Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Virgil's Touchwood Artisans' Village, Nanango, Qld

For years, during my journey to visit family in the South Burnett, we've driven past a quaint little village on the side of the D'Aguilar Highway, just outside of Nanango.
Virgil's Touchwood Artisans' Village is a collection of little huts, arts, crafts and memorabilia.
We were travelling back to Brisbane recently when Miss 7 announced she needed to use the toilet, and rather urgently, thank you very much.
Having just been through a town, with toilets, I was about to mumble a few choice swear words, when Virgil's village loomed ahead, rather conveniently I thought.
Mr 9 was cross at having to stop. (Apparently he was at a crucial stage of his DS game). However, he soon forget to be annoyed when he clocked the village's many kid-friendly attractions.
There were animal bones and skulls, displays of life in the 'olden days' as my kids describe them, birds to admire, and a pretty cool playground to explore. Oh and toilets. Don't forget the toilets. (They were clean too! Very important for public toilet-phobic H.)
We spent a pleasant half-an-hour or so while the kids worked off some nervous energy in the playground, and checked out all the arts, crafts, carvings, and bones.  
There was a brief potential meltdown when Mr 9 spied some hand-crafted walking sticks and decided he just HAD to have one. Now, C. has Aspergers Syndrome, and once he's fixated on something, it's really hard to distract him.
And then a really nice thing happened.  A man I presume to be Virgil came over, told C. he was much too young and able to need a walking stick; that in any case, the sticks were too tall for him; and that whenever he got to the stage where he needed one, he could come back and have one carved just for him.
I thought that was lovely. Only in the country would you get a salesperson try to talk you out of buying something!
And then the man winked at me, and sent us off to check out what Mick the bone-carver was up to.
Bones? That immediately piqued the kids' interests, and the walking stick incident was fogotten.  
You only get service like that in the South Burnett!

Virgil's Touchwood Artisan's Village, Nanango

Mr 9 soon forget his DS. There was real life stuff to explore!
Where's Carrie Bradshaw when you need her?
Manalo Blahniks have nothing on these...
They breed 'em tough out in the country...
A highlight of our visit was Mick the bone carver. The kids were fascinated.
Mick spent ages showing them how he turned bits of bone into beautiful works of art.
Some of Mick's beautiful bone carvings

I was stunned when Mick gave the kids some pieces of bone he didn't really need. I thought that was awesome, particularly as we couldn't afford to buy art on this occasion. Here they are showing them off. H. is kissing hers!

Mr 9's keepsake
And Miss 7's. They treasure them.
What a wonderful person Mick was for giving not just his time, but a small piece of his work for the kids to love.
Mr 9 wanted me to post this ...one of his favourite things at Virgil's village.

IF YOU GO: Virgil's Touchwood Artisans' Village is run by Virgil Smith, a woodworker and carver. He also restores much-loved furniture and custom-makes others. Entry is free, and open to visitors daily from 8.30am-5pm.
13620 D'Aguilar Highway


Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's Wayne's World ...

