Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Is your breath happy here

Three and a half years ago, when my dreams exploded and the life I knew was obliterated in the space of one short conversation, I thought it was the end.

It WAS the end, of course. Of the life I knew, the person I was, the role of wife that was all I'd known for most of my adult life. I couldn't see further than the next five minutes, numbly moving through the days in a blank fog of misery and grief.

The rebuilding began. Inch by agonising inch. Figuring out who I was. What I wanted. How my life would look, now that I was in sole charge of shaping it. Hours and hours of therapy with Rob to heal our war wounds and try and find a way forward, even if only for the sake of parenting our daughter into a future that neither of us could quite believe.

And then, glimmers of happiness. Small moments that pierced the grey. I confess that I looked hard for those moments. I scratched them out wherever I could - a perfect blue sky, new leaves, Immy's breath rising and falling while I studied her features as she slept. It was a long road, one that many of you reading this have walked alongside me. But eventually, in slow motion, the scales tipped. The grief still snaked it's way through my days, but the more time passed, the fainter the trail became.

Fast forward to today.  Our one-year anniversary in Australia has quietly passed us by. Our days ebb and flow into each other, routines and rituals carving our days into familiar slices: mornings filled with packing lunches, last-minute pony tails, retracing the familiar steps to the train station. Afternoons walking home from school, chatting about highs and lows, catching up before getting home and starting the inevitable bath/dinner/bedtime routines. The days are getting longer, but not yet warmer. The trees haven't burst into bloom - instead, we notice quiet, tentative buds, suggestions of  spring even though the air on some days is still edged with winter. We have a holiday coming up that we are so looking forward to - a week at the beach, swimming and walking and exploring new places. Work is good, school is good, our home feels like home and our kitten fills in all the gaps we didn't even know we had before she came along.

And just when I thought my life couldn't squeeze more happiness into it, I found a person. Or he found me, or this found us. I'm not sure to be honest.

It is surprising, and unexpected, and I'm exploring what it means to make room for this, to push away the fears and focus on letting all the goodness of it in. Everything seems somehow warmer, fuller, the edges of all things softened because I have someone to share them with. It isn't without  complications because life is messy and we each come carrying a history, and the ghosts of who we were before this.

Sometimes I find myself fighting to push away the whispered what-ifs. But mostly, I feel like the world is an explosion of colour and magic exists around every corner.

There is not much more to say about it other than this -

things that should be asked often. 
in every type of relationship: 
how is your heart. 
is your breath happy here. 
do you feel free. *

Surprised, so surprised, to have found myself in this place where my answers are Full.

Yes.

And Yes.

* Nayyirah Waheed 

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Sunday, 2 July 2017

Small Adventures

I received Immy's first semester report the other day. I read through it, not even noticing that I was holding my breath until I got to the end.

She's caught up a year of French in six short months. She's speaking French to her teacher at last - a few words here and there, but in his words 'a big achievement'. When Immy joined her bilingual English/French immersion school in August last year, she had never spoken a word of French and was 18 months behind the other kids in her class.

It's been hard on her.

So when I read the words 'Imogen has achieved an excellent semester's work in the French classroom and should be very proud of her efforts', I felt something uncoil and loosen in that dark place that whispers all those questions - is she happy? Is she coping? Was moving her across the world halfway through her first year of school the best thing for her?

The answer is yes.

She's doing so well. She has a French tutor. She plays hockey. She has friends, and a crush on a boy called Campbell (he's so cool mama!) She's happy. And my mama heart can breathe again, watching her stretch and grow and find her place in this new world.

**

Six months ago, I filled in a form requesting permission to keep a cat on the premises. I've been thinking it over, running through all the reasons why we should definitely not get a kitten (the kitty litter! the holiday arrangements! the furniture! the commitment!) GOOD REASONS. Sensible. Logical. Practical.

And then on a sunny Saturday morning two weeks ago, we walked out the door - petless, and a couple of hundred dollars richer than when we arrived back at our apartment carrying a warm ball of fluff we named Jemima, food, bowls, pet carrier, toys, litter trays and a scratching post.

