Snail mail – illustration inspiration

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More mail art has been going out to say thank you to people for subscribing to this blog. People have been asking me how I decide what to draw and paint on the mail. Here’s an idea of my thinking behind this batch.

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∧∧ Clare wrote in her blog about finding a figurine of Krishna in the creek near her house

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∧∧ This had something to do with Liesl’s email address

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∧∧ Adrienne has a blog called Tough City Writer

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∧∧ Louise wrote in her comments to me, “I like rabbits”

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∧∧ I had an aunt and uncle who used to live in Willoughby and they always gave me books, so I drew some for Bridie

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∧∧ Relates to something Laura shared in her message to me

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∧∧ Relates to something Sandra shared in her message to me

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∧∧ Emily has a blog called Thimble Cat

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∧∧ I wanted to make something a bit fairy-story-ish for Kwan-Yu

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The end. More soon!

Stuff and simplicity

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At any given moment, if you were to pop around to our house unannounced, there would probably be piles of washing waiting to be folded and put away, overflowing the green chairs in our hallway. As you stepped over the plastic toys and pushed passed the jolly-jumper hanging from the door frame and waded through the various baby-bibs cultivating dribble and milk and browning banana and finally made it to the playroom, your feet would probably crunch over a thick layer of dry Weetbix crumbs. Madeleine likes to crush her own Weetbix each morning before the milk goes on and, as much as I’d like you to think otherwise, I do not vacuum every day.

If you looked inside my handbag on any given day you might find, nestled in with the purse and keys, a couple of broken crayons, a half-empty container of bubble liquid, a sippy cup, yesterday’s gummed-up rusk in a zip-lock bag, and about a thousand used tissues.

The sheer amount of stuff involved in modern parenting staggers me, and accepting at least some of that stuff into my life and home was one of the most difficult transitions I had to make as a parent. (When I lived alone, I would actually take pleasure in adjusting a book on a table until the seemingly ‘casually-put-down’ angle was just right. Yes, I am that person.) As someone who likes everything to have a purpose and a place, and as someone whose home is also her workplace, cumulative kid-detritus can quickly feel overwhelming.

While I was pregnant with Madeleine I had plenty of noble ideas about children in “the olden days” not needing all the STUFF that our consumer society deemed necessary today, and that I would make up in interactive play for what we limited in toys and things. But as any parent could have told me, stuff creeps in. And some of it, while not strictly necessary, does actually make your life easier. Parenting two small children while working, and on extremely limited sleep, is tough. It is tempting to take the easy way, to let the stuff in because it saves five minutes here or buys 10 minutes of peace there. I’m not going to feel guilty about that.

But not all stuff makes life easier. Some stuff just gets in the way. In the way of creativity, of clear-thinking, of mental health, of the path to the kitchen. And some stuff might be good stuff but when combined with about a billion other small pieces of “good stuff” it becomes bad stuff. Claustrophobic, messy, over-crowding, unwelcome stuff.

Last week was not a good week around our place. For various reasons were were all stretched, capacity-wise, and tempers began to fray. By Friday afternoon, my subconscious had somehow centred the entirety of my own unravelling temper on all the stuff in our house. It was driving me crazy. WE HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF I CAN’T BREATHE IN THIS HOUSE. And so I started on a paring-back rampage.

It was cathartic in a way that probably should have been predictable. I worked until late that night on the playroom, sorting out toys to give away or throw away, putting some in a cupboard out of rotation, and bringing others out. At the end of it I’d removed two giant garbage-bags worth of toys and other bits and pieces from the room, and Madeleine’s previously overflowing toy-box was only one third full. When she came down in the morning, she was thrilled. There were her favourite toys, easy to find. Here were some “new” toys she’d never discovered because they’d been buried under all that stuff. Harry had his own little cart in which to store his toys, and Madeleine quickly cottoned on to putting Harry’s toys away whenever they were dropped.

