Thursday, 18 January 2018

Puffing Billy: a steam train adventure

Last night I stayed up until midnight reading through blog posts from previous years  - getting lost in the memories and the photos and the stories that make up this big little life of ours. I didn't blog nearly enough last year - so many adventures and small everyday moments that have gone undocumented in this space.

We're two weeks into the new year, and I've been thinking about my intentions for this year. How I'd like to shape my days and weeks, doing more of the things I love and less of the things that siphon off my time without any return for the investment. Blogging is so important to me - taking photos, choosing the ones I'd like to form a story, weaving the words in and around them. I've missed it, the creative release that comes with hitting the 'Publish' button, knowing that another chapter in our story has been preserved for a time when memories will have faded and details will be a hazy blur.

I've decided to blog all the adventures that we had last year, the ones I missed out on, the ones I was too busy/tired/lazy to finish. They'll be in-between our current adventures, and that's okay. Because at the end of day, it matters less that everything is in the correct order, and more that I can look back and and remember the love and adventure and moments that make this life of ours so extraordinary.

And so, to start: a steam train adventure. On a cold, blustery day at the beginning of April 2017, we bundled up and headed for Belgrave station, headquarters of the Puffing Billy railway and the start of our train journey from Belgrave to Lakeside. The locomotive steamed and hissed, while the conductor checked our tickets, rang his bell and made sure that everybody was safely on board.

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:: Trestle Bridge. This is the must-have Puffing Billy picture, hands and feet dangling out of the carriages while the train curves it's way over the wooden bridge, billowing steam.

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A quick stop at Menzies Creek, where I almost missed getting back on the train because I was waiting for nine thousand people to take their photos and get out of the way so that I could get a picture of the front of the train. I was in trouble with the conductor, and my mom thought I would be sleeping there that night, but it was worth it for this.

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:: Train snaps along the way...

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Every person who works on the Puffing Billy railway is a volunteer. Station masters, engine cleaners, conductors, signalmen, guards - the list goes on. I read up on some of the stories, and discovered that some of the volunteers have been there since the 1950s. Entire families that volunteer, married couples, old (one volunteer has been there for 61 years!) and young.  I loved reading about every single one of them (if you're keen, you can read some of their stories here).

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We ended our journey at Lakeside, where Rob and I took Immy to the miniature train exhibition. It's basically one huge room filled with miniature train tracks running through different scenes: city to town to pasture to hills, trains zooming around over and up the tracks and through the tunnels. Tiny chickens pecking at the dirt, little water wheels turning, a thousand small things to look at and enjoy.

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And so back to Belgrave, and then to lunch. We found a cosy cafe close by, where we sat - half-frozen and starving - in a warm corner. Immy befriended a massive dog on the porch, and ended up eating lunch with a stranger in the gardens while I wandered around taking photos.

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We're halfway through summer, and my parents' visit. We've enjoyed hot weather, lazy days, movies, swimming and bike riding. Next week - a holiday at the beach, in a beautiful airy house with wooden floors. I plan to catch up on blogging, reading, long walks, and quality time with my girl who is just getting so big.

To end - words to live by (and a good way to kick off 2018)...

Read good books,
have good sentences in your ears.
Be by yourself as often as you can.
Take the phone off the hook.
Avoid too much noise.
Protect your time.
Feed your inner life.

-- Jane Kenyon

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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Celebrating December

December for us is a month-long celebration, a whirlwind of birthdays, end-of-year functions, parties, Christmas preparations and endless eating and drinking.

The tree has already been taken down, decorations packed away and the corner of my living room reclaimed from the giant tree for another year. My parents are visiting, and to have them here with us celebrating Immy's birthday and Christmas feels like the luckiest thing. 

A roundup of favourite pictures from our celebrations.

:: She had her party at Bounce. Ten kids, and a chocolate mousse mud cake. She declared it 'her best party ever'. And afterwards, we headed to my place to open presents and read all the beautiful handmade cards from her friends.

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:: A Christmas Elf, helping to put the tree up. This necessitated an entire rearrangement of furniture because last year when I bought the tree, we had no furniture so I bought the biggest one in the shop. I'm not sorry. 

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:: We celebrated with a Christmas Eve traditional dinner. For the fourth year in a row, I assembled our table runner, a beautiful ethereal paper creation I bought in 2014. Painstakingly connecting corners and weaving paper through holes, it's a labour of love that is part of the fun of decorating a beautiful table. We kept it simple this year - candles in mason jars, a tiny jar of flowers, some sparkly lights.

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:: Crackers and conversation starters, Boney M on in the background.

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:: We started a new tradition this year. Opening one gift, selected by the giver, from under the tree.

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Finally, it was time to read 'Twas the night before Christmas' by the light of the tree. Stockings laid out, Immy put to bed and then tackling the mammoth task of wrapping her new bike. Santa snowy footprints, cookies and milk, the scene set for Christmas morning. I couldn't help wondering if this time next year she'll still believe in the magic of Santa, and North Pole snow scattered on the presents and the floor. With all my heart I hope so.

Our days are rolling by playing board games, card games, cycling. We watch old movies. I'm determined to have a few adventures, but so far I'm almost a third into my holiday and afternoon naps and reading seem to be about as good as it gets.

Another Christmas, come and gone.

From our tribe to yours - Merry Christmas.

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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.


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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