Wednesday, 29 July 2015

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

On Monday the girls and I ventured to a popular local spot that we had never visited before; UC Botanical Garden here in Berkeley.

This weekend, UC Botanical Garden had their biggest weekend ever in terms of attendance and it was all due to one special flower. Trudy, the garden's resident Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) or Corpse Flower was blooming for the first time. What makes this flower so special? Well, first of all it takes at least seven years for the plant to bloom for the first time, and then that bloom only lasts for a few days. Second of all, the flower is absolutely massive. I believe that Trudy reached 56 inches in height! And last but not least there's the smell. When the Corpse Flower blooms a foul odor reminiscent of rotting flesh is released to attract flies for pollination. I'm guessing you can tell where the name Corpse Flower comes from!

When I heard about the blooming Corpse Flower I knew I had to take the girls to see it. I mean, how often do you get to see a flower that's bigger than your whole body? Or smell a flower that reeks of rotting flesh? But as the UC Botanic Garden is perched high in the Berkeley Hills where regular buses don't go I wasn't sure how we'd get there. As luck would have it, it turns out that the UC shuttle buses I see driving around town aren't just for UC students (as I has always thought) and there's one that goes right to the entrance of the gardens. Woo hoo!

Trudy's bloom was at its peak on Sunday - and so was the number of visitors. We waited until Monday when I knew it would be a little quieter to visit. While it would have been amazing to see the flower completely open, the large crowds would have been too much for the kids.

When we arrived at the Botanical Garden we headed straight to the Tropical House to see Trudy. There was a small crowd of people there but we were still able to head straight in. I heard that on Sunday there had been an hour long wait to get into the Botanical Garden plus an equally long wait to get into the Tropical House! By the time of our visit Trudy was already starting to close up but was still pretty impressive none the less.

A hole had been cut near the base of the flower for the collection of pollen and to also serve as a window into flower for visitors. I believe that staff collected the pollen a little later in the day after our visit.

The rotting flesh smell was mostly gone when we visited, but I'm perfectly ok with that! You could still smell it a little if you put your face in close. Ava and Lola were able to get a whiff when someone kindly held them up to get a little closer. When asked by staff what she thought the flower smelled like Lola yelled out "Garbage!" Ava didn't find the smell so unpleasant though and responded that she thought it just smelled like flowers!

Oh, and I'm guessing you probably noticed Lola's pink hair!

While Trudy the Corpse Flower was the main reason for our visit we were keen to check out the rest of the garden. The garden is spread over thirty four acres and features more than 13,000 plant varieties from around the world, cultivated by region in naturalistic landscapes. The girls were pretty keen to see the Australasia section first so we headed there next.

It was a hot day (positively sweltering by Bay Area standards!) so we were all pretty excited when we came across a sprinkler watering a section of the Australasia garden - and some of the path! The girls danced around under the sprinkler to cool off, and under many more throughout the garden. I was a little worried that Lola's pink hair chalk would wash out and spread everywhere but it hardly budged. On a side note, I shampooed her hair four times the following morning and it's still slightly pink!

Nice and cool from the sprinkler we made our way around the garden, stopping to look at a pond, the stunning views over the Bay, beautiful flowers and, of course, to play under more sprinklers!

We couldn't see quite as much of the Botanical Garden as we would've liked as I had Mathilde's stroller with us which restricted which paths we could walk on. Being on a hill, the garden is full of little paths with stairs. We ventured up and down a few of them but couldn't stray too far away from the main paths where I'd left the stroller. Now that I know how easy it is to get to the UC Botanic Garden by shuttle bus we'll be sure to go back again soon - without the stroller. The girls noticed that the shuttle bus also stops at nearby Strawberry Canyon pool which we've only ever been to once - on foot, hence never making it back! I think that a trip to Strawberry Canyon pool and UC Botanical Garden is in order soon.

For more information about UC Botanical Garden you can visit their webpage here:

Saturday, 25 July 2015

52 Weeks: Week 29

Week 29: Brushstrokes Studio

Now that we're all over our jet lag and getting back into the regular swing of things I'm trying to come up with fun activities to keep the kids occupied for the rest of the Summer break.