That afternoon, Madeleine lined up her two dolls in chairs next to Harry, pulled a collection of books from the shelves, and proceeded to “read” to all three babies. I hid in the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea while leaning on the bench, and listened to the stories. Later we pulled out the paints, one of Madeleine’s favourite activities, and it was approximately 78 percent less stressful than usual for me because with the room so much cleaner and more organised, the combination of two-year-old and brightly coloured paints didn’t seem anywhere near as chaotic.

Not once did she ask where all her stuff had gone.

Camouflage

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I have not been able to stop looking at these lovely photographs of “camouflaged” birds, ever since I saw them on Honestly WTF. They are part of a series called “Birds of a Feather” by artist Claire Rosen and each of the birds – some of them common and others exotic – has been posed in front of vintage wallpaper. I think the idea of ‘wild’ birds in such a domestic setting and so consciously posed is incredibly fun and playful. It’s like a children’s storybook. Like the Big Bad Wolf all dressed up in Grandma’s bonnet.

Browsing through the rest of Claire’s portfolio is like taking a tumble down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass all at once. I asked her where she found inspiration, and she pointed me to a beautiful, interactive board she created on “A Creative Life.” What you see below is just a screen-shot of a small portion of the board. Take a look at the entire board here (tip: I couldn’t open this in Firefox. If you are having trouble, try with a different browser) and click on the various boxes to uncover the inspiration behind them.

Claire says, “Everyone has the capacity to be creative and it starts by creating a safe space to be creative in. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised and fed with inspiration.” Would you agree with her?

 

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Credits:

As mentioned, the image above is a screen-grab of a much larger board created by Claire Rosen. The original is found on fusings.com. All Birds of a Feather images are used here with kind permission from Claire Rosen. Credits are as follows.

WEBSITE : www.clairerosenphoto.com
INSTAGRAM : @clairerosenphoto
BOOK: http://www.blurb.com/b/4708660-birds-of-a-feather

LIMITED EDITION ARCHIVAL PIGMENT PRINTS on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Paper
signed and numbered on front
40 x 60 inches    (edition of 05)     
25.5 x 17 inches (edition of 10)            
11 x 16.5 inches (edition of 15)             
6 x  4 inches (edition of 150)    

The Birds of a Feather series will be in an exhibit in September at the Hagedorn Foundation Gallery (http://www.hfgallery.org) in Atlanta, GA with an artist reception on Thursday Oct. 16th.

Lemon madeleines with beurre noisette

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“one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell… No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses…”

~ Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of Things Past”

It has taken me more than two years to finally make an attempt at baking the lovely little French tea-cakes that bear Madeleine’s name. But now that I’ve done it once, I’ll be making these again and again! The recipe I used was super easy, and quite forgiving. (For example I had to estimate the amount of butter to include because I’d rewrapped the cooking butter without lining it up with the measurements on the paper, you know what I mean? And I don’t have any kitchen scales. But I digress. My point is the madeleines worked out fine anyway.)

This particular version was made a bit decadent and fancy-sounding with the browned butter (beurre noisette) and vanilla beans.

Do you want to try it? Here’s what you’ll need:

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You mix the dry ingredients together, then add everything else gradually, one by one. The full recipe is here. The batter needs to rest for an hour or two but that’s ok, because madeleines are best eaten warm, straight from the oven.

I made my mixture during my lunch break on Friday (oh hello, benefits-of-working-from-home), then popped them in the oven on Saturday afternoon after brewing up a strong cup of tea. They only take about 10 minutes to bake.

If reading this has not sent your cholesterol through the roof already, make a note that you’re supposed to eat them dipped in melted butter and liberally dusted with sugar. Just do it. The diet starts tomorrow.

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Little things – the cowboy

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Little things in my home…

This pensive cowboy sits outside his restaurant and on my kitchen bench. I found his photograph in a bric-a-brac shop in Aspen, Colorado, when I was staying up there for a fiction writer’s course (called Aspen Summer Words – if you ever get the opportunity take it – it was amazing!).

