Marvellous Melbourne: The Puffing Billy Railway

We’re posting over at our travel blog, Owl Fly Away, today! Hop on over and check it out!

Owl Fly Away

After spending three days in Melbourne city, we decided to head to the outskirts of the city to be nearer to the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley, which are both well known for beautifully scenic countryside and boasting well maintained National Parks.

One of the best ways to view the Mountain Ash forests of the Dandenong Ranges is onboard a steam-powered locomotive travelling on the Puffing Billy Railway. Choo choo!

Puffing-Billy-Melbourne-Trains Waiting patiently at Belgrave Station

Puffing Billy travels from Belgrave to Gembrook station (with a few stops in between) going slowly through wooded countryside and wide open farmland, and over wooden trestle bridges.

The whole journey from Belgrave to Gembrook is about 2 hours long, with a round trip taking 5 hours in total, so it is completely possible to make a whole day trip  out of a visit to Puffing Billy.

We decided to stop by the…

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Last Minute Teacher’s Day Gift Ideas from around the web

Teacher’s Day is in a few days time and if you (like myself) are barely able to get it together on a daily basis, here are some awesome last minute Teacher’s Day Gift ideas from around the web! Just click on the links or the images for more details.

Smile, print and go!

Here are some really simple and fast gift and craft ideas using photos of your child! Just a little bit of photoshop magic or scissorwork required!

DIY Photo bookmark from Owls Well


Photo penholder card from Owls Well


Homemade Goodness

If you really want to impress, here are some delicious ideas that are so simple to make, you can even get your kids involved in the process!

Double Berry Jam from Life’s Tiny Miracles

Picture Credit: Life’s Tiny Miracles

Homemade Granola from MalMal Our Inspiration

Picture Credit: MalMal Our Inspiration

Daily Survival Kits

For some of us who have no confidence in our culinary skills, here are some equally practical gifts for helping teachers stay healthy, happy and sweet.

Obento-style care packages for teachers from Sakura Hakura

Picture Credit: Sakura Hakura

Teachers’ Day Care Package from Bubsicles

Picture Credit: Bubsicles

Make it personal

Nothing says ‘effort’ like a handmade gift! Here are some more lovely craft ideas for that special teacher.

Hand stamped tote bags from Lil Blue Bottle

Teachers = learning = books = they will always need a tote bag for all their books and loose papers! (I suggest using the slogan “You’re Totes Awesome”! )

Picture Credit: Lil Blue Bottle

Magnetising Teachers Day from Growing Hearts 123

Picture Credit: Growing Hearts 123

Make it Teacher Approved

Here are some useful lists of gift ideas with some gorgeous free printables – written by parents who are teachers themselves!

(By the way, I hear movie ticket vouchers, Starbucks gift cards and good quality coloured pens or highlighters are very high on the wish list, although every teacher I’ve spoken to really appreciates a thoughtfully written card.)

  1. 6 Gift Ideas for Teachers from My Lilbookworm
  2. 10 Mason Jar Gift ideas for Teachers’ Day from Life’s Tiny Miracles

Marvellous Melbourne: The St Kilda Adventure Playground

We’re posting over at Owl Fly Away today all about how we found Sesame Street in Melbourne!

Owl Fly Away

We were very fortunate to be staying a stone’s throw away from the St Kilda Adventure Playground on Neptune Street. This playground is one of two adventure playgrounds which are community hubs run by the local council with the aim of promote free and unstructured recreation to children and young people in a safe environment. It is open everyday and has limited opening hours (11am -4:30pm on non-school days and 3:30-5:30pm on school days).

For us, this meant that the Barn Owl could bring the kids to the playground in the late afternoons when Thumper was taking his afternoon nap or if we wanted to have a rest from sightseeing but still engage the kids in an outdoor activity.

st-kilda-adventure-playground Risk-taking play in a supervised “urban backyard” setting

Whilst we were there, we observed that there were volunteer staff members present during school days, who were all young adults from local…

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Deep Conversations with a 5 year old girl (or, Little E understands pop culture)

Wavy-curly-hair-toddler-girl-hakone-japanDebs G: Okay, Little E, get in the car and buckle up.

Little E: Mummy, I need to go to the bathroom.

Debs G: Can you hold it? We’re almost home.

Little E: Yes, I can wait.

Debs G: Okay good.

