Publication Day for The Dating Game!

Today is publication day for my 5th book, The Dating Game! You can read about my inspiration for the book here and today I thought I would share the acknowledgements. It always takes ‘a village’ to publish a book and this one was no exception.

The Dating Game Acknowledgements

As we all know, 2020 was an incredibly trying year across the world (and 2021 has already had its challenges too), but something that came from that difficult time – when my home city of Melbourne was strictly locked down for the better part of the year – was this book.

The idea came from a sweepstake at work. The Bachelor (or Bachie, as we call it in Australia) was starting and for some mid-pandemic light relief, my colleagues created a sweepstake, with the pot going to whoever drew the winning Bachelorette. To add to the experience, I started writing recaps of each episode – snarky, funny recaps – which I would post in our group chat the morning after each episode aired.

I mentioned the recaps to a close author friend, Andie Newton, one of my fellow Renegades. She asked to read one and immediately replied with, ‘This needs to be a book.’ I couldn’t imagine how a recap could turn into a book, but she came back with, ‘Write the story about the woman who writes the recaps.’ Genius. I bounced ideas off her and the other Renegades, Nina Kaye and Fiona Leitch, sent a sample chapter to my agent, Lina Langlee, and we pitched it to my editor at One More Chapter. Once I had the ‘thumbs up’ from my publisher, I researched, researched, researched – meaning I watched every episode of The Bachelor and continued to write my recaps. When the season was over, I sat down and wrote this book.

An enormous thank you, Andie, for sparking the original idea and for being a brilliant sounding board in the planning stages. For a historical fiction author, you certainly have excellent ideas for romcoms. Thank you also to Nina and Fi, who have been right there with me throughout the entire authoring process and particularly for answering my endless ‘Does this sound British enough?’ questions. And thank you to Fi and Andie for being early readers and giving me (incredibly) helpful feedback.

Thank you also to my lovely colleagues (and work friends) who ran the sweepstake, LOLed at my recaps (which spurred me on), and encouraged me, especially Carla, Natalie, Amanda, Dee, Shileen, Sam, and Keely.

A huge shout out to my wonderful editors. Hannah Todd was still at One More Chapter when we pitched this book. Hannah, thank you for advocating for me and The Dating Game – I so appreciate it – and thank you for all I learnt from you while working on my first four books.

To Jennie Rothwell, although you are new to One More Chapter, I already know that we are going to be a great team. Your inciteful feedback and your vision for this book have elevated my writing and I so look forward to working with you on my next books with One More Chapter. And speaking of … thank you so much to the incredibly hard-working team at One More Chapter, especially Charlotte Ledger and Bethan Morgan for being champions of my writing and for working so hard through the toughest of times.

A big thank you to my (fabulous, talented, and dedicated) agent, Lina Langlee of The North Literary Agency. I so appreciate the leap of faith you took with me on this book, and your early feedback was instrumental in setting me up for success. And another big thank you to Julie Fergusson, also of The North, who stepped in while Lina was on maternity leave. Thank you for your expert guidance and unwavering support to help me get this book across the line.

As always, I am grateful to my fellow authors for their support, their empathy, their trust, and their inspiring work. It is an honour and a privilege to be part of your community and I am constantly in awe of how generous you are and of your incredible work. A special mention and thank you to the volunteers who run our associations, the Romance Novelists Association (UK) and the Romance Writers Association (AU) for continuing to support and elevate the Romance genre. And thank you to my fellow #AusWrites-ers and #6amAusWrites-ers – I love our catchups on the socials and sometimes even in person!

A special thank you to Julie Houston, who provided the cover quote for this book. Julie, I admire you as a writer, but also as a person – you are so generous, thoughtful, and talented. Thank you for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to read my book. It means the world to me that you loved it.

And when I cheekily asked some other fellow romance authors if they’d like to do an early read, they all said yes! Thank you, Jessica Redland, Katie Ginger, Lucy Knott (and Kelly too), Rachael Stewart, Nikki Moore, Kiley Dunbar, and debut novelist and writing community maven, Anita Faulkner. I am also grateful to belong to the incredibly supportive (and aptly named) Author Support Network.