I almost didn’t share the cowboy today because the whole purpose of this series is to tell the stories behind the little things in my home. Like this. Or this. Or this. And I don’t know the story of this cowboy. Nor have I created a story for him since bringing him home. But I am so deeply drawn to this picture, and I don’t even know why. I never tire of looking at it, or thinking about it, and wondering what is his story? What is the story of this new town?

Little Things” is an occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you’ll find around my home. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I’d love you to tell me about them! Or if you’d like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don’t forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

Hello and links on Monday

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Scenes from my house.

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty simple. I worked most of Saturday, while Mr B played with the kids. They did painting and went to the park and baked chocolate pudding and generally had a great time letting nutrition and nap times go to seed. I got my hair done too, back to blonde baby! We went for a walk through Carlton in the stunning winter sunshine, linking one park to the next for Madeleine’s sake. We ate yum cha. We ate a nine-piece (!!) tea-infused dessert plate from Travelling Samovar to celebrate their first birthday. (We skipped dinner that night.) I tidied and sorted my office and finally cleared all my mess off the dining table (making room for these lovely flowers) and it felt SO good. I painted some more snail mail to send to you.

Here are 11 things that might make you happy today.

Giant knitting!

This drink sounds like heaven

Pattern on pattern. So cheerful

Beautiful!! This cloud lamp simulates a storm and plays your music (via Swiss Miss)

18 ways to get through winter

The world’s first bike-share for kids (in Paris, of course)

Love these printable moving/housewarming announcement cards

The science behind old book smell

Exclamation points are the new smiley-faces

I really wish I’d been at this feast for 1200, at one long table stretched over a bridge

Where is everybody?

Have a great Monday!

Snail mail: a good mail day

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Yesterday was a Good Mail Day at our place, capital letters justified, with three lovely surprises arriving in the mailbox and at our front door.

Lately there has been a frenzy of letter-writing and parcel-painting around here. I’ve been sending decorated snail mail out to people who subscribe to this blog, and it’s been winging its way all over the world. I send mail because I love sending mail, and because I’m so phenomenally grateful to YOU, and to everyone else who takes the time to read this blog and leave their comments and share their stories. I told a little story about that recently, here. I don’t expect anyone to write back but when they do, it is SUCH a bonus to find their friendly letters in my mail box. It absolutely makes my day.

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^^ I wrote about ‘meeting’ actress Kate Holderness a couple of months ago. We found each other via a circuitous route with the common thread being our mutual love of snail mail. Then just yesterday, a lovely care package arrived from Kate, out of the blue. Madeleine, Harry and I whipped up the Angel Delight that same afternoon. It tasted like childhood. Can anybody clear up a mystery for me? Is Angel Delight junket? And also, how beautiful is the envelope my mail came in! It was covered in stamps and washi tape and sealed with a wax seal, and those balloons floating out of the dream-like picture were just perfect.

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^^ One of the two lovely sisters from Etsy shop That We Do (I’m not sure if she wants me to use her name) recently subscribed to this blog and, as with anyone who wants it, I promised to send her some snail mail. But before I even got up to writing the mail she sent me a wonderfully thoughtful handmade gift in the mail. It included a pine cone found by her two-year-old daughter; a crocheted hair pin; and a gorgeous necklace, made in colours inspired by my blog header, and stamped with my initials. I absolutely love it. I wore it all afternoon and the children were mesmerised!

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^^ A few weeks ago my local deli (who I really must feature on here sometime soon because they are so much MORE than just a deli) alerted me on Instagram to a competition being run by their florist, Tillda Flowers, to win two visits worth of a flower subscription. And I won! You guys, I never win anything! The first beautiful bunch arrived yesterday and, as you can see, I really need to invest in some nice, vintage vases because the teapot had to stand in instead. I love the idea of a flower subscription: imagine having these arrive at your doorstep every week or fortnight, to brighten your day!

