Cocktails and dreams: back to the 80s at 88mph

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As an 80s teen and someone who saw Back to the Future three times when it was first released, AT THE CINEMA, I knew Canberra’s new 80s-themed bar, 88mph, had my  name all over it. I couldn’t wait to go Back in time! (thank you Huey Lewis and the News).

This new venture by owners Ant Arena, Lorenzo Focarile and Dean Brown, the team behind Canberra bars Highball Express, Black Market and Molly,  had its opening night earlier in November.

With my visiting Sydneysider sister (Señorita Margarita) in town for a Day of the Dead festival, a perfect opportunity presented itself afterwards to jump into my DeLorean (aka my Toyota Corolla hatchback), flux up the flux capacitor and go be with my people, the 80s McFly barflys.

After a quick stop at Kokomo, we drove the few blocks to Hobart Place. It was unseasonably cold, we were bare-legged, high-heeled and Señorita Margarita was in full Dia de la noche sugar skull face paint. She looked amazing and I admire how she always embraces the theme of any event, but to the uninitiated, she was a hybrid of Marcel Marceau, Skeletor and Frida Kahlo.

Well get out of my dreams and into my car! I couldn’t believe we got a free car park literally right outside the front of the building (the aptly named Neon House) where 88mph is located.

“See Marg?” I said, ready to launch into another iteration of my “Canberra has things” monologue (#canberrahasthings).

“You couldn’t do this in Sydney! Can you imagine parking right outside anywhere you wanted to go in the city in Sydney on a Saturday night? Can you??”

“No Al, but it IS only 8pm.” she observed.

We were greeted by the warmly familiar, yet exciting, neon glow of the 88mph signage, all dreamy purple and pink reflecting off the wet-look black subway-tiled entrance. Down the steps we went, into another world, back in time.

I knew I would love it even before I got in there, but once I was in the bar, I knew my love was real (because as Cheryl Lynn says, it’s got to be real). The owners refer to 88mp as a bar, but it is so much more than that. There is a dance floor that lights up. Not huge, but big enough for fun with your peeps, and other peeps. There are video games, pinball, menus presented in VHS cases, hot pink cassette tapes and black VHS tapes representing an equaliser as wall art, pizza, and oh hail, lord-of-the-night-that-doesn’t take-itself-seriously – three karaoke rooms!

There were colourful cocktails on tap for $14 for a standard cocktail glass, an extensive list of wines, and beers on tap. Feeling hungry and hoping for something to nibble, I looked at the menu and realised it was pizza ($14) or nothing.

I ordered the “Chicken Pizza” and the cute, young, young bartender with not a whisker of hair on his baby-face, seemed amused. “You want the Chicken Pizza,” he said, like it was funny. He explained there is no “Chicken Pizza”, the “Chicken Pizza” is a nick-name for the “Vegetarian Pizza”. Then I realised I hadn’t actually read the fine-print description of the “Chicken Pizza” because I thought the name was pretty self-explanatory. And I’d been too vain to wear my olde lady middle-aged reading glasses. Oh how we laughed!

I studied this young whipper-snapper as he poured a cocktail, as Heaven 17’s Temptation (1983) was playing, and mused that he wouldn’t even have existed in the 80s.  This was reminding me too much of Back to the Future 2, and I was a crumpled, middle-aged Lea Thompson, aka Lorraine Baines McFly, Marty McFly’s mother. But fortunately the lights were low, being a bar and all, so when I told my bar tender, “You know, I was going out to bars in the actual 80s”,  he replied, “Surely not?!” Dude knows how to score a tip.

Meanwhile back in my own era, I chatted to a friendly middle-aged group and we reminisced about the decade in which we came of age. Then my buzzer went off telling me my food was ready.

A dedicated pizza guy was whipping up made-to-order pizzas. It was served to me hot and fresh on a gingham-patterned plate. My sister and I walked around with said plate trying to find somewhere to sit; both of the two long booths we approached were taken up with guests from two separate parties.

A handsome bearded man suddenly appeared in my path, apologising for the lack of tables, and I realised he must be one of the owners. There’d been a hitch, he explained, but tables and chairs would be arriving Monday he said. It was easy to forgive, after all this was only the bar’s second night.

Senorita Margarita and I perched on bar stools and rested the pizza plate on the top of one of the booths. I inhaled half the pizza immediately.  It was hot, fresh and delicious. I decided I wanted to take the rest home and the guy at the pizza oven was very helpful; apologising for the lack of pizza boxes as he put it in a plastic takeaway food container for me – more handbag friendly than a pizza box, and all to the strains of Alison Moyet’s Don’t Go (1982).

Now The Jackson’s Can you Feel it?  (1980) was playing and it was time to hit the dance floor. Super Freak (1981) was next and Señorita Margarita busted her best moves in her sugar skull face paint. She sure is super freaky.

At about 8.45pm the place really started filling up. And not a moment too soon, because when you’re my age, you turn into a pumpkin at 9.30pm. In a joyful flashback to my 1989 Queensland girls’ holiday at the Contiki Island Resort, the B52s Love Shack brought the crowd to the dance floor – in fact I would go as far as saying, the whole shack shimmied!

Then suddenly I was back in Oxford Street Sydney’s pre-Kardashian Klub Kakadu with Yaz’s The only way is up (1988). We had a quick peek at the three Karaoke rooms and promised to book one on another night.

Then it was a journey back to Year 7 with Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982). A twenty- something guy in a yellow bow tie started doing the Thriller dance – and the whole shack was still shimmying as everyone on the dance floor brought their best zombie/wolf arms.

