Monday, April 28, 2008


We have patches of ice like little drifts of snow all over our garden. Poor lemon tree.

The rain on the roof last night scared Una. 'I'm scared of the rain,' she said, so I told her a long story about how the rain comes down to give all the flowers and trees and birds a drink while the hail battered down on the tin roof, like a million nails (which comforted her until I left the room). Then Martin got her up and gave her some hail to eat - the ultimate overcoming of your enemy, to absorb some of its essence inside you, to eat it up. You can't be scared of a monster you can eat.

The girls are wearing their backpacks even though it's an hour until kinder and are outside exploring, they've just gone to see if there's ice on the tire swing. I predict a last minute hurried change of clothes before kinder starts. Una's going to kinder today too and so am I. I'm going to be the kinder mum. You know, the lady who hands out the drinks and maks awkward conversation with the four year olds and tries to divine which primary school all the kids are going to. I thought I should because they all think its really WEIRD that Martin does most of the kinder stuff. They had a dad's day at the kinder a few weeks ago, and I wondered briefly if I should go along too. Hmm. Awkward.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Restless energy

I don't know if it's the season, but I've been filled with a restless discontent lately. The house feels small, the dustbowl garden overwhelming and bare, the kids bickering is grating on my nerves, and while the deadlines are looming, the writing isn't flowing. Life on the whole is good, I must point out. Indigo Girls was spotted by a friend as the national number one bestselling teen book in Angus & Robertson. We do love our little house, our area and our gorgeous neighbours. Fred's birthday party was a smashing success, and proof that this is a fantastic house for entertaining - the french doors open, adults attracted to the veranda and kids scrambling all over the property. And I have booked and paid for mine and Fred's tickets to my sister's wedding in England, which includes stopovers in Hong Kong and Helisinki and a week in a Paris apartment - we'll be away for most of September.

But even so as the weather gets cold, I am looking at winter approaching and dreading being holed up in this very small house with its single living area (dining, kitchen and lounge combined). I am sick of the wood fire already. I am beginning to hanker after large soft couches and ducted heating and rumpus rooms and parent's retreats and all those things we always said we didn't need in a house, even - god forbid - a giant flat-screen tv. We have some half baked plans for extending, but nothing will happen about that until Martin is gainfully employed - he will finish his degree in 18 months. And they're not big plans. Possibly building in a small adults only sitting area in one small part of the veranda, or if finances permit, a third bedroom. I am happy enough with my cupboard study that a studio is off the cards. I wish we had a guest bedroom though. And more space inside for Fred's gymnastics so I wasn't constantly telling her off for jumping and running and shouting inside.

So yesterday at the market Martin and I - barely able to think through the children's constant tired whining - bought three olive trees on a whim to plant up on a naked bank. Afterwards, inspired, I drove down to the hardware shop, bought gypsum to try and break down our heavy clay, some blood and bone and a couple of packets of discounted bulbs - mostly irises and daffodils, already fantasising about spring. I buried the bulbs - keeping my fingers crossed - into well mulched soft soil (the tenant who lived here before we bought apparently had quite a lovely garden but she removed it all before the house went on the market - luckily some of the well nourished soil remains, because so much of it in other areas is clay or dust). If I think about the whole garden I feel defeated. So I am concentrating on one spot, under the gum tree, though there were enough bulbs to cover a few different spots - good luck little bulbs - hopefully you will grow. About an hour after I had tenderly covered the bulbs raked the blood and bone into the soil, it rained. This morning everything was rich and dark and soggy. It seemed like a good omen.