So to all of these folks, THANK YOU, truly. Your thoughtful, beautiful mail made a cold, windy winter’s day seem sunny and welcoming. I am so lucky!

ps. Don’t forget that if you subscribe to this blog and would like me to send you some mail like this, just use this form to send me your contact details.

Lump

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Do you want to start your day off really well? Listen to this.

Is there any sound in the world better than a baby laughing? It is right up there with a cat purring and the tea being poured. Probably better than both, which is saying something special.

Sometimes when I am in the middle of my everyday, just going about my business of feeding children and dressing children and changing nappies and kissing scraped knees and bringing out the craft paint and putting away the craft paint and changing the children’s clothes and washing the paint-covered clothes and finding the lost toy and finding the other lost toy and feeding the children again and reading stories and playing chasings and playing hide ‘n seek and changing more nappies and supervising ‘sharing’ and, and, and…

… Sometimes in the middle of all that I will get a lump in my throat so large I can barely swallow.

It happened to me yesterday as I was carrying Madeleine upstairs for her afternoon nap. She wrapped both arms around my neck and rested her head on my shoulder. “Just a little nap, Mummy,” she reminded me. And there was the big fat lump, blocking my words, making my eyes swim.

It is in ordinary moments like these that I am reminded of just how extraordinarily lucky I am to have Madeleine and Harry in my life. And how narrowly I missed out on having them, if I hadn’t changed my mind about having children until after it was too late. The thought that they almost weren’t here leaves me breathless.

13 ways to reignite your creative mojo

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The journey of the days and weeks deep and then deeper again into the winter season feels like a deliberate grinding down. A forcible slowing, as primal as hibernation. It starts on the first morning you realise you’re getting up in the dark, and that night blankets the streets outside before the kitchen fires up for dinner. It gains momentum when the garden turns sparse and soil shows, black and hard, under the fallen leaves. When you pull your knitted hats and gloves and scarves out of storage. When your words float in visible clouds around your face as you leave the house in the morning.

Winter is a lesson in slowing down. In taking stock, in being more aware of the present. And I don’t know about you but when I finally dial things back a bit, that’s when the creative ideas tend to appear. It’s as though my creative mojo is shy, waiting until most of the crowd in my mind has gone home and bunkered down where it’s warm. Then, in the cold quiet of a winter’s morning, ideas tip-toe back in.

So if your ideas have been shy of late too, or if they’re just not being heard over all the stuff you’ve got going on, here are 13 ways to use the winter downtime to reignite your creative mojo.

Tend to your word garden. Or perhaps visiting a word gallery is more your speed, or sitting down to a word craft-table, or sweating it out at a word gym. It doesn’t matter. The lesson is to do that thing that teaches your mind to unwind, relax, and let creativity grow. Failing that, just read this piece about “the word garden” anyway. It is beautiful

Notice the good. This tip for parents to “catch them doing the right thing” is actually a wonderful reminder for everyone. Try to look for the good in people, actively notice their better selves

Search for pockets of light. You might just find beauty

Solve an urban mystery. Like this cute story about “the dudes”

Be in the present. This beautiful neon clock, called ThePresent, completes just one revolution in 365 days. It inspires thoughts like this: “It’s a reminder to stop everyday. It helps me find some grounding or a moment of reflection, a good thought, a deep breath…”

Unleash your creative soul, by signing up for one of these workshops

Make stuff out of cardboard. It doesn’t have to be this fancy (but it could be)

Put down that phone. Step awayyyyy from the computer

And related to the above, start “single-tasking.” This video is so funny, but true

Steal time for you. Whether you can grab five minutes or several hours, make the most of “me time”

Let others help you overcome your creative block. Danielle Krysa of The Jealous Curator has just published a book called “Creative Block” in which 50 international artists share their insights and exercises on how to get new ideas flowing

Show your joy. Don’t be cool, celebrate it like a toddler

Write a love letter to a stranger

How about you? Do you have any tips for reigniting that creative spark?