Then suddenly a man was dancing in front of me. He told me it was his buck’s night. I told him I was going to places like this in the actual 80s.

“Me too, ay” he told me. “I’m old, this is my second buck’s night. I’m 37!” Huh. Spring chicken pizza in my book.

Because Girls just wanna have fun, Señorita Margarita danced with him in her huge pink tutu. Buck’s night guy may have been Hungry like the wolf, but it was Margarita who went into full Thriller mode as she zombied-it up.

It was an early one for us, we left at 9.15pm and not a moment too soon, as my scalp had started itching with a post-pizza hives breakout mid-way through my Walk This Way air-guitar solo. I could feel the hot and itchy beginnings of a full-body hive attack under my body-suit. Feeling like Michael J.Fox on the verge of a Teen Wolf-style werewolf transition, I knew I had to get out of there fast before my itchy secret was discovered.

It’s not 88mph’s fault – It took a heavy gluten day for me to finally accept I have a gluten sensitivity that must be respected if I don’t want to be red, itchy, scratchy and spotty and, let’s face it, the rest of the seven dwarves (sneezy, grumpy, and sleepy). But that’s probably a story for another blog post.

If it wasn’t for the hives, I could’ve hit that high like George Michael in Wake me up before you go go. That and the fact that mum-duties beckoned, as I’d promised Spider Boy’s dad I would be home at a reasonable time.

But, I promise 88mph,  like the 80s themselves, “I’ll be back.”  I’m so happy I can feel like it’s the 80s again whenever I want. It’s a full-immersive experience. It’s amazing how music and decor can bring the feeling.

The verdict: 88mph was a fun night out with positive vibes from the crowd. On the night we went, there was a good mix of ages, ranging from twenty-somethings to people my age and possibly even older. But everyone was smiling and having as much fun as a Wham! video. Sydney-dweller Margarita observed, “I love how in Canberra you get all kinds of different people in the one club.”

As owner Ant Arena told goodfood.com.au earlier this month, “We want this to be Canberra’s most fun night out – that’s the idea. You come here, the cocktails are gonna be great, the environment’s really cool, and the music – you can’t listen to the 80s and not smile,” he said. I’ll drink to that. Now, baby-faced bar keep, pass me a Blue Lagoon.

 

Literal: Basement, 8/10 Hobart Pl, Canberra, ACT

Virtual: www.88mph.bar

Pop quiz: What 80s movie does this blog post’s title come from? (Hint: there is a link to the song Kokomo)

Are there any fun 80s bars or clubs where you live?

Sydney visitors

Moving to Canberra means that we’ve been able to host visitors from Sydney.

In the past month we’ve had Lulu and Señorita Margarita to stay (on separate weekends). It’s been wonderful just hanging out with them at home but also showing them just a little bit of what Canberra has to offer. As my sister is always throwing back at me, “…because Canberra has things”.

Here’s just a few pics from their recent visits. I’ll post more later about specific adventures.

 

 

 

Christmas recycling inspiration

On my web searches lately I’ve been seeing a lot of very creative Christmas decorating ideas using discarded items or just plain rubbish.

Apparently even plastic lunch bags and soft-drink can ring pulls can be turned into beautiful Christmas ornaments… It’s probably a bit late now to get your DIY on for this Christmas, but here’s a bit of Christmas craft eye-candy and perhaps some inspiration for next year.

One of my Instagram friends, Anne, made this incredible Christmas tree from an old ladder. Perfect to display her Christmas villages! Very clever.

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This egg-carton tree is not just for the birds…

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And this book tree is giving me ideas for next year. I need to start using my books as furniture, or a tree.

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Egg carton and book Christmas trees from  clabtrouse.com

And then there are the Christmas wreaths…

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This tin can wreath from  Etsy

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Don’t toss those ring pulls! This little ornament comes from dumpaday.com

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Plastic lunch bag wreath from allfreechristmascrafts.com

Christmas fun in general

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Plastic drinking cup snowman from Greenmoxie.com

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Bottle lids can be made into cute little snowmen. These are from Greenmoxie.com

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A very creative use for shower curtain rings at creative green living

Merry Christmas!

Eat Drink Blog 2015… Food, fun and photo freedom

In October Alexcellent Lifestyle attended the 6th annual Eat Drink Blog (EDB15) conference. Held in a different Australian city each year, 2015 was Canberra’s turn to host over 80 food bloggers.

I wanted to experience for myself all the new paddock-to-plate dining options and hipster havens I’d heard were happening in Canberra. It was a perfect opportunity to visit the city as a blogger, and for my son Spider Boy to spend some time with his Canberra-based dad. So while I was tasting the best of Braddon and NewActon, I knew my son would be enjoying the sights of Smiggle, Impact Comics and JB Hi-Fi.

The conference committee put together a comprehensive program of our Capital’s favourite foodie experiences as well as education sessions on aspects of blogging and photography from inspiring experts. It was an excellent way to spend a weekend.

The conference was officially launched with a welcome from ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr at The Hamlet, an urban village of food vans and pop-up stores a few minutes walk from Canberra’s city centre. When I read on the EDB15 website that the Friday night launch would include canapés, I imagined little things. I didn’t imagine this:

schnitzel from The Brathaus in Canberra.

Well call me a canapé, it’s pork, veal and chicken schnitzel from The Brathaus!

…or this

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Hot dogs a-hoy!

…or this

Pies from Thank God it's Pie Day.

It was like all my Pie Days had come at once. Pie Yay.

