H is for… Home

By Vita Forest


She stops the car and turns off the engine.  What had that man on the radio just said?

“A home is somewhere you feel safe, a sanctuary.”

She remembers the sinking feeling as she turns down the road, how her fingers clench the steering wheel, as she gets closer and closer to the house where she lives.

“Shelter is a basic human need, unless your basic needs are met, it’s very hard to function.”

It’s an imposing building in just the right area.  An impressive building, a building to get lost in.  A building that swallows you up.

That does not sound like a home, she thinks.

It was great for parties.  It was wonderful for a crowd, when he would be distracted, on his best behaviour, trying to impress.

“Unless your basic needs are being met, that fight or flight instinct is on alert.  It may be hidden beneath the surface, but it means that you are living in a state of constant stress.”

But when they were there alone, it was a cold, lonely place.  Full of unspoken resentment and tense undercurrents.  Tiptoeing around issues, wondering what kind of mood he would be in that day, wondering how she would manage it.  Waiting until he was asleep before creeping in to slide beneath the covers.  Or sleeping in the spare room if the air still crackled with anger.  He always fell asleep immediately.  How was that possible?  She lay there drowning, fretting, wondering what she could possibly do.  And then got up the next day and went on with the charade.

She drives on and parks on the street at the address her friend had given her.  She unbuckles her seatbelt and reaches for the Peace Lily strapped into the passenger seat, uncrinkles the cellophane wrapping and straightens the bow.  She climbs out of the car.  Flat 7…  She walks through the gate and along the path, reading the numbers as she goes.  There it is, a plain wooden door with a brass number displayed jauntily on the door frame.  She knocks and hears footsteps coming toward the door.

“Hello!  Come in!”

The flat is small and modest, but the furniture sits well in it.  The light pours through the windows and a vase of nasturtiums sits happily on a table.

Her friend looks happy again.  Her friend looks content.  Her friend looks like she has done the right thing.  This is a home.  This is what a home looks like.  This is what a home feels like.  This is what she needs.

“And how are you?” her friend asks.

She looks down at her hands, at her perfectly manicured hands and thinks – I could tell her, I could just come out and tell her.  I could start to make it real.

“I need to tell you something,” she says.

Swimming Meditation

By Vita Forest

Another hand-written post from the holidays…

Kiama rock pool

Rock pool at Kiama’s Blowhole Point

This morning I did a swimming meditation at Kiama’s Blowhole Point. The water was clear and clean, magnifying the dappled base of the pool – rocks, moss and seaweed. At the end of each lap, my fingers sank into soft moss and my toes kicked against limpets. I counted my laps back and forth and watched the pelicans spiralling up in the sky and the rogue waves surprising the figures lounging on the rocky headland, momentarily flooding the pool with white water.

Two old men greeted each other while they rested between laps, commenting on the quality of the water (better than yesterday). A woman floated on a surf-mat, fingers trailing in the water while the skin on her back sizzled. Toddlers paddled in the shallows while their parents sat up to their waists in the warmer water. A curious helicopter flew north, red against the sky. Children flung themselves shrieking into the deep water, and a girl stood Amazonian and strong, toes gripping the pool’s edge, as a wave smashed around her ankles.

Back and forth I went, watching surfers in flippers leap off seaweed-shrouded rocks just at the right time, paddling furiously away from the jagged black basalt headland before the waves crashed again. I swam on my back north to south, and on my front south to north, keeping the worst of the sun’s glare out of my eyes.

I looked up toward the lighthouse and reflected how so many of the views in Kiama are from the low-angle, turning humans into monumental figures against the horizon – a boy on a scooter, a couple standing on a hill, and a girl riding a horse near the showground. I looked up from my low angle in the water, up over the grass toward the end of the headland, and wondered if I’d ever, in my whole life, see the blowhole spouting water so far up into the sky you could see it from the mountains.