It feels like home when…

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Ours was a chilly and sometimes wet weekend, tailor-made for staying home. For jaffles and baking and craft and family dance-parties. Madeleine hosted her very first slumber party, with one of her cousins, and you have never seen a two-year-old more excited. She quite literally jumped for joy at the prospect of it, and the reality sent her into a frenzy that was so extreme she could barely contain herself. At one point as we sat around the table having dinner with her aunty and uncle and two cousins, already an hour past her bedtime, Madeleine repeatedly kissed me on the lips. Not for any reason, except, UNCONTAINABLE EXCITEMENT.

It is on weekends like this that our house comes into its own. When squeals of laughter bounce off the walls and little feet thump-thump-thump down the hallways. When the kitchen smells of toasted cheese and chocolate cake, and tiny fingers reach up to trace circles in spilled flour on the bench.

Half-wilted flowers grace an old jar on the dining table: they were carried home in sweaty palms by my beautiful daughter and niece after a coffee-run with Mr B, and thrust at me with so much pride.

There are many things I love about my home and, of course, many things I would change and many things we have yet to do. That’s what happens when nesting and budgeting go hand in hand, I guess. But the thing I absolutely love most about my home, towering above everything else, is having a place from which to welcome the people we love. Even with no pictures on the walls, and so much left to do, my house feels like a home because I am able to make others feel at home here too.

Do you ever read design blog Design Sponge? It’s a favourite of mine. One of the regular features, called “Spaces,” opens up beautiful homes from around the world. In each post, the home-owners (or renters) are invited to share something they love about their home, or their favourite thing to do or place to be within their home. I find it really interesting to read this. We are all so different, and yet there are definite themes that emerge.

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What about you? What do you love most about your home? What do you like to do most in your home?

Photo credits: all images of “home notes” are used here with kind permission from Grace Bonney at Design Sponge. See the homes they come from at (from top) 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5, or click on the photos themselves. All other photos are either mine or licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons. They do not relate to the homes in the comments.

Snail mail: the back-story

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Lately a lot of people have been asking me about the snail mail I send. I figured it’s been a while since I shared this story, and never in the one place, so I thought I’d give it a go today. Forgive me if you already know this story: please enjoy the pretty pictures and I’ll be back with something new tomorrow.

So back a few years ago, I wrote a little novella called Airmail. It was about snail mail between strangers. A girl chose a phone number out of the phone book, at random, and started writing letters to the stranger. As her letters became increasingly surreal and urgent the recipient, an old man by the name of G.L. Solomon, was moved to shake off the shackles of his curmudgeonly, routine-driven life and experienced something of a “life renaissance.”

When the book came out, I thought it would be a fun thing to write letters to readers. So I promised to write a personal letter of thanks to anyone who read Airmail (and I did). Some of them wrote back to me, which was wonderful.

As time went by, other readers found me online, and wrote to me from all over the world. Some of them drew pictures on their mail, sent ephemera, snippets of their lives. They wrote amazing things about how my book had reached them at the right moment in their lives. Letters like this:

I am staying at a youth hostel in East Berlin and stumbled across a copy of your book. I am a forty year-old woman traveling with my 14 year old son, and readily identified with Mr Solomon’s bemusement  when he first enters the hostel (it was my first time staying at a hostel!).  Being forty this year was hard for me and I too am traveling and gathering more marbles. It’s not so much that I haven’t lived an adventuresome life, it’s just that suddenly your life seems so much shorter while the list of things you want to do grows bigger, and you realize that you have spent the last 10 years of your life raising kids and working. (could this be what a mid-life crisis is all about……duh) It’s amazing how at certain critical points in your life the right book or the right experience occurs.  Your book is part of that for me.  Today I walked past some graffitti on the side of a cafe  -’ Life is not over yet ‘ it read.

You cannot imagine how that letter made my day! (Well probably you can.)