There was a big table of beautifully presented foods from The Hamlet’s food trucks. There were gourmet pies, artisan pizzas, huge sandwiches, souvlaki, hotdogs, pulled-pork burgers and did I mention the schnitzel and home-made sausages? Real sausages from The Brathaus made from free-range meat sourced locally. Mr Brathaus was very enthusiastic, so I sampled ALL of the schnitzel.

Schnitzel from The Brathaus

There he is carving it up like a pro.

I really wanted to sample everything else on offer but there’s only so much that even I can eat. I did manage to fit in a delicious balsamic marinated beetroot, feta and pistachio pie from Pie Day.

And don’t get me started on dessert. I was so busy sampling the savoury treats, I literally ran out of time to have my favourite course. I grabbed a fancy-schmancy donut from Chasing Mr Morris, wrapped it in a napkin and stuffed it in my handbag for later.

chocolate crackle and fruit loops donuts from Mr.Morris

Donuts ‘R Us.

But what to do about this waffle from April’s Caravan? There simply wasn’t the time to eat it, so here’s a photo for my scrapbook.

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Life is good with polka dots and waffle hearts

As well as the food, there was the ambience. I’d heard of The Hamlet before I went there, and I knew it was in hipster Braddon, so I knew it was going to be hipster, but I didn’t think it would be this hipster…

DJ at the Hamlet in Lonsdale St Braddon.

Crochet hipster.

Or this hipster…

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Chandelier-and-plant-in-telephone-box hipster with not-really-hipster-but-hashtagging dude hipster.

After the champagne, I just couldn’t go the coconut ice milkshake from April’s Caravan… but, I’ll be back to fully enjoy the sugar-filled prettiness. Just as well I’m moving back to Canberra in January.

Milkshakes from April's Caravan at the Hamlet

April’s Caravan… Sweet kitsch(en) dreams are made of this. A coconut ice milkshake. Creative and gorgeous.

After the awesome canapé dinner, it was time to break off into three separate groups of blogger/food-tourists for a tour of three local food and drink businesses.

First stop was Hopscotch, an award-winning gastro-pub with a street-front alfresco area in Braddon.

poptails and bloggers at Hopscotch for EDB15

My fellow bloggers understand me: Erin from Dreaming of Almonds and Megann from Megann’s Kitchen at Hopscotch, doing what all good food bloggers do before anything passes their lips.

I really got my first taste of summer for the year with this delicious and more-ish poptail. So creative, I’ve never seen anything like it. I should’ve noted down exactly what it was – it might have been some kind of moscato or rosé with a mango-daiquiri popsicle in it. There were non-alcholic versions as well, but I would know even less about those.

As well as the great food and company, something I really enjoyed was that for the first time, I felt I was able to photograph my food and drinks with wild abandon. There was no one saying “Oh come on, not another photo, can’t you just eat/drink it already?!” which is what I always hear when I’m eating out with non-bloggers (or at least what I imagine they’re thinking). This weekend I felt I was with my food blogger-soul peeps.

Next stop on the tour was whiskey and food matching at Marble & Grain, a European Steakhouse gastro-pub. I have never been a whiskey fan, but I still appreciated the opportunity to learn more about it, especially as food was involved.

Marble and Grain

We sampled Glenfiddich 12, 14 and 15, along with matching canapés. Goat’s cheese with fig and rye pumpernickel and hickory smoked duck prosciutto, rock melon and cocoa nibs.

After attempting to inhale the bouquet of the first whiskey (Glenfiddich 12), Bec from Inexplicable Wanderlust told me that this was a no-no because it’s too strong on the nose. You’re supposed to dip your finger in the whiskey, rub it on the back of your hand and smell that. Better.

Our third and final official stop of the night was at Frugii Dessert Laboratory. John Marshall, a former public servant turned ‘ice-cream alchemist’ produces chocolate gelato right from the cocoa bean. All products at Frugii are made from scratch using freshly made extracts, nut pastes and oils. They also make chocolates and chilled cakes.

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon

Frugii Dessert Laboratory in Braddon where I sampled this lemon myrtle ice-cream.

John gave us a short education session on chocolate ‘bean to bar’ and we all got a generous sample of the ice-cream of our choice. Knowing I already had a hipster chocolate crackle-donut hybrid in my handbag, I chose the lemon myrtle, because I’m all about the balance, you know? (the lemon myrtle was every bit as good as I thought it would be).

The next morning, conference delegates were picked up by a dedicated ACTION bus and taken to the Capital Region Farmers Market in the north of Canberra. Here they experienced a local producers breakfast and a cooking demonstration by young chefs from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT).  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to that part of the morning and I believe I missed out on a fabulous croquembouche demonstration, among many other things.

I did manage to make it to the keynote address from former chef/food critic and now SBS TV presenter/farmer Matthew Evans at the beautiful Nishi Gallery at NewActon. After Matthew’s entertaining session, we took a scenic lakeside walk to Westside Acton Park, a new pop-up food and entertainment venue made entirely of shipping containers.

Westside Acton Park

Spoilt for choice at Westside Acton Park; Friendly bartender at Aviary Bar, Westside; Sparkling white from Capital Wines was lovely with my Thai pulled-beef taco.

We were able to choose from an interesting and varied selection of lunch choices. I chose the Thai pulled-beef soft tacos. I ordered two thinking they’d be small but they were quite substantial. I couldn’t even finish my second one what with being so busy meeting and chatting to other bloggers at Westside’s upstairs Aviary Bar, where we were also given a glass of wine from Capital Wines.