It was love at first sight at the adoption centre. They put her in Immy's arms, and she whispered with shining eyes - This is the one. I think she would have said that for whichever one she ended up with first, but here we are. Our lives are full of this playful, busy, purring, sleepy, soft and always entertaining kitten. We wonder how life ever existed before she came.

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We've managed to pack in some adventures in spite of the cold weather and the shorter days. A few weeks ago, we drove 45 minutes out of the city to go on a trail ride. It was a perfect day, blue skies and no wind. Once we had put on our helmets (the guide gently pointing out that mine was on backwards), they rounded us up and assigned us each a horse. I watched as they helped Immy mount a MASSIVE BEAST called Big Maddy. I think the guide must have seen the look on my face, because she assured me that the biggest horses always got the smallest kids. They gave us a quick training course on how to steer and stop, and then we were off.

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The trail wound through open swathes of green grass, endless skies above us, small family groups of wild kangaroos hopping by, copses of trees throwing dappled shade onto the trail. The whole experience was very Little House on the the Prairie and we couldn't have been happier.

She trotted ('I galloped mama!) and didn't stop grinning for the full two hours. I loved it too, except for that one time I was trying to take a picture of Immy and not really paying attention to where my horse was going, and all of a sudden found myself semi-suspended in the branches of a tree. After a few awkward moments I managed to reverse the horse out, pulling the leaves from my hair and pretending that I'd done it on purpose.

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Fortunately the rest of the trail was uneventful, and I gave myself over to the peaceful plodding of the hooves on the ground, the silence of the skies, the sun on our skin. We're all set to go again in a couple of weeks, if the weather holds.

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The day after we got Jemima, we managed to tear ourselves away to go on a tour of Como House. Immy had been on a school tour a couple of weeks before, and the chamber pot and creepy porcelain doll had made such an impression on her that we absolutely HAD TO GO BACK so she could show me. Our guided tour was supposed to last an hour, but the combination of passionate volunteer tour guide, Immy, and another 8-year girl meant there were endless questions and explanations and expositions and explorations which meant the tour took over two hours. By then the winter afternoon had crept in, the big house was cold and and draughty and dark, and I felt immensely thankful for my  cosy apartment and indoor plumbing by the time we were done.

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My folks and I had breakfast here during their stay, although sadly they didn't get to see the inside of the house because there was some vintage clothing sale on that day. Looking at the pictures, I can't believe everything was so summery - it feels like a lifetime ago that they were here, and we rambled through the gardens while waiting for our table to open up at the restaurant.

The cuteness of them though...

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It's Sunday night. Immy is fast asleep, Jemima curled up in a tight ball against her. We walked the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk this morning, the crisp air and blue skies dusting away all the cobwebs that had been gathering after a weekend spent mostly indoors.  It was pretty spectacular, but I'm tired in that heavy-limbed way that happens after a day spent outdoors.

To end: I've been re-reading Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild this week, and thinking how much I'd love to be Cheryl Strayed when I grow up. Until then, I'll take this quote as the jumping off point for the week ahead.

What's important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. It's up to you to make your life. 

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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Last shake of autumn

It's the last official day of autumn. I've heard a few people say that Melbourne has four true seasons, and I'm starting to understand why. Autumn here is spectacular. Huge drifts of leaves banked up on the curbs, parks sparkling red, and gold with emerald green grass. On sunny days, the colours are offset against a cornflower blue sky and well - it's pretty spectacular.

Autumn is fading along with it's glorious leaves, and tomorrow is the start of winter. I've heard it's going to be 3 degrees. We're ready. I think.

We celebrated autumn in style this year. Family reunions, a drive into the mountains, and park play dates.