Thank you also to the reading and reviewing community – the bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers who generously share their thoughts on reading and books – especially to the community of Chick Lit and Prosecco (particularly for supporting my cover reveal and the lead up to publication day); the Australian Romance Readers Association (particularly you, Debbie, for all your incredible work); Australian Book Lovers (Darren and Veronica) who have generously hosted me on their podcast twice; Kim the Bookworm (Kim Nash) for inviting me on Book Chat with Kim – you are not only a wonderful author in your own right, but a terrific supporter of our community; and to the Australian Writers Centre for hosting me on their podcast, ‘So You Want to Be a Writer?’ (thank you, Valerie and Allison). And I have worked with the wonderful Rachel Gilbey several times – Rachel, it is a pleasure to work with you and thank you for all you do to organise such incredible book blog tours.

I always rely heavily on the support of my close friends and family, and my partner, Ben, to get through each stage of launching a book – from conception to publication and beyond. Ben, thank you for understanding that even minor milestones should be celebrated (and usually with bubbles). Thank you to my sis, Victoria, my mum, Lee, and dear friends, Lindsey, Jen, and Kate, for being early readers of this book and supporting and encouraging me. Thank you to the best, most supportive and loving parents and family a woman could ask for – your unwavering support is such a large part of why I get to do this wondrous thing, be an author. A special shout out to my Aunties, Linda, Candyce, Fran, Carmel, Karen, and Jenny – and especially my Great Aunt Joan. I am so fortunate to have such incredible role models in my life.

And lastly, thank you, dear reader, for coming on this fun and fabulous journey with me, Abby, and the gang. I hope you had a blast!

Out now in ebook and print to come on December 9. Buy links can be found here.

It’s Publication Day for The Christmas Swap

Cover of the book The Christmas Swap. A snowy scene at the top of the cover, with a ski lodge and a man and a woman. On the bottom of the cover is a beach image with bathing boxes and surfboards and a man and a woman sitting together.

So excited that this day is (finally) here! I started writing this book in July 2019 for Camp NaNoWriMo with the goal of writing 30K words in 31 days. I wrote 35K words, then tweaked the manuscript with help from my agent, and we pitched it (with a synopsis) to my publisher, One More Chapter.

They loved it, then it was slotted into my publication schedule and today’s the day when it is out in the world!

To mark the occasion I am sharing my acknowledgements.

Acknowledgements and a note from the author

It’s hard to believe I am writing the acknowledgements for my fourth book, but here I am. I have dedicated this book to my parents―my mum, Lee, my dad, Ray, and my step-mum, Gail. I am extremely fortunate to have parents who not only love me, but champion me and inspire me. They have also instilled in me the importance of family―including the family members we choose―as well as having a sense of adventure and following your dreams.

Family is a prominent theme in this book and as I write these acknowledgements amid the second round of COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, ‘family’ has become more important to me now than ever. And for me, a person who has lived on three continents, that word encompasses all the people I love, all the people who inspire me, lift me up, confide in me, and ease my path. Thank you, family―wherever you are. Stay safe and we will meet again someday soon.

As always, I am grateful to my two partners-in-writing, my editor, Hannah Todd, and my agent, Lina Langlee. It is wonderful having you in my corner and you are both gifted collaborators. Hannah, thank you for being my champion at One More Chapter and HarperCollins, and for your excellent feedback, which always elevates my writing. I continue to grow as an author under your guidance. Lina, I greatly appreciate your advocacy, your astute guidance, and your ongoing support of my writing career. Ever onwards and upwards―together.

Thank you to my fellow authors for supporting, championing, and inspiring me, particularly my fellow Renegades, Nina, Andie, and Fiona. Our daily catchups sustain me; they are chocolate for my soul. Thank you to Lucy Coleman (Linn B. Halton) whose quote appears on the cover of this book. I hope that one day I will be as prolific and as accomplished as you. Your books are the stuff of dreams. Thank you to all my fellow romance authors who forge and shape this genre, and to the book lovers, bloggers, and reviewers whose passion for romantic fiction lifts us all, especially my friends at UKRomChat, The Reading Corner Book Lounge, and Chick Lit and Prosecco. Thank you to the volunteers at the Romance Novelists Association and Romance Writers of Australia for your tireless efforts to sustain and elevate romantic fiction. And thank you to my fellow Aussie authors at the Australian Writer’s Centre and #AusWrites.