I've been lucky enough to attend the monthly Handmade Expo, held at the Ipswich Turf Club, Bundamba, several times.
I was originally invited by @bubbachenille and I've never looked back. This is my favourite market in Brisbane - or Queensland for that matter.
Every single stall contains original works of art (wearable or otherwise) by incredibly talented Aussies.
It's reasonably priced, and there's such a lovely atmosphere.
I've been once with kids - where stallholders were happy to talk about and explain their work to the kids, even if we couldn't afford to buy anything (or just something cheap).
The stallholders' passion for their work and their enjoyment of our appreciation of same, was wonderful. Never did I feel like anyone was trying to give us the hard sell. They were just passionate about their work, and rightly so. It was beautiful.
We did buy a few pieces here and there, and everytime I wear anything I've bought from the expo, I get the nicest comments. And obviously recommend the expo to others.
Then last time, I met up with a dear school friend, whom I'd recently reconnected with.
It was great being able to enjoy the markets from a grown-up perspective, and we lingered over jewellery, health, and baby clothes stalls. (Well I loved the jewellery and my mate will soon be a very young, groovy granny and was shopping in earnest).
We chatted over an excellent cup of coffee, and each bought a cupcake treat to take home.
See usually, I will buy treats for the kids, but not for me. Because the meds I'm on have piled on the weight, and I eat next to nothing and exercise to avoid putting on more.
But as we're both into living mindfully, we decided to treat ourselves to a cupcake. To enjoy, in privacy, much later.
So with my friend's 'permission' I bought one for myself.
Hours later, I sat down to enjoy it. Mine was a custard cupcake, and what a wonderful work of art it was. The icing was delicious, without being too sweet, and the cake was like Mum used to make. But the surprise was a pocket of custard in the middle of the cake.
I sat, alone in the sun, knowing my friend was doing the same, and enjoyed my treat.
It was (blush) orgasmic.
Tomorrow apparently there will be human handmade goods on offer, in the form of fireman Wayne.
Now my nephew and cousin are fire fighters, so I rarely get into firefighter fantasies, because that would be just wrong. But in Wayne's case, I'm happy to make an exception.
My tweeps and FB mates have all swapped all sorts of tasteless comments about Wayne. Mainly involving his big, powerful hose. And I admire the poor bloke, still wanting to attend the expo in the notion that he might possibly be mauled by all sorts of females (and males!)
So cheer up election day, by dropping by the Handmade Expo, and buying a few of Wayne's calendars. If you're lucky he may let you handle his hose.
(Honestly, sorry Wayne and your partner/family. Couldn't resist!)
If You Go:
The Ipswich Handmade Expo is at Ipswich Turf Club, Bundamba.
Saturday: 81m-2pm
Entry and parking is free.

How's the election bean?

On the eve of the election, who do you think is going to win?
Forget polls and campaigns, according to our local Muffin Break at Mt Ommaney Shopping Centre, Labour and the Coalition are going neck and neck. Or more correctly, coffee bean against coffee bean.
They have a really cool 'polling station' of their own, where customers can add a bean to the section which represents the party they will vote for.
We spend quite a lot of time at Mt Ommaney and often linger at Muffin Break due to Miss 7's penchant for muffins. She loves the mini-meal, which is three cute mini-muffins, a juice, and colouring form, pencils and sometimes a balloon - all in a pretty box for $4.95. She can't eat all the muffins in one go, so she usually has one for morning tea the next day. I usually get a coffee as well, and sometimes Mr 9 has a hot chocolate.
Muffin Break have a loyalty card where you get one free with every four coffees purchased. And you know how I love a bargain!

Anyway, every day since July 31, every Muffin Break store has encouraged their customers to cast their bean, erm, vote in their election polling stations.
And don't laugh! The managing director of Muffin Break, Serge Infanti, claims that the Unofficial Election Bean Poll correctly predicted the winners of the 2007 Australian election, and 2002 and 2005 NZ elections.
The last time I checked the results were:
Coalition 36%
Labor 35%
Greens 18%
Others 11%
If you're unsure of who to vote for, here are some words of wisdom from my kids:
Mr 9: We can't have a prime minister called Mr Rabbit! All the other countries will laugh at us.
Miss 7: I just want the girl to win.
Mr 9: No wonder Kevin Rudd had to go to hospital, if Julia Gillard stabbed him in the back.
Miss 7: Why are they picking on Julia. That's mean.

Anyway, have fun voting tomorrow (or earlier), and may the best team win!

Rydges Oasis Resort - Day 2

So following our rather hasty breakfast, I managed to get us a two-hour extra stay of execution, having joined a priority club when we booked.
Which meant we only had to leave at 1 pm as opposed to 11 am.
Now 2 hours isn't much, but with kids, you make the most of it.
The later check-out meant that after breakfast the kids managed to fit in:
Another swim, and soak in the spa
A hit of tennis ... Mr 9 kind of lost interest when he realised poor old Mum, despite pretending to be crap (and I am crap!), was still better than he was ...

So we retired to our room to watch I-Carly and pack (can you spy Miss 7's head just peeking out from the blankets on the left?)