My mom's only sister has lived in New Zealand for the past twenty or so years. In all that time, they've only seen each other a handful of times. In December, I met my aunt and uncle in Melbourne on a sunny Sunday morning when their cruise ship docked in the port. We walked along the beach, had tea and fruit toast, I locked the keys in my car and had to ask a tattooed stranger to smash the window with a tyre iron (a story for another day) - and we hatched a plan. My aunt and uncle would fly over to Melbourne, I'd sneak them up to the apartment, we'd think of some way to get my mom to open the door, and then - surprise! It all went exactly to plan. The reunion happened in the entry way of our apartment. The shock! The tears! The hugging and crying and laughing. I watched them, engraving it all on my memory. This small apartment breathed laughter through it's walls for an entire week. Six of us shared a tiny bathroom, Immy and I slept top to tail in her single bed, my aunt and uncle lived out of their suitcases and we couldn't have been happier.

My uncle could only stay for a few days, and I didn't manage to get any pictures of him. But the day after he flew home, we headed to Fitzroy Gardens for a lazy Sunday morning poking through Cook's Cottage (so tiny!) and admiring the scenery.

 The smiles in these photos though.

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Immy wasn't with us that day, but she's been enjoying autumn in her own way. Play dates in our local parks, with two of her besties.

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The play date with Sophie ended in tears. I felt like I was on the set of a movie, there was so much weeping and wailing and gnashing of milk teeth. They had a fight. Neither one wanted to say goodbye to the other. Sophie left with her mom, bawling. As soon as they were out of sight, Immy burst into  tears and ran - RAN- to catch up with her. I ran after her, and when I got to them, they were standing with their arms wrapped around each other, tears and snot faces pressed against each others' shoulders.  Sophie's mom and I smiled and rolled our eyes at each other because - seven year old girls.

The last day that my parents were here was a Wednesday. I took the day off work, and we drove into the Macedon Ranges because I wanted to take photographs of the beautiful autumn trees on Honour Avenue. I was too late. Rains had come and most of the leaves had fallen to the ground, so we drove a bit further and found our way to the Gardens of Tieve Tara.

So beautiful.
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I'm taking Immy back for a spring picnic in these gardens. Now though, we're gearing up for a trail ride on Saturday morning. She's so excited because she gets to ride her own horse, no-one leading it by the bridle, out into the wild.

Oh! and last thing. Her and I? We're like two little old people at bedtime. Propped up on pillows, books in hand, glasses of water on the bedside table. Quietly reading before lights out. It's my new favourite thing.

Goodbye autumn. You've been a beauty.

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Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Great Ocean Road

I've been wanting to blog for ages, but frankly - it's been a bit overwhelming. I've let it all pile up and now there are so many moments, photos, memories to sift through. I need to do about ten different posts of things we did while my parents were here, but life has gotten in the way and there always seems to be something more important (urgent?) to do. But this morning I'm reminded that this blog is important too - a creative outlet, a way for me to put down the markers in our year, the things we've done, the people we've shared them with and the places we've been.

It's Sunday morning. I've just come back from a stroll along the cobbled lane of Maling Road, where I bought a flat white and browsed through Tim's Bookshop. I picked up about seven memoirs, read the blurbs, looked at travel books, felt compelled to buy every single one and eventually slipped out the door with my budget intact and a promise to myself that I'll come back again once I've actually read the five new books on my current pile.

Things I'm enjoying right now: central heating. A freezer stocked with homemade food - Irish stew, lasagne, soup, banana bread. Wholesome winter meals, ready for when we come in on a dark night at the end of a busy day. My indoor plant collection is growing - yesterday I bought a delicious monster, moved my peace lily into a lighter corner, and relocated my fiddle leaf fig into a brighter spot where I'm sure it's going to change it's grumpy ways and become happier and healthier in general. And in other home news, I'm saving up to buy this print - I love it and makes me so happy. I'm not sure I can afford it in this lifetime though, but hope springs.

Back to this post though, and our Great Ocean Road adventure.

**

Our original plan for the road trip was to drive directly to Port Campbell from Melbourne, and then spend the next two days driving back along the Great Ocean Road. However, halfway there we decided we were bored - there wasn't much to look at, and what's the point of a road trip if it isn't interesting? So we detoured from our inland plan and ended up joining the GOR at Apollo Bay, following it all the way to Port Campbell.