Lastly, dear reader, thank you. Thank you for traveling across three continents with me and enjoying some Christmassy goodness. Christmas is my favourite holiday, and over my lifetime, I’ve spent it in the US, the UK, and Australia―each Christmas special for its distinct traditions and the loved ones I’ve shared it with.

Happy Christmas, happy holidays, and stay safe.

~ Sandy Barker

Read about my inspiration for writing The Christmas Swap

Read more about the book, including where to find it

My inspiration for The Christmas Swap

Out now!

Cover of The Christmas Swap
A beach in the lower half with a couple sitting next to two bathing boxes
A snowy mountainside view in the top half, a couple walking into a ski lodge

I am super excited about this book, as it celebrates one of my favourite times of the year, Christmas. I decided in June last year that I wanted to write a Christmas book, and as I do for all my books, I turned to my own travel experiences for inspiration.

You see, I am an ‘Aus-Meri-Pom’ as my grandma Joan used to call me. I have an English father, and American mother and I was born in Australia. I have lived in all three countries and consider the UK and the US my second homes, especially as I have so many loved ones in both countries.

With so many Christmases to choose from – some snowy, some wintry and cosy (but no snow), many hot, I considered how to pack more than one Christmas into one book.

That’s when I got the idea to have three childhood friends swap Christmases. This way, I could dive into what makes each one special, seeing each Christmas through fresh eyes.

The UK

My sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and great aunt all live in the UK, and we’ve had a couple of (lovely) Christmases with them in recent years (in 2014 and 2108). I LOVE how beautifully and traditionally Christmas is celebrated in the UK. Yes, we had chocolate oranges in our stockings; yes, we had plum pudding and brandy sauce; yes, we went to Christmas Fairs and Winter Wonderland, and sipped mulled wine and hot chocolate; yes, we watched the Queen’s speech; and yes, we even had a(n early) traditional Christmas lunch in a 500 year year old pub! All the yeses to this kind of Christmas.

I’ve also had many Christmases in the US, but one that has stuck with me all these years is the Christmas I visited a dear friend and his (lovely extended family at their mountain cabin in Colorado, then met up with my partner, Ben, for a ski trip to Breckenridge and New Year’s in Denver.

It is a stunning part of the world, and Breckenridge is one of those towns that looks like a filmset of a Christmas movie. These pics are from our drive into town.

And this was the “cabin” we stayed in for Christmas:

Large log cabin nestled in the snow surrounded by fir trees

There were 13 of us for Christmas – and we all had beds, with some to spare! Me in Colorado, all rugged up. Look at those mountains and that sky!

Most of my 51 Christmases, however, have been in Australia. It’s hot, sometimes swelteringly so, and we celebrate traditions that are as much about the family gathering together in summertime as they are about the holiday.

I always make a pav(lova).

We have a fake, but festive, tree (thanks to Ben for the gorgeous pic on the left).

There are salads, fruit platters, champagne (lots of bubbly), Christmas carols (even the snowy ones), some sort of roast, cheese platters, maybe a baked salmon, or some prawns or crayfish on the barbie, and I’ll always bake my fave Chrissie bikkies, Russian Tea Cakes (recipe for you).

We go to the beach, play boules after lunch, call our loved ones far and wide, play games out on the veranda, like Trivial Pursuit and Cards Against Humanity, while we sip crisp, white Aussie wine – you, know, Christmassy, family stuff – Aussie style.

With my dad and step-mum at Light’s Beach, Denmark, Western Australia

I absolutely LOVE Christmas, and if you do too, I hope you will love The Christmas Swap (buy links included). It’s out now!

Settling back in

It’s been four months since Ben and I moved back to Melbourne post-sabbatical, and it has been anything but dull.

Since arriving in late January:

We apartment hunted for the perfect rental and were elated to get a place in the heart of the city with an incredible view. It has an office for me, enough space for Ben’s VR set-up, a guest room, a winter garden and a wrap around balcony. I love it.