Little E: (with some urgency) Mummy, can you go a little bit faster?

Debs G: I’m going as fast as I can but there’s lots of cars on the road today.

Little E: (louder now) Go faster please, Mummy!

Debs G: I can’t, it’s too dangerous!

Little E: (yelling now) LUDICROUS SPEED! GO!!!!!!!

Debs G: (also yelling) My brains are going into my feet!!!!

Debs G achieves a SPACEBALLS trophy!

Picture Credit: TV Tropes

Video Game Family Time: Resogun

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

This time, I’ll be talking about one of the first games we played together, Resogun.


Picture Source: Resogun Official Webpage

Resogun is a really fun shoot ’em up game from the Finnish indie game developer, Housemarque, which brings me back to the days when I used to play Choplifter on PC.

This is a side-scrolling video game, that is, the action is viewed from a side angle and onscreen characters move left-to-right and back again to achieve their objectives. Players control little spaceships and have to shoot invading alien ships whilst rescuing humans trapped in glass cages. The game is pretty fast paced, so it’s a good one to play if you want to keep the game time really short and yet satisfying (like 15-20 minutes).

We like this game for playing in pairs (the multiplayer function only goes up to two players), and the fact that in-game resources like special weapons, extra lives and bonuses, are shared between both players. This means that the game encourages cooperative play (not competitive play), and J and Little E have to work together to defeat the game, collect bonuses and upgrades, and protect each other when carrying a people to safety.

The game is also very simple to learn as it has a straightforward control system and really smooth graphics that are sensitive and responsive to the player. The challenge in the game lies in being able to react quickly and use special weapons more strategically as the levels progress in difficulty. This means that our 5 year old Little E can still play with our 8 year old J, and both of them are engaged in the game.

The little ships and people are very cute, and the alien spaceships are not visually frightening or ugly. The game does involve shooting down evil alien spaceships, with a great deal of cartoon violence (the ships explode into colourful pixels).

Another aspect of the game that I like is that you can build and customise your own ships. J and Little E get a kick out of designing their own spaceships and seeing them rendered in 3D!

Here’s an example of a ship that Little E designed for Valentine’s Day this year.


Little E’s ship, the “Love Butterfly”

J also drew and coloured his own spaceship, the “Rainbow Tornado”.

Then, The Barn Owl and I helped them turn their drawings into playable ships that they could use in the game!

Each of them had to choose what sort of characteristics their ships would have based on how they like to play the game. Little E’s ship was made faster but with less firepower so that she could concentrate on saving more people and collecting bonuses (you can see the “Love Butterfly” carrying a little green man who is dangling from the belly of the ship in the picture below), whilst J’s ship is less agile but has stronger shields and firepower, as well as a bigger boost engine.


J and Little E piloting the “Love Butterfly” and “Rainbow Tornado”

When we are playing together in Resogun, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We remember to be patient – we don’t get cross with each other if the game doesn’t go the way that we want, and we are kind with our words
  2. We listen to each other – we discuss and work together to form a common game strategy
  3. We take turns to be the team leader
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Marvellous Melbourne: St Kilda’s Beach

We’re posting over at our travel blog today, so do hop on over to follow our adventures abroad!

Owl Fly Away

During the first few days of our trip to Melbourne, we decided to stay at a self-catering apartment in St Kilda’s Beach, so as to be able to remain near the city centre whilst still being able to enjoy some time by the sea.

We hadn’t had time to pop to the shops on our first day at St Kilda’s Beach and I was in no mood to do any cooking, so we ended up searching for a nice café serving breakfast. There are loads of cute little restaurants near the beach, and after some wandering around we ended up at one called 95 Espresso on Acland Street where we tucked into a very generous breakfast.

Breakfast-st-kilda-melbourne Breakfast!

As you can tell from the picture, Thumper was very excited about the fresh avocado and scrambled eggs!

The wait staff at 95 Espresso were really friendly and helped us to put away our…

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Contemporary Art for Kids – National Gallery Singapore

Last year, when J was attending a holiday creative writing camp at the Arts House, I decided to take Little E to visit the nearby National Gallery Singapore.

The National Gallery Singapore is housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall, and is home to the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with a special interest in showcasing local and Southeast Asian artists.