Today we bundled the kids into the car and went for a drive in the freezing cold to Kinglake. It was the kind of Sunday drive I remember from my own childhood. Kids in the back, mystified, about why we drove such a long was just to pile out of the car, look at a view ('wow, you can see the city,' said Martin, 'wow, you can see a FAIRY CASTLE' said Fred), say hello to some rather antisocial horses, pile back into the car, drive down the road, pile out of the car buy some apples, back in the car, drive a bit more down the road, pile out of the car to an antique shop/nursery/cafe, to eat cake, drink tea, buy a lemon tree (memo to selves - stop hemorrhaging money), say hello to chickens and sheep and wander about a huge beautiful English style garden that had me hankering after pineapple sage and carnations, pile back into the car and then drive the scenic route home (extra driving? Are we mad?). To counteract the whinging that has become the soundtrack to our lives we sang Old Macdonald a lot longer than I personally feel comfortable singing any song for, and as well as cows and horses and ducks, Old Macdonald ended up with some mighty strange animals on that farm. Detoured to Eltham to fill the car and grocery shop with the small fistful of money we had left after filling the car and then home - oh we stopped about five minutes away from home to buy horse poo and then I had to walk the rest of the way as the horse poo had my seat. Lots of people with little fires around the place, tis the season to exercise controlled pyromania. We might need to have one of those fires ourselves soon. Wheee! A place where it is socially acceptable to BURN things.

Fred disappeared next door, Una, who had fallen asleep mid whinge, transfered from the car to the cot. Martin planted the lemon tree in the dust and poo. We drank a childfree cup of tea. Afterwards, still restless, I raked leaves and made little nests of mulch and leaves and bark around the trees, and carted wheelbarrow loads of dead branches from where Martin tried (unsuccessfully) to hide them to a spot where we HAVE to do something about them (like burn them - clap clap). Martin read Margaret Atwood novels and made the most delicious potato and leek soup, the girls sipped up every drop. After dinner Fed and I had a shower, then Martin had one, then Una had a bath in our shower water, I dutifully bucketed all the water onto the new lemon and olive trees and tried to revive the dead-ish thing in my flower garden, in the dark, by torchlight. Then of course it rained and rained and rained.

A good day in the end.

Sunday Drive

Kinglake April 08, originally uploaded by nellup.

Crossest Face

Kinglake April 08, originally uploaded by nellup.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Live in the Wimmera Region?

Don't foget to enter the competition, judged by yours truly.

Short Story Competition
Entries are now open for the 2008 competition. This year the competition is only open to local authors. We encourage everyone, of all abilities and ages, to pen a story on any topic - you may win a prize!

Entries close Friday 9 May.

Entry forms via this link

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fred's party

Rainbow Pony

And a little Una mouse

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Fred is five years old. Last year when she turned four we spent the day at Collingwood Children's Farm, loving being under the trees, with no clue that in six months we'd own several trees of our own, and a house to boot, out in the bush, away from the city that we love but still part of it. It's been a big year. I remember thinking when she was four that we'd moved for every year of her live, and now she's five the pattern has continued. Hopefully though we're here for a bit, to settle her roots into the good earth. Though she talks at times, in a fond sort of way, about what the next house she lives in will be like.

Ages ago, the gorgeous Jabberwocky (I wish someone paid her to blog because she's so good at it - it should be people like Jabberwocky and Muppinstuff blogging for the Age about Melbourne life, instead of tedious people called Sam), tagged me for a quirky kid meme. I had been planning to do it about Una, since she gets very little blogtime, but this seems like a nice time to do it about Fred, a birthday post. There's rules, but they're boring, so I'll skip to the six quirks.

1. She has recently begin to climb trees, she likes to sit in them and sing. Being higher than floor level has an amazing calming effect on Fred. It seems to fulfil some emotional and physical need in Fred. We have a small birdfeeding platform on the veranda and she likes sitting there too, and flicking through books or having a snack. There's something about being removed from everyone, being separate, that she really likes, though she also thrives on energy she gains from other kids.

2. She has just developed a deeply physical affection streak with adults in her greater world. At her birthday party she went around and hugged everyone (though then told them all they had to go home, because she wanted her lolly bag). Mum and Dad came to visit a few weeks ago and they said they got more hugs from her over those few days than all the previous visits.

3. She has always had incredible empathy. On the occasions that I cry, she completely changes her behaviour - no matter how massive her tantrum is, or how huge her anger is - and becomes incredibly concerned and solicitous (so I have to make a special effort not to be manipulative).