A quick stop at McDonalds - which for once had the toys they were advertising for the happy meals (Bakugans for Mr 9, My Little Pony for Miss 7), and we were on our way back to Brisbane.
Can I just say that despite the pluses and minuses of our last minute jaunt the kids were awesome, and I really loved hanging out with them.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rydges Oasis Resort Caloundra .... the food

Okay, so with the restaurant booked out, and two hungry kids, we were left with a problem.
The always-social Mr 9 really wanted to go out ... and there are loads of cheap and cheerful restaurants in Caloundra, and I kind of seconded that motion.
But Miss 7 was tired after a busy day in the water and sun, plus, after a lovely spa and shower, had changed into her pyjamas. And no girl in her PJs wants to be seen in public after a certain time. If at all.
The only thing we agreed on was that we were all HUNGRY.
I'd already planned on splashing out on a meal at the resort, so I suggested: 'Let's look at the room service menu!'
The kids had already started watching some family movie on the pay TV channel (we don't have Pay TV at our place, and I had no idea who the actors were, but the kids insisted they were AWESOME).
So we looked at the menu. (Did I mention that I love that the kids can read now, and take pleasure out of choosing their own meals?)
Strike One: There was No Kids Menu. Now, I don't think I've ever stayed at a hotel or resort that didn't have one, particularly one which is aimed at families.
But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because my kids are good eaters with decent palates, and often they prefer small serves of 'adult' meals when we eat out anyway. (I know - how good is that? No artificially-enhanced nuggets or fish sticks for them).
The prices were reasonable, so I threw caution to the wind and ordered a 'Feast' to share. (The kids' word, not mine.) We had drinks to share too - OJ and Fanta - and in honour of the occasion, the kids drank it in pretty adult glasses.
Mr 9 1/2, being the man of the house, wanted to order and he did so with considerable aplomb.
And when the food arrived, (and very quickly thank you Rydges), the kids were ecstatic.

A steak ciabatta sandwich for Miss 7, nachos for Mr 9, and a seafood basket for me.

But what actually happened was, the nachos were way too spicy for Mr 9, and Miss 7 hated the salad on her steak. So C. ate my seafood basket, H. ate the steak and chips, and I got the salad and nachos. (And boy, they were spicy! But they were loaded with guacamole and sour cream too, which balanced out the spices.)

Luckily, dessert avoided a mutiny. It was really rather good.
Mr 9 went for strawberry and meringue mash and was in ecstasy. (In fact, he wanted to order another one, but even on treat night I had to put a stop to that!)

Can't pose, eating

Miss 7 chose warm chocolate pudding with maple ice-cream and strawberries.
And it was delicious, the outside moist and warm and exploding with hot fudgy sauce when cut through with a spoon.
But here is another gripe.
The menu description said it was chocolate pudding with maple syrup ice-cream and strawberries.
As always, whenever we order any kind of food when we're out, room service or otherwise, we asked if any of the meals contained nuts or tree nuts.
Oh no, we were told.
Well, thank God, C. didn't try his sister's dessert because her ice-cream was full of walnuts or pecans (I'm never sure). And although we carry an epipen, we would have ended up in hospital had C. even tried a tiny bite. And he would have been traumatised, because any anaphylactic reaction is life-threatening, horrific, and extremely scary. And usually the child is wiped out after treatment, for quite a long time. Not to mention, scared to eat anything again. (Not to mention the poor parent in grave need of valium...)
C. has a potentially fatal allergy to nuts, particularly tree nuts.  And most organisations, when you check with them, are extremely responsible. It can be difficult if you're travelling, but you need to be vigilant, and double-check every order.
During our last family holiday in Samoa, before The End Of Life (As We Knew It),  the chefs often came down to double-check the ingredients with us, and on the occasions there were nuts involved, they even whipped up special nut-free meals just for C. I love Samoa!)
On this occasion, there was no language barrier, so I was not impressed. I guess it was another reminder that we can't always trust kitchen or wait staff. (C. did want to try his sister's ice-cream but I insisted on checking it first. Yes, I'm selfless like that ... but seriously, it is necessary.)

Luckily, breakfast was a happy affair. I was content with coffee - several cups - but the kids enjoyed a buffet breakfast for $8.50 each. It was, to be honest, fairly standard breakfast fare, but for $8.50 I'm hardly going to quibble. There were there usual hot box scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacons, sausages and other goodies, plus pastries, yoghurt, fruit and those dinky boxes of cereal that kids love.
The room was noisy and full, but luckily none of the other guests ventured outside for some reason, where it was quiet, and peaceful.  We were the only ones out there, would you believe?
When they weren't eating, the kids kept looking for George The Resident Water Dragon, and turtles, and fish.

