How to survive a museum trip with kids!

Earlier this year, I went to Italy. Yep – a big overseas trip with three children! Not sure what I was thinking, but I really wanted to go and I try to be one of those ‘My kids are going to stop me’ kind of mums. So we saved and saved, got the time off work and booked the trip. Everyone was excited. It was our first big trip after the birth of my third child.

Everything started well.  We had a stop in Abu Dhabi which still feels like home to me. We caught up with friends and enjoyed going to some of our old haunts and checking out some new ones.  Abu Dhabi really is so easy and fun for kids. Parks and beaches galore!

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Saadiyat Beach with the Lourve Abu Dhabi under construction in the background

We first flew to Venice. Beautiful yes, but we were a little bit of a walk from the main sights, so lots of walking and not so much fun with a pram. Up and down bridges and steps!  The kids had fun though, but after about 5 days of not being able to really let them get loose in a park (a crowded plaza really is not the same), we moved on.  We were even brave enough to hire a car and so our Italian road trip began.

We travelled to:

  • Bellagio via Verona;
  • La Spezia (for Cinque Terre) via Genoa;
  • Florence via Pisa;
  • Orvieto via Siena; and
  • Rome

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How was travelling with three kids in Italy? A LOT of work. We managed to remain sane for most of the stops. We stayed in apartments and tried to incorporate children friendly activities and days throughout, but by the time we arrived in Rome everyone was tired.  We could only get them so excited about museums and after many tense experiences (the Vatican was the most intense and stressful experiences of the whole trip – so so many people) at various sites, we decided in Rome to try our hands at making the experience of going to museums more fun for them.

One of our tricks was a treasure hunt. Through this we hoped that the older two would actually even look at some of the art works. It worked a treat – but my kids take treasure hunts VERY seriously, so we really had to research to make sure that the things we put on their list, they were able to be find.

While they enjoyed the trip and the copious amounts of gelato and pizza they got to eat, the whole trip was so draining that I swore to never do a big trip with them again. Yes we’ll see how long that lasts.

Once we got back to Sydney life continued at a breakneck speed. But in all the insanity we did manage a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition.  I had been meaning to go for a long time and finally got the time to do it.  But with some of the pain of our Italy museum experiences fresh in my mind, I decided to re-visit my survival toolbox and out came the Frida Kahlo activity sheet!

No, the art gallery did not in fact have anything for kids, so I did some research the night before and put together an activity sheet. Did it work? Yes – for the older two it did.  While they were busy with their activity pack, I did get to wonder through the exhibition and I have to say I was a little underwhelmed.  The art works were great, but there really wasn’t too many of them. Much of the exhibition was a celebration of the artists, rather than the art. We photos and video footage being the centre of attention.  So from that regard, I was a little disappointed. Also the exhibition was VERY crowded. The way we experienced it was to be in a big conga line and just walk single file past the art works. There was no place to sit and linger, which made doing one of the activities I had (to sit in a quiet area and draw one of their favourite paintings) nearly impossible.

In the end I was glad to go because if I hadn’t I would have wondered about what could have been, but the most fun we had was going to the Sydney Botanical Gardens. My daughter had just attended a school excursion there so was full of excitement to show me her favourite parts.  The whole day was helped by the glorious show of weather Sydney had for us and with the promise of a gelato at the end of the day, the kids enjoyed the rest of the day.  So my tips for a cultural day out – bribery with gelato and an activity pack that includes a treasure hunt!  I’ve included my Frida Kahlo one. I hope you find it useful.

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Verge Gardening

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One of the benefits of my house is that I have a corner block and thankfully the longer side of my block is in a quiet street. The bad thing obviously is how much mowing we have to do!  Last year I took a cutting from my large frangipani tree and eventually this ended up on our nature strip (verge).  This year I planted a Mulberry tree in my house, but unfortunately I didn’t choose the best location. Rather than remove the tree altogether, I’m going to try and move it to my nature strip.

I’m not sure if I’m really allowed to do all of this. My Council is not one of those Councils that encourages verge gardens. In fact, my Council strongly discourages this. Not all Councils are like mine however. Some like Marrickville and City of Sydney Council are actively encouraging residents to plant and maintain verge gardens.

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A friend recently shared this video of the City of Vancouver and its verge garden revolution.  However planting trees is one thing, planting vegetables quite another.  When I first saw this video I liked the story behind it, but then thought ‘hey having vegetables grown so close to the road and encouraging their consumption – is that good?’ so I decided to find out.