Low on cost, high on life

By Vita Forest

Shelly Beach Manly

Go to the beach

It’s summer school holidays here in Sydney.  We tend to look for adventures that are low on cost but high on fun.  Here are ten things we do to explore, relax and have fun without breaking the bank.

  1. Have a picnic, day or night in a beautiful spot.  Sometimes we will have night-time picnics sitting on a rock overlooking the harbour – hard to beat!  Picnic with friends, or by yourself with a good book. Cost: food and drink (prepared at home).
  2. Take a swim at the beach.  It costs less than going to a pool and you get to enjoy the natural world too.  Cost: Free
  3. Take a walk in the bush or in the city, there is so much to explore.  Check out local council websites to find hints from the locals about interesting walks in the area, join a Meetup group of like-minded walkers.  Cost: Free or token payment for Meetup groups.
  4. Take public transport.  Step lightly, catch a train, bus (or if you are in Sydney – a ferry).  Take a trip to a new place and spend the day, take time to look out the window on the way.  On Sundays, we use our Opal cards for $2.50 all day travel in Sydney and its surrounds (up to the Blue Mountains, down to the South Coast or Southern Highlands etc). Cost: $2.50 on Sundays, more during the rest of the week (but maximum $15 for the day).
  5. Visit an art gallery.  We are lucky to have lots of excellent free art galleries here – the MCA, the Art Gallery of NSW, the White Rabbit Gallery, the Brett Whiteley studio, to name just a few.  Cost: Free
  6. Visit your local library.   We have fantastic local libraries with books, of course, but also excellent DVD and music collections.  Our recent “Alfred Hitchcock Film festival” was sourced through visits to local libraries.  Cost: Free
  7. Take time to read.  What could be more enjoyable than having time to read?  Sleep in and read all day, or take your book on a picnic (see Number 1).  These holidays, Lucy has been working her way through Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles, while Max is enjoying the Skullduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy.  Cost: Free (from a library) or raid your own or a friend’s bookshelf.
  8. Listen to a podcast or the radio.   These holidays I have been listening to interesting interviews on Radio National, including discussions from festivals that have taken place earlier in the year.  Lots of food for thought.  Cost: Free
  9. Do some craft.  While listening to the radio…  My Ann Wood boat building continues, I have also finished a cowl for Lucy and made some Christmas decorations.  Check out Pinterest for ideas.  Cost: craft materials or look in your cupboards and make use of old supplies.
  10. Be on the look out for free events.  At this time of the year, the Sydney Festival is on with lots of fantastic free events (Fabulous Flying Fox anyone?).  Last night we joined thousands of people for a picnic at the Domain to enjoy Symphony under the Stars.  Cost: Free

What do you do for a low-cost high-life adventure?


Waiting on the buster

By Vita Forest

Hot weather tool kit

Hot weather tool kit

Yesterday, we were told it would be bad.

“Hotter than today,” someone said as we sweated.

“In the forties, ” agreed another.

“45!” one decided (that’s Celcius people and this is Spring…)

“Do we have to go to school?” asked Max, “How hot does it have to be until we are allowed to stay home?”

No such luck there, sonny.

We got prepared.  There were serious talks in my class about how we could be ready.  They decided they would bring two water bottles each.

“Or more!” some suggested.

“Not more than you can carry,” I advised, “You can refill them here remember.”  (They all turned in unison to look at the taps.)

Another hand went up, “I am going to freeze one of mine, in the freezer!”  Eyes widened, liking that idea.  We discussed hot weather games (no soccer, no football, no chasing games.  Cards would do, we decided.  Or Scissor, Paper, Rock or Chopsticks.  Talking would be quite fine too).

Before I left school I was advised we would be doing indoor recess and indoor lunch the next day.
“Oh,” sighed the teachers and went home to gather their strength.

When I picked up Lucy she was wearing different clothes.


Waterfights at After School Care of course.  Her own ones were sopping.