Since I started doing this – writing Airmail, writing to book readers, writing to blog readers – I discovered a whole new community of people who love snail mail. And they are the BEST people. There’s something about people who take the time to write and send letters, and read what others send them. Nine times out of ten (probably more), they are kind, considerate, lovely people. Often funny and clever. Always generous and creative. This community is the best thing to have come out of writing my book.

Meanwhile… we had originally planned a bit of a book launch when Airmail came out. A bookstore in Sydney was going to host it, and a local online magazine was going to host a bit of an ‘after party’ on a rooftop, with a snail mail theme. We ordered a box of books ready for this event (books were included in the ticket price), but then we moved from Sydney to Queensland. We figured I could still fly back to Sydney for the event, but planning it got a lot trickier. Then we moved from Queensland to Adelaide, and the planning got even more difficult. And a move back to Sydney seemed less and less likely. We started putting out feelers in Adelaide for bookstores that might host a book launch instead but to be honest by then my heart wasn’t really in it. Then I went overseas for a month. Then I fell pregnant. Then we moved yet again, this time to Melbourne. And by then it felt like the book had been out forever (it was less than a year but the gloss had come off), and I admit I felt kind of deflated and a bit of a failure.

People were still buying my book and reading it and writing me lovely letters, but that box of books from the launch-that-didn’t-happen sat sadly at the bottom of a cupboard, mocking me. Until you. I can’t tell you how honoured I feel that you come here to this little space of mine. That you read my blog, that you take the time to comment, and that you share your stories with me. Every time I hear from you, I am blown away. Every time! It is so amazing. YOU are so amazing.

So I decided to use that sad little box and turn it into something really happy: a way to say thank-you to you for taking the time to read this blog. And because I want you to know I care, I do my best to make the mail I send you as pretty as possible. Thank you!

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ps. If you subscribe to this blog (or you want to) and you’d like me to send you mail like the parcels you see on this page, just leave me your details using the form on this page.

UPDATE 5 July 2014: as of today I have run out of copies of Airmail to send you. However I would still love to send you something nice by snail-mail to say thank you for reading this blog, and I will still do my best to make it look pretty. If you have subscribed to this blog (or you want to), simply fill in your postal details on this page. And if you’re still keen to read Airmail, there’s a list of stockists here.

Melbourne dispatch – Cafe Bu

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Around about the Christmas / New Year period, Mr B returned from a walk around the block bouncing with excitement because a new coffee window had opened up just around the corner from our house. It is by these small milestones that we measure out life’s joys.

We love a good coffee window around these parts. When you push a double pram weighed down by more than 20 kilograms of children (and probably an afternoon’s worth of grocery shopping) around town and you’re desperate for a coffee, not having to navigate doors and steps and tables and chairs and other diners to purchase said coffee is pretty appealing.

Cafe Bü is narrow and tiny and utterly charming. The owners have made clever use of every inch of space. The coffee window is a place for my friends on the pram-brigade get their caffeine fix, along with a host of cyclists and joggers and other coffee-loving passers by. For those who want to stop, a handful of converted crates offer limited seating outside the window and, inside, stools line a second window where punters can sip their 5 Senses coffee from the warmth of the tiny cafe.

But the best part of this cafe is its little rooftop courtyard. Stairs through the back of the shop lead up to a narrow rooftop with a bar that looks out over the street, and cleverly-designed tables set against the rear-facing wall, that can fold up and down to suit groups of different sizes.

Yesterday while the children were in care, I took my computer and notes up to the sunny Cafe Bü rooftop for a working lunch, with a side of bird’s-eye view of Carlton North. After a bitterly-cold morning, the day had turned mild, windless and sunny. Perfect rooftop dining weather. A black and white stretched awning kept the worst of the glare out of my eyes, and heaters lined the back wall, although we didn’t need them.

Like the fit-out, the menu at Cafe Bü is minimalist, elegant, and lovely. I had a simple avocado toast, chai, and later a lamington and a coffee because it felt so luxurious to be able to eat my food and drink my tea while it was still hot, and it just felt so good to see blue skies and sun again.

What’s your favourite coffee spot?

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