One thing that we did last Summer that we all enjoyed was decorating ceramic plates at Brushstrokes Studio here in Berkeley. The girls had a great time decorating their plates and were really pleased with how they looked after being glazed and fired. I thought it would be a nice idea to visit Brushstrokes Studio every Summer and decorate another plate. That way the girls will end up with a nice little collection of their very own hand-painted plates.

We headed down to Brushstrokes Studios earlier this week to get creative. Unfortunately they were out of stock of the plates that we decorated last time. I was pretty keen for the girls' to stick to the same kind of plates as last time but I also didn't want them to leave empty handed, so to speak, seeing as we'd spent quite a while walking there. So we decided to paint something different this time around and paint the plates another day. The girls checked out the large assortment of blank ceramic items available and settled on painting espresso cups with matching saucers. We drank a lot of babyccinos while were were in Australia recently and the girls are keen to have them at home as well. Espresso cups are just the right size and we don't happen to have any at home, so that worked out pretty perfectly.

After discussing design ideas and colors, the girls got to work with the paint.

Lola painted a big happy sun on her saucer and a rainbow on her cup.

Ava painted a picture of herself drinking a hot chocolate on her saucer and a picture of Cookie Monster eating cookies on the cup. She thought it was funny that the saucer will hold cookies but features a hot drink, while the cup will hold a hot drink but features cookies! Kind of role reversal there!

Last year I stamped Mathilde's tiny footprint into the centre of her plate and painted tiny hearts around the outside. This year I figured she could try and paint something herself. I chose the colors for her, gave her a paint brush, and then got as far out of the way as I could while still holding her on my lap!

Doesn't it look like Mathilde has a lot of hair in that last shot? It's actually the end of my ponytail but it seems to match her hair color pretty well!

Anyway, not surprisingly, Mathile grew tired of painting after not too long so she moved onto playing with the contents of a toy box provided at Brushstrokes for just this very purpose. She found a toy dog and surprised us all by making it say "woof" over and over. So cute!

Ok, back to ceramics...

The girls were pretty happy with how their espresso cups and saucers turned out so far. The colors are pretty pale right now but after being glazed and fired they'll be nice and bright. We'll go back next week to pick them up when they're ready. I can't wait to show you how they turn out.

Oh, and this next photo has nothing to do with ceramics, it's just a funny car we found around the corner from the studio! Lola thought it was fantastic and was keen to look inside it. She couldn't work out which end was the front!

Out and About in Adelaide

During our recent trip to Australia we spent much of our time in our home city of Adelaide. It was so great to catch up with friends and family, but it was also nice to share our home city with the girls. Ava remembers life in Australia before our move to California, but as Lola had only just turned one year old a week before our move she has no memories of Adelaide. And of course, for our American born baby Mathilde, everything was new.

So we tried to get out and about in the city and see as much of it as possible. It was also a great chance for the girls to experience many of the things that we experienced growing up.

When we first arrived in Adelaide we spent a day out with my Mum, my sister Kylie, and my best friend, also named Kylie, and her little boy Sebastian. We started our day with an early lunch at Adelaide's Central Markets. On our way to meet up with everyone we stopped at a delicatessen in the markets and the girls tried a piece of fritz, a local South Australian "delicacy". I use the word delicacy loosely as fritz is one of those "mystery meat" sausages that kids love but adults don't - or they secretly love but won't admit it! Kids in South Australia grow up eating fritz and sauce (ketchup) sandwiches or eating fritz on its own as a snack. It always tastes best though when the butcher cuts of a piece and hands it to you to eat right then and there though. And that's what we did. The girls tried a piece of fritz each and they loved it. Ava used to eat it quite often when she was little but Lola and Mathilde were trying it for the first time. It was the first time I've been able to successfully get Mathilde to eat meat (other than chicken) and she continued eating it throughout our stay in Adelaide. The same goes for Lola who usually refuses to eat meat. I'll have to try and track down something similar here in California, but considering that it's not even available in other states of Australia that might prove a little tricky. The kids also enjoyed babyccinos with their lunch, another everyday item that is hard to come by in America. When we first moved here Ava was very upset that she couldn't get a babyccino when I went out for coffee. She could have a hot chocolate or a steamed milk but never a babyccino. Luckily, I can just make them at home with our coffee machine but it's not quite the same as having one in a cafe like a big person. Plus in Australia they come with marshmallows, and Australian marshmallows are so much better than American marshmallows!

