exploring

A walk in the forest

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A walk in the forest is what I'm longing for right now. Somewhere with a gloom that is friendly, like a hug from nature. With fallen leaves and old sticks and bark and soil underfoot, and a green canopy overhead where daylight filters, dappled and maculate, soft as rain. 

Deep, deep down below, the trees will be talking. Sharing secrets, nutrients, nurture. 

I will explore paths long-untrodden, peer into corners and around ancient trees, search for friends from the pages of old stories, and make up new stories in my mind. 

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Pop-up in Melbourne: free twilight cinema by the bay

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Listen up Melbourne friends, there is a pop-up open-air cinema in town for February, and it is FREE. Head down to Docklands on a Friday night this month (every Friday EXCEPT this Friday) to watch some classic 80s movies from the comfort of your own picnic rug.

Have you been to Docklands recently? We wandered down to catch a movie last Friday, and prior to that I had been to Docklands exactly NEVER. It's like a completely different Melbourne down there! Reflections, reflections: all glittering high-rise and glimmering water and shining lights. And so quiet! And so clean!

The park for our movie was fully booked, but there was still loads of space, and we found a parking spot right away. Let me just tell you, you wouldn't get that where I live in the Inner North.

Anyway if you want to catch an old movie at the twilight cinema this month, go here to reserve your space. I think they're playing The Dish, and Back to the Future next. We watched The Wedding Singer, which was even funnier than any past times I'd seen it, mainly because my friend Tonia roared with laughter the whole way through, usually about five seconds before the actual funny bit was due to happen.

Pack a picnic if you think you'll be feeling peckish, but I recommend picking up a box of salumi and formaggio and a coffee granita to wash it down from the super-friendly folks at Saluministi, the Italian street-food spot next door. I will dream about that coffee granita.

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Top tips for enjoying the pop-up twilight cinema:

* Bring a picnic rug and some cushions or bean-bags to lean on * There's a lovely, gentle breeze coming off the water, but that can make it a bit chilly. Bring some warm clothes or better still a rug to snuggle down * This is a family-friendly event so you can bring the kids (there's even a playground for the little ones) * There's no alcohol in the park, but there are plenty of bars along the wharf so you can go for a beverage before or after the movie (or both) * And speaking of alcoholic beverages, the park is on the 48 and 11 tram lines, so you can leave the car at home

Full disclosure: this isn't a sponsored post and all opinions are (obviously) my own, but I was invited by the kind people at Victoria Harbour to come along to this movie, and they generously supplied our picnic rug, bean-bags, and the delicious Saluministi fare. We are super grateful, it was all fantastic. Thank you!

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Into the woods

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Little Scout was nervous at first, stepping gingerly through the underbrush on the way to the trees, holding tightly to my hand, and Ralph's. "I am afraid of the sticks," she said, "afraid that they might hurt me." Once inside the pine-forest, she kept calling Ralph back. "Stay close little man! You might get lost!" Every step further into the forest added another layer of fear. She was positive we would all get lost. That there were monsters. Badgers (thank you, Peter Rabbit). A gruffalo.

And then Ralph found the first pine-cone. It was all broken and rotting on the under-side, so we threw it back, but it was enough. They raced around the clearing where we stood, Scout no longer afraid, leaping over the once-deadly sticks to find the best and most beautiful pine-cones. Ralph lead us further into the forest. "I am the exhibition leader!" he announced proudly. He meant expedition leader. "Ralph is a very good brother," Scout said, and I agreed. "Lead on, Ralph," I said, following him dutifully.

Above our heads and outside of the forest, a great wind was roaring. We saw it in the swaying canopy above us, heard it in the creaks and moans of the trees around us, and had felt it, before we stepped inside the trees, in the slap of dust and hair stinging our cheeks. But in here, everything felt calm. It was our own woody, pine-scented bubble.

We drank tea from enamel mugs, watched a kangaroo hop lazily past us and disappear over a hill. We raced one another in and out of rows of pine-trees, followed winding paths, scrambled up and down and over mossy logs and (unintentionally) through muddy puddles, and altogether had a wonderful time.

Even the mosquitoes that showed up for our picnic lunch couldn't dampen our mood. "It's a mozzie hunt!" the children shouted, slapping themselves wildly, and mostly ineffectually.