:: A quick stop at Gibson's Steps to stretch our legs and admire the view.

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We stopped at the 12 Apostles, but it was late afternoon and the sun was impossibly bright on the water, making photographs impossible and the details of the scene invisible. I dropped everybody off at our motel, and then headed back again, hoping to get some sunset shots. Me, and about a thousand other hopeful photographers. The girl next to me had her elbow in my ear most of the time, but it was worth it to watch the rocks change from gold to orange to black against a painted sky.

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The next morning we packed up to start the second leg of our trip. I'd researched places to eat in Port Campbell, and this place came highly recommended for a great breakfast with a great view. Such a good find! A seafront cottage with wooden floorboards, art on the walls and a view of the beach and the fat, lazy seagulls. The breakfast was excellent, the coffee was perfect and Immy was in her element exploring the rocks.

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Our first stop along the drive back to Apollo Bay was Loch Ard Gorge. The weather was beautiful, bright blues skies and the sun warm on our skin. On our way down the steps we ran into another South African family, and Immy and I ran ahead onto the beach while my folks stayed behind chatting. We read the story of the Loch Ard  shipwreck, and spoke about bravery and luck - only two of the fifty four passengers survived, a teenaged boy and girl. We explored every corner of the tiny beach, me following behind her snapping a thousand pictures. I think this was my favourite place.

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Honestly, how cute are they though? 

In the short distance from the gorge to the 12 Apostles, the weather changed from sunny and bright, to gloomy and overcast. I took my last few pictures of the 12 Apostles in the rain, and I didn't mind because I loved the moody greyness of the water and the rain moving in over the horizon. I stood for a long time, looking out over the rocks standing sentinel at the edge of a continent, the wind whipping my hair around my face. I had wanted to see the water shimmering blue and bright, but in the end everything seemed to have more character just the way it was.

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From 12 Apostles we followed the winding road through the beautiful Otway National Park. We wanted to check out the Cape Otway Lighthouse, but when we got there it was windy and drizzly and blustery, so we gave it a skip. Of course, that road was the one that led us to all our sightings of fat, lazy koalas, hunched motionless against the rain. I read up about the stands of dead trees that we drove past - apparently the koalas are literally eating themselves out of house and home, gobbling up manna gum at such a rate that the trees are unable to recover and end up dying.

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Back on the main road towards Apollo Bay, we wound through the forest until we got to Maits Rest. The rainforest shimmered and sparkled in the sun, so we took the short self-guided walk through the forest. Immy and my mom kept hiding away from me and then jumping out at me at random intervals  because - hilarious.

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There are so many more things to do and see - so many more walks and hikes. I'd like to take Immy back sometime, spend a long summer weekend there, hiking to the falls and packing a picnic. Travel notes mean I'll not go this way with her again without packing motion sickness medication though - the roads are super windy.

Our final stop was Apollo Bay, where we slept over for our last night before heading back to Melbourne the next morning. We stayed in the most beautiful cottage, a short walk from the beach. Immy and I grabbed her ball and headed for the sand and the water. The sun was going down and the beach was framed with giant eucalyptus trees, stretching shadows across the sand and making the most beautiful light. Beach photos of my girl make me the happiest.

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On Sunday morning, the weather was cold and rainy. We decided to drive to Lorne for breakfast, where we found a bustling tiny place with questionable service but great coffee and eggs. We didn't get to see much of Lorne, so we headed back toward Melbourne, my mom and Immy snuggled up in the back under blankets. We stopped briefly at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie, which is a bit like being in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It was right before Easter, and there were so many variations of chocolate eggs, rabbits, and chickens that we left with almost nothing except a handful of free chocolate buttons because we simply couldn't choose.

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It was a gorgeous weekend, and every minute felt like a privilege to be able to share it with my mom and dad and my girl. Also, it's been a bucket list item for ages, so even though we barely scraped the surface of all the things the Great Ocean Road has to offer, I feel like I can legitimately give this one a tick.

~ m