At home, I gave the plants on the balconies an extra drink.  This morning, my upstair’s neighbour did the same, lacy ribbons of water dripping down from above and bouncing off the balcony rail.  Max had to return to the apartment as we were about to leave – he had left one of his drink bottles in the freezer.

How we got through the day

  • I closed all the windows in my home and returned this afternoon to happy cats and a comfortable cool temperature.
  • at school, water bottles were lined up across desks where they stayed all day, some leaving puddles as their icy contents melted.
  • in K – 2 singing, the Assistant Principal marched up and down the rows of children singing Jingle Bells, spraying them with a light mist from her special spray bottle.  Arms raised up before her to embrace the coolness.
  • Lucy took her own very special birthday spray bottle to school – battery operated and with a fan to help disperse the water!
  • The clever children in the canteen line moved the queue from its normal position in the full sun, to along the side of the hall, to catch what little shade there was, as they waited to buy their ice blocks.
  • Lucy and the After School Care kids had another water fight, some even brought extra clothes and towels in preparation…  The ground was wet with splatted water bottle throws.
  • Lucy’s mother was extra affectionate when she picked her up – very cooling to hug a dripping child.

And now we await the Southerly buster.  Apparently it will drop a good 20 degrees by tomorrow…


Yoga with a view

By Vita Forest

One of the views from Barangaroo

One of the views from Barangaroo

Today I did my first ever outdoor yoga class.  How lovely it was – the breeze on our bodies, the grass beneath our feet, the harbour wrapping around the hill – because, that’s right, it was at Barangaroo Reserve on the Stargazer Lawn.  (It does seem a little that I spend a good part of my free time at this park…)

Last week when we were there for a birthday picnic for Lucy, my sister pointed out that they were holding yoga sessions there every Saturday through October, so today I managed to make it to the last session.

I got up early (for a weekend), slathered myself in sunscreen (this is Australia people), and packed my backpack (deciding on a beach towel rather than a yoga mat as I also planned to do some walking).

I caught the train to the city.  Occasionally, I fret about writer’s block, but then I catch a train.  Apart from the people engrossed in their phones, this is what I saw;

  • a flash of mauve, scarlet and magenta – Jacaranda next to Flame tree next to Boganvillea.
  • wild weedy daisies bobbing their golden heads along the strip of grass beside the train track.
  • a trio of fisherman fresh from their exploits on a ferry wharf on the harbour, carrying all their equipment.  This included a fishing rod, a bucket sloshing with their catch, and some folding chairs.  Their chairs being more comfortable than Sydney Rail’s, one of the men opened his up and proceeded to sit and relax in it among the poles of the train’s standing area.  As we passed over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, he flipped his cap backwards too.  He could have been at a barbecue.  (Being a witness to these sort of events are one of the reasons I love public transport).

I walked down from Wynard, joining the yogis on the lawn.  Some of them were sunbaking on their mats as we waited.  I picked a spot in the shade of the Harbourmaster tower, which cut a blade of shadow across the lawn like a giant sundial.  As the practise went on and time passed, some of us had to peel off and move to the other side of the group to stay shaded.  We downward dogged, warriored  and lion-posed it (sticking out our tongues to Balmain as we did the last one).  On one downward dog, I glanced behind me and saw a familiar black schnauzer tied to a pole.  Scanning about on the up dog, I saw that Saskia had joined us.  I noticed the ferries and the spinnakers of yachts as we saluted the sun, but most of all,  the changing layers of wispy clouds above us in the blue sky.

We lay on our backs for savasana and closed our eyes.  I felt the wind on my cheeks, and heard a train on the Harbour Bridge, the clanging of cranes, and then, the clicking of a camera shutter moving in a circle around us.,

I suppose we were a sight to behold.

In Praise of walking

By Vita Forest

Boardwalk in Merimbula

Boardwalk in Merimbula

Last weekend a bunch of us did a big walk from Manly to North Head and back.  I’ll write another post about it soon, but chatting with my old high school friends reminded me of some reasons why I love to walk.

