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.



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.


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.


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:


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!



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.

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.


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

Ben opening stocking gifts
Visiting with baby Oliver Christmas 2012

And, there are the Daves…


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:


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.


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.


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

Your Beautiful Feathers

In 1973 there were some significant births.

My sister was born, which at the time I was not particularly pleased about, but I’ve since come around. And many of my oldest (pardon the use of that word here) and dearest friends were also born in 1973. You won’t have to remember any of your 9th grade algebra to work out that because it is 2013, they are all turning 40 this year. Congratulations, gorgeous women! 40!! Woo hoo! This post is for you, from your ever-so-slightly-older sis.

What I love about being in my 40s:

In your forties you realise that it is okay that you don’t know it all. In fact, it’s great that you don’t, because who wants the pressure of being the world’s authority on everything all the time? It must be exhausting trying to convince everyone else how wrong they are about everything – just ask the 20-somethings (hee hee).

You learn what you are great at and passionate about and you dig deeper into those things and they bring you great joy. You accept what you’re not great at with less angst than you have ever before. I will never be a professional singer, and I am okay with that (now).

You slough off other people’s expectations of what you should be or do or want. You become a better friend to yourself. You see when you are failing, and you are brave enough to ask for help. And, you learn what a brilliant and powerful word ‘no’ is.

You also earn your feathers. Let me explain: You know the laurels that cup the prestigious awards earned by films at film festivals? They look like this:


Ben and I share a running joke about the laurels. I don’t know which one of us started it, but we call them ‘feathers’. “Look at how many feathers this film has! It must be amazing!!” Well, not too long ago I was playing with my nephew and smiling joyously and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

The laugh lines around my eyes reminded me of the ‘feathers’ – and in a way they are much like the laurels. I earned those feathers with all the laughter, and hilarity and joy that I have felt and shared throughout my 4+ decades.  Cate Blanchett calls hers the songlines of her face, which I also love.

Your forties is when your feathers really come in – and how wonderful that we earn them through the joys of life.

Happy birthday, beautiful women. I toast you and your feathers.

Earning my feathers

Lessons of a Proud Aunty

I am the proud aunty to Alexander, who is now 20 months old (I started to count out my age in months and quit when I got to 500). This is him:


Yes, I completely agree. He is adorable. Even in a photograph with a cute bear, he is the cute one.

These are the aunty lessons I have learned over the past few weeks, while I stayed with Alexander and his parents, Mummy and Daddy.

Lesson One: The Third Person

It is remarkable how quickly Aunty Sandy adapted to speaking about herself in the third person. After only hours in the house, I was saying things like, “Aunty Sandy is eating her breakfast too, Alexander,” and “Aunty Sandy is going upstairs. She’ll be right back,” and “Aunty Sandy loves you, darling.”  Aunty Sandy noticed that Mummy, Daddy and Grandma all do the same thing.

Lesson Two: Narrate Everything

No task can actually be accomplished unless accompanied by a toddler-appropriate commentary.”It’s dinner time! (be very enthusiastic about everything – see below) Let’s get you into your high chair. Tuck your feet in. Good boy! (praise often – see below). Let’s get your bib on, so you don’t get food all over your clothes. Here’s your dinner. Would you like Aunty Sandy to help feed you?”

Tone is very important, as he does not fully understand all the words yet.

Lesson Three: Everything is Amazing

In the world of a toddler, everything is amazing. They are still quite chuffed when they get from the couch to the table without falling down, and think that choosing their own socks is an incredible honour. As an adult in close proximity to a toddler, everything should likewise be amazing. This manifests as enthusiasm for things you otherwise would not find that amazing. Example: “Yay, Alexander, it’s time to watch Peppa Pig!”

This is Peppa, by the way. If you can draw a whistle, you can probably draw Peppa.

peppa pig

That said, she is an inquisitive little thing, giggles a lot, and the show follows Lesson Two: Narrate Everything. Alexander loves it so much that he started saying “Peppa Pig” long before he could say ‘pease’. Ahem, I mean, ‘please’.

Lesson Four: Praise Often

The ratio for praising behaviour to correcting poor behaviour for a toddler is about 20 to 1, which is the exact opposite to what most adults experience in the workplace.  It means that you spend a lot of time seeking out ways to ‘catch them being good’.  So, “Great job eating all your peas!” rather than “Well, it took you 45 minutes to eat your peas and more of them ended up on the floor than in your mouth, so work on that, will you?”

A toddler loves praise, so will actively seek out ways to earn more. This can backfire a little when they are super funny or cute while they are doing something you would rather they didn’t – and they know you are laughing at them. They will see the laughter as praise and keep doing whatever it is that you want them to stop doing. If in this situation, put your hand over your mouth, turn your head or leave the room. But even then, they tend to know when they are being hilarious. Clever little buggers.