Then, "Time to find more pine-cones," declared the expedition leader, but what he was really saying was, "Let the wild rumpus start!" So we packed up our picnic things and scrambled through the forest once more.

picnic

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Come into the woods

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Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. ― John Muir

You ask me why I dwell in the green moun­tain; I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care. ― Li Bai

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Road + dawn

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We left the keys to our motel room in a box outside the locked reception, and drove out into the dark. The kind of dark that holds its breath before the dawn. Cold air outside frosted the car windows and the children drew on the melting glass, painting the dark road, as it flashed past, with eerie swirls and scribbles.

In between dense pockets of fog, our headlights flashed over warning signs. CAUTION: SNOW AND BLACK ICE ON ROAD. Subconsciously we both leaned forward in our seats, squinting uselessly into the spotlit dark for unseen hazards as we hurtled forwards at 100 kilometres an hour.

By the time the sky began to brighten, ever so lightly, we were desperate for coffee, but there was nary a town in sight. The car rushed on through the mist. "We are driving inside clouds!" the children shouted for joy.

And then all at once, as if some unseen celestial homeowner had flipped a switch, the sun came up, and the day was glorious. Clouds floated skywards, and winter sun filtered through and over us like gold-dust. If angels had suddenly started singing opera out of sunbursts, it could not have been more magnificent a morning, and none of us would have been surprised.

Still we sped forward, now telling each other intermittently, "WHAT a morning!" and "What a beautiful dawn!"

We finally found coffee and Vegemite-on-toast about half an hour later, but all four of us were already caffeinated by the day.

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Lately

img_2372-1 We have been on a little road trip, through icy mountain roads and windy city streets and sparkling harbour shores.

Hugs, the kind you share with dearly loved friends and family who you haven't seen in a long, long time.

Making crumpets with vegemite and setting off the fire alarm. Every morning.

Long walks to nowhere and anywhere.

Reading the latest issue of Lunch Lady during the children's nap times (taking note of the homemade butter recipe, now that I've discovered a homemade bread recipe that works).

By night, writing letters and drawing mail-art.

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On the river

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"Almost the still reflections quiver, the tranquil Evening reach of the silver-dreaming river Stirs with expectant life. Now sound swells louder, Fills all the hollows of silence and overflows As the steamer rounds a bend and churns upchannel."

From the poem Paddle Steamer by Nancy Cato (1957)

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Unplugged (again)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The day was bookended by the feeding of the ducks. Those ducks really love that we have come to stay in this cabin. All seven gazillion of them. My favourite is Stumpy. She was the first to find us, and appears, from the limp, as though she could do with a bit of Cornflake lovin'. My kids give her plenty.

"Over here Mrs Duck!" the children call. "Mrs Duck" is any duck and every duck, except Stumpy. My children do not like to discriminate.

A sunrise walk, a visit to the petting farm, a bumpy hay-bale ride behind a tractor… When we do tourist, we really do Tourist.

Mid-morning, Mr B drives back to Melbourne for a work event he can't escape, while we stay and holiday. And so when the children nap after lunch, the reality of "unplugged" truly sinks in, and I am confronted with… me.

All me.

No Internet, no 'phone, no book to read, no magazine, just me. I can't go for a walk, because my children are sleeping in the room behind me. There is no work to do, no garden to tend, no housework to tackle, no meals to prepare. (We are eating mac 'n cheese out of the box tonight).

I sit, I stand, I gaze outside, I make a cup of tea. This would be a perfect time to write letters, I think to myself, and that's when I realise that in addition to failing to bring a book, I also failed to bring any writing paper. The backs of all our maps and tourist brochures are covered with 'terms and conditions' and, just as I am about to give up, I clap eyes on the cereal boxes.

First, I tear apart the box of Cornflakes we had bought for the ducks. Take my tea outside to the balcony, and start to write. When the Cornflakes box is completely covered, it is time to bust apart the holiday Coco Pops. I am just eyeing the mac 'n cheese box when the kids wake up.

We spend the next three hours playing. I mean, really playing. I have nothing else to do, worry about, look at, think about, but my kids. I had thought that quitting Facebook and Twitter and a life generally free from social media (apart from the odd Instagram photograph) helped me be more present while my kids were playing. But the absence of housework or paid work or emails or text messages or phone calls or book-notes to make or letters to write or books or blogs or magazines or letters to read takes things to a whole other level.

