Summer Solstice

My love for and interest in all things related to Waldorf began many years ago before my children started school but in terms of practical implementation and adopting it as a way of life we are still fairly new to Steiner education. This means we are new to developing a seasonal yearly rhythm. As we are Muslims our rhythm needs to not just take into account Muslim festivals but to filter existing festivals as usually incorporated  into a Waldorf year through the lens of an uncompromisingly monotheistic faith. There are many Muslims who send their children to Steiner schools and many Muslims who homeschool in a Steiner inspired way. Our adaptation of the festivals will differ from family to family, we are all different. For me, this whole area is a work in progress.

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Midsummer Fairy in the apricot tree

Over the last few days I found myself brimming with a creative yet anxious energy. Because my hands are often full (with a baby) and because I have formed habits (since becoming a mother ) to deal with my creative energy in a cerebral rather than handcrafting way, I started to write. It didn’t help much, I felt very pressured and scattered, not grounded at all. It then occurred to me that it was Midsummer Eve! It was Summer Solstice! The Summer energies were at their peak. Could it be that this was what I was feeling?

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A Waldorf daily and yearly rhythm are based around cycles of breathing in and breathing out. In Sufism we call this contraction/qabd and expansion/bast.

The whole of reality breathes in and out. 

In ancient times human beings were innately connected to the cycles of the Earth and the expanding universe. In the contemporary world however we are totally out of touch. We cannot even see the stars anymore because of pollution. Electricity has extended the day well into the night, we no longer follow the cycles of the moon or sun. Disconnected from the natural/created world we are also disconnected from Source/Creator.

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When we bring our attention back to the natural world we increase in reverence for the Divine Reality that we Muslims call Allah/God. 

This is why I think the Waldorf calendar with it’s recognition of festivals we consider ‘pagan’ has relevance for us as Muslims and it doesn’t need to be something that gets our monotheistic knickers in a twist because ‘actions are according to intentions.’

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Islam has always been a faith that pays attention to the cycles of the natural world. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, our festivals are heralded by the sighting of the moon, we pray according to the position of the sun. So it seems like a natural extension of this to pay attention to the cycles of the seasons, to the longest and shortest day, to the tides. Giving attention to something is not the same thing as worshipping it as an individual entity. On the contrary paying attention to rhythm and cycles is a way of honouring the interconnectivity of everything. What Islam does is simply bring this multiplicity and interconnectivity back to a Single Source.

Since we are just starting our journey towards a full Waldorf rhythm I hadn’t organised anything for the Solstice so what we ended up doing was a kind of on the spot happening.
We gathered together some things orange and yellow, we made chalk drawings, we took Midsummer Fairy to a lovely spot in the apricot tree, we ate some oranges while basking in the sun and we felt ourselves radiating with the Summer energy. We recited a surah/verse that begins

‘Allah there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal’

We also recited the following poem.

‘The radiant beauty of the world
Compels my inmost soul to free
God-given powers of my nature
That they may soar into the cosmos,
To take wing from myself
In cosmic light and cosmic warmth.’

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Afterwards, satisfied and relaxed, I started to ponder about the significance of nature orientated action. Our interaction with the cycles through a simple acknowledgement and commemoration gave me a feeling of balance. But this is a conversation for another day.

Homeschooling end of year updates

Zeph – continued withThe Ramayana in more detail and looked at some classical Indian painting using a still from the children’s Ramayan on Youtube to copy a watercolour painting of his favourite scene from the story. Of course he chose the most gruesome aspect of the entire thing.

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He turned eleven and we ate cake by candlelight, he assembled the stunt scooter he wanted and he has been enjoying it ever since.

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I introduced him to Baraka Blue and he loved the clip “Love and Light’  since we have been to so many of these places in Fes.
We talked about the elements that plants need to grow and about the differences and similarities between the way human beings and plants interact with the elements.

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He started learning about the story of the Buddha’s life and we discussed the Four Noble Truths.

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We discussed the Tree of Life including plant/animal kingdoms and he made his own Tree of Life drawing.

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Then we started making a Family Tree to illustrate how the Tree of Life/Plant and Animal Kingdoms branch out from one another. I showed him the old coffee and burnt edges trick to make a document look old and he loved it. We can trace our family to the Second Fleet on my mother’s side.

He finished reading Demon Dentist.