I always find it funny that at a breakfast buffet, Miss 7 always goes for toast. Even though she could have toast every day at home, it's nowhere near as fun in a restaurant!

 Looking for George 

The peaceful outdoor setting.

As we finished our breaky, we were told by staff they closed at 9 am, which struck me as being a little early for a Sunday morning. My tired out angels had slept in, and I'd let them because it was the weekend.
So the kids grabbed a couple of apples and we left even though they were still a little hungry. But my bad, I should have checked first. .
It was a lovely break away, despite my gripes, and I would return, but only if I could get a better deal next time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rydges Oasis Resort, Caloundra - part one

I haven't had a holiday with the kids since my marriage ended.
Money and time has been tight, and during holidays there have always been fabulous things like medical and dental visits, haircuts, and counselling to do. You know, all the usual school holiday fun and frivolity.
The kids are okay. Their Dad has taken them on holiday with his girlfriend and her family; but I've longed to have the opportunity to get away myself.
So recently, we were visiting the Sunshine Coast for a family thing, when I thought: "Bugger it! We're going to stay overnight."
And in that moment I decided to throw caution - and my budget - to the wind. Well a little!
I had a quick look at http://www.wotif.com/, before booking the only place that had a decent deal for one-night stays. (Has anyone else noticed that many of the deals for wotif and the like are now dependent on the number of nights booked? Just saying!)
And also: Next time, I'll check the hotel website first, because I ended up paying about $30 more than I would have paid if I'd gone to the hotel direct. Grrrr!
I love the Sunshine Coast, especially Caloundra, which was the destination for so many lovely holidays when I was a kid.
(Unfortunately most of those holidays also involved the six of us, plus dog, staying in a four-berth caravan and annex. Before there was air-conditioning. With one portable fan and no TV. My bed was the table, which Dad had to fold down every night, and then put back up in the morning. And to save on those scary middle of the night toilet visits, the girls got to wee in buckets overnight, which poor Dad had to empty out in the morning. Shudder! But fishing and swimming more than made up for the discomfort. And I did loads of lovely reading. Bless you Enid Blyton).
Anyway, I digress.
On this occasion, I booked a one bedroom 'suite' at the Rydges Oasis Resort. I put 'suite' in inverted commas, because the word always conjures up visions of indoor pools, heated spas, and private butlers to wait on me hand and foot. Rather than a slightly larger than usual hotel room, with, on this occasion, a kitchenette.  And no butler.
The suites have been given a makeover since my last visit, many moons ago, and it's comfortable and clean.
I thought I'd booked a room with a Queen bed and a single, but the single turned out to be a divan and a portacot.
We kept the portacot as a handy way to dry towels. And although Mr 9 started out sleeping on the couch, he crept into the queen bed with his sister and I in the wee hours. Queue Miss 7 sitting up in bed and crying hysterically: "Go away C. Get out C. Make C. get out!" (She had no memory of this the next day, so it may have been some kind of night terror. A stinky 9-year-old will do that to a girl ...)
When that was done, the pair of them managed to grab all the blankets and most of the bed space for themselves, leading to a cold, sleepless night perched on the edge of the bed for me.
Now, although the room was okay, there were quite a few niggles:
There was no light fixture on the outside light
The bin was broken
It was really noisy (there seemed to be a wedding party there, so that might not be the resort's fault, but you'd think if they book these parties in regularly, they could allocate part of the resort to non-partying guests). In particular the late hours - between about 10 pm and midnight - and the early hours - from around 6 am, were hideous, with groups of people shouting and talking outside our room. The bad manners extended to breakfast in the restaurant, with groups of people blocking the already tiny aisles and shouting and laughing so much that it was impossible to have a conversation with my children. No one did anything to pull them into line.
I tried to book the restaurant at reception, but was told I had to do this with them direct. And although I phoned them the minute we got into our room, at check-in time, they were booked out until 7.30 pm. A fact that I'm pretty sure our check-in dude should have been aware of.
This is a pet hate of mine. Most decent resorts, particularly those who market themselves at families, allocate a certain number of tables to in-house guests. It's just polite. I got the feeling that even if I'd try to book earlier, I wouldn't have been successful, because they didn't want to knock back a big group booking. Which might be okay in the short-term, but not for long-term, repeat business.
You see, 7.30 pm is bedtime for my kids, and to ask them to wait not just until then, but for the time it takes to dine in a restaurant (giving drink and food orders) when the kids are already tired? It's not going to happen. We ended up ordering in, but more on that later ...
I'm not completely mean. I would have let the kids stay up longer, since it was a special occasion, but they were both tired, hungry and cold.
Really cold.
Because even though the Sunshine State is warm in winter, the nights and mornings are cool. Our bedroom air-conditioner/heater wasn't working and we were freezing.
We phoned reception, who said there were quite a few rooms like that, and they would send someone over with an oil heater.
Someone did come over, but minus the oil heater. They had run out. They did bring three extra blankets, but come on ... I had cold kiddies, and they KNEW there was a problem ahead of time, but did nothing about it. That's a Tourism FAIL in my books.
We ran the reverse-cycle air-conditioner in the main room, but it didn't seem to help much, hence Mr 9 volunteering to take the (warm) couch before realising the bed was more comfy.
We would have been warmer at home.
Despite all this, we did enjoy our break away.
The huge plus for this resort is the spacious grounds, and the fact that all the activities are included. Including tennis (court, balls and racquets) and mini-golf (really just a few holes in the lawn, but the kids didn't care.)
And the lush grounds gives it a more luxurious feel, even though the service is really ordinary.
Stay tuned for the next instalment!
It may be winter and the pool was FREEZING, but we had to to ourselves
Missy braved the pool ...Oh my goodness it was cold.
The spa was warmer, but not hot ... and there were sharp things inside it on the floor, which made Miss 7's foot bleed. And brought on tears.
Thank Goodness I thought to bring some Cup-of-Soup while we waited for dinner...
The room was comfy enough, despite the portacot
The fruit trees were a nice touch. Miss 7 picks some lemons ....
Mini-golf. Really just putting, but still fun for kids.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Are you going to the Ekka?

