melbourne

What if we walked?

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It is a ten kilometre walk to the children’s farm and back, and we don’t have a car today. Before France this would have been out of the question. But now, with the resilience they brought home in their suitcases alongside the medieval Papo figurines, sweet little jumpers from the Monoprix, and a collection of Barbapapa books, the children say, “What if we walked?” 

So I pack a lunch box of chopped apple and pear, crackers, and these banana muffins, and we set off. 

Follow the route towards school and then turn off at the park, sticking to the paths because the long grass is soaked with dew and the day is bright but only three degrees right now. Our breath forms clouds in the air to guide us, and nobody wants cold, wet shoes and socks at the start of a day (the end of the day is a different matter, apparently). 

At the railway crossing, we stop to let a train go by. The children put their hands through the railings and wave to the train. Before the train hurtles past, we can see the driver stand up in her cabin and wave back: a big, whole-of-body, over-the-head wave, and a beaming smile to go with it. 

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We see a beautiful but decrepit old house, one that once probably nurtured families and echoed to tiny, thumping feet and the laughter of children. A long time ago, a colour-loving person had planted a pink-flowering geranium beside the front gate. But now the windows are boarded over, the paint is peeling, some of the cladding has fallen away, and the posts that support the verandah are rotting. 

As we walk on, we make up a story about its haunting. I try for something chilling and deeply tragic, but the children are convinced the demise of the house had been hastened by hungry monsters, aliens and flying dogs. They build their outlandish story with relish, growing more ridiculous by the sentence, giggling and shouting over one another with excitement. I blame Captain Underpants

Under the overpass and onto the Main Yarra Trail, where water is tumbling over rocks in a happy gurgle and bellbirds are calling everywhere. I tell Ralph to move to the left if he hears the ding of a bicycle bell, but he says he can’t tell which ones are the bikes and which ones are the birds. He makes a good point. 

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We tell ourselves, this could be Dinan! Here we are, walking alongside a river again. We climb out onto a wooden lookout and say, “These are the ramparts at the ruins.” Further on, a wall stretches up, up, on the other side of the path, as tall as the Dinan chateau beside the wild apple orchard. This wall is covered in graffiti but we try to ignore that, and tell each other, “Those are the castle walls.” A road bridge up ahead plays the role of the viaduct that connects Dinan to Lanvallay. 

We are chevaliers again, and tired legs discover a last burst of energy before we reach the children’s farm. 

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In fact we are so excited to reach the farm and find our friends that we don’t notice the oak tree but, on the way home, we stop at it in wonder. 

It is ancient, and most of its golden leaves have already dropped, set in a circle of stones and stretching its branches almost all the way to the river. The children climb over the stones and play in the fallen leaves but I am overcome with a powerful sense of stillness. 

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The sun is turning golden as we make our way home along the river, the children collecting leaves and nuts, fanning them out in their hands like cards at a poker table, to inspect the intricacies of Nature’s design. Ralph finds a giant fern frond broken on the ground, and holds it aloft like a sword. 

Back on the back-streets, they discover a small pile of smooth, round pebbles, so we start a game of Hansel and Gretel, counting out steps between stones and taking turns. That game lasts a good kilometre or two, all the way back to the railway crossing. 

The day is warm now - 17 degrees! - so Ralph takes his shirt off and struts those streets as though he’s at the beach. (I am carrying jumpers, shirts, hats, gloves, picnic lunch, water bottle, and other various accoutrements in my back pack. Thankfully a friend has taken our coats in her car, and drops them home for us.)

We find a park we’ve never seen before, rows of trees glowing in the late afternoon light, and promise one another we’ll return one day because there is a playground in the distance “that looks awesome!” We also pass a bakery that we hadn’t seen on the way out, so Scout suggests that next time, we should pick up a baguette. 

The children say, “We feel sorry for our friends who drove in the car, because they would have missed all of this.” 

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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!

Playing hooky

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I found a forest!

Well, not really, it was more like a tiny clump of trees. Jane Austen would probably have called it a copse, or something. But in any case it was green and gloomy in the best of ways, and the pine-needles that softened my every foot-fall were made maculate by patches of sun blossoming over the shade.

Yesterday Winter played dress-ups as Spring, and it was the most glorious day you could ever see. All morning, I kept leaving my tiny cupboard of a windowless office to see what the garden was making of this gift of a day.

(Here is the tally: two more daffodils burst into bloom, bringing the total to three; tiny buds appeared all over the once-bare pomegranate tree; the daphne bush tossed perfume willy-nilly into the temperate air; and the snowflakes? the snowflakes burst into bloom by the hundreds.)

And then I would go back into my study and work some more. Read, research, write. Carefully crafted words, self-editing, crafting some more.