4. She doesn't like praise, unless it's very lowkey and said in the most casual and offhand of voices. It also needs to be 150% genuine and deserving.

5. Fred hates having things in her hair or wearing fancy clothes, is not interested in Barbie's clothes or hair, but she loves make up - in its presence she goes quiet and reverent. She seems to particularly struggle with the conflicting impulses in her in terms of her own femininity and her ideas about gender and is not convinced by any of my feminist rhetoric about how there are as many ways of being a little girl as there are little girls. Yet she doesn't want to resolve her conflict by 'fitting in' (phew). I have a feeling the struggle will be long and hard between what she feels and what she thinks she should be as a girl. It breaks my heart and makes me so proud at the same time. I hope as she gets older she finds a way of expressing herself - through music, dance, sport, writing, art or something else, that helps connect up her internal and external experiences of femininity in a meaningful way.

6. Fred went to church on Saturday for the first time to a wedding. When everyone was standing up and singing the first hymn she squeezed me tight and said in a loud, thrilled whisper, 'This is wonderful!'

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Best Smile

Una and Martin April 08, originally uploaded by nellup.

Frederique Brighton Beach

April 08 Brighton Beach, originally uploaded by nellup.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The short and the short of it

Eglantine made the news, and I didn't even have to show anyone my knickers (Phew, we all say).

Plus I got this in the post today:

Linkedy plink
Things to love about it include: I'm in it, it's all little and cute, it has a flickbook corner, where there's a dog jumping up and down and he - can't - get- the - bone -!! which is the funniest thing ever if you are five, Kate C is in it and so are lots of people I admire and adore, all royalties go to charity so everyone who wrote something in it is ostensibly nice. Like me, I am. My contribution is a bunch of six word stories. Remember when I was all about them? Well, I still am. Six words is a perfectly adequate quantity. I love Simmone Howell's little cartoon too. Made me LOL till I had to SMS an SOS. Hoo Hoo. (Gosh, if you've come for the ambience, you'll stay for the silly jokes. Like this one - Fred's latest and best to date. Why did the elephant stand on the marshmallow?

So he didn't get his feet wet in the hot chocolate?)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What am I doing that's keeping me from blogging?

I seem to be writing three novels at once.

I seem to be swamped under with uni homework.

I seem to be emerging, just intact, from the school holidays - our first that meant something, now Fred is at kinder rather than childcare. I must admit I was unprepared for how long the two weeks would feel, since term one was so short and the summer holidays passed in a blur of busy, without Fred seeming to miss creche at all. But Fred is a much happier girl now that she's back at kinder. She seems to draw very positive energy from child company, we had a brilliant couple of days after our Easter holiday in Rosebud with our friends who have 2 kids the same age as ours. But she grew bored and restless and it took us a while to twig why, since she was busy every day and of course she has Una and the kids next door. Don't think we kept her holed up at home or anything - Martin took her swimming and to visit grandparents and cousins and we had at least one sleepover where she played with a group of kids as well as four nights away over Easter. But she obviously requires more. I think she's getting to the age where we need to procure child companions for outings. Last night we took her out for dinner after a kinder morning and she was absolutely delightful company. She will be five in just over a week. Part of me wishes we could do what the New Zealander's do and start her in school just after her birthday (such a good system!). In some ways I think she's ready for the intensity, in a way she definitely wasn't at the beginning of the year. Many of her kinder friends are five already, I think it will be an 'old' group in prep next year. Be interesting to see how that pans out.

I seem to have myself a case of blogger's block. I think of posts when I'm out on my walks or driving in the car but when I come home I don't get around to writing them down.

I seem to be immersing myself more in my landscape. My over-the-road neighbour invited me to join her for a walk two Sundays ago and we've been twice since then. But I've also been going on my own. As well as seeing parts of my area I haven't seen before, and making me realise just how beautiful it is out here, it's just nice to be walking again. In the city I used to walk all the time, but it was always to get somewhere. When Fred was a baby I walked kms with the pram. But as Fred got older and wanted to walk more herself, it became impossible to set out on such long walks. And if I went out by myself the window was often too tight to allow for 'slow' travel. Walking just to walk is what I used to do when I was a teenager, taking the dog as an excuse sometimes or just heading out on my own. It's funny how much being a mother of young children is like being a teenager - feeling confined by family, powerless and powerful at the same time, living by someone else's schedule, someone else's routine, not having the freedom to make spontaneous decisions to go catch a movie or eat out.