Tom – learned about gravity and wrote a humorous story about ‘The Day there was no Gravity’. We did some grammar and spelling.
We discussed the basic elements of photosynthesis.
He read from Little House in the Big Woods.

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He read two Native American Creation Stories – Cherokee and Sioux.

A theme of one Creation Story was to not be scared of trying new things, we made a plate with some new (to M) tastes, mostly fermented goodies from my fridge that the children usually turn up their noses at…

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We looked through a book I’ve had since childhood, Native American Portraits and began to talk about the impact of  colonisation upon the Indigenous people of North America and Australia.

He started a unit on the Water Cycle and an experiment boiling water to show condensation. And an experiment about evaporation.

Spelling and handwriting practise.

Lili – is six meaning she is at Kindergarten level according to our syllabus. The main thing is to focus on rhythm and play incorporating letter and number forms slowly.

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We have started in the garden. HH was delighted when I gave her a garden bed all of her own and everyone gathered together to help assemble it. She had been asking me for days if she could grow strawberries so this was the first plant I gave her for her garden.

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We read ‘Does my Garden Grow?’ by Gerda Muller. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is very involved, it is more like reading a chapter book and we read a little every day rather than it all in one go.

Our cucumbers seedlings are already at least one centimetre tall, HH was thrilled to see that they had already come up. We read a story about a germinating seed and we talked about how the sun ‘calls’ the seed to sprout through the surface of the earth. She has been watering her own veggie patch every morning and evening so she understands that the ingredients a plant needs to grow are sunlight and water and the nutrients of the soil. We talked about the number four and how there are four seasons and four elements. We read a story about the four seasons. And this afternoon it is raining heavily so the garden will be happily drinking it all in.

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Focused on the letter H and the number 5 so we listened to  ‘Aranjuez‘ and we performed the Dance of the Five Silks to an audience of dolls!

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She dressed as a Queen and we tried lots of different combinations of costumes made from play silks. These are really one of my favourite Waldorf toys, so incredibly simple and versatile and HH loves them.
We then played Hopping on the H. Later she kept dancing while I read to her from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Generally she loses interest in stories that are without many illustrations but the movement enabled her to stay completely absorbed.


We read Flower Fairies of the Seasons and HH loved that it was a copy I had owned as a child.

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She read the story of Eartha the Earthworm and then we went into the back garden to look for worms. It must have been too hot though as we didn’t find anything. Then we modelled the numbers one to six using modelling wax and played some number games.

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We sang a physical mandala, ‘Parts of Plants’ to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, an active way of learning the functions of the roots, stem and leaves….the leaves soak up the sun, soak up the sun.

The strawberries started growing well.

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She made a kite on a very windy day for the letter K.

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We read Sonia’s Chicken’s.

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We continued reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales and her reluctance to sit and listen to non illustrated stories is now a thing of the past, it just took the right stories to captivate her attention.

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My favourite part was really the Welcome to Country. The elder spoke of the Merri Creek we sat next to being like the blood in our veins and this really struck a cord with me because I feel like the Huon River is my blood and I miss that landscape more than I can describe, I feel it like an ache in my body. I wonder sometimes if the discord in my sense of place related to my becoming a Muslim has really sensitised me to the reality of belonging and where and how we are owned, which atoms resonate with which atoms. Perhaps because I no longer know where I belong in terms of race, my sense of connection to land is heightened. The land does not belong to my cerebral interpretations, it simply exists and is as it is and whether white, Muslim, city dweller or not it is the pulse of my childhood. I do think we are owned by the land we grow up upon. But I wonder how my children can foster a similar sense of place since our connection to the land in suburbia is so fractured.

In the Welcome to Country he spoke about the genocide, about the stolen generation. At least two thirds of the crowd he was speaking to were not listening, already throwing colours upon themselves and laughing and dancing. I found it hard to hold back tears because it just seemed like a metaphor for the greater reality of our situation in Australia in which white people (and I am one of them) have not and will not and do not listen, not properly.

The elder also said we all belong to the land and we are all welcome and it is this humility and generosity that always rips my heart out because we white people are welcomed, we are included, if only we could just start listening as well. He spoke about refugee’s and boat people and Manus Island, he said that Manus Island is the same as the stolen generation.