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our view

I job-hunted and landed a plum role in professional development (a field I love) at my pre-sabbatical employer, which just happens to be across the street. As in, my commute is about one minute (please don’t hate me). So far, I haven’t bothered to wear a coat or take an umbrella, because, well, one minute – plus most of the walk is under cover. My work has already taken me to Adelaide (twice) and I work with incredibly smart people, who maintain an impressive chocolate stash in the office (this may be why I choose to work from home a couple of days per week – too much temptation).

This was my desk when I arrived at work on my birthday.

birthday desk

Ben has become an Australian! I wept like a weeping willow throughout the ceremony, but at least had the presence of mind to take photos. When the Lord Mayor of Melbourne had the Aussies in the gallery stand up and make the oath to Australia, just like the newly-minted Australians, I could barely get the words out. #ProudAussie #SoProudofBen

New Aussie

We’ve caught up with friends. Our friends in Melbourne are our family-away-from-family and we adore them. Especially fab are the ones who popped around to put together flat-pack furniture, although they all assured me that they love doing it (weird). My bestie personally made our couch from scratch – impressive stuff. I promise I plied them all with good food and booze for their efforts.

Lindsey

We’ve had visitors! We love having people come and stay with us. The most recent guests spent the week of my birthday with us, my dad and step-mum. They helped me celebrate a milestone birthday with style. Here’s my pre-party dad rocking a fab new outfit at the age of 71.

my dad

We’ve planned a trip across the country. This week we head of to my home state of WA to celebrate some more milestone birthdays in the family, and my belated birthday trip. (I have pretty much perfected the concept of the birthday festival, which can extended several weeks in either direction from my actual birthday.) We’ll be catching up with family and friends and then heading south to the stunning wine region of Margaret River. I’ve checked the forecast and can’t believe that the first week of June (winter down here in Oz) will be sunny and 25C (high 70s).

WA
From our last time in WA

Maybe not so surprisingly, we haven’t been in a hurry to travel. Home is so precious to us post-sabbatical. This is our first trip together since we landed back in the country in January.

And there’s the author stuff. I’ve secured an agent; I’ve written more than half of my fourth book; I’ve edited my first book for my publisher, Avon Books; I’ve been marketing my little bum off: organising a book blog tour with my agent, doing interviews, securing quotes from other (amazingly supportive) authors, planning a book signing, and engaging with readers daily on social media; and I have celebrated all the little milestones on the journey to publication – T-minus 3 weeks and 6 days for the ebook and just under two months from the print version being in my eager little hands. Squee!

One Summer In Santorini - Sandy Barker

So, yes, 2019 has been an incredible ride so far. We’re looking forward to the rest of it.

 

A love letter

Cabo 2011

How do you thank someone for being the love of your life?

How do you thank someone for truly seeing you and bringing out your best self – your authentic, brave, beautiful, intrepid, generous, creative self?

How do you thank someone for loving you because of – not despite – your myriad of contradictions, flaws, and infuriating habits?

How do you thank someone for seeing the wondrous possibilities, even when you can’t?

How do you thank someone for trusting their heart to you, for letting you see them in their most vulnerable moments?

How do you thank someone for believing in you when self-doubt asserts itself, for championing your efforts as much as your successes?

How do you thank someone for holding you when the pain is extreme – in body, soul, or mind?

How do you thank someone for sharing an in-joke with just a look, for making you laugh so hard you can’t breathe?

How do you thank someone for sharing their family, their childhood memories, their oldest friends with you, making you feel like you’ve always belonged?

How do you thank someone for challenging your mind, for questioning things you’ve always believed, for the mental jousting that makes for great fun?

How do you thank someone for loving your family, for welcoming them, for knowing they must sometimes come first?

How do you thank someone for being your home?

How do you thank someone for being the love of your life?

 

You can go home again

Nearly ten years ago, I moved from Sydney to Seattle. Ben and I had been dating long distance for more than 2 years and we wanted to live on the same continent and in the same city.

Seattle was a big move for both of us – Ben was moving from Minnesota – but we’d visited together before the move and knew we liked it. So, we took the leap and signed a lease, hoping that we could live together as well as we travelled together.

Ben moved several months ahead of me to get us an apartment and to get settled in his new role with the same company. In that time, he also managed to get us a new group of friends.