I seem to be at an absolute loss what to buy Fred for her birthday. She wants another barbie doll - she already has two more than I ever intended buying her (which means she has three total - I always thought she ought to have one). If she loved the barbies she has - investing each one in meaning - I might feel differently, but her desire is more about conforming, about keeping up with the girl next door, about acquisition. Martin thinks I am aiming to high - I do tend to be an over-achiever when it comes to present shopping. When I suggested I buy her clothes she rolled around on the floor moaning in agony about how much she hates clothes - damn! (Though I was completely the same as a kid.) So last year WAS the last year we could buy her practical gifts. I hope I made the most of it, I can't remember what we gave her. Oh yeah, a scooter. Oh well, that earned it's keep anyway.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nelly, I am Heathcliff!

Adolescence is a metamorphosis and, if you think about it, most novels for teenagers are about identity. ‘Who am I?’ asks the teenage protagonist. And: ‘Who am I becoming?’ Then, just when they think they have a grip, the rules change. For example, nothing threatens identity like love.

In the most famous lines ever written about young love, Juliet beseeches Romeo to give up his name, give up his identity, and offers to give up her own:
“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name!
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.”
Love brings both of them to a famously sticky end. And no wonder. Recent research suggests that love is a powerful drug – almost literally. In the teenage brain it lights up the same neural pathways as cocaine. Love is addictive and powerful, especially young love. ‘I can’t live,’ wails one 70s power ballad, ‘if living is without you.’

Sigmund Freud thought romantic love was a kind of disorder. He believed that to love someone romantically is to put yourself at risk of being consumed by the object of your love, in other words, you become the thing you love. ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff,’ cries Catherine in Wuthering Heights.

Maybe Sigmund had been burned by love. ‘We are never so defenceless,’ he wrote, ‘than when we love.’ Love bleeds. When we love we breach containment, we spill over into the world. Love springs from our unconscious, from our deeply embedded instincts and impulses. The object of our love is, according to Freud, really a part of ourselves, walking out in the world, utterly exposed and at risk.

Writers have written about bad love for centuries, this love that threatens to annihilate us. And yet love isn’t bad – quite the opposite. Phillip Larkin wrote, ‘What will survive of us is love.’ What it means to love is an issue relating to our human existence. It is a question of philosophy, a question that writers, poets, musicians and artists – rather than scientists – are best equipped to handle. The mystery of love makes it an inexhasutable topic. Love exceeds simple biology. Love ignites our souls. Love endures.

In the ancient Song of Solomon, the sexiest book in the bible, the female narrator raves, ‘His mouth is full of sweetness. This is my beloved and this is my friend.’ It’s a beautiful line, and it tells us something about good love. It’s sweet and delicious, it’s heady and physical, but it’s also real and down to earth. It’s a love that Freud would say is curbed by the reality principle – desire meets practicality. This is the love I would wish for all my young characters: exhaltation, sweetness, friendship, love, keeping their identities intact.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dreams and Forgetting

The other night I woke up from a dream I couldn't remember. As I lay in bed I was overcome with the terrifying certainty that there was a man in my bed. It took some time for me to remember that the man was Martin, my husband. It's a funny thing to blog about, it seems comical now, not even particularly original, but the feeling at the time was terrible, I was really frightened as I emerged from sleep into wakefulness and after the realisation dawned, it took some time for the fear to go away. I couldn't quite shake the sense that he wasn't supposed to be there. How terrible to have alzheimer's or some other dementia, to not recognise the people you love. How threatening their intimacy must seem.

Since this dream, I have begun reading My Phantom Husband by Marie Darrieussucq, a muted, haunting tale from the point of view of a woman whose husband one day vanishes, and I am writing an article about love and identity and love and loss of identity.