I know that it isn’t completely the same but I am so, so grateful for my experience of sexism and my awareness of how male privilege works and how difficult it is to get through to some men about it because I can use it to recognise similar dynamics with white privilege and colour blindness. When we grow up white it is very, very difficult to start to understand how racism really works as opposed to what we have been taught racism is. Our understanding of racism is usually around 5% and if we don’t fit that 5% we assume we aren’t racist, we don’t realise that our entire society is built upon structures that are racist. Recognising this is probably the most difficult thing a white person can do and therefore most of us won’t do it.

It was great for Zeph to see the Festival of Colours in action, even if an anglicised version of it, they had lots of fun.

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Made watercolour mandala’s and decorated some of the lemon branches we cut from our tree with some colourful wool for our nature table.

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drawing mandala's

Made our Summer Nature Table

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We began learning to knit using Youtube video’s.

We cooked.

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dinner

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Pregnancy wise we had a bit of an upheaval when the lovely non-medicalised bubble I was living in popped and I discovered I have Gestational Diabetes again. Whilst not a big surprise since I have had it before, it is disappointing because it probably means I cannot birth at home as planned. I am grateful for at least spending 30 weeks in such a blissful, non intrusive space, an entirely different experience than my other pregnancies during which I was connected to the hospital system from Day 1.

Whilst I had planned to continue homeschooling through the Summer holiday break right up until my due date, the next few weeks I will now be busy with appointments so I think we will take a break from doing anything structured and just enjoy preparing the house for the baby.

 

 

 

 

Something beautiful and whole

It’s already Friday and most of my plans for the week fell through. I have been feeling really nauseous, I guess it is a just recurring morning sickness but strange to experience so far along. And next week I enter my third trimester so I shouldn’t be surprised to be feeling so tired again, now comes the homeward slog. I love so many things about being pregnant but I don’t have easy pregnancies. This week I have been grappling with all those now familiar to me feelings regarding being sick and needing the help of those around me and how difficult it is for me (being hyper-independent) to experience that kind of need. I always fight it and resist and make things harder for myself than they need to be.

I put a lot of effort into meal planning and then was unable to follow through every day, we ended up eating take away. That being said, I have been substituting hemp seeds for burghul and couscous in salads and I’m really happy with the result.

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The best thing about this week is that our garden bed has been weeded and filled up with soil and is now ready for planting. Plus we have another in the process of being built. All three of my homeschoolers have either gardening or botany components of their learning to be done so this is going to work well for us.

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As a perfectionist and an idealist I struggle when things threaten to taint the bubble of beauty that I have built for myself. I build and then my relentless intellect finds ways to tear it all apart. It’s just a little idiosyncrasy that I have slowly come to tolerate in myself, I am endlessly hard on myself and on the things I choose to be close to, always striving after some kind of unreachable ideal. There is a great irony between my spiritual sense of knowing truth and beauty lies beyond all frameworks and conceptions and the constant striving I find myself performing in order to capture and compartmentalise. It’s an endless tension and a futile one because the very nature of the thing I seek is beyond all forms, it is not in the nature of form to be perfect.

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It is also a tension between my creative/spiritual self and my rational/analytical intellect. Waldorf attracts me because it speaks to the first aspect in me yet I cannot help dissecting it with my mind. I have learned to live with Islam despite my mind shredding things continually, learned to recognise what it contains of truth and to leave the dogma to those who need it so it is foolish to be dogmatic in my interpretation of Steiner education. After all my children are not in a school, they are not at risk of being indoctrinated into some reductive cult vision and I doubt really that this is the reality of most of the schools anyway.

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I am a product of a generational cynicism raised to distrust religion, to hate dogma and to be suspicious of all spiritual leaders and yet as a young person I never realised the strong dogma’s of my secular humanism and now middle aged I have learned that there are spiritual truths that require leadership and directive to move towards.

But the distinct lack of this kind of leadership and directive in my immediate physical sphere and geographical locality has forced me to always be interpreting with my mind making my mind the site of practise. The gentleness of Waldorf as something reorientating myself into my creative being is something I consider a gift to come across because it is all interconnected, faith, education and family culture, the tone and spirit of the house.

So I am leaning back towards what attracted me towards Waldorf education in the first place, something beautiful and whole. Does it matter if I call it Waldorf or Sufism or Zen? I watched this lovely short video this week and it struck me that this is what Waldorf education is all about really…or at least this is what it is about for me….