  • It is invigorating.  While at high school, some of us used to walk to and from school each day, despite the existence of perfectly adequate school buses.  While our friends would arrive at the school gates woolly-headed after a night of study, we would be alert and awake after our forty-five minute walk.  Walking helped us to lighten up, particularly as you could catch a long silver slide down a hill as part of the route.   Usually while singing show tunes.
  • It’s slow.  In this fast, fast world, how lovely it is to slow down and smell the roses (something I literally did last night as I walked past someone’s garden – it was a white bloom hanging over the fence and bouncing in the breeze).
  • It’s free!  One of my high school friends walks as her main form of exercise.  No gym fees for her.  This is part of our heritage from those school days (possibly more so than what we learned in the classroom).
  • It’s how you learn about a place.  It’s so easy when walking to take detours, to connect the dots, to see how one place fits with another.  A few weeks back, Saskia and I plotted out Broadway, Chippendale and Surry Hills, all on foot.
  • You usually don’t need to shower after it.  Which made it a good way to break up the day when I used to be an office worker.  I would head out at lunch with (I’m seeing a trend here) some high school friends and we would walk through the Botanical Gardens before heading back to our workplaces with merely a light glow on our faces.
  • It’s a good way to relieve stress.  A few years ago when my life was in turmoil and I had to make some hard decisions, I became a true power walker.  I strode up and down hills, over bush tracks, along city streets.  Along the way I clarified what I needed to do.  I remember thinking that this was a crossroads – I could either walk out my troubles or turn to drink or drugs.  I chose to use those two things at the end of my legs.

So walking remains an important part of life.  Hopefully our children might feel the same way someday…

Have you ever had a walking adventure?

What have I learned from blogging? Reflections of a newbie blogger.

By Vita Forest

Having fun with Diptic - how do you make your illustrations?

Having fun with Diptic – how do you make your illustrations?

As a teacher, I spend quite a bit of time reflecting on how lessons went, how successful programs were, how effective certain strategies are with my students.  I thought I would apply the same logic to this blog.

I started this blog in July for a number of reasons:

  • to have a place to do some writing.
  • to make myself write regularly.
  • to explore and experiment.
  • to connect with other people.

This is what I have learned so far…

  • some discipline.  I committed to writing at least one post a week and have done that.  Instead of writing being something I did when everything else was finished, and if I had any energy left, I have prioritized my writing and built a kind of routine.
  • it doesn’t have to be perfect.  James Clear has written some very good articles about creativity and the fact that you need to do a body of work.  Sometimes it won’t be amazing, but producing something regularly is much more effective than waiting for inspiration to hit. I have become more fearless and open and hit that Publish button with relish.
  • sometimes it’s good to have constraints.  (Actually make that all the time).  Whether it’s word limits, time constraints, or a very particular designated topic in a blogging event, limitations of some kind seem to bring focus, and paradoxically, they free up the mind from the paralysis of the open-ended. (So far I have participated in two blogging events, producing An unfortunate meeting with a fairy and He loves me, he loves me not… )
  • unexpected topics have a way of cropping up.  I thought I had to have everything mapped out, but sometimes I start writing about one thing and it turns into something else.  And that is OK.
  • how to make visuals I get to create my own images (mainly photos doctored in Diptic).  This is another way to be creative that I hadn’t expected.
  • feedback and community are fantastic.  I have now completed two novels.  I send them out (occasionally) and wait indefinitely to get any response from agents or publishers.  Sometimes it has been positive, but more often its impersonal, months later and in the form of standard rejection letters.  Blogging is a way to instantly connect with people from all around the world, and I really appreciate people taking the time to read, Like and respond to my work.  It’s so helpful (and I have to say I get a buzz out of it!)  Maybe one day, someone will publish my novels, but until then, I’m loving the blogging.

Now I’m going to try and transfer some of my newfound discipline to the rather tedious and often soul-destroying task of sending out my second novel to agents and publishers.  Because nothing will happen if I don’t DO something.