After lunch we went back to the Nishi Gallery where we learnt about the ups and downs of restaurant reviewing from writer and communications consultant Wendy Johnson, the secrets of Search Engine Optimisation from marketing expert Todd Wright of Threesides Marketing, food styling with photographer and stylist Tess Godkin and smart phone photography and videography from Alice Lau of the Girl in a Food Frenzy blog and You Tube channel.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

The Nishi Gallery was the ideal conference space. Todd Wright and Wendy Johnson deliver their engaging presentations.

Eat Drink Blog Conference 2015

Photographer Tess Godkin reveals her secrets to food styling.

These sessions were punctuated by an afternoon tea which showcased some of the Canberra region’s finest food and wine producers.

I sampled some fresh cows milk curd made by The Cheese Project. Established by Maureen House in 2014, it’s the only commercial cheese-making business in the Canberra area. I tried more than one of these little delights below. The milk curd on these was blended with orange zest (and a bit of sugar) and paired with the biscuity-base (made by Maureen’s husband), it was a match made in heaven.

The Cheese Project

Pretty pieces of orange on fresh cows milk curd tarts and the perfect bite-size treats for afternoon tea from The Cheese Project.

The conference dinner on Saturday night was held at A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct. As well as its daily baked artisan breads, A.Baker is known for sourcing local and seasonal produce for its dynamic menu. Bloggers were treated to a five- course meal comprising shared plates. I loved this idea as it meant my table-mates and I were all focused on the same dish and we could serve ourselves the portion-size we wanted.

A.Baker in the NewActon Precinct, Canberra, ACT

Pre-dinner drinks in the courtyard of A.Baker; the view of the terrace and the Nishi building; A.Baker’s interior.

After canapés and sparking wine from Mt Majura, ACT on the terrace, we sat down at long tables where the shared plates were delivered.

A.Baker dinner menu Eat Drink Blog 2015

Clockwise from top left: venison canapés; charred cauliflower with sesame and ponzu; braised octopus, skordalia, baked pancetta, blood orange and almond; baked local mushrooms, dutch cream gnocchi, kale and local primo sale; charred lamb neck, harrissa, bean, raddish and sumac salad.

The dessert of black sesame bavarois, strawberries, pink peppercorn meringue and sorrel looked and tasted beautiful and was the perfect way to finish dinner.

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During the evening the conference writing and photography competition winners were announced. I was honoured when writer and competition judge Liz Posmyk from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things called my name as the recipient of a consolation prize in the narrative category for my recent blog post Is it time to give up my sugar crush?  The other winners and links to their winning blog posts are on the Eat Drink Blog 2015 Competition Winners page. So thank you judges Liz and Wendy Johnson, and thanks to Capital Wines for my lovely rosé!

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Unfortunately I had to miss the next day’s activities due to a sick Spider Boy but I got so much out of what I’d already experienced at Eat Drink Blog 2015. Plus I’ve got a goodie bag to remind me of all the good times…

Eat Drink Blog 2015 goodie bag

Thank goodness for goodie bags.

The Eat Drink Blog 2015 program lists the Sunday activities, or you can read about the conference from some of the other delegates’ perspectives.

This was my first Eat Drink Blog conference (well, half-conference for me) and I’m determined it won’t be my last. It was real value for money – all meals and drinks between Friday dinner and Sunday lunch (as well as all the blogging wisdom) was included in the very reasonable $150 conference fee.

I was inspired by the passion, enthusiasm and extreme organisational skills shown by the conference organisers who volunteered their time to make EDB15 happen; Amanda of Her Canberra, Tara of In The Taratory, Belinda of The Forage, Giulia of Love at Every Bite, and Rachi of Le Bon Vivant. The team pulled together a truly entertaining and informative weekend. Well done committee and thank you! I am looking forward to next year.

And there might be a new little food blogger rising up the ranks: Spider Boy said to me on Day 1 of the conference: “I want a food blog! I love food – it keeps you alive and it tastes good!” Ain’t that the truth.

Link Love

As well as the work of the organising committee, the EDB15 success was also due to the generosity and hospitality of the sponsors.

Major Sponsor: Her Canberra

Gold Sponsors: Visit Canberra, ACTION Buses, A.Baker

Silver Sponsors: Frugii, QT Canberra, Bentspoke Brewing Co., Hopscotch, Marble & Grain, The Hamlet, Six8 Coffee Roasters, Westside Acton Park, Capital Region Farmers Market, NewActon, the Boat House by the lake, The Canberra Wine House, The Cupping Room, Two Before Ten, Yum Digital Magazine, Poacher’s Way, The Fix juices, and The Muesli Bar.

The EDB15 conference delegates have been busy posting their content. Please visit the Eat Drink Blog Testimonials page for links to their posts for some fantastic photos and words about EDB15 that I wasn’t able to capture.

Fun, free kids entertainment.

There have been many offline goings-on at Alexcellent Lifestyle headquarters lately, but it is now time to sit down with my cup of instant coffee and share some of the events of the past month.

There’s an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the moment which I took Spider Boy and his friend to, during the recent school holidays. (I’m just realising that the school term is almost half over, again. How does that keep happening? Time just continues to do its thing.)

Anyway, the Energies exhibition runs until early September (more details at the end of the post) and as it’s so interactive, it’s great for kids.

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Spider Boy and friend: the cold wind seemed to give them more energy than usual.

When we arrived at the museum, which was lovely and toasty inside, we were directed up to the National Centre for Creative Learning. Here the kids were presented with activity sheets on a clipboard, to fill in as they went around the exhibits.