Today, I am Fun Mum. We are explorers, seeking ancient ruins in the sand pit. We are all manner of emergency services, putting out fires and rescuing the injured and attending accidents. I am a burglar, being chased by tiny police in those tiny toddler-cars that you pedal with your feet, like the Flintstones. I am a baby, who simply refuses to behave.

At the end of our games, as we wander hand in hand back to our cabin, Ralph announces "I'm tired Mummy, I want to go to sleep." This is unprecedented. The poor kid is barely upright. At the cabin, he rallies long enough to feed the ducks and consume a barely mouthful of his dinner, and then it is time for bed. Scout is right behind him.

It is 6pm and all's quiet. I am alone with my thoughts again. I turn to the empty mac 'n cheese box and pick up a pen…

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scoot

swing

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Unplugged

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There is no Internet here, nor does my phone work.

"This is so peaceful!" says Scout, crouching on her knees eating ramen noodles at the coffee table. Outside, pretty brown ducks leave the river and waddle up to our balcony, hopeful.

In the afternoon, we walk on sandy riverbanks and collect driftwood treasure. "Can you hold this stick please, Explorer Mummy?" asks Ralph. He needs both hands free to clamber up a sandy staircase that leads to unknown lands.

City kids, I have to keep warning them: "Don't put your hand inside that hollow log!" and "Don't go into that scrub!" and, about every five minutes, or more, "Ralph, don't jump into the river!" My caution doesn't stop their fun, as they race from one new discovery to another.

Shadows lengthen, kangaroos begin to appear. Scout follows a mother and joey, who lead her around and about, through trees and over grassy fields, stopping to watch her with intelligent eyes, then hopping away just as she gets too close.

I didn't think to pack pantry staples so, as the sun sets, we eat Chinese takeout and grapes for dinner, washed down with cheap prosecco from the supermarket.

("I have a good idea," said Ralph earlier, while we were still in the car. "What's that buddy?" I asked. "Coco Pops!" announced Ralph, triumphantly.)

So we also buy Coco Pops to have for breakfast in the morning. And Cornflakes to feed to the ducks.

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In which we visit Australia’s only booktown and purchase a fake pearl necklace, some plastic toys, and no books

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Book Town, defn: "A Book Town is a small rural town or village in which second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most Book Towns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty." International Organisation of Book Towns (IOB)

When gold was first discovered in Victoria, it was discovered in the pretty little village we now know as Clunes. Today, Clunes is home to 1600 people... and at least 15 bookstores. It is the only officially recognised "booktown" in the southern hemisphere, and one of only 17 in the world.

Once a year, this already very-literary town spills its books out into the streets, and literature completely takes over the town, for the Clunes Booktown Festival. I'm not kidding. You walk into the local hairdressing salon, complete with old-fashioned hair-dryers on the wall, and the rest of the salon is filled with books, wall to wall. Nearby at an antique store, furniture and curios have been moved out of the way to make room for more books. And inside the local cafes? You guessed it, more books. There are books on tables in the street, in market-stalls that line the middle of the road, out the front of the museum, in the post office, and spilling out of residents' garages.

Actors perform Shakespeare on a makeshift stage made out of a ring of hay-bales, children learn the antique art of book-binding, and storytellers and author-talks and book-signings continue throughout the day. The air is filled with the delicious smoke of a hundred food stalls and cafes and bakeries and coffee carts, and all the dogs look happy and the children even happier. It is bustling but not impossibly crowded, and essentially it is my idea of heaven.

When we visited Clunes on the weekend, the rain held off but made mist around the surrounding hills. The streets were wide and the gold-rush era architecture absolutely stunning, with original painted signage still on many of the shop windows and walls. I ate a pulled-pork-and-coleslaw filled roll at the Bread and Circus Provedore that I would recommend to anyone.

The only fly in my personal book-browsing, book-buying ointment turned out to be my "parent" status, since it would appear that hunting for books amidst piles of other books for hours on end is not something that the average toddler likes to do. Even when you give them spending money and say "go for it." Who knew? But since I happen to believe that being a parent is the best thing ever, even better than shopping for books, I'm not about to change that status any time soon.

So we went to the Clunes Booktown Festival and bought a double-string of fake pearls (Scout), a Peppa Pig activity-book with plastic duck toys (Ralph), delicious lunches for four, chocolate ice-cream (Scout), a chocolate milk-shake (Ralph)... and no books.

Yep, not one. But we're going back next year!

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