H just came in and said ‘Mum, you said fuck today!’ and it’s true, I did. Life moves on.

So after a week of take-away and television we will simply get back on the horse.

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We are gradually beginning to find our feet and I am starting to feel more excited than daunted. I know I have really just dipped my toes into Steiner education but even just these humble beginnings fill me with an enthusiasm that I find hard to articulate. I am loving it and whilst our days are far from perfect, I am finishing the week with a sense of achievement.

I have two boys who don’t want to write. At all.

Two boys who have no interest in presenting their work beautifully.

I realise this is fairly standard for young boys particularly those who have been in the education system but it’s something I find frustrating since my personality is the complete opposite and as a child I loved making projects look beautiful, presentation was really important to me.

Getting my boys to write is a real challenge but at least with this method the writing is also part of an overall creative package, every day involves colour and drawings.
Whenever I manage to encourage them to do some writing I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot!

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Zeph  – wrote a story, the real story was far more realised and imaginative than the story that made it to script. H does not want to elaborate or use descriptive language if it means needing to transcribe it into letters. But the simple fact of something making it to paper is encouraging. I don’t correct their work in their books but make a note of spelling mistakes and we go over those words later. I have purchased some basic cursive workbooks so we can work on handwriting.

We are still working through the unit on Ancient Indian civilisation. Today we talked about some key concepts in Hinduism comparing them to our Islamic perspectives on the same thing. With our study of comparative religion I really want to emphasize the similarities between faiths but sometimes the differences are also food for conversation. Zeph was really interested in the caste system and we watched a short Youtube documentary about the Untouchables/Dalits.

Tom – We made flat bread yesterday for Tom’s lesson, we have just finished a unit on the Ancient Hebrews and now we have moved on to the Phoenicians. Because the children are half Lebanese I explained that the Phoenician civilisation was actually in what is now Lebanon.

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We are still reading aloud from Little House in the Big Woods. I think there is far too much benefit in the Little House books to leave them because of the colonialist attitudes. Instead I’m going to approach those things as they come up and use them as reasons to discuss racism and indigenous issues comparing the North American situation to our own reality in Australia.

Lili  – really loved it when we made bread, it struck me just how perfect these activities are for her age group. Initially we were working from the Gr 1 curriculum because I wasn’t sure how things matched to an Australian Prep but we have moved back to the Kindergarten book and it’s a much better fit. She doesn’t enjoy the stories in the Oak Meadow fairy tales book though so I am trying to find other stories to read to her. Today we read about a Fairy called Faith who couldn’t sleep for the letter F and we did some watercolour painting. HH knows most of her letters already but I think the slow, rhythmical pace of the syllabus is really important. When she wants to she brings me the ‘Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons’ book and we do a lesson but I am not forcing it. We are also working together to make the work for her main workbook and I have another book that is entirely for free range drawing because I was finding that she won’t follow the guidelines for the lesson otherwise.

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She also spent time playing in the garden and we skipped to the end of her book and found the Spring science lessons since season wise we are upside down. We read a story about a germinating seed and next week hopefully we will plant some things ourselves.

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I have ordered the rest of the curriculum and art/craft materials I need and now it’s just a matter of waiting for them to arrive. And when working with Lili today I made a small painting for our Spring Nature Table which hopefully I will have finished before Summer 😉

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World War One Diorama

When we first started homeschooling again and I asked Zeph what he wanted to start with he said he wanted to learn about the First World War. I have to admit I really struggle with his interest in wars and weapons but I’ve realised his fascination with competition is simply innate. Superficially reading the Waldorf curriculum I have noticed that it comes up with developmentally appropriate means of stimulating this fascination with conflict and I hope we can pursue some of the themes relevant to his age group later on. But for the time being I went with his suggestion and we started to investigate the causes of the war.

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I find that whilst he is really happy to discuss things for quite some time, there is a real resistance to doing anything like compiling points or lists or any of the methods we usually use to retain information yet I think pushing such forced academics would be really counter-productive. It makes me realise just how regimented we have been taught to be with our learning and it’s hard to step outside of this mold and recognise that learning can occur without taking these steps.

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The main point I think Zeph took away about the war was how it escalated from a series of events impacting only a couple of countries into something impacting a good proportion of the world.