“Look boys, it’s like a school excursion!” I enthused. They didn’t seem to mind the idea of “work” (well if they did, they didn’t show it) so we all bounded down three flights of stairs (there is a lift, but why take the lift when you can bound).

The exhibition’s energy theme was a great fit for my two little friends.

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Energies: Haines and Hinterding, is an exhibition of the unseen energies around us, by Australian artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. Very low frequency radio waves, television signals, satellite transmissions, solar winds, aroma molecules and even psychic forces are brought to the senses.

It was fascinating and unlike anything I have ever seen before.

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The museum photographer happened upon the boys and grabbed a few happy snaps for the museum’s publicity material.

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The exhibition explores the power of electromagnetism, light, smell, sound and vibration. The artists’ work, according to the blurb, “…encourages us to marvel at the wonders of the universe, …to experience the everyday world as a place buzzing with energies, curiosities and sensations.”

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It certainly did all that. Not only for the boys, but myself. And we managed to find a Spiderman reference with all that electrical energy buzzing around some TV antennae hanging from a ceiling in a darkened room. “Electro would love this!” we agreed.

The boys didn’t even seem to mind having a go at their worksheets. Well maybe a bit.

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After all the electro-business we went back upstairs to the National Centre for Creative Learning for some free holiday craft ($5 donation per family to cover craft supplies – well worth it).

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After the museum we went for a walk at Circular Quay, where we showed our support (literally) for a street entertainer… as the boys still had energy to spare.

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Exhibition: Energies: Haines & Hinterding

Where: MCA, 140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney.

When: 10am – 5pm daily until September 6, 2015

Admission: free

More info: http://www.mca.com.au

Fun Food at Sydney’s Winter Garden. And Dolph Lundgren.

Have you got a hankering for a bit of apres-ski adventure, but not the funds to actually hit the slopes? Don’t worry; Sydney’s pop-up “winter garden” is the answer to affordable urban apres ski-style adventure, complete with alpine-style huts selling sausages, mulled wine and hot chocolate. And Tornado Potatoes.

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It was almost taller than he was!

But more about them later… IMG_6308 Although the main attraction, the ice skating rink in the forecourt of St.Mary’s Cathedral, is not what I’d call a cheap activity for a family, it is still a billion times more affordable than a ski holiday/actual alpine adventure. And even if you don’t want to fork out the dollars for skating, you can sit down at the outdoor chairs and tables and soak up the winter wonderland atmosphere for free. IMG_6065 Kids can experience weaving their way down the slopes on a mechanical snowboard, a giant slide or for milder fun they can visit the baby animal nursery. They can also float around a pond in a giant Lindt ball. Spider Boy didn’t meet the 140cm height requirement, and I was secretly relieved. IMG_6169

There are also igloos available to “chill-out” in of course…

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Because the Winter Garden is in a prime city location, we’ve been to this frozen funland three times in the past two weeks when we happened to be in the neighbourhood. We haven’t ice-skated, because, budget, but we’ve enjoyed sitting in the winter sun with our hot chocolate (and yes alright, our potato-on-a-stick) watching the skaters carve up the ice to a pop-music soundtrack. But if you think the only food available is the greasy fair-ground type, you’d be wrong. Agape Organic has a kids menu including vegetarian nachos and organic fruit juice, there’s teppanyaki noodles, gozlame, wood-fired pizza and of course no alpine-style adventure would be complete without German sausages and Nutella crepes. If you want a really good hot chocolate, try the pop-up Lindt chocolate cafe for a hot sweet, thick beverage and, Lindt balls wrapped in every colour of the rainbow.

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But back to the potato-on-a-stick, aka the “Potato Tornado”. I couldn’t resist its greasy, salty allure, so we bought one to share. It was exactly as I imagined plus oh-so chicken-salty. The charming young man working the potato counter (and also the German Sausage counter) had a charming alpine accent: I assumed it was German but my sister Señorita Margarita later pointed out it could be Austrian or Swiss.

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Clockwise from left: “Dolph” patiently explains the Tornado Potato to customers at the German Sausage Hut (he was multi-tasking). The Tornado Potato machine. Don’t worry, Spider Boy didn’t eat all of this, I finished it off for him; The deep-fryer, spectacular and frightening all at the same time. 

I do want to acknowledge Mr. Potato’s great customer service. He patiently explained the Tornado Potato concept to customers, and with his well-groomed northern European style and charming accent, Margarita and I dubbed him Dolph Lundgren. We may have been referencing a character in an Adam Sandler movie. Because sometimes with my sister, I am 15 again. I had mentioned “Dolph” to Margarita on the phone when I called her to get her ETA. She and Spider Boy had an auntie-nephew afternoon planned at the Australian Museum across the road. Later when we all met at the Winter Garden again, Margarita went to the counter of the Tornado Potato/German Sausage Hut, not to purchase a potato, or a sausage, (because, deep-fried carbs and fat) but to hear “Dolph” speak. I observed the exchange from a distance. I couldn’t hear what she asked him, but I believe she went with my suggestion of “How many potatoes are there in a Tornado Potato?” Then to my delight I saw Dolph hold up a whole unpeeled raw potato, on a stick, and point to the machine that spins the potato into a long coil, and then he pointed to the deep-fryer, with the exaggerated and engaging hand gestures of a flight attendant. IMG_6464

The Sydney Winter Garden: Fun, food, alpine adventure and Dolph Lundgren.

As that other* Austrian superstar would say, “I’ll be back.”