After leaving the markets we caught the tram towards the river where we took a ride on the Popeye, a smallish tourist boat that makes trips backwards and forwards on a small stretch of the River Torrens. The last time I remember going on the Popeye was on my third grade camp which means I was the same age as Ava! The girls took it in turns playing captain and then we set off on our short journey towards the zoo and back. While Mathilde and Sebastian spent their time looking out of (and trying to climb out of!) and open window, Ava and Lola stayed with Aunty Kylie taking selfies! Ok, so there was a little duck face from Mathilde too!

Ava had really hoped to ride on the pedal boats that lined the shore however being Winter, they weren't available for hire until the following week when school holidays started. 

Back on dry land we checked out the bird life in the river and on the bank. Mathilde was pretty impressed with the big "ducks" - swans and pelicans - and wasn't scared of them at all, even after they chased a nearby group of picnickers away from their picnic!

We then made our way up to Rundle Mall for afternoon tea. As we walked past the Festival Theatre the sun shone beautifully across the top of it creating a little rainbow which went perfectly with the rainbow pattern on the building.

In Rundle Mall the kids played on the pig statues that have become a firm favorite with Adelaide families. Ava and Lola used to love sitting on the pigs when we'd go shopping in city back when we lived in Adelaide.

A few days later we were back in the city again to meet up with more friends. This time we visited the Art Gallery for lunch and pirate themed crafts for the kids. Then we hit up Rundle Mall again for another play on the pigs.

The pigs may be a favorite with local kids, but when it comes to Adelaide landmarks they don't come any bigger - or rounder - than Malls Balls! Ok, so I have absolutely no idea what this sculpture is actually called, and I intend to never find out because as far as I'm concerned (and pretty much the rest of South Australia) they're Malls Balls. Always have been, and always will be. This iconic sculpture stands outside the David Jones department store and is a popular spot for people to meet. In fact, before we all had mobile phones and had to organize a meeting spot before heading into the city next to Malls Balls was it. It was also the place to find one of Adelaide's well known local... umm... eccentric crazy people: the old lady that would yell at kids who banged on the balls! I'm sure she actually had a name, but any Adelaidean over the age of, say twenty five, will know who I'm talking about. She seemed to spend her days standing by the balls waiting for kids to bang on them just so she could yell. Which of course meant that kids would spend their time banging on the balls just to make her yell! Ah, memories... The old yelling lady is long gone now so the girls were free to run around the balls, bang on them and pull funny faces in them as much as they liked - or until I started to yell! Uh oh, I'm starting to see her point!

This particular evening we had plans to go to an AFL (Australian Rules) football game with my family. My family are all big fans of Port Adelaide, one of South Australia's local teams in the national league. My brother Adam very nicely organized seats in the member's stand for us and we had such a great night. I'm not really a football fan but the atmosphere at the game is always fun. The kids enjoyed being there with their cousins and they loved cheering along with the fans - even if they had no idea what was going on! Before the game we made our way across a newly built footbridge to the newly renovated Adelaide Oval. We made it there shortly before thousands of fans marched across the bridge en masse. Apparently it's a thing that Port Adelaide supporters do before each home game. It was pretty cool seeing the bridge completely covered in people but I'm glad we weren't among them with the kids!

Another thing that the Port Adelaide supporters do at the start of each game is hold their football scarves in the air and stand up to sing along to "Never tear us apart" by INXS. Adam had given the girls a scarf each so they were prepared for the game. The scarves also came in handy for the cold weather! In fact, it started raining quite heavily during the game. Luckily we kept nice and dry up in the member's stand. And warm under crocheted nanna blankets! Despite Port Adelaide's win there was much sadness in the crowd at this game (and all throughout Adelaide during our stay there) as their former coach had been killed a week before the game. As a tribute after the game, the stadium lights were turned down, everyone stood up, and a minute's silence was observed by the players, the support crew and the crowd. Thousands of twinkling mobile phones swaying back and forth lit up the stadium.

All the excitement of the football match after a day in the city was a little too much for the smallest members of our family who crashed out before they even made it into bed back at Nanna and Doug's house!

I know this one was a bit of a long post and I hope you made it this far. I have just a few more posts from our Australia trip left to share. We've been home for just under two weeks now but it already feels like our trip was so long ago.