Within the National Gallery is the Keppel Centre for Art Education, which is a dedicated art facility designed to inspire children and encourage creativity. Within each room are art pieces which the children can interact with or observe in detail, as well as related activities to fuel their imagination.

In one of the Project Galleries is a massive, highly detailed cityscape created from clay and acrylic, painstakingly built in great detail by teen artist Xandyr Quek when he was 13 years old.


Little E is inspired by City In The Works (2015), Xandyr Quek

Xandyr, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is fascinated by maps and street directories, and would ask his parents to take him to certain roads and streets so that he could spend time memorising the buildings and other public infrastructure. At home, he built many clay sculptures based on his observations. He conceptualised and created this tiny city modelled on northern Singapore which is now housed in a protective glass case (as he doesn’t like his work being handled or touched).

After spending a few moments looking at the tiny city, Little E then spent a happy half hour drawing and populating her own small city. Whilst she was doing this, I noticed that there were other activity sheets available in the room which would suit a variety of learning levels and interests, so there would be something to inspire every child.


Home-a-Sapiens by Tan Wee Lit

In another project gallery, the ceiling and walls are covered in fantastical future dwelling spaces. A nomadic bus with laundry on bamboo poles floats alongside a series of airy blimps, while the walls have models of underground houses built beneath the roots of trees, even some of the shelves and cupboards were disguised to look like houses.


Designing her underground living space

Little E was inspired by the underground homes and she decided to make her own cone-shaped house to add to the installation. There were also some very nice pre-fabricated craft kits available (for a suggested donation of SGD$4) which would make a great take-home souvenir.

Little E also liked the Who’s In The Woods interactive area, where she could create and customise her own forest creature using digital painting, then see it come alive on the wall and play with other animals in the forest! That was pretty cool!


Little E’s found a new friend in the woods

By far the most exciting area was the Art Playscape, which is a labyrinth and playhouse that is literally covered from floor to ceiling in elaborate, intricate drawings, so that you really feel like you have entered a painting into a magical realm.


The Enchanted Tree House by Sandra Lee

In this room, Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks and his forest friends wander the world in search of adventure, encountering all sorts of familiar creatures from fairy-tales and nursery rhymes. Little E had fun running all over the room trying to find Fynn, and identifying all the storybook characters (and finding familiar mystical creatures like our Merlion hiding in plain sight).

Mummy tip #1: The floor in the Art Playscape has a very smooth finish, so bring along non-slip socks if you have a wobbly toddler or a clumsy child!


Taking a break with Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks

I liked the Keppel Centre for Art Education so much, that we returned during the mid-year holidays this year, as soon as Thumper was able to walk around on his own.


Building together

I was very pleased to see that some of the interactive activities had changed!

There was room filled with different types of building blocks for making giant fortresses and tabletop sculptures. There was also a wall filled with magnetic shapes which Thumper enjoyed messing around with.


Playing with the walls

Within the National Gallery itself were huge wall murals and freestanding art pieces which visitors could pose with and become part of the artwork as well.

We also had the opportunity to go on a free guided tour which took us through the gallery, giving us some insight into the design and architecture of the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings as well as some of its the history and hidden secrets!


On the Building Highlights Tour – held at 11am and 3pm daily

The docent who took us around was very knowledgeable and was able to engage both children and adults during the tour. The docent even thoughtfully changed her route to accommodate our stroller so that we could use lifts instead of stairs and escalators – although we felt really bad slowing the whole group down!

Mummy Tip #2: If you’re planning to take your kids on the guided tour, park your stroller at the visitor’s desk and bring out your baby carrier instead.

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew’s Rd, Singapore 178957

Opening Hours: 
Sun–Thu and Public Holidays: 10am–7pm
Fri–Sat, Eve of Public Holidays: 10am–10pm

Admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs, as well as for students, teachers, children under 6 years old, persons with disabilities and their carers.

For more information about the National Gallery Singapore click here

For more information about the free guided tours click here

For more information about Keppel Centre for Art Education click here

All Natural National Day Red-and-white Velvet Cake

The Aged P threw a National Day party for our relatives yesterday, and she served up this delicious cake with a Singapore twist – so I asked her if she would share her recipe right here on Owls Well!

If you’re still looking for an Impressive Dessert for your National Day Party, here’s the Aged P’s special National Day Red-and-white Velvet Cake recipe.