*The real Dolph Lundgren is actually Swedish.

Sydney Winter Garden: St Mary’s Cathedral, Cnr College St and Cathedral Square, Sydney.

June 19 – July 19

Skating (including skate hire) $30 (adults) $20 (children). Family skate 4 pack: $90 Rides (Zorb ball, slide, snowboard machine)

1 ride/3 rides/unlimited $6/$15/$20

Winter Garden

Winter light

Winter in Sydney is not really winter. Winter in Sydney can be a bit cool (ish). Yes, occasionally it does get cold (ish). Very occasionally, there may be a biting wind. But not most of the time. Not even often. And when it does happen, everyone talks about how cold it is. Brrrr.

For the past few years, perhaps to keep the spirit of Summer alive over the Winter months, Sydney has put on an event called Vivid – a festival of light, music and ideas. Vivid Sydney is the biggest event of its kind in Australia. According to the Vivid website, the festival is a world-class line-up of concert and music performances, public ideas programs, creative industry workshops and conferences.

I went to Vivid for the first time last week, with Spider Boy, Lulu and the Magician. As well as Vivid installations outside, we have seen indoor museum exhibition displays of light, as well as the beautiful natural winter light that surrounds us outside.

Here are some of our light treasures from Winter so far:

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The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) looking like it’s been the recipient of a crazy mosaic job.

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The MCA outdoor cafe under lights at night.

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This display reminded me of a stained-glass window.

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This dynamic large-scale light installation, Affinity, is by artists amigo and amigo (Simone Chua and Renzo B. Larriviere). Vivid’s website explains that the piece represents the complexity and connectivity of the human brain. When people arrive at Affinity, there is a web of darkened dormant orbs, except for a small trail of light that bounces between them. As people touch the globes, light flows in, linking the orbs.

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Circular Quay train station dressed up in red.

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One of my favourite museums…

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It’s here Spider Boy made friends with his shadow side…

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We found art made of light…

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Tupperware light fittings…

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and giant lightsabers!

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Meanwhile at a local club we discovered stage lights…

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bright lights…

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and on another day, afternoon sun bouncing off the water at Circular Quay.

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Followed by a sunset at Rose Bay.

Winter doesn’t need artificial light to glow; Its natural light is beautiful in its own muted way. But Vivid is quite spectacular.  If you’re reading this on June 8th and you’re in Sydney, you can still catch Vivid, otherwise, it’s one for the diary next year.

Vivid Sydney light displays are on from 6pm until midnight June 8th, 2015 (some events finish at 11pm).

http://www.vividsydney.com

The Light Show is on at the Museum of Contemporary Art until July 5th, 2015.  

Check out the @MCA_Australia_Now on Instagram for some of the amazing light displays inside the Museum.  They’re better than my photos!

Waxing Hollywood

No, this is not about a”Hollywood” bikini wax, an extreme form of waxing which I’d never heard of until Alana at Housegoeshome explained it in a recent blog post, The politics of public hair.

While hot liquid wax is not my friend, I did find plenty of waxy friends of another variety at Sydney’s Madame Tussaud’s wax museum recently.

Spider Boy, his dad and I got to “meet” everyone from pop-stars to pollies, rock-stars to royalty, from Hollywood legends to sporting greats and many other figures from TV, history and science.

Spider Boy even got to be a UN delegate. Although when we were looking through the photos afterwards, I realised he’d thought he was reading the news with a sunny Julia Gillard presenting the weather (Note his serious news face).

My son managed to set aside his fear of girl-germs for the afternoon to engage with female leaders from every arena. I swear I could hear him singing Sisters are doing it for themselves under his breath. Or maybe that was me…

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He took a leaf out of Tom Cruise’s book when he paid a visit to Oprah’s couch…

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Just like Tom, Spider Boy’s a great actor when he’s well-directed.

He got to experience coming second to our Dawn, taunting our Leyton, and almost running over our Greg Norman in a golf buggy…

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It was all a bit Forrest Gump, in a good way.

We saw a cavalcade of flowing blond (and white) locks… IMG_5157

There was plenty of Warne and plenty of brawn…IMG_5148

There was brains too… and a little weird science. But no sign of Dr. Sheldon Cooper from TV’s Big Bang Theory, unfortunately.

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There were pop-stars from past and present in leather pants…

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There were sequinned and spangled pop-stars with amazing eye-makeup…

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And let’s not forget the frock-stars with amazing costumes that could’ve come straight from the Copacabana…

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Never looked so good: It’s amazing what sitting on top of the shoe from Priscilla Queen of the Desert will do for your legs.

Yes, I found plenty of friends at Madame Tussauds; Brad and Angelina…

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My girlfriends Audrey, Oprah and Edna were more than happy to pose for selfies with me – well I didn’t hear any objections coming from their botoxy mouths…

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And after years of missed phone calls and crossed wires, I finally caught up with my boyfriends Ryan and Heath. Yes I know Heath is from a parallel universe these days. But the wax is so convincing…

My ex-husband snapped these pics for me and then said Ryan was “simian-like”. Yeah, think I liked him better in The Notebook days.

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While I was busy going Kardashian with my selfish selfies, my son was being scared out of his wits over by the Alfred Hitchcock figure. I did notice boring-looking Alfred out of the corner of my eye, but I was too busy fawning over Audrey Hepburn and her breakfast pastry to really look. I proceeded to get a photo of Audrey and myself (taken by a kindly roaming staffer) knowing that Spider Boy was with his dad nearby.