My initial reaction really had to do with fumes from cars and run off from the road and houses entering the soil and thereby being taken in by the plant.  Was this safe? Well after much searching, I may have found the answer.

Lead

Lead is one chemical that can have significant health impacts to humans, especially children. Exposure to lead can lead to brain damage and impaired intellectual development. In Australia lead was prevalent in houses (paints) and petrol.   But its use in petrol was phased out from 1993 and in paints from the 1970s. Therefore, as most of the toxic issues related to verge gardens would be related to lead poisoning, that’s a good thing.

But that’s not the end of the lead story.  Lead would not only be found in the soil on your verge, it would also be found in ordinary homes such as mine.  Depending on the age of your house, if lead is likely to be found in paint work, it may be best to leave it alone. Similar to asbestos, if lead is left intact it is not likely to cause harm. It will cause harm if you damage it and disturb it so as to create dust. If this dust is inhaled, touched or let to settle on soil, that’s when problems may start to arise, particularly for areas where food may be grown.

A study by Macquarie University found that children were most at risk in that they absorbed more lead than adults. The study also found some plants absorb more of this toxin and then pass it onto people than others. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and silverbeet were the worst offenders (sources: 1, 2 & 3).

While all of this may seem scary, there are ways to address this. Firstly, it is very important to test your soil before growing any food. Another way to address this is to have raised garden beds which is what I’ve done.

Apart from the toxins issue, those opposed to verge gardens may cite safety issues which are perfectly valid. These really have to do with the maintenance of the plants planted to ensure they don’t impact people’s ability to use footpaths and to ensure they don’t obstruct visibility for motorists. These issues are easily addressed however by having a set of guidelines in place for those that want to plant on their nature strip.

Other management issues with verge gardens include the application of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers running off into the stormwater system and ending up in creeks and other water bodies.  Again, this is where having a good set of guidelines that encourage organic gardening techniques would come in handy.

So with my health concerns related to verge gardens allayed, I hope to see more people participating in gardening. Participating in local urban farming whether through a verge garden or a community garden can only be good.

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Resources

To find out whether you are allowed to plant a verge garden, contact your local Council and read the City of Sydney guidelines.

You can also contact your local Council to see if there are any local community gardens that you can participate in. You can also check out this website: http://communitygarden.org.au/

Also, the presenter of one of the shows that I really enjoy watching is a big advocate of verge gardens. You can also check out Gardening Australia’s take on this through this LINK. There are loads of videos in the 2012 archives.

Let me know

If you already participate in a verge garden or a community garden, let me know your thoughts and share your story and pictures. I’d love to hear from you!

More garden excitement!

IMG_20150212_110710162 When I returned from the UAE to live in Sydney my avocado trees were sticks.  After three years finally – some avocados! Then, some just over a year ago, I planted a lone apple tree in my house not really expecting it to bare fruit because you’re supposed to plant at least two for cross fertilization. But yay a few apples, albeit small apples. Still it feels great to grow and eat my own fruit and vegetables in a suburb of Sydney! Enjoy.

How to entertain during the school holidays on a budget

As I sit here resting after another school holiday day, I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve been doing with my children during these holidays. Usually school holiday time seems to be the perfect opportunity for prices to go up – double or triple. So holidays away always seem to be quite pricey, as do most activities. 

But one thing that I have done for the last two holidays has been cheap and fun. Essentially I take my kids on what I call a ‘treasure hunt’ through the City. I work in the CBD of Sydney, so before the ‘treasure hunt’ I usually scout for some ‘clues’ to help us on the way to funding our treasure.  

The day starts with a bus ride, which for my children is the ‘most fun ever’!  We get to sit on the bus as it goes across the Harbour Bridge and see the Opera House. 

Once in the City, the treasure hunt begins.  I print them off a table with various landmarks and points of interest which I hope to see. Usually I have a route or destination in mind and along the way as we see our ‘clues’ they get a stamp once they’ve spotted the clue.

This time around ‘Art n About’ was on in Sydney, so there were a few more fun things to see like giant snails. My route usually takes me from the bus stop in Wynyard, to Hyde Park where we eat a home packed lunch.  then on the way back to the bus stop we stop at David Jones’ where we go and get chocolate dipped fruit. This is about the only thing I spend on the day and after a few hours of walking, the kids are more than happy to get the bus back home.

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This is an idea which I think can work on so many levels. Already I’m thinking of doing this at an art gallery, bushwalk or overseas ‘cultural’ holiday. 

I hope you enjoy your treasure hunt with your children as you point out things that they would have otherwise missed.