In the dry

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It is a very dry spring. Distant fires have burned for weeks, and each week I look eagerly at the weather forecast, hoping that a 20% chance of rain due in days might gradually increase.

The lower dam has dried up. Vivid green grasses and moss are growing in the damp dirt that remains, forming a circle around the bare patch where the last traces of water disappeared a week ago. Deep cracks have formed in the dry mud. The upper dam still holds a little water, but it is the lowest it has ever been in our 12 years living here.

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Recently we have had evenings where the air has been thick with smoke from fires, the sun a violent and vivid orange as it approaches the horizon, glowering through the murky air. The humidity is low, the days so hot and dry that you can take washing in a couple of hours after hanging it out.

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I saw this koala moving across the ground from the verandah. Squinting at it without my glasses on, I initially thought it was a small dog, but quickly realised my mistake. It climbed a small tree next to the lower dam, and stayed still as we tiptoed closer for a look. Later in the day it moved to a higher tree, comfortably nestled in a crook between two branches, and stayed for a couple of days before moving on during the night. I keep gazing up into the trees each morning to see if it has returned, but I suspect it was moving through the area looking for a mate, and has now journeyed onwards.

Weighted blanket

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Frances is not what I would call a gifted sleeper, even though she is now over three and a half, an age at which I think children really should get the hang of sleeping on their own for long periods. It feels good! Why don’t they want to feel good! What apparently makes Frances feel good is lying on top of me on her stomach, her head pressed uncomfortably right up under my chin. She’s like a weighted blanket, if weighted blankets had limbs and tried to pinch the skin of your upper arms and sniffed loudly trying to clear their congested nose. Both the kids have had one of those mild yet irritating “runny nose for weeks” things. I’ve had so much more sleep since weaning Frances, but in the absence of breastfeeding it seems she’s just come up with any number of annoying “going to sleep” habits.

She finds pinching the skin of my upper arms soothing. I would personally love to know why she has chosen one of the most irritating fucking things in the world to do in order to feel soothed. She slowly and sneakily moves her fingers to the skin of my upper arms as she starts to fall asleep (to “roll” the skin, not pinch, she claims – “I’m just rolling it!”, like who could possibly object to that), and in response I clamp her hand underneath my arm and snarl “don’t touch my arm”, my version of a calming lullaby.

I roll her off me once she’s fallen asleep and sneak out of her room. Then later, if the moon is waxing and the wind is blowing from the east (that is, for any number of completely inconceivable reasons) she finds it hard to sleep, and she cries until I come into her room, and then occasionally wakes during the rest of the night to clamber on top of me in order to drop off to sleep again. This is, as you can imagine, not very conducive to a deep sleep on my part.

I recently went away and slept the entire night without interruption, which was just so gloriously restful. It eased my concern that the children had entirely broken my ability to sleep an entire 8 hours without waking up multiple times. I write this because I know that in several years, in my wonderful future full of nights of long deep sleeps, I will read it back and enjoy the feeling of marveling at my rotten daughter and her bedtime battles. “I’m just rolling it!”

A few weeks after writing this – Frances actually slept through the night a couple of nights ago. I am tamping down my near-hysterical joy at this development and hoping she does it again soon.

Well-behaved ducklings

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On a recent visit to Mum’s Daintree property, we spent some time in the afternoon sitting in the bird hide next to the main wetland watching the radjah shelducks go about their business. One of them stood guard, standing on the edge of the water looking outwards, while the ducklings stayed hidden in some reeds. The other duck joined the first, and off they flew together. Parental abandonment! The ducklings stayed well hidden for the twenty minutes their parents were away – occasionally standing up and getting themselves re-seated more comfortably, but mostly being the most well-behaved ducklings you could hope for. Mum and I were most fascinated by this, and speculated how on earth the parents impress upon the ducklings the importance of not emerging from the reeds until their return. If my children were ducklings they would no doubt get themselves eaten by an eel the minute my back was turned.

The adults flew back in, and then both stood around as the ducklings tidily trotted down and stood in a line on the water’s edge, poking about and finding things to nibble on. The adults stood watch, and when a magpie goose came over to bother them – quite unnecessarily and rudely, we thought – they loudly yelled and moved the ducklings away swiftly to another area. This impressive work is no doubt why they still have seven ducklings of their original eight hatchlings.