After a few minutes I turned to see Spider Boy emerge from a curtain that I hadn’t noticed before, near the Hitchcock figure. A freaking shower curtain. Spider Boy looked as white.

I then discovered that he’d heard an audio recording of Janet Leigh’s scream from the Hitchcock movie, Psycho. I went behind the curtain and realised that if you stand in the bathtub, it activates the audio.

When he asked why she screamed like that, I tried to explain it with “Oh she screamed because a man burst in on her in the bathroom and she didn’t want him to see her naked.”

“But someone wouldn’t scream like that just because they were seen naked” said my seven-year-old, with a wisdom that he must’ve gained from his brief time as a UN delegate earlier that afternoon.

Apparently there’s a silhouette of a man with a knife there too. I didn’t see it but Spider Boy told me about it later.

The sound of the scream really scared him and he had trouble sleeping for several days afterwards.

We weren’t expecting something like that that at Madame Tussaud’s – it’s not a horror museum or a haunted house in sideshow alley. Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and the drag queen from Priscilla Queen of the Desert were in the same section as Alfred Hitchcock. Going from screaming drag queen to screaming Janet Leigh within a few metres seems incongruous; I assumed it was all child-friendly. I know Wolverine with his blade fingers doesn’t seem child-friendly, but with that Spider Boy knew what to expect – he knows the superheros are not real. I think the problem with the scream is that he wasn’t expecting it. None of us were.

Perhaps Madame Tussaud’s could have displayed some prominent warnings. Maybe at the admission desk where I would’ve had a chance to see it before I was distracted by the displays inside.  But perhaps I’m being unrealistic about that. Spider Boy is young – ultimately it’s my and his dad’s responsibility to guard him from things that are too scary for a child to see, wherever we are. But sometimes you’re just not able to preempt a situation.

There wasn’t anything else scary in there… well apart from a half-baked Dannii Minogue in the section explaining how the wax figures are made…

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Wax lesson: if the Psycho scream doesn’t get you, a Dannii Minogue half-head will.

All in all though, it was a great afternoon and the scream happened towards the end. Then we went to the gift shop and all was forgotten (until bed-time).

Loved: The realistic figures. In my opinion 98% of the figures were accurately represented. The costumes were fabulous. There were many props and dress-ups available right next to the wax figures. You could get close to the stars, put your arm around them for photos and literally get right into the picture. There were no guards saying,”please don’t touch the merchandise.”

Beware: The shower scream from Psycho! Also a roaming photographer in the superhero section who will want to take a professional photo with a fancy camera and charge you for it afterwards.

Could be better: Michael Hutchence, Miranda Kerr.

Admission: Adults from $28.00 and children from $19.60. Once in, you can stay and play as long as you like. Tickets are up to 30% cheaper online with specials and mid-week offers available. If you just turn up without booking first, expect to pay $40 (adult) and $28 (child).

Worth it: In my opinion, yes. We had 90% fun, 10% trauma (shower scream!) that we are learning to deal with. We are living and learning as we go!

More information: www.madametussauds.com/Sydney

Easter Show 2015: Food-on-a-stick, pigs, and not a kewpie doll in sight.

It was a windy and rainy finish to the school holidays yesterday, just like the first day (see previous post), but thankfully there were many sunny days in between.

One of these sunny day highlights was our visit to the Sydney Royal Easter Show, run by the NSW Royal Agricultural Society. This was Spider Boy’s first visit to the “real” Easter show, rather than the mini-one at Moore Park’s Entertainment Quarter.

I have always been partial to fairground food and the Sydney Royal Easter show never disappoints in that department…

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Yes, it is what it looks like – donuts on a stick! What fun. And yes, I know it’s just “occasional treat” food.

But I’ll get back to the food…

I hadn’t been to the RAS show at the showground at Olympic Park since years before Spider Boy was born and I remembered it being big, crowded and surely overwhelming for a young child. And I also remembered it as being a big schlep from the Eastern Suburbs. And it’s usually not a cheap day out. But my dad gave Spider Boy and I two free entry passes, so schlep we did. It was totally worth it. The schlep was a lot more arduous in my head than it actually was. Here are a few snaps from the day…

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There were many gentle and traditional rides…

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…and there were many people, but as it wasn’t a public holiday, it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded.

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For me, the amazing Australian produce displays have always been one of the highlights of the Royal Easter Show. This year, the fruit/vegetable/grains display had an ANZAC theme, to mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli.

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For Spider Boy, meeting some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the highlight…

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… and also meeting this mask owl called Willow. We have been reading Harry Potter lately and now he wants a pet owl. I said we could look in to it. But then my ex-husband reminded me owls are nocturnal. Not sure it would work in the tiny apartment we live in.

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My fantasy-loving son also got into a spontaneous sword fight with the girl at the Adventure Time stall. I blame those Ninja Turtles.

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Another highlight for me was seeing my boy on TV. He read that autocue like nobody’s business… apart from tripping on one word. But that just added to his charming delivery. I must not be am not a pushy stage mother.

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And I think a highlight for both of us was the “Pat a pig” pavilion! Here I am actually looking trimmer than I have in years as a fake farmer. Oink! OMG, while writing this I just had a flashback to my mother telling me that when I was a newborn the maternity nurses dubbed me “Porky Pig.”

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Not that there’s anything wrong with that… look how content these little guys seem. Three happy, spooning pigs. All they need is a blanket!

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The unlikely friendship between a spider (boy) and a llama.

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And what would an Easter show be without Easter eggs. Cheep cheep!

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Oh, and then there was the time Spider Boy came face to face (well, became the face of) his favourite vegetable.