So that is what this newbie blogger has learned so far.  How about you?  What have you learned from blogging?


Making good on the candy promise

By Vita Forest


We have just returned from a short trip to the Blue Mountains.  As I explained to one of my work colleagues a few weeks back, there were

“3 Mums, 6 children, 1 dog, 1 holiday house…”

She looked frightened, “It sounds like a horror movie,” she said.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

The Dream and the Reality

The Dream and the Reality

The Blue Mountains…when I was quite small, I had been excited about going on a trip to the Blue Mountains, the thing that had struck me was the word “blue”.  I had imagined blue trees, blue grass, blue people… I had even drawn a picture of my expectations which my Mum has kept somewhere (no doubt to have a good laugh over when they feel the need).  You can imagine my disappointment at my actual visit, but I do not feel like that now.

It was quite an operation for Vastra, Saskia and I to find a suitable date that suited our children, us, our exes (and probably our exes’ new wives and partners and THEIR exes.  Life is very complicated.)  At last we came up with a three day window of opportunity and Vastra found us a big five bedroom holiday house in Katoomba.  We walked, played cards, read, cooked and talked.  The children walked, played cards, fought, complained, ate, chased each other and SHOUTED.  During one of their games (all of which produced blood-curdling screams as they raced around outside), the girl-next-door Katie popped her head over the fence to see if someone was in fact being murdered, or if it was all in fun.  She was invited to join them and agreed.  Katie mentioned that earlier in the day, her Dad had been rushed to hospital as he had cut his arm with a chainsaw…  But he was OK.  We had missed that excitement.

We had been out walking.  The deal was that we would go on a walk in the morning, and in the afternoon we would go to Leura to The Candy Store, a shop infamous to children everywhere.  And so we had walked along the cliff top tracks to Echo Point, getting lost a couple of times on the way (but seeing scarlet and green king parrots and a waratah bush in full bloom – who would want to miss that? Us! shouted the kids).  We had seen the waterfall at Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters, and misty views over the valley due to the rain that fell at times (but did not sway us from our purpose, much to the children’s annoyance).

Katoomba Falls

Katoomba Falls

We returned to the house for lunch, and then it was time to make good on the whole candy promise.  The kids were outraged to find we intended to walk to Leura too (one walk a day is more than enough apparently).  Grudgingly they trailed along, lured by the promise of pocket money to spend at the other end.

We saw more king parrots, blossom trees, rhododendrons and magnolia flowers.  We walked up and down some large hills, past some pretty weatherboard houses, through a shady gully and up another steep hill, before arriving on the main strip at Leura.  When they recognised their surroundings, the kids raced ahead like a pack of hounds catching the scent of a fox.  It took a great deal of time and discussion before their final purchases were made and we were able to move on.  Vastra looked up the train timetable and discovered there was not going to be time to go to the candle shop and make the next train.  Howls of indignation were heard from some of the younger members of the party at the audacity of the adults wanting to look at a shop too.  How dare we?!

The adults decided that we would walk back through the pleasant hilly streets.  We WOULD NOT wait an hour for the three minute train trip.  The kids quickly conferenced and decided they WOULD.

And so it was that we came to spend a peaceful hour having a delightful walk, even stopping to admire a specimen of white waratah that we had failed to notice previously due to the distractions of various bickering siblings.

Blossoms of the Katoomba / Leura region

A good time was had by all.

Is reading a deal breaker?

By Vita Forest


My friend Vastra is another who did not think “when I grow up, I want to be a single mother…” but somehow ended up as one too, despite her best intentions.  Unlike most members of the various “First Wives Clubs” that I belong to, she decided to try diving back into the dating pool again.  (Interestingly, our male counterparts are all “settled” in new relationships, some even engaged and married.  Us females appear to be enjoying our freedom too much.)