Lesson Five: You will be surprised by how much you can love a small human

I am completely blown away by how much two Marmite-covered hands reaching for me tugs at my heart. I love this little boy more than I ever thought it possible to love a child.

While I was staying with them, Alexander started saying ‘please’, although he adds his version of the sign language Grandma taught him and he says, ‘pease’ with a long drawn out ‘eee’ sound. He worked out pretty quickly that ‘pease’ is a magic word, because Aunty Sandy gave him everything he asked for when he used his manners. Just call me a smitten kitten.

And when people say, “Oh you love being an aunty just because you can hand him back when he gets cranky or messes his nappy,” I reply that I am a full-service, hands-on aunty. I do screaming toddler. I do poopy nappy. I do runny nose and chapped bum. I do three Peppa Pigs in a row. (My friends will attest to the fact that I have always been hands-on with my honorary nieces and nephews.)

So, Alexander, when you are old enough to read this, just know that I love you (always) and can’t wait to see you again soon.

New Year’s Absolutions 2013

Two years ago, I wrote a post exonerating myself from the resolutions I would typically expect myself to make at the start of a new year. For some reason I skipped this step at the start of this 2012, but as we approach 2013, I revisit the idea of absolving myself of things that are fruitless or frustrating pursuits.

I hereby absolve myself of the following:

  1. Watching anything that has a hobbit in it. When the first trilogy came out, I was dating an awful man and I pathetically pretended to like the films to please him. Now I am with a wonderful man who doesn’t expect me to like everything he does.  Hobbits just bug me. They’re so, well, hobbity.
  2. Hoarding (just in case). As we are about to move internationally, we must pare back to the essentials. For a start, some things are cheaper to replace than to ship overseas. Plus, Australian Customs will charge you $150 to clean or destroy a $15 chopping board, so I am becoming less attached to things. We will be giving away a lot of things that I love – like our beautiful coffee tree – but when all is said and done, they are just things. Most important is that we are moving as a family (2 adults, 1 cat).
  3. Having a spotless home. I need to hold myself to this one. Our home is typically neat, tidy and fairly clean. There are times, however, when I need to be less fastidious and more focused on more important pursuits, like writing, visiting with friends, taking care of my health, keeping in contact with loved ones overseas, being helpful, and being a loving partner.
  4. Being (overly) prepared. I plan ahead. I make lists and I plan. I need to plan ahead, or if someone else is making the plan, at least to know what the plan is. Yes, being prepared can be essential, but sometimes it drives me to distraction (and sleeplessness – see my last post). I want to find an equilibrium.  Somewhere between attending to dozens of details so our cat can immigrate to Australia (a process tailored for the detail-oriented) and choosing the type of bed we will buy in three months for our new guest room, is a happy medium.
  5. Being Superwoman. No matter how hard I try – and I try very hard – I cannot do everything. I have no magic lasso, no invisible plane, and no golden cuffs to deflect the bullets. I must ask for help, I must give myself a break, and I must say ‘no’ more often. (I think #3 and #4 go hand-in-hand with this one.)

Just re-tracing my 2011 absolutions, I am thinking of buying a bike when we get to Melbourne. It is relatively flat, with lots of bike trails, and reasonably dry weather when compared with Seattle. Also, I not only finished Chapter 7, I have finished up to Chapter 16 and am still going strong. I no longer absolve myself finishing my book. In fact, it is the number two goal I have for 2013, right after ‘move the family to Melbourne and get settled’.

Reading, Writing and Relatives

I am spending some time with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew in London.  They live in the bustling borough of Teddington, where terraces houses are the norm and vehicles try to maneuver down narrow streets without taking off the side mirrors of parked cars.

I have spent most of my time here at home, or out and about the neighborhood with my sister and nephew.

I have visited with two long-time friends, and enjoyed outings to Kingston (shopping hub), Oxfordshire (to see our Great-aunt), and to Hampton Court Palace. I have seen and done some really cool stuff, and usually I would blog all about it.

But I have started this blog post seven times. Seven. My travel writing synapses appear to be broken. Unlike my sister, whose oven is steaming food rather than roasting it, I cannot call a handy-person to come fix my problem.

I wonder if it is because I am reading so much during this latest vacation. Sometimes I am in a writing phase, sometimes I am in a reading phase and sometimes I would rather just watch America’s Next Top Model. I would love for this writing issue to be sorted out, however, as I have made some fascinating observations during my stay, and I would like to get them down to share with my fans. Yes, I really wrote that. You know who you are.

And so I am left with one topic to use as fodder for my post: what I am reading.