Aged P’s Tip: This kid-friendly recipe uses natural food colouring as well as a reduced sugar frosting that holds up well in Singapore’s warm summery climate.


National Day Red Velvet Cake

Recipe for Natural Beetroot Red Food Colouring

2 beetroots

1. Peel and cut two beetroots into cubes
2. Cook in a pot with enough water to cover the cubes, over low flame, for 1 hour.
3. Drain the liquid and set aside – this is the natural red food colouring

Red Velvet Cake Recipe

3 and 3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
175g unsalted butter
1 and 3/4 cup fine sugar
3 eggs
6 tablespoons Milo powder (or cocoa powder)
1/4 cup natural beetroot red food colouring
1 and 1/2tsp fine salt
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk with 2 and 1/2 tbsp of distilled vinegar (substitute for buttermilk)
2 and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 and 1/2 tbsp distilled white vinegar

1. Heat oven to 170C.
2. Line two 11 inch X 4 inch loaf tins with greaseproof paper
3. In a small bowl mix Milo with natural beetroot cup red food colouring.  Set aside to cool.
4. Mix vanilla essence, salt and buttermilk together, set aside
5. Cream butter and 1-3/4C sugar until light and fluffy.
6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
8. Add Milo and natural beetroot food colouring
9. Add sifted flour, alternating with addition of substitute buttermilk until batter is smooth
10. Mix bicarbonate of soda and vinegar in a small bowl then immediately add the mixture to the batter, folding in gently.
11. Pour batter into prepared loaf tins and bake in oven for 35 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean.
12. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Aged P’s Tip: If you’re using regular commercial food colouring instead of the natural food colouring, use 2 tsp of food colouring and increase the milk by 1/4cup.

Recipe for Reduced Sugar Frosting

7 and 1/2 tbsp plain flour
1 and 1/2cup milk
1 and 1/4cup fine sugar
1 and 1/2cup butter, softened
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Whisk plain flour into the milk.
2. Cook over low flame, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened.  Set aside to cool.
3. Cream butter. sugar and vanilla until fluffy then add the cooled thickened flour mixture.
4. Beat the mixture until fluffy.

Video Game Family Time: Minecraft

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

Growing up, ABC and I were fortunate enough to own a PC, where we played adventure games together going from text-based games like Zork, to graphic adventure games like King’s Quest and RPGs (Role Playing Games) like Quest for Glory! The Barn Owl didn’t have a computer but he owned a video game console and would play strategy or racing games together with his sister and his parents. So it only makes sense that we would join our children as they make their first few forays into the virtual world.

There are tons of multiplayer video games that are cooperative in nature with split-screen or couch modes which mean that families can sit together and play together.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

Let’s start with one of our favourite games, the very popular Minecraft.

Minecraft is what is considered a ‘sandbox’ video game, which means that it allows the player complete freedom to make open-ended choices as to how, when and what they want to do in the game world.

The biggest feature of Minecraft is the creative building aspect of the game which allows players to build complete 3D structures out of cubes that have various properties and textures. The game also includes resource gathering and crafting, exploration and combat.

There are several gameplay modes to choose from, but we only use two of these modes at the moment:

  1. Survival Mode: Players have to acquire resources to progress in the game, fight hostile night creatures and maintain their health and hunger status.
  2. Creative Mode: Players have infinite resources to build with and can create their own world or map, or even make their own mini-game.

There are also interactive online modes where players can share maps, worlds and even mini-game adventures they have built themselves in creative mode, or be spectators in another player’s game. They can even play multiplayer games with other online gamers. As our children are still young, we don’t feel that these online multiplayer features are for them right now, so we do not log into the internet whilst playing the game.

When we are playing together as a family, we usually choose to play in Survival Mode and we turn off the ‘Player vs Player’ option to encourage cooperative play instead of competitive play. This makes the game much fun because we have to work together as a family to get through the game.


Owls Well in Minecraft

How do we work together in the game? Well, let’s take this picture as an example.

One of the first things you have to do when you start the game is to build a shelter to hide in so that you can avoid having to fight off monsters at night or have a place to recuperate after going on a night hunt! In the picture, you can see a simple house that we built together during one of our gameplay sessions.