Meanwhile the magpie geese goslings were far more undisciplined. The little threesome moved across the pond cheeping away constantly – looking far too big and ungainly to still be cheep-cheep-cheeping in such a babyish way – and the various adults that make up their family group followed them, a couple posted around on other banks and up trees as look-outs. The goslings seemed to tootle along in a very carefree manner, while the adults puttered after them making sure all was well. There was none of the attentive discipline of the shelduck family. The benefits of sharing childcare responsibilities in a large family group. Cheep-cheep-cheeping without a care in the world.

(Mum wrote about these birds in a much more well-informed way here, along with photos).

 

Midnight reveries

An old piece I found – I think I wrote it when Frances was around 4 months old.

I lie in the dark next to the baby watching her face. We’re lying on the floor of her bedroom on a single mattress, and she is snuggled up against my side. The room is dimly lit by an ancient iPhone plugged into a speaker dock, which plays a two hour track of rain falling on an endless loop. We originally used the iPhone and the rain track for her brother, and when she was first born I didn’t bother to resurrect it. Months later, I set it up again. White noise is one of the first things you try when your baby starts sleeping like crap, an essential element of the equation for seeking sleep. Be lulled by the sound of the rain, little baby.

She is not lulled. She moves restlessly from side to side. I’m tired but can’t fall asleep, and I regret my decision to make a coffee mid-afternoon. I’m always tempted, knowing it will carry me through the dinner and bedtime routine, but then it makes me too restless to go to sleep. I watch her face in the dull light. Her arms swing up and she rubs at her eyes, makes a grizzling sound. I feed her again and she quickly sinks down into deeper sleep, pushing against my side. It’s uncomfortable, but I don’t want to shift around and wake her yet again. I position a pillow next to the side of the bed to try and prevent her rolling off and onto the rug. This is not always a successful strategy, and sometimes I wake to a soft thump and a cry of startled surprise.

When she was still swaddled for sleep, she was like a neat little burrito, taking up very little room in the bed. Freed, she sprawls, rolling from side to side, spreading out her arms luxuriantly. It is much less comfortable trying to sleep next to her now.

Shortly after this, I switched the single mattress to a much larger mattress on the floor, and felt a bit less frustrated. Three years later, I am still woken in the middle of the night by wails of “Muuummy” and I go and collapse on the mattress and feel envious of all the people I know whose children just sleep. Reading this back though, it feels sweetly nostalgic rather than exhausting, and no doubt I will feel the same about memories of the ridiculous floor mattress in… two, three years time? God, I hope my children are sleeping through the night by then. 

Camping at Tumbledown Nature Refuge

We had experienced our most stressful travelling day before arriving at Tumbledown Nature Refuge. One of the kids was feverish and unhappy, and a vital part had fallen off our rented camper trailer while driving over the Main Range, which meant that we had to frantically find an RV supply store for a replacement so that we could inflate the camper to sleep in. Consequently we were all feeling slightly frazzled as we drove through Stanthorpe and out towards Greenlands, where we had booked a campsite at Tumbledown Nature Refuge.

As we drove slowly down the 1.5km driveway, deep into the heart of the property, I felt myself relax. Our campsite, Quoll’s Hideaway, was nestled in the bush, past the dam. When we arrived, a little basket with homegrown herbs and fruit awaited us, atop a treasure chest of thoughtful items just in case we’d forgotten something, and a map of walks on the property. Log seating encircled the fire pit, and neatly stacked piles of firewood and kindling were nearby for our use.

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A path with a sign pointing to the “Thunderbox” leads to a sweet little shelter which contains a marvellous composting toilet, ingeniously built into a wheelie bin, and a camp shower you can fill with water. Signposted walking paths tempted us to explore. A short walk around the dam from our campsite led to the homestead, and its neighbouring building containing a camp kitchen, a solar-heated shower, and another composting toilet.

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Jayn, the owner of Tumbledown, has built all of the structures on the property, including the homestead and a delightful little log cabin. She is a thoughtful host, happy to assist with anything we needed. She clearly puts so much thought and work into her management of Tumbledown, and learning more about her custodianship of the land makes the property seem even more special.

48288484617_adc904e729_kThere are 12kms of bushwalking tracks over Tumbledown Nature Refuge, and we only explored a few of them. We followed the Granite Walk one afternoon, which is marked by a mixture of tree markers, and stone cairns where the track goes across slabs of granite. Edward really enjoyed this experience of finding and following the trail, and eagerly became our trail leader, leading us past stunning views and winding through the trees. We felt like we were the only people in the world – the only sounds that of the birds, the wind, and our footsteps (and less idyllically, Frances occasionally grizzling in my ear that she was tired, even though I carried her the entire way).