By the time I arrived in late 2008, Ben had been welcomed into a group of 20- and 30-somethings who had moved to Seattle from around the country, and a couple of people who are Seattle natives (a rare find).

Less than a week after my arrival, a lovely couple, Jeff (from Iowa) and Lauren (from California), threw a ‘Welcome Sandy to Seattle’ party.

I also got a few comments that suggested that some people were surprised that Ben really did have an Australian girlfriend – which made me laugh – but on the whole I was warmly welcomed and immediately felt at home with this incredible group of people, all of whom are still close friends.

Flash forward to May 2018: Ben and I are in Seattle for a couple of weeks before we head to Minnesota for the summer. We’ve both been back since we moved to Australia five years ago, but this is our first time back here together.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing our old stomping ground – what’s changed, what hasn’t – as well as catching up with the many, many people here that we love.

We have family here, Ben’s aunt and uncle, and his cousins who have families of their own. We have friends we made at work, the friends who attended that very first party, and those we know through them. We were very fortunate to have such a wonderful network of people for the four years we lived here.

It’s been important to us to maintain those relationships, even though we’re so far away. And, I’m very glad we have.

Since being back, we’ve met the many children who have been born since we left, tiny versions of our friends who we’ve watched grow up on Facebook, but who initially eye us warily until they warm up to us.

With our friends and family, we’ve caught up on travel adventures, houses sold and bought, health challenges, plans to move out of Seattle, plans to stay put, job changes, political bafflement, and the everyday stuff that we don’t get to talk about unless we’re face to face.

It’s been been brilliant, a top-up for the soul.

Someone back in Australia asked if Seattle feels like home. And it does – but mostly, that’s because of the people, our Seattle peeps.

 

Taking stock…

Ben and I have now been in my home state, Western Australia, for 3 weeks of our 4-week visit. The time has gone quickly, but we have crammed in a lot of time with family and friends, and have celebrated both of my parent’s 70th birthdays.

mum and me Feb 2018

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As we are over the hump of our time here and are winding down, I wanted to ‘take stock’.

Making: memories. Being with family and dear friends fuels my soul. Having Ben here with me, watching him being part of my family, makes me beyond happy.

Cooking: with produce from the garden. What a treat to stay at the farm, where my mum, aunty and uncle live, and pick figs off the tree for a delicious fig compote. Or, to trawl my dad and step-mum’s garden for fresh herbs and veggies to make a vegetarian pasta sauce.

We also stopped at the incredible Bunbury Farmers’ Market where we stocked up on corn, melon, and kale to share with the family. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the arrays of produce were.

BFM.jpg
Drinking: WINE! My uncle put down a Methuselah of his Shiraz 10 years ago to gift to my dad for his 70th. We opened it over the weekend. Stunning. We’ve also been enjoying some of Western Australia’s incredible offerings.

Methuselah
Dad with his Methuselah of Shiraz     

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Moombaki Tasting Room

Playing: KUBB! This is an outdoor game that is kind of like chess meets boules meets horseshoes. We’ve been playing matches for days. Ben, Dad and I hold the equal record for the highest number of KUBBs knocked over in a row (4).

Maker:S,Date:2017-8-31,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y
Even the dogs take KUBB seriously 

Reading: Outlander #7. Diana Gabaldon’s writing takes my breath away. Her storytelling is outdone only by her dexterity with prose. She both inspires and intimidates me as a writer. Both prompt me to work at my craft.

Next read: One of the many chicklit nooks I have lined up on my Kindle. It’s great to read within the genre I’m writing.

Deciding: Believe it or not, I am still deciding what clothes/stuff will make the cut to go to Bali in a week’s time. The rest with be gifted or shipped off to the next port of call. :/

Loving: Kangaroos and other assorted WA wildlife. I am never blasé about seeing kangaroos in the wild – they are magnificent animals. We’ve seen quite a few on our trip as most of our family live in rural or semi-rural settings. We’ve also seen a possum, a quenda, some bush rats, a baby dugite (snake), kookaburras, cockatoos, parakeets, wrens, and too many other birds to mention.

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company on an early morning walk

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kookaburras are my fave

Watching: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. We watched it last night. It was a truly unique and excellent film. We also saw The Greatest Showman at the cinema, which was a lot of foot-tapping fun.