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Homeschooling once more

Earlier in the year my youngest son started asking me if he could homeschool again next year. I said ‘probably, we’ll see’ and he left it at that, from time to time reminding me what he wanted. But then his more forceful older brother decided that school had lost all it’s appeal and he must start homeschooling again immediately.

There really was no reason to refuse, other than perhaps my sanity. So within a week they were withdrawn from school. Over the next few months we were preoccupied with life. We moved house so time was spent packing, moving and unpacking. Then almost as soon as we had unpacked it was time for Ramadan and our usual schedule was overtaken. I had discovered I am pregnant so much time was spent sleeping and feeling sick. I wasn’t worried about the lack of our ‘doing school’ because after over a year back in an institutional setting I really felt that they needed some time to deschool.

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My daughters had started a new school in our new (old) location, we have moved back to a previous house. And whilst my eldest settled in wonderfully my littlest simply did not want to go. And there seemed little point in forcing her especially as her older brothers were at home with me. So now I have three homeschooling children again.

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I am still finding my feet and making decisions about how to approach it, juggling different perspectives and ideals and working out what will work best for us. I have some quite conflicting notions about how we should be doing things and it is mainly a contest between Waldorf and Unschooling so at the moment I am taking it day by day.

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I love the Waldorf philosophy and I would love to be able to put it into practise but it is increasingly difficult when I already have children who are used to using technology. I think there is probably a lot of value in delaying the use of computers and screens until older stages in child development but our existing reality is that we haven’t done that. I started looking into Waldorf when my oldest child was around four years old (she is now twelve) so I could have taken that route but our family has had so many challenges, those kinds of decisions were just pushed to the wayside.
Our environment also has a significant impact, the children have have grown up with a social norm that is far different from the way I would have liked to see things develop.

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When we were homeschooling previously I bought iPads for the children and now we also have laptops. It is difficult for me to envisage heavily restricting their usage and yet I feel very torn about what to do. Realistically I don’t think my oldest son will respond to any kind of heavily structured curriculum. Unschooling works for him but because of my own institutionalised learning experience I have hesitations in surrendering to it completely. If we were on the road I would have far less worries, if I knew there was a constantly evolving landscape of experiences then providing that kind of freedom would not be a concern. When we were travelling in Morocco I realised how wonderfully unschooling would work in that context. But we are living in the suburbs, our life does not vary a lot from day to day. I have enormous reservations about the whole notion of unrestricted technology use as I think these mediums are highly addictive and it can just be like falling down a vortex. At the same time I notice how these technologies can be used productively. So it is all about balance and I guess we are at that point in which we are trying to find the right balance for our family.

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It is likely that Zeph will do mostly unschooling and I may work from my Waldorf curriculum with the younger children. Nothing will be ‘pure’ and I imagine it will change from week to week.

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I also let my little daughter self-lead in terms of formal language skills despite the Waldorf curriculum being much slower. She has been at school learning letters but even before then she had a natural interest in learning to write and continually practises by herself.

Because we have homeschooled before I am not allowing myself to stress out about approach, I know it will fall together slowly. I have seen and experienced the benefits of homeschooling so I don’t have that fear that often consumes first time homeschoolers. We have the best scenario really, the children have been to school so they know exactly how it is and they know they prefer to be at home. It is a little different for us this time around since we are not doing any tutoring but I actually prefer the freedom this gives us day to day, not being tied to an outside structure.

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I could allow myself to feel overloaded, I am still not feeling very well and dealing with almost constant nausea even though I am now in my second trimester of pregnancy. We have a fair amount of stressors beyond our control impacting our family right now so I don’t want homeschooling to add to that. Instead I want it to be an enjoyable experience.

At the moment I feel like going on plenty of excursions and just letting the kids play and explore. We visited an adventure playground in Kinglake last week and then after a picnic and filling up on cakes from the Flying Tarts Cafe we went on a huge drive through Flowerdale and Strath Creek towards Broadford and back to Melbourne.

I love that we are now on the edge of the city again and it’s not far to the country. Yet my fear of windy mountainous roads is a bit of an obstacle. Going over the mountain towards Kinglake is a terrifying drive for me, my hands were sweating so much I felt like they were going to slip off the steering wheel! It is strange since I grew up in the country and spent my life on similar roads but I guess I was never behind the wheel!

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