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Tumbledown is only a 20 minute drive from Stanthorpe, and it was the perfect base to explore some of the touristy delights of the area. We had planned to go into Girraween National Park, but we were enjoying exploring Tumbledown so much that we did more of that instead, to make the most of our time there. On our last evening we took the track to Sunset Rock and sat there with a drink, looking across to the sun setting behind the distant mountains, bathing us all in orange light. 

I cannot recommend Tumbledown Nature Refuge enough as a spectacular camping spot in the Stanthorpe area. It is a unique experience on a very special property, and is a showcase of the amazing forests in the Granite Belt area.  The Tumbledown homestead and the log cabin are also available to stay in, and next time we plan to hire the homestead for a quick weekend stay so that we can enjoy more of the area.

Tumbledown Nature Refuge doesn’t have an internet presence as yet, but you can contact Jayn on the details below to enquire about booking campsites, the homestead, or the log cabin.

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In the rain

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We had been at the show for about 15 minutes when it started to drizzle. The Tamborine Mountain showgrounds are small, with one pavilion building and one arena; a nice size for making your way around slowly with kids. We had come prepared with a motley collection of raincoats and toddler sized snow jacket, and the rain did little to dampen our enthusiasm as we bought a jar of finger lime marmalade, and a packet of sweets, and watched a snake handler casually display a number of poisonous snakes, and talk about how he goes into anaphylactic shock when bitten. It has been so dry recently that any rain is an exciting novelty, even when it’s dripping down the back of your shirt.

I really love going to little country shows, even the expensive rides and the ridiculous games where you’re guaranteed to win a terrible prize which will fall apart 5 minutes after you receive it. I like walking around and looking at the exhibits, reading names and wondering about the identity of the people who have carefully put together the plate of French jellies (what on earth are French jellies) or a decorated set of commercial biscuits. The artwork is always an enjoyable mixture of the quite good and the rather terrible.

As it rained, a mist descended – the mountain no doubt covered in cloud from the perspective of the lowlands. We sat on wet seats and watched a car-pulling competition, with a good-natured selection of motley teams doing their best to haul a car the fastest over 20 metres, the wet ground causing its fair share of slips and falls.

The kids wanted to go on a deserted and soaking-wet bouncing castle, and they jumped around gleefully shrieking, clambering up the slippery ladder and hurtling down the slide into a puddle of water that had gathered at the bottom. They came off as thoroughly wet as if they’d jumped into a pool, hair dripping in their eyes, both talking at the same time. “Did you see me…” “Did you see when I…”

We drove home on the winding road, through thick patches of cloud, trees looming up dark and imposing on each side of the road against the whiteness, the occasional car’s headlights gleaming up through the mist. The rain had stopped, and the kids were damp and silent in the back seat, listening to the tyres swishing on the wet road.

The tantrums will continue until morale improves

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We had reached the stage in the recipe of adding the eggs. “Let’s put the eggs in!” I said, and took the container out of the fridge. The instant I turned to get a whisk, there was an smashing noise behind me. I spun around to see egg all over the floor, and Frances giving me a keenly helpful look, as if to say “yep, done that! What’s next?”.

When Edward was little we built a stool so that he could stand up safely and do things with us at the kitchen bench. I always enjoyed baking with him. It was usually quite messy – the urge to fling just a little bit of flour around is fairly irresistible – but my memory is that he always concentrated very hard on my instructions and tried to copy what I was doing. (Having said that, I am somewhat wary of trusting my memory when it leans towards a “first child was so easy, second child is a devil” narrative, which I suspect has much more to do with the mellowing effects of time than reality.)

The vagaries of memory aside, baking with Frances is definitely different to how it was with Edward. I don’t recall entering into a physical tug-of-war with Edward for possession of the mixing bowl while he howled “MIIIIINE”, for example. I’m sure this is exacerbated by the intensely independent stage Frances is going through at the moment, flying into little rages when you try to do outrageous things like things like take the bowl of brownie mixture back because she’s about to slop it all over the floor, or prevent her from climbing onto a ladder, or stop her from wading into deep water at the pool and drowning herself.