Wearing: a new dress I bought (oops!). I am supposed to have all my clothes for the next leg (Bali) sorted. i am also supposed to be economising, but I saw a gorgeous dress in a local boutique and it fit perfectly. Of course, I had to buy it. I’m wearing it in the pic with my Dad above.

Enjoying: I am LOVING writing book two, I Think I Met Someone. I’m about 10K words in (of about 100K) and it’s so much fun finding out what Sarah gets up to next.

Admiring: My family; they’re my village. Not only do I love my family, I like them and am fortunate to count them amongst my close friends. They are all incredible people, each with their own beauty. We’ve had a blast this past month.

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Feeling: grateful, present, and excited. I am a fortunate person to have so much love around me and to soon be embarking on the next part of our adventure. I’m trying to soak up and live every moment – and I am doing a pretty good job of it.

With thanks to Ben Reierson for many of these pics, and to Pip Lincolne and Allison Tait for this fun idea. This meme also includes the following if you’d like to play along too:

Wanting:
Looking:
Wishing:
Waiting:
Liking:
Wondering:
Pondering:
Considering:
Buying:
Next watch:
Hoping:
Marvelling:
Cringing:
Needing:
Questioning:
Smelling:
Following:
Worrying:
Noticing:
Knowing:
Thinking:
Sorting:
Getting:
Bookmarking:
Coveting:
Disliking:
Opening:
Giggling:
Snacking:
Hearing:

A Toast to…

We are currently in Western Australia, visiting family and friends for a month before we head to Bali, our first international stop on our year-long sabbatical. Although we’re still in Australia, we are getting into sabbatical mode, which means that each day we work a little (I write, Ben works for a client), we play and little, and we do both while soaking up as much of our location as possible.

Essentially, we’re aiming to treat each new location as our home for the time that we’re there.

This week, we are staying at my aunt and uncle’s avocado farm, which is also where my mum lives. Living at the farm means that the office is the back veranda of my mum’s house, with a kangaroo and the cat keeping us company.

Ben - Patio.jpg

It means picking figs off the tree and stewing them in a large pot with brown sugar and cinnamon to pour over ice-cream. It means helping mum reorganise the fruit shop, including trips to Bunnings and Spotlight for supplies.

It means spending time with my family doing what they normally do, day to day. And I’m loving it.

mum and me Feb 2018
With my mum

Last night, my uncle invited us up to the big house, for an Italian feast! I talked it up a lot to Ben, because my uncle is Sicilian and he and my aunt learned to cook from his mother. I grew up eating this incredible food, and was super excited about the promised spaghetti bolognese and veal cutlet. Yum.

 

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Cooking cutlet

We were not disappointed. In fact, the meal was superb, and not just because the food was incredible and the wine was delicious. It was the company that made it so special. There’s something wonderful about spending time with family, hearing some of the old stories again and somehow there are always new ones to hear.

 

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Delicious

As the coffee and liqueur were poured, my uncle offered this toast – both in English and on request, in Italian:

“Good wine. Good food. Good friends. And the time to enjoy them all.”

This toast perfectly sums up the most important part of our year-long sabbatical. It’s about enjoying time with the people in our lives – old friends, new friends, and family.

Additional photos by Ben Reierson.

 

 

 

 

For Our Little Miss Lucy

Lucy 2.jpg

When you get a pet, you know that it is very likely that you will outlive them. You risk the inevitability of them dying sometime in the future, because you know that before that happens, you will have the wonderful experience of being a furrent.

We had our little Lucy for nearly 5 years and she died peacefully at the vet’s office yesterday afternoon because her kidneys failed.

We adopted Lucy from a shelter in Seattle in 2011. I had been asking Ben about getting a cat for more than a year, and he finally relented saying we could go to the shelter to ‘look’. I had an inkling that looking would turn into getting, so I agreed.

The shelter had a no-kill policy so there were dozens of cats to choose from. There was even an offer that day to adopt a black cat for free. We checked out all the black cats, but none of them were ours. Then 7 year old Lucy caught our eye because A) she was very pretty and B) she was a chill little kitty who was lounging at the back of her cage rather than meowing like crazy for our attention.