But my heart was in the sunshine, in the unexpected warmth of the breeze. And, by mid-afternoon, I couldn't take it any more. I hit "save" on my unfinished story and stepped out into the day, into that false, imaginary spring, and went exploring.

I let my feet take me wherever they would, following parks linked within parks like chains, all over north Melbourne. I foraged wattle and snow-gum leaves and gumnuts, and then I walked some more. When I found the tiny forest, I sat down on the soft, dry pine-needles, closed my eyes, and breathed in the silence.

Breathed it in, breathed it out. In again, out.

As I walked home, carrying my basket of leaves and flowers, it was with a lightness that would suggest I, too, had put on Spring for a day. Even the work that was waiting for me at home, which endured well into the night, could not dampen my spirits. I put my botanical bounty into a big old jug, and got typing.

The climb

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"Let's climb!" shouted Ralph. And so we climbed, free of foreboding.

In the shadow of those great rocks was no ominous hum, no sudden chill, no tingling premonition of hidden watchers' eyes. Instead, there was sunlight trickling through old bracken and ferns. Filtered water splashing out of rocks. A tiny boulder in the shape of a love-heart, wedged between two giants and framing a window to the bottom of the world.

"Let's climb!" said Ralph again. So we ventured off the pathway and scrambled over rocks and in between narrow passes and under natural bridges and, all the while, we found sunlight and clean air and great beauty... and no ghosts.

When you come alone to a place as ancient and spirit-filled as Hanging Rock, secrets whisper at you and watch you from just inside the other plane, and goosebumps come as naturally as breathing. The boundary between imagination and experience is blurred, and you are at the mercy of Place.

When you come in the company of two small children, however, it is hard to hear the spirits over the coughs and sneezes and "My legs are tired!" and "Let's have a race!" and giggles and kisses and "Can I have a banana?" and "Can you carry me?"

I thought the spirits had left Hanging Rock, at least while we were there, retreating into caves to find silence away from our relentless noise. But as I prepared these photographs last night to share with you, and I realised the ghosts had been there all along, watching, as we climbed.

Can you see them? In the strange shadows and sometimes-odd light, and in the many, many faces in the boulders?

Ahhhhh, tread lightly!

Mother's Day

coffeeThere are two pairs of tiny, mud-covered wellies in the hallway by our front door. And if you are aged two or three, you will know that that is a sign of a day well spent: muddy wellies suggest explorations, rain-soaked adventures, (Ralph's curls gone wild), and, of course, the time-honoured joy of jumping up and down in muddy puddles.

Yesterday was Mother's Day and, do you know what? Call me Hallmark but I felt the love. It started with both children on our bed in the morning, Ralph asking "Can you let the cat in?" and Scout squeezing me around the neck, saying, "Ahh my Mummy. I love you more than me." You could have stopped the day right there and it would have been complete for me.

We had brunch with a friend at Bebida on Smith Street and, alongside the best eggs I've had in a longggg time, they also managed to give me the best Mother's Day brunch that money could buy, being a really great (grown-up!) atmosphere, without any member of staff skipping a beat that we had brought two small children with us. They were super friendly, super helpful, super cool and the food was super good. This, combined with the fact that both children were preternaturally well-behaved, made it a stress free and thoroughly enjoyable meal. We followed up with a scoop each at Gelato Messina, and the kids didn't even make a mess of their clothes. Because, Mother's Day magic!

As I carried Ralph back along Smith Street, I whispered into his curls, "I love you." "Can you say it louder?" he asked. "I love you!" I announced, in my big voice. "I love you Mummy," said Ralph. "I love you I love you I LOVE YOU!" A lump formed in my throat. (And then he continued, "I love that red car, I love that light, I love that wall." But I will take my wins where I find them).

Scout woke first from her afternoon nap, so she and I went out together to CERES (more jumping up and down in muddy puddles) to buy some plants for our garden, as well as a particularly lovely monstera deliciosa for inside the house. Because apparently, on Mother's Day you actually TURN INTO your mother. I swear I could feel my mother approving of my choice of Mother's Day present, even all the way from Poland, where she and my father are adventuring right now. (I miss my mum! Happy Mother's Day, Mum!) Scout carefully selected a fair-trade Bolga Basket woven out of elephant grass by mothers in Ghana, which will serve as a 'pot' for the monstera in my bedroom.

When we got home, the children and I spent an hour playing "babies." This is a great game to play when you're tired because, as a baby, you get to lie down on the floor and not do particularly much. In this iteration of the game, both Ralph and I were the babies, and Scout was our mother. It was bedtime, and she gave us toys to cuddle in bed. But we were (upon instruction) 'naughty,' and insisted on playing instead of sleeping. If you are a particularly wily mother (ahem), you can learn to work the system of this game. For example, crying "Wah, wah! Mummy this baby can't sleep because she needs a foot massage!"