Vastra was careful.  She was on Narcissist Alert and avoided men in certain occupations entirely.  She was not going to waste her time.  The man who neglected to mention he already had a girlfriend was definitely not an option, but another seemed more promising.  They met a few times and everything seemed to be going well, but then she discovered the deal-breaker.

He did not like to read.

Not even non-fiction.  Not even magazine articles.  Not even magazine articles on topics he was interested in, carefully saved for him by his new friend.  Other quirks had been forgiven, but after this discovery, they parted ways.  Gently of course, she was “not ready”  she didn’t want to “rush in.”  Which really meant “I want a man who reads!”

She didn’t realize “must like reading” was one of her prerequisites for a relationship.  It had seemed too obvious.  Not worth mentioning.  A given.  We pondered this story at one of our dinners and agreed she had done the right thing.  We have all had time to ruminate over what is important and what we don’t want again (when and if we are ever ready for again.  Don’t believe the Rom-coms – the single life is a good one).

Being a reader is important, being the kind of person who understands that sometimes you just absolutely have to stay up late to find out what happens next.  The kind of person who lends you their books as a sign of trust and friendship.  The kind of person who has “walked in another’s shoes” as Atticus Finch would say, and maybe learned a new perspective in the process.  Someone who may even change their original prejudices after experiencing a new world between the pages of a book.  Someone who has expanded their mind through reading.  Being a reader makes you empathetic, makes you curious, makes you a thinker.

These are the kind of men we are after.

PS. When I asked Vastra is she minded if I shared this story, she said, no worries – there is no likelihood of her ex-date ever reading this as that would require him actually reading something.  And that is not likely to happen…

Is being a reader a deal-breaker for you?

Saskia and the rain

By Vita Forest

Things we saw in the rain

Things we saw in the rain

“There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothing.” Old Scandinavian saying.

I used to live with a cyclist who followed weather updates quite religiously.  He would check the weather app at regular intervals to see whether the storm clouds were indeed moving in, or if he should set his alarm for the 5am bike ride.  For some people (and maybe some activities) a spot of rain is a deal breaker.  Saskia is not one of those people.

Saskia is one of the few people I know who does not change her plans if it’s raining.  I like this attitude.  Here are some of the things we would have missed out on if we hadn’t stepped out in the rain:

  • striding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night, clad in our raincoats, with the lights of the city casting streaky reflections on the footpath.  We stepped through the deserted streets of The Rocks, stopping for a cuppa in a warm cafe on George Street before doing it all again in reverse.
  • walking from Minnamurra to Bombo along a section of the Kiama Coastal Walk while storm clouds boiled above us.  If we had been put off by the forecast, we wouldn’t have seen the flock of galahs that wheeled through the sky, changing from pink to grey as they circled overhead.  I wouldn’t have collected the handful of smooth rounded rocks that sit so nicely in the palm of your hand and that now parade in a line across the back of my bathroom sink.  We wouldn’t have happened upon the surreal basalt landscape of Bombo headland, or climbed the rock pillars lining the sea wall or sat on the edge of the rocks with the sea smashing in.
  • exploring Minnamurra rainforest from under the shelter of umbrellas through a drizzly rain that drifted through the light fog in the canopy.  Raindrops fell percussively on leathery fig leaves and sped down vines speckled with fungi, before finally hitting the ground.  We stopped and watched a lyre bird as it worked on a nest, scrambling up and down the slope to find just the right twigs for the job.  Actually, I think rainforests look their best in this weather, the light is soft, the leaves glow greenly and everything is glistening.  You just need to watch out for leeches…
  • having a birthday picnic at Balmoral beach, sitting cross-legged on the end of the wooden jetty at Balmoral Baths beneath a big golf umbrella.  The rain kept the crowds away from our viewing platform over the bay, the boats gently clinking in the breeze as we sipped our tea poured from a thermos and ate lemon cake.

So next time it rains, I’d really advise you to be like Saskia and put on a good raincoat and go out in the weather.  You never know what you might discover.