When we approached her, she stood up, stretched and turned around to show us her butt. We both laughed out loud. We asked to cuddle her and when we did, she purred loudly and rubbed up against us. Then Ben pointed out that she matched our living room rug, and we both knew we’d found our cat.

It was a big deal for Ben to agree to get a cat. He’d never had one before – he was a dog person – and he was understandably nervous about possible bad cat habits she might have – like scratching and biting, ruining the furniture, general meanness and/or indifference, jumping on counters and spreading cat germs, and worst of all, sleeping on his face. Lucy turned out to be just as perfect at home as she was in the shelter – she had no bad cat habits.

She was affectionate – in fact, Lucy was borderline slutty. She’d flop in front of anyone with a pulse who walked on two legs, begging to be petted. She would happily sit on laps, purring loudly, or do ‘halvesies’ which was front paws and head on the lap, back paws and bum on the chair, also purring loudly. She’d stay like that all day if you let her. She took to sitting on Ben’s lap, staring up at him adoringly, as he worked. And if you were drinking something while she was sitting on you, she’d want to sniff it, just to see what it was.

She was funny – she’d catch sight of her tail and stare at it as if to say, ‘what the fuck is that?’ Then she’d pounce on it and chase it around and ‘round like dogs do. Like me, she loved leather handbags and shoes, but unlike me, her love of them bordered on obsession. I can’t tell you how many times we apologised to guests who’d abandoned bags or shoes near the door only to watch our cat making love to them – the handbags and shoes, that is. She’d rub up and down on them and purr like a mad little puss. When I planted potted herbs on our balcony, she’d took to having a morning constitutional where she’d stop and smell each herb. I didn’t know at the time that I was planting a garden for her, but I’m pretty sure that’s what she thought. She also thought birds and cats on TV were real, and would go around the back of the TV looking for them.

She was a total cat – she’d watch birds playing on the balcony and make this weird sound – ‘ah-ah-ah-ah’. I’d never heard a cat do that before Lucy, but apparently, it’s very catlike. She was terrified of thunder and fireworks, and would run into our bedroom and shove her fat little bottom all the way under the bed. We’d have to coax her out afterwards. She would plant herself in the middle of the living room, stick her leg in the air and start licking her nethers. When we’d laugh – as we did pretty much every time – she would stop and look at us as if to ask ‘What?!’ and then continue. She loved to be brushed. It was one of the two words she knew – the other was her name. Until she got sick, she’d come when called. She loved the red dot, the feathered thing on the end of the string, playing with shoelaces (we used to say that she was helping us get dressed), and watching her favourite TV show called ‘The Back of the Red Couch’.

Lucy was fun to have around, loving and sweet, and she made us laugh. She was family and we will miss her. Here’s to you, Miss Lucy, and 5 wonderful years together.

 

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Fa La La La Laaah La La La La

Early-morning beach walk (Denmark, Western Australia Christmas 2013)
Early-morning beach walk (Denmark, Western Australia Christmas Day 2013)

It’s that time of year – time to deck the halls and all that stuff. It’s my favourite time. It’s Christmas time.

I am not what you would call a religious person – I know this, because I was once very religious and I am now the antithesis of that – but I LOVE Christmas. Love it, love it, love it.

Music

The only reason that I don’t listen to holiday music all year around, is to retain its specialness. I love Christmas music – and I mean everything from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir signing ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ to Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’, to Nat King Cole’s ‘The Christmas Song’. ‘Carol of the Bells’ gives me chills, and my all-time fave is ‘Silent Night’.

The only Christmas song I don’t like is ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, a.k.a ‘The Date Rape Song’. Listen carefully to the lyrics if you don’t believe me. As an side, I have also just discovered Eartha Kitt’s ‘Nothin’ for Christmas’, which is essentially the Christmas sexual harassment song. So, I guess that’s two Christmas songs I don’t like, but, as I often do, I digress.

Food

My family is a wonderful mix of Australian, American and English, so the Christmas food that hits our plates is also an incredible mix.

American-style Christmas cookies are a must. Once, my sister and I embarked on an all-day baking intensive. We baked hundreds of cookies – 5 different kinds – including the ones that have to be individually iced. By the end of the day we were in a foul mood, but it soon lifted – we just ate Christmas cookies and all was well!