I wasn't going to blog about the Ekka again, because, quite frankly, I was in a huff that their not-so-social-media-friendly PR team wouldn't give me a family pass for a blog giveaway.
But it's Ekka time, and I'm a Queensland girl, so how can I not?
Now, I could have taken out a bank loan and taken the kids myself, but my Ex has already bought tickets for them, and is promising to spend up big, and to be honest, it's all rather a bit of a relief.
Though the child in me always gets excited at the thought of the Ekka - the smell of cow/horse/miscellaneous animal poo; the calorific Dagwood Dogs dipped into those giant buckets of budget tomato sauce; the strawberry ice-creams, which actually can be a hit and miss affair; the noise and vomit of sideshow alley; and last, but not least, the showbags: The tacky, overpriced, but completely necessary showbags.
This year, the adult in me has thought: Actually, I'm pretty okay with the fact that I'm not going.
Normally we schlep all the way into the showgrounds - and parking is cheaper than the train, but still involves a bit of a walk for little legs, before you even get in the gates.
Then there are the crowds. The noise. And of course, the prices. (I've heard it's $4.50 for a strawberry ice-cream this year? Please correct me if I'm wrong.)
And although there are plenty of free things, in the past we've found it so busy and so difficult to negotiate, that we only ever see a fraction of things on offer. And my kids are usually too cold/tired/over-stimulated/ or just plain cranky, to stay for the night program.
But in the interests of supporting our iconic annual event, I thought I'd share a few fun facts, courtesy of The Ekka's media department.
  • The Ekka is Queensland’s largest event
  • More than 70 per cent of the Showgrounds are dedicated to free activities
  • Throughout the 10 days of the Ekka there are more than 3,000 free things to do and see.
  • Visitors can admire fine arts displays which contain 1300 photographs, 963 craft entries, 900 paintings, 900 cookery entries, 100 quilts, and 37 sculptures
  • In the Brisbane Markets Agricultural Hall there are 20 major fruit and vegetable exhibits which are made up of more than 110 metre-long banana hands, more than 100 pineapples, as well as 20 giant pumpkins 
  • There are 300 dogs to look at, 2,000 chooks, 70 geese, 100 ducks, 80 canaries, 50 pigeons, 1,200 beef cattle, 700 horses, 160 cats, 120 dairy goats (including 30 kids), 150 alpacas, 400 dairy cows, 150 goats, and 200 fish.
  • Visitors can also enjoy 12 sheepdog trials, 12 incredible garden displays, 30 horse drawn carriages, 200 thoroughbreds, a grand parade, and two livestock parades. Oh, and there are 400 baby animals in the RACQ Animal Nursery and 100 pregnant Ekka Ewes in the Sunny Queen Little Miracles Newborn Corner.
Still not convinced?
Importantly, 20 tonnes of manure is removed during Ekka and placed in landfill at Ti Tree Bioenergy, a waste disposal facility which captures environmentally damaging methane and converts it into electricity.