Let's just say that Scout is a very attentive mummy.

At dinner Mr B and I decanted a lovely bottle of red wine and lit candles in the dining room, with a bad/hilarious/great record from the 1960s on the old Blaupunkt, featuring popular classical pieces from Mozart and Beethoven and other similar composers, set alongside some wonderfully tacky drum beats and guitar 'fillers'.

And that brings us up to my right now (your last night). I am sitting on the couch, watching some renovation show or other on the TV. Both children and Mr B are upstairs, probably snoring. Our cat Ruby is beside me on the couch, purring and also keeping my feet warm. Soon she and I will join everyone else in the family in slumber. Mother's Day 2016, over and out.

ps. Me and my mum, a very long time ago...

Image credit: Sarah Boyle, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

Long weekends

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Long weekends are for slowing down. For simple pleasures. Feeding Cornflakes to friendly ducks and soft, black moor-hens. Learning how to row a skiff. The splash of oar in water, a silent oasis, a bubble of river and bush inside the big city.

Long weekends are for equally-long walks in sunshine. For getting lost somewhere in a highway underpass, but it doesn't matter because nobody is in a hurry: this is a long weekend.

Long weekends are for cooking and housework, giggles and cuddles, red wine and friends.

I think long weekends may be my favourite. I'd like to order another one, please.

(Photos from this long weekend brought to you by a family visit to the Fairfield Park Boathouse, which was super touristy and even more super fun. Ralph didn't make it into any pictures because photographing him would have meant having to let go of him, and letting go of him would have meant Ralph fulfilling his heart's desire of diving head-first into the water, to "pat the ducks")

Scout says Ralph says

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Scout (rubbing her belly): These pancakes are delicious. My tummy says yum-my.

Ralph (rubbing his belly): My yellow t-shirt says YUMMY too.

 

At bed time...

Scout: I love you to the aliens' planet, and a million.

Ralph: I love you to my rocket ship and I also love the aliens' planet.

 

At another bedtime, when their father was overseas...

"I love you past the aliens' planet and all the way to Daddy!"

 

During a book photoshoot...

Me: This photo is supposed to tell a story. It is cold and rainy outside. But inside, the person is all cosy and warm, snuggled into blankets on the couch, drinking tea and reading a letter from a friend. Maybe they have just gotten up to make some toast...

Scout: Can I be that person? (pause) And can you make me some toast?

 

Scout (cuddling her dolly): Do you wish you were as good at Mummying as me?

Me: Yes!

Scout: It's ok, don't cry. You did TEACH me how to do it.

 

Scout: Ring ring! Hello moon? Moon? Can you come down please?

 

At bed time...

Me: Thank you for a really good day.

Scout: Thank you for being a really good Mummy.

Ralph: Can I bounce a ball on your head?

Sickle moon

moon It was a sickle moon last night. Did you see it? Wavering and watery, paper thin, I stopped to greet it on my way back across the road, with a $12 bottle of rosé in my hand. "Good night moon," I said (good night stars, good night air*). That was a little bit embarrassing because it turned out I said it out loud without realising, and two people coming out of the bottle shop with wine that probably cost a lot more than $12 looked at me kind of funny.

Anyway I have been absent from this little blog for the past few weeks, while I finished the photography for my book (eek!) and the illustrations for Wendy's book (woot!) and another big pile of letters to send to you folks (coming soon!). I always miss this space when I am away, but I have learned to (try to) be more realistic with my time and with what I can and cannot do.

But then I saw the moon last night and I thought of you.

I thought about how strange and magical it always feels to learn that people are reading my blog, reading it from all over the world... Melbourne and Bendigo, New York and Illinois, Russia, the Ukraine, France, Germany, Portugal, Singapore, Mexico, Argentina, and so many other places. Last night, when I looked up at that sickle moon, I thought about how maybe you were looking up at that same sickle moon (or that you would, in just half a world's rotation's time), and I felt strangely close to you.

(*Good night noises everywhere)

Image credit: sickle moon by Nousnou Iwasaki, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

Disorganised Easter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Can you believe Easter will be here in less than a week? It's so early this year! Last year I was all over the Easter craft, and loving it. If you'd like to learn a wonderful, natural (easy!) way of dying eggs and creating beautiful botanical prints on them, like these below, here is a post I wrote about how to do that, last year. I hope we find the time to do this again!