We ALWAYS have Russian Tea Cakes, which are, quite simply, the best food ever. In the history of the universe. And just so you can enjoy them too, here is the recipe:

  • 1 c butter
  • ½ c icing (powdered) sugar
  • 2 ¼ c sifted plain flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ c chopped nuts – pecans/walnuts

Mix, form into balls, bake at 180C / 375F for 8 minutes, dust with icing sugar while still warm. Then roll in icing sugar when they’re cool.

They looks like this:

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Yum

The Pommie influence is in the traditional Christmas dinner, which we often persevered with even in the 40C heat of Perth. Christmas pudding is absolutely essential. I love it. And I can recommend buying it, not making it. The ones you can buy are so damned good, why would you spend all that time and effort to make one? Heston Blumenthal’s are apparently the best you can buy. We’ll be having one of those this Christmas. With custard. Warm, runny custard. Oh my.

My partner’s family traditionally make steamed cranberry pudding, which I have yet to master after two tries. It is tart and bitter, but is served with a super sweet caramel sauce. It’s not my fave, but I will give it another try – for him.

And, because I grew up in Australia, we have a Christmas tradition of breakfasting on prawns, smoked salmon, a summer fruit platter and champagne – lots of bubbles!

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Decorations

Every year, my mom (she’s the American parent), gives my sister and me a new Christmas decoration. The collection is now vast, and each year, I trot out the old and add the new. I’ve taken to collecting them too, and giving them – it’s such a lovely way to mark a Christmas spent with special people. Mom has also extended this tradition to our S.O.s and my nephew. This year I will be delivering all five 2014 decorations to London, but more on that later.

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hristmas fireplace 2013

I love to decorate for Christmas. Sometimes we’ve had a real tree – especially when we lived in the Evergreen state, Washington – and sometimes we’ve travelled for Christmas, so we decorated our hotel room with our Christmas stockings.

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We also wear antlers during Christmas celebrations. My dad started this tradition, and it’s carried on to the next generation:

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Ben opening stocking gifts

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Visiting with baby Oliver Christmas 2012

And, there are the Daves…

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The first Reindeer Dave was made by my grandmother, Joan, along with Celeste, the angel who appears in this picture. My step-mum took up the tradition after grandma died, and made a Dave for all of us. Last year we travelled to spend Christmas with family in Western Australia, where several Daves congregated. Our Dave is on the right.

And here’s our Dave this year:

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We’re travelling again this year, so no tree, but Dave shares a little Christmas tableau with our Aussie Christmas animals, and some of the Christmas bells that were given to Ben by his grandparents every year.

Presents

I love giving presents. I do love getting them too, but I have a lot of fun seeking out the perfect gift for my loved ones – right down to the stocking-stuffers. And oh yes, we’re big on stockings in my family, something I have enjoyed carrying on with Ben. This year, the biggest gift we’re giving is our presence, as we’re flying to London to spend Christmas with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew, who is 3-and-a-half.

I am guessing that once we’re packed, we’ll discover that one whole suitcase is dedicated to presents. It’s hard not to spoil your only nephew, especially when he’s such a great, appreciative kid, and he’s now at that age where Christmas is a big deal to him – and so is his aunty and uncle travelling to see him from Australia. He’s also a Brit born to two Aussie parents, and we are loaded up on Aussie children’s books and toys, so he will be an Aussie kid too.

Family

Yes, the music is festive, the decorations make me giddy, presents are awesome, and I adore eating Christmas food, but the best part of Christmas is family. And, that of course means the family I was born with and those who have become family. We dress up, we get together, swap gifts, eat amazing food, have lots of bubbles, and just generally partake in a mutual admiration society. The thing is, I am really fortunate that my family gatherings – and especially Christmas – are fun. We laugh, we play bocce or sing karaoke, we play party games, we watch concerts on DVD and Christmas moves, like ‘Love Actually’ (my fave). We just have a good time, which is maybe the reason I love it all so much.

Oh, and this year we will get to watch the Downton Abbey Christmas special as it airs live on British television. It’s a long way to travel for a favourite TV show, but it’s one of my Christmas presents to myself.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope it’s grand. And make the Russian Tea Cakes – you won’t regret it.

~ Sandy