See, so the Ekka is never completely crap!

If you go, enjoy. And have a Dagwood Dog for me!

"You say they want how much for the showbags?"
(Image courtesy of the Ekka Media Centre)

Sunday, August 1, 2010


There was a chill blowing in the air this morning, and both kids were wheezy, Mr 9, sick enough to stay home in bed.
In Brisbane that can only mean one thing: It's Ekka Time!
Much-loved (and at times loathed) by Queenslanders, Brisbane's annual Ekka is synonomous with the three F's. I'm talking Fun, Food and Flu.
The Ekka is known as the time when the country comes to the city.
Indeed, the annual visit to the Royal Brisbane Show was a highlight of my childhood. Each year, my parents made the trek from Wondai, four kids in tow, one of them - me - being sick in the car on the way there, and the way home.
We'd set up base at Uncle Clarrie's spot in the dairy cow pavilion, so there was always a respite from the crowds and a reviving cup of tea if we needed one. Mum saved money by packing sandwiches and drinks, but my parents always shelled out for a strawberry ice-cream and dagwood dog each. We also got to choose two sample bags each, and two side show alley rides or attractions. If we'd saved our pocket money, we could splurge on a few extras too.
As an adult I still felt that frission of excitement when I drove past the showgrounds yesterday and clocked the Ferris Wheel rising majestically above Sideshow Alley.
Pretty much every year we go, spend a load of money, fill up on junk food, and come home weighed under by showbags full of sweets and crappy toys. And we love every minute.
Last year, was an exception. Living in Auckland at the time, the kids and I were fortunate enough to attend the Kiwi version of our Ekka instead, and we noticed the following comparisons:
  • At the Auckland Show, there were no showbags. Gasp! Unbelievable, but true. The kids were disappointed, but I was secretly pleased (and much wealthier as a result!).
  • There were no Dagwood Dogs or Pluto Pups. They did have 'Hot Dogs', battered meat sausages on a stick (not a battered frankfurt). American Hot Dogs were frankfurts in buns.
  • The carnies were really friendly and chatty, especially with the kids, and making our way through it was a breeze. One carnie gave Harmonie several extra goes to allow her to get a prize.
  • And it was not Sideshow Alley. It was The Carnival Area.
  • There were no strawberry ice-creams. In fact, I don't think there was any iconic show food like there is at the Ekka. Not even a fruit salad inside half a pineapple or a cream horn.  
  • There were wine and art categories, and ubiquitous animal exhibitions, but no cake icing competitions, baking, flowers, or fruit and vege competitions. Yes, I know, it doesn't bear thinking about really, does it?
  • There were no queues for anything (though I'm told that was unusual. The fact that it was freezing cold and sleeting in Auckland the day we attended, may have had something to do with that!)
  • There were no fireworks.   
  • Overall, the show was much smaller than we were used to, but that also meant fewer crowds and less kiddie meltdowns. 
  •  The main similarity? The expense. It cost us $30 just to get through the gates, and I shudder to think how much we spent on food, drink, rides and games. It was a fun day out, and I'm glad we checked it out. It was no Ekka though. Because there is nowhere quite like the Brisbane Ekka!
This llama is going to the Ekka. Are you?
And yes, if the flu stays away, we'll be there too...
(Photo courtesy of the Ekka Media Centre's Image Gallery)