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Things are a lot more chaotic in the Easter preparation stakes this year, with Mr B having been overseas since late Feb, plus  photo-shoots to complete for my book, on top of the normal parenting-work-life roles, so I've decided to forego a lot. I've cancelled the roast-lamb-for-friends party that we usually host on Easter Sunday, and I am sorry to say that at the time of writing, there has been no Easter craft whatsoever going on around these here parts.

I did however feed my kids hot cross buns for afternoon-tea the other day. AND we are going full steam ahead for our second annual family-and-friends Easter egg hunt. This is something I host with two other friends, and last year was such a beautiful time. The photos you see in this post are from that day. We show up in the early morning and deposit literally thousands of eggs in the dew-soaked grass. The Easter bunny makes an appearance, a local cafe delivers coffee for the grown-ups, and there are great big mounds of buttered hot cross buns ready for consumption. This is the one Easter activity I've committed to this year, and I'm probably looking forward to it more than the kids are!

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Oh my little Ralph, filching Easter eggs from the Easter Bunny's basket. I can't believe he wasn't even walking or talking, only this time last year. Where did my baby go?

Back to food trucks

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Today I'm dipping back into an old, semi-regular kind of post I used to do: a celebration of food trucks. If you're interested, here are all the food trucks I visited back then.

For me it all started when we moved here from Interstate four years ago. It was late summer, I was about two-thirds through my first pregnancy, and it was the sixth interstate or international move we'd made in 18 months. When you move to a completely new city that many times, you get pretty good at learning how to turn "a place" into "a home." I'm not just talking about your house or apartment here, I'm talking about your neighbourhood. I have worked from home for the past 15 years, so I don't have the opportunity to make friends and learn about my city through co-workers. I've got to do the legwork myself and, since we only have one car and Mr B needs that for work, it is literally legwork.

A friend told us, "I've heard that if you walk all the way to the end of your street, there's a taco truck that parks up there at night." I became a little obsessed with this promise. I mean I like tacos (who doesn't?), but I fixated on the mysterious taco truck to a probably overly-excessive degree. To me it represented the first entry in my mental collection of "Stuff I Like About My Neighbourhood," which is a very important collection to start when you move somewhere new.

I think my daughter was about six weeks old when I finally caught up with the taco truck, although it wasn't at the end of our street (those darned things have wheels, and it's harder than you think to track them down in the right place at the right time). I had made a new friend and she and I pushed our prams (her son was about two) north along Lygon Street for several kilometres. The traffic was loud and there were all kinds of building works going on so we walked single file and couldn't chat. The truck location was a lot further than I'd anticipated. Scout started crying for a feed, my friend's son was wiggling and fidgeting and decidedly over being strapped into a pram, and still we were walking.

But when finally, finally we made it to the dingy little park outside of which the truck was parked, there were pockets of people milling around. Eating, chatting, lining up for more. Picnic rugs covering dubious patches of grass. Plastic wine glasses and soda bottles with striped straws. People in suits perched on a low wall, bending over their little cardboard plates so that taco juice wouldn't drip onto their nice clothes. Someone somewhere was playing a guitar. Oh and the tacos were really good (especially the fish ones).

It was the sense of "instant community" that got me hooked on food trucks that day, even more than the food itself. The fact that they can roll up there somewhere not particularly pretty, most often a car park or the side of a nondescript street, and can, by way of a colourful awning and a great-smelling kitchen-on-wheels, create community. And so it started for me.

My food truck hunt slowed down somewhat (alright it pretty much stopped) after I had Ralph. It gets a whole lot harder to schlep around town when you have not only a newborn, but also an 18-month-old who only recently started walking. Double prams are not the most mobile of beasts, and timing long outings around competing nap times and feed times and little legs wanting to run just got too hard. This also coincided with Yarra Council (the area where I live) making it increasingly difficult for food trucks to operate in our area, so I tended to have to travel further afield to find them. I visited a few food truck parks, and even the street food festival last year, and it's kind of great having all the trucks gathered together, but that's a) a different kind of community, and b) even I can only sample just so many types of foods in the one meal (especially if I have to individually line up for each one).

But then a few months ago we ducked into a shopping centre to visit the Apple store and, lo and behold, there was a veritable food truck bonanza parked out behind the supermarkets and greengrocers. I left my family waiting inside with the air conditioning (it was 39 degrees that day) and temporarily dipped back into Food Truck Land just for that one afternoon.

What we ate:

* From Wingster's Grilled Chicken: a burger with buttermilk chicken (because the wings weren't ready yet) and a spicy sauce I can't remember (but it was good), and fries * From the Real Burgers: a classic weiner (because I am a rebel and also it looked and tasted so good) and fries * From the Refresher Truck: a (virgin) piña colada, and a "green power"

Ah, I'd missed the smoky deliciousness in the air, and the comforting rumble of those generators.

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