopping it’s not really what we look for in a holiday. But stay with me – there were some great things about the weekend!

SO. We booked our ferry ride to Macau on Cotai Jet for 8.30am on Saturday morning. Step one, be slightly more organised. We left here at 7.55 and were meant to be checked in and boarding by 8am. Cue lots of running through the ferry terminal screaming “HURRY UP” at one or the other child. But we made it. The ferry was really nice and comfortable and arrived on time at 9.30am, and the journey was pretty relaxing as we decided to let the kids play on our phones. We earned that in the terminal.

Our accommodation was booked at the Venetian, and when we arrived at the Taipa ferry terminal there was a shuttle bus from the hotel waiting out the front. This was super convenient and easy and the journey from there to the hotel took about 10 minutes.

The Venetian is pretty impressive looking both outside and in, as anyone who has been there or seen pics will tell you. It really does look like a mini Venice inside, with canals where you can take Gondola rides and be sung to by a real live pretend Gondolier. It is HUGE with over 3,000 rooms and 26,000 staff (Justus and I took guesses as to the number all weekend but found out the figure on the ferry ride back). There are about a gazillion shops, everything from Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Chanel to Camper, 7 Jeans and Nike. There is every restaurant you can imagine – even two of some. We loved the Godiva chocolate shop that served Godiva ice cream!

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FullSizeRenderThe hotel has a kids play area inside (Qube, which we didn’t use) and four pools, although you can only use one with the kids. It also has an outdoor playground. The kids pool had a blow up water slide thing set up next to it, apparently for the whole summer, which looked really fun and kept loads of kids entertained despite ours being too little/scared to use it.

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Our room was big, a suite, but didn’t have a dividing wall at all so we were all bunked in together, which can be annoying if you want to watch TV or anything while the kids are sleeping. The room decor was also pretty old fashioned and our room on the 25th floor (south side) was quite dark.

So, essential info aside, we really hated the Venetian! The experience of going in and walking around was cool but I would never choose to stay there knowing what it’s like. Justus and I actually got lost at one point and I nearly started crying, joking that I felt like I was in The Shining.

My overall experience was this: The air conditioning is running way too cold. It feels like it’s daytime all the time because there is a fake sky. There are people everywhere falling over each other and they are all taking photos of your kids because they are blond(ish). It is materialism on crack. The casino is quiet and soulless and no one is even drinking alcohol, which in my view is the only fun part of gambling. The pool is nice but the Galaxy next door basically has a water park inside. We didn’t even get to go for a Gondola ride because it was a 30 minute wait and our kids are not the kind who wait patiently for 30 minutes unless essential.

There was also a Dreamworks experience on in the Cotai Sands Hotels, of which the Venetian is one, so we’d booked a lunch on the Sunday to take the kids to. BUT on the Saturday we saw a parade of Dreamworks characters (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Penguins of Madagascar etc) and Walter completely freaked out, then Heike was being so cheeky on the Sunday morning (probably due to spending 24 hours in a weird artificial Venice and eating nothing but fries) that we cancelled it. Massive fail.

That said, we fled the hotel on Sunday morning and headed into Macau centre. This was an absolutely unexpected change of pace. SUCH a beautiful city and despite an insane amount of Chinese tourists, quite chilled out. We didn’t actually know the history of Macau until we got there, and it is so interesting – it was colonised by the Portugese in the 1500s, so it feels very European and is full of lovely old buildings. Our favourite was the ruins of St Paul, a church that was built in the early 1600s and then partially burnt down about 200 years ago.

Sadly we didn’t get any photos of the city itself as all our devices were flat, but it was quite nice wandering around, discovering things, not knowing what time it was and not feeling the need to capture everything on camera. Of course it did also mean that we almost missed our ferry again.

So, Macau. Definitely worth the visit and I’m sure we’ll be back, just not staying where we did. Not to say you shouldn’t, if that’s your thing. But any weekend away that leaves your daughter asking “Is that the real sky Mum?” when you get back raises some serious questions!

Still smiling
Still smiling

Z