Edward was given Christmas cards containing candy canes from many of his classmates at kindy at the end of the year. It’s a tradition I didn’t participate in for several reasons, such as 1) I didn’t have bloody time, and 2) I think the interest that five year olds have in receiving a Christmas card is extremely minimal. I do feel a tiny bit miserly about this decision though, and hope that all the parents who make the effort to prepare those little gift exchanges are doing so because they thoroughly enjoy it.

The kindy candy canes were hung on our little Christmas tree, and every day Frances would gaze at them and ask hopefully “tanty tane?”. They are such an enticing colour, and she’s a fiend for anything sweet. Christmas Day arrived, and Frances discovered a candy cane in her stocking which yes! She was allowed to eat, much to her sticky delight. On Boxing Day she bustled towards the tree, said “tanty tane!” and was informed that candy canes for breakfast were a once a year event. I did my best not to laugh at the absolute stunned horror and disappointment on her face, which she followed up with an elaborate performance of lying on the floor giving great noisy howls of sadness. Once soothed, she still choked out the occasionally broken “tanty… tane…”, just to make us aware how cruelly we had hurt her. I find it much easier to briskly ignore toddler tantrums the second time around, which perhaps also contributes to an increased number of them. I know that’s not the received wisdom regarding tantrums, but I expect Frances is an advanced case, a tantrum genius, working diligently on pitching those screams just right until she gets the desired reaction.

Reading Round-Up for 2017

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Here’s my Goodreads year with covers and links to my “reviews” (I have become worse at reviewing books every year, and occasionally it’s just something like, “excellent read”, useless for both anyone looking at the reviews, and me looking back in future years with no memory of that particular novel).

My goal was to read 60 books, and I read 75 – this increase is due to my return to work after maternity leave. The plus-side to my long trip to work is having time to read on the bus, and listen to audiobooks while driving.

Wonderfully interesting statistics!

  1. My reading this year was 40% fantasy and science-fiction – a fairly steady percentage maintained in recent years, I think.
  2. Romance as a genre was 16% of my reading, which has dropped since 2015, because I didn’t have a co-worker making me read a terrible and long series of erotic novels.
  3. I read one entire series of 7 books this year – the Expanse series by James SA Corey. I read the first, Leviathan Wakes, in January, and the most recent, Persepolis Rising, in December, the month it was released. It’s a completely addictive, high-stakes sci-fi series, and my enjoyment of it was only enhanced by also watching the first two seasons of the TV show. I had a very Expanse-centric year.
  4. My average rating was 3.3 stars out of 5. Unacceptably low! I need more 5 star reads next year.

Best childhood flashback

I loved Susan Cooper’s classic Dark is Rising sequence when I was younger – it’s a series of fantasy novels inspired heavily by British mythology, beautifully written and with the most wonderful solemn portentous feeling. The Dark is Rising is the second in the series, but is a fine place to start, and takes place over the Christmas period – so is an excellent seasonal read (although more appropriate if one is in the Northern Hemisphere, I imagine).

Best Chalet School book

Since 2008 I have been making sporadic attempts to read the entire Chalet School book series – the books of the series that I read as a child were some of my favourites, but the entire series is immense, spanning some 60-odd books. In 2017, I read another 6 of them, making my way up to around book 55. I’m going to stop there – the quality is certainly declining, as you would expect, and the quirks and repetitions of Brent-Dyer’s authorial style become wearying rather than charming. The best of the lot I read in 2017 was Jane of the Chalet School, which was unexpectedly fresh and enjoyable. This is a rather pointless recommendation because obviously you shouldn’t read Jane of the Chalet School unless you’ve read at least some of the earlier and far superior books in the series.

Best historical romance

You know when you feel in the mood for a book that’s going to make you feel uplifted and merry and filled with a wonderful and probably entirely unjustified warmth towards your fellow human beings? The book you want is one of Rose Lerner’s historical romances, which are all so sweet and cheerful (without being shallow or saccharine). My favourite of hers is Listen to the Moon.

Best fairytale adaption

T Kingfisher’s (aka Ursula Vernon’s) The Seventh Bride has the most delightful narrator’s voice – sensible and good-humoured and charming. If you find yourself in an adaption of a Bluebeard-style story, I imagine that being good-humoured and sensible probably give you a better chance of survival.