The wood for the house was from trees that I cut down using an axe made by the Barn Owl. The glass windows were made by J from sand blocks that he heated in a furnace. The Barn Owl lured animals like sheep, pigs and cows into a wooden pen so that we could have a steady supply of food. Little E cleared the land and planted wheat which can be used to feed our livestock or used to bake bread, then she tamed dogs to help to protect the land. So you see, we created a base from which we can explore the rest of the game map at our own leisure.

The multiplayer mode can be played using a ‘split-screen view‘, which means that we can all be in the same room at the same time sharing the same screen. This also means that every player in the game does not have to do the exact same thing at the same time (although we try to stay around the same location) – for example, J happened reading books about pyramids and monuments, so he spent time building the ziggurats that you can see in the background of the picture, whilst Little E and I went fishing in the nearby lake.

One of the aspects of Minecraft that I like is how items are constructed as part of gameplay. For example, if I want to craft an iron pickaxe, I have to mine iron ore out of the ground, smelt it in a furnace to make iron ingots, then use several ingots in combination with a wooden stick in order to make a pickaxe. This gives kids an idea of some the real world processes involved the creation of manmade objects, and is one of the reasons why J and Little E were excited about visiting an exhibition on rocks and gemstones!

When we are playing together in Minecraft, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We play nice – that means no destroying each other’s buildings or killing each other’s pets, it also means that we are kind with our words
  2. We share – all resources must be shared and no one will be excluded from any in-game activity
  3. We are respectful towards each other – we ask before taking or using resources that have been stored away, especially if those resources are difficult to obtain
  4. We look out for each other – that means nobody gets left behind, we help defend each other against hostile creatures
  5. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Baking Challenge: Mary-Full-Of-Grace Chicken

Well well well, I have now completed TWO of the baking challenges that ABC (A Becky C) has set for me this year!

This one satisfies the criteria ‘something savoury that isn’t a pie’, and it is a mix of two recipes introduced to me during my student days by two different women.

One of these women is a fine lady that I met as a student in London, who basically adopted every single person who didn’t have a home and family to escape to every weekend. Every Sunday afternoon, she would invite starving stragglers like myself to her home for lunch where she would serve us all a delicious meal of baked chicken parcels, piping hot from the oven, whilst her husband entertained us with snippets of The Goon Show. She never knew how many people would be gracing her home during Sunday afternoons, but somehow there was always more than enough to go round.

The other woman is a girl that I knew from school who was studying in Germany and also met a fine lady over there who also adopted all poor and starving International students and served them baked stuffed chicken for Sunday Lunch. My friend visited me in London one time and made the dish for me.

I’ve now come to associate baked chicken with hospitality and kindness, and I’ve taken the liberty of combining the two recipes together, which I think works pretty well! I have also included additional Thermomix instructions at the end of the recipe for those of you who own magic stirring pots. In honour of the two women who opened their homes and hearts to strangers on Sunday afternoons, I am calling this dish, “Mary-Full-Of-Grace Chicken”.

Mary-Full-Of-Grace Chicken Recipe


  1. 6 Skinless chicken breast fillets
  2. 12-15 Bacon strips (I used back bacon, but streaky bacon probably works better)
  3. 150g-200g Cream cheese with herbs (I used one that had garlic and chives in it but you can use Boursin or make your own)
  4. 1 tbsp olive oil
  5. (Optional) Toothpicks



  1. Preheat oven to 200°C and use some olive oil to grease a baking pan or sheet
  2. Using a sharp knife, butterfly each chicken breast by slicing it carefully down the centre but not all the way through. Alternatively, you can use a rolling pin to flatten each chicken breast to a 1/2 inch thickness.
  3. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of cream cheese in the centre of the chicken breast.
  4. Roll the chicken breast up to completely cover the cream cheese
  5. Wrap the rolled up chicken breast with 2-3 strips of bacon
  6. (Optional) Use a toothpick to keep the bacon in place
  7. Place the chicken seam-side down onto the baking pan
  8. Drizzle over with olive oil
  9. Bake uncovered at 200°C for 30-40 minutes until juices run clear
  10. Broil under the grill for 5 minutes to make the bacon nice and crisp

(note: If you want to be indulgent, use butter instead of olive oil)


Extra Thermomix instructions for cream cheese and herbs:

  1. Put 1 clove of peeled garlic and 1-2 chives or spring onion in the Thermomix, then blend for 5 seconds at speed 7
  2. Scrape down then add 200-250g of cream cheese and blend for 20 seconds on speed 4