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But you didn’t think the Royal Easter Show would be all about the vegetables did you? I know sugar is not in fashion at the moment and all I can say to that is… Pour some sugar on me! Without sugar, creations such as the cakes above WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE.

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More spectacular sugar creations. And then there was the dirty food…

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…tasty, trashy, nasty and dirty, just the way I love it. Lots of sticky food on sticks. Cheese on a stick, meat on a stick, cake on a stick, potato on a stick. The only thing NOT on a stick was Kewpie dolls (I didn’t see any, much to my disappointment). And don’t get me started on the Manwiches. Yes, that’s right, there was a “Manwich” stall. For when a sandwich just isn’t enough. Because of course no woman could eat a big sandwich (they haven’t met me, clearly). But “Womanwich” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

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Oh how we laughed.

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A display in the farming pavilion set the facts straight on sugar, without all the negative hype. It was pretty much spelled out in black and white; Sugar is high in energy but has no nutritional value. But I will never abandon my love of sugar as it has sentimental, nostalgic, artistic and happy value. And for me that means something. And stevia is not the same.

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Manwich time.

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Another decorative and functional place to eat.

The Sydney Royal Easter show was a great day out and we didn’t end up spending that much money. Once you’ve paid to enter the showground (or presented a member’s pass), entry to all the pavilions and the main arena is free. There were so many things to see and experience, as well as many free samples. In fact Spider Boy enjoyed seeing the animals and the free entertainment so much, he wasn’t bothered about rides. We were just too busy posing for all those face-in-the-board photos.

The only things we paid for was a professional photo of the Spider Boy and the owl, and some food (not on a stick). And something at the Adventure Time stall. And that Ninja Turtles showbag of course.

My neighbours – my own personal TV soap opera

Who needs to watch mindless TV soaps when I have a life-size doll house opposite my block of flats, populated with the pantheon of our cul-de-sac?

I do like to spy on the neighbours. More like perving really. Well, the two god-like young men in the building opposite will appear on their balconies half-naked at various times of the day.

Exactly one year ago I wrote a post, More eye-candy neighbours in which I talked about the three flatmates in the apartment across the road. Two handsome, usually shirtless young men and a woman. I wondered about the relationship between them.

Well since that post some answers have been revealed. Handsome Shirtless Blond man (eye-candy1) moved upstairs to the 3rd floor unit, leaving Handsome Shirtless Dark-haired man (eye-candy2), and the cranky-looking woman together on the 2nd floor.

Since blond eye-candy has moved out, the woman appears much less cranky; maybe because she finally has the love-nest she always wanted with dark-haired eye-candy. I have since seen them walking down the street holding hands.

One day not long after blond eye-candy moved to the 3rd-floor flat, I noticed a young blonde woman emerging from the living room onto the 3rd-floor balcony. The next day she was there again. And the next. She lives there now.

Handsome Shirtless Blond man also makes regular balcony appearances, thank god; shaking out his towels, hanging out his washing, barbequeing a sausage. He emerges from the living-room doorway onto the balcony, like a god on the mountain-top, his tanned body and blond hair practically sparkling in the morning sun. When I catch a glimpse, I stop whatever I’m doing and watch him. He is a male Venus from a Bananarama song – let’s call him Zeus, the ancient Greek king of the gods. He’s got it, yeah baby he’s got it.

The dark-haired guy on the second-floor is like a second-tier god. More of a Poseidon, god of the sea.

If Handsome Shirtless Blond man is Zeus, then the guy in the street level flat is Hades, god of the underworld. Middle-aged, hairy and overweight, he sits on his ground floor balcony, smoking, coughing and hawking up things from sun-up till sun-down and beyond. When all is silent in the street I can still hear “Smoko” coughing and sometimes laughing ebulliently at 1am. He talks on the phone a lot.

I like my real-life doll house. It’s comforting to see the same people day after day, living their lives, engaging in their simple daily routines, without ever having to actually speak to them.

But our street’s annual “Neighbour Day” on Sunday wanted to change all that. Neighbour Day is an event supported by our local council and Relationships Australia. The goal is to foster a sense of community in your neighbourhood and encourage people to get out of their homes and spend time in a communal setting getting to know the people that live around you.

Great idea right? But alas, none of my living dolls/gods attended our “Neighbour Day”, a lovely gathering down the end of our street in the community garden.

Although we weren’t honoured with the presence of the Eye-Candies, or Hades, our local Mayor Toni Seltzer did come along and told the crowd that “tending gardens also tends our neighbourliness.” We are so lucky to have a great community garden where people can grow veggies but also just sit with a cup of tea and talk to the neighbours in a lovely communal space.

The usual suspects also attended…

Hello Neighbour!

Hello Neighbour!

Spider Boy who is really tween-age now, was stuck in a toddler swing for a while because mummy couldn’t undo the child-proof lock. Silly mummy. I had to call on one of the neighbours to figure it out for me.

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It was so lovely under the trees. Our community garden is in a little fenced-off area behind a local sports field.

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One of the neighbour’s daughter and son-in-law have their very own jumping castle for their two small children. They schlepped it all the way from another municipality to share with our neighbour kids.

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And someone else who works for a supermarket chain brought along this new variation of Coca-Cola. It’s “Green” Coke. Made with Stevia and with 35% less sugar, it tastes almost like “the real thing” and better than Diet Coke in my opinion. It will be on sale soon.

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And there was a bit of watering to finish off the afternoon.

Thanks Neighbours!

For more information on Neighbour Day go to neighbourday.org