Best novel about communal living

I am always down for novels about all sorts of communal living – kibbutzes, communes, terrible Amish romances (did you know that was a thing? It’s a thing), dystopian novels where everyone lives in a compound, that sort of thing. Kevin Wilson’s A Perfect Little World is a lovely book about a scientific experiment in which ten couples raise their children communally, and the various ramifications of that experiment. One of the things I particularly liked was the main character, Izzy, who is a very young mother, and how we see her grow into motherhood. It’s a very moving, thoughtful novel.

Best novel about animation (yes, these categories are very arbitrary) 

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators was an amazing rollercoaster of a novel, about two animators working together on very personal projects. There was so much in this book about friendship and the creative process, and it is both immensely funny and heart-breaking – a brilliant piece of work.

Ceiling of stars

Bruce

I make sporadic unsuccessful attempts to encourage my son to sleep in his own bed, because I have hitherto undiscovered reserves of mad optimism. My previous effort involved the pet fish he asked for on his last birthday. We put them in a tank in his bedroom, and I gave a long and heartfelt speech about what wonderful company fish were when one happened to wake up in the night. How lovely that he now had fishy friends with him in his room all the time! You’re never alone when you have a fish, I said. The first night he decided that fish were not actually very good company at all, particularly in the middle of the night, and back into our bedroom he came.

My latest idea for lulling my son to sleep by means of commercialism is a turtle with a fluffy head and flippers that shines stars onto the ceiling through its shell. It is quite as ridiculous as it sounds. Apparently some of the stars are Real Constellations, so it’s not only soothing but Educational. I presented him with the turtle and started on my hard sell – this was a new special friend! Who would live in his bed! And when he woke up at night he could press the button and the lovely stars would shine! Didn’t that sound beautiful and peaceful? Maybe he would like to give his special friend a name?

He looked suitably solemn and gazed at the turtle.

“Bruce.”

Uhhh.

“His name can be Bruce.”

I managed not to laugh.

Bruce the special shining star turtle has not been a success. Of course he bloody hasn’t, I don’t know what I was thinking. He has actually become part of the bedtime routine, just in the opposite way to which I had hoped. Bruce lives in the Big Bed now, and must be ceremoniously turned on each night, shining his soothing stars onto the ceiling so that my son and whichever adult is lying down with him can enjoy an Educational display of constellations. Instead of removing a small child from my bed, I’ve added a shining turtle. It’s not an improvement. Bloody Bruce.

Traffic controller

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The traffic controller is sprawled on the front seat of his ute, one leg hanging out the open door. He’s texting on his phone while the line of cars crawls past him towards the temporary traffic light, blinking an inactive orange. I glare balefully at him. He yawns and taps at his phone again.

The closed bridge and consequent detour onto the main road are a daily tedious frustration, kilometres of extra driving for half of the year while the slowest bridge construction process in the world takes place. The temporary traffic lights were supposed to operate during peak times; instead, they’re generally turned off. The traffic controller sits in his car on the side of the road, presumably constantly poised to leap up and activate them should the intersection become too busy.

~~~~~

The traffic controller is rubbing a coin on an instant scratchie ticket. We pause right next to him, waiting for a gap in the traffic. My son is perched in his car seat, delivering a lengthy discourse on how you would install a speaker in a car; its intended audience is seemingly someone who has never heard of the concept of speakers or cars. I have heard of both, and “mmm oh yes, I see” in response as I stare at the traffic controller. I want to shout “Is it a winner, mate?” out the window.

~~~~~

The traffic controller is rolling a cigarette. Rolling cigarettes has always seemed to me to be a slightly classier way of smoking, if one is going to smoke. I think it’s the vaguely artisanal homemade aspect. Preserve some homegrown produce, bake a loaf of bread, roll a cigarette. When we return from the kindergarten and drive past him again, the traffic controller is smoking. He has propped a piece of signage against the windscreen of his car to shade him from the afternoon sun. I wonder why he doesn’t stand and smoke beside his car to spare the interior from the smell. Presumably there are some limits to the things one can do while purportedly monitoring traffic.

~~~~~

The traffic controller is closely examining his fingernails. I glance at my own fingernails on the wheel and make a mental note to cut them, which I immediately forget. If I could remember the mental notes I make while driving I think I would be a much more organised person. I hear that the bridge is almost completed, will perhaps re-open the following week. I wonder how often I am going to forget and drive straight on automatically to the detour, the habit of many months directing me while I think about the early morning fog and meetings at work and whether I’ve packed enough food for the baby. Realisation would dawn on me when I arrive at the empty intersection. The traffic controller is gone, on to better and brighter things, and I’ve gone the wrong way.