Victoria and Mark (aforementioned sister and brother-in-law) love books and have an extensive library in their home. These three books caught my eye.

I love anything about Robin Hood (yes, even that silly film by Costner), so picked up the first book in the series, Hood. It re-imagines the tale, presenting Hood as a Welsh Prince in the 11th Century, whose kingdom is usurped by a French count, who has murdered his father. Loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Read it in three days. I did that thing where you stay up until midnight and you can’t keep your eyes open anymore, so have to put the book down. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up late to read a book.

I bought the other two books on Kindle.

A couple of weeks ago I finished The Art of Fielding. To say that it is a book about baseball is to over simplify a book that is indeed – a little – about baseball. It is a modern American piece about some well-drawn people with beautifully-crafted arcs. I loved it and I don’t mind baseball. The Costner films about baseball were both terrific, by the way.

I am also about 1/5 through Steve Jobs’ autobiography. I loved the start, but it has dissolved into a detailed history of Apple’s rise to infamy. I am not sure what I expected, but I am hoping to learn more about the man and less about the business.

Also on the Kindle and already capturing my attention, is the new Stephen King novel, 11.22.63. This is about a man who travels back in time to stop Kennedy’s assassination. I am fascinated by Kennedy’s reign and time travel.  I also like King’s writing, so I think I will enjoy getting stuck into this one. I should mention that Costner was also in a film about Kennedy’s assassination.

I didn’t read anything today, though. I was too busy out and about with my nephew and sister at Wisley Gardens.

I am glad to have finally finished an actual post. ‘Til next time…

All Quiet on the Vegas Front (archive)

I am digging through the archives of my blog and found this post from Jan ’09, which was somehow mis-categorized as a ‘page’. Moving it over to join it’s fellow posts.


So, I spent the weekend in Vegas.

The Virgin America jet from San Francisco to Vegas was stuffed to the rafters with techie types all buzzing about the excitement of CES, a big-deal Technological Conference. Those around me were chatting excitedly about the shows they would see, the tables they would play, and how they barely planned to see the insides of their hotel rooms. I just plugged in my headset and watched TV. I was heading to Vegas for a family wedding, and I knew there was little chance I would be seeing The Strip at all.

I was right.

You see, people – real, normal, ‘I have a 9 to 5 job’ people – live and work in Vegas. In fact, once you get beyond Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) and the few streets that run parallel, you are pretty much in the ‘burbs. The streets in Vegas are wide, mostly 6 lanes, and there are apartment complexes, and housing communities and mini malls.
Wiiiiiiide Streets

So, how DID I spend my time? My cousin Mary’s daughter got married on Saturday, and she found a quirky and cool hotel to host the event. The Artisan is just off The Strip, and when we first stepped inside it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Gothic Lobby

The lobby is home to a baby grand piano, a fountain, and dozens of paintings on the walls and ceiling – yes, the ceiling.
The Artisan

I couldn’t resist a dramatic shot like this one:
Creating Drama
It was just that kind of place.

In fact, just when I started to get used to the dark interior we were ushered outside for the ceremony.

Bride and Groom

Yes, outside in the middle of January – but I will come back to that later.

The reception was held in the hotel’s dining room, where we were served by an eastern European waitress with a thick accent and black hair to her waist. “Where did you think she is from?” my uncle asked the next day. I went with my first impression, “Transylvania.” I wasn’t kidding.

And what is a wedding without cake? The cake, in the wedding colors of black and purple, was so good I had two cupcakes – but don’t tell the bride.
Quirky Theme

We drove home at sunset, as it was an intimate lunchtime affair. As I sat in the backseat, I looked across all the dazzling lights of The Strip to the mountains beyond, and watched as the sun crawled behind them. The silhouette of the mountain ridge was beautiful. For all that Vegas in known for, it is rarely its natural beauty that gets a mention.

The next afternoon, just before sunset, I went for a run down to the local park. The park is encircled by a running track, and was full of families and teens enjoying the last moments of the weekend. I ran the track five times as I watched the goings on around me. I was completely thrilled to be running outside in the middle of winter, without gloves, a hat or even a long sleeved sweatshirt. I also had the pleasure of seeing watching another sunset under a clear sky.

Suburban Sunset

Las Vegas is not just a city of decadence and glamor. It is also a where families play in the park on Sunday afternoons. But perhaps my favorite thing about Las Vegas its natural backdrop. The mountains are truly spectacular –
Foot of the mountain

– especially when it snows!
Snow in Vegas
[With thanks to my mother for this shot.]

Yes, it is possible to spend a quiet weekend in Vegas. A bit of shopping, a trip to the cinema, chilling out with family, and getting out in the fresh air…that’s Vegas, Baby!