Cover Reveal for Julie Shackman

Thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for Julie Shackman’s upcoming book with One More Chapter, A Secret Scottish Escape! And look at this stunner!

Cover of A Secret Scottish Escape, a two-storey cottage on the banks of a loch in Scotland, with mountains in the background. A woman sitting at a table in the garden in front of the cottage. Quote by author, Julie Caplin 'Glorious...a wonderful taste of the Highlands'

Blurb

Escape to the beautiful Scottish Highlands for a heartwarming and feel good cosy romance that will whisk you away!

As Scotland’s sleepiest hamlet becomes the centre of hot gossip, Layla Devlin finds herself caught in a mystery…

When Layla’s fiancée has an unexpected heart attack and dies – in another woman’s arms, no less – Layla is determined to pack up and leave Loch Harris, the village she’s always called home. But an unexpected inheritance and love for her quiet corner of Scotland send her down a new path.

Now Layla finds herself facing a whole new kind of drama. Rumours swirl that a celebrity has moved into Coorie Cottage and Layla is determined to have him headline her opening night at local music venue The Conch Club. But the reclusive star is equally determined to thwart Layla’s efforts. Rafe Buchanan is in hiding for a reason, and soon his past comes to Loch Harris to haunt him…

Where can you pre-order it (ebook and print)? Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Nook | Kobo

Follow Julie Twitter | Instagram

A year to remember

I created this meme several months ago and it turned out to be a perfect foil for the despondency I felt when the Premier of Victoria announced that we were going into the strictest pandemic lockdown in the world ― and not for a pre-determined amount of time, but (seemingly) indefinitely, until we reached zero cases for two solid weeks.

It seemed impossible ― impossible ― that we would ever achieve such a lofty goal, something no other city, region, state, or country had achieved after having such a proportionately high number of daily cases of COVID-19.

Like many others, I felt trapped, claustrophobic in my home, my city, even in the state of Victoria. I started house-hunting online, seeking a rental property in coastal and/or regional Australia ― for when they let us out.

But as we emerged from Winter, as the days started to get longer, and as we started to see results from our compliance with the newly-enacted laws, hope started to show its face again.

I had some saving graces during this time, aspects of my life for which I am extremely grateful, and I wanted to share those with you. I do want to say that I write this post knowing exactly how fortunate Ben and I are. Throughout 2020, we have remained healthy, our loved ones are (as I write this) safe and healthy, despite many of them living in hot zones, such as the UK and the US, and we retained our income and, subsequently, our home.

Space

Our apartment is in an older building in downtown Melbourne (older meaning 15+ years) and that means an expansive floorplan and enough separate spaces for two people to cohabitate 24/7 for months on end without getting (too much) in each other’s way.

I have a super splodge work station for my day job and writing (I commandeered the guest room after realising we would have exactly zero guests for the rest of the year), and we have a stunning view (2 angles, 2 different times of the day).

Exercise

I need to exercise ― it is critical to my mental wellbeing and with our gyms closed and time outside limited (or just super shitty weather in the dead of Winter), I relied on home workouts and riding my spin bike (so glad I bought it in March!). I’d tee up back seasons of The Great British Bake Off and ride and ride and ride ’til I was a sweaty mess. Pure escapism. And when I ran out out of British Bake Off I watched the Aussie version. When I ran out of that, onto the Canadians. Oddly, it’s highly motivating to cycle while watching people make cake. Don’t ask me why.

When the gym opened back up, I was there ― mask and all.

Date night

Once we realised we would be in lockdown for months, not weeks, we committed to a weekly date night. When you can’t leave the apartment, this means dressing in nice clothes (and makeup for me), putting on some music, cooking something special or ordering in from a local restaurant, opening a nice bottle of wine, and eating at the table (how novel!).

Date nights reminded us that although we saw each other all day every day, we are still each other’s person. He’s the love of my life, the man who makes me think and smile and laugh out loud, who thinks of me and cares for me and lets me do the same for him. I chose him and he chose me and that doesn’t go away, no matter how much time we spend together.

(I love you, babe)

Getting out and about

We were allowed out. We could walk together for up to an hour a day (with masks). We could bike ride (without masks!). And at one point, we could have a socially distanced picnic in the park with our besties. And we took those opportunities to get outside, breathe fresh air, get a different perspective, and just be out. And, I have to say, our ‘hood, Docklands, is just gorgeous, which is great food for the soul.

Consuming creative content

People are clever ― really clever ― and a massive saving grace for me this year has been watching, listening, and reading other people’s creations (and not just Bake Off). I’ve watched entire television series from the beginning ― new, new to me, and old faves. I’ve watched films, concerts, plays, documentaries, and cast reunions. I’ve listened to podcasts, concerts, pop, classical, rock, techno ― really, just name it. And I have read a few dozen books this year ― mostly chicklit, some histfic, and (my fave) crime thrillers.

Busy, busy, busy!

For me, this year was not a time for much introspection. Perhaps 2021 will bring me the mental and emotional space to look inwards, but as well as voraciously consuming content, I’ve been creating it. I’ve published 3 books since the start of lockdown (including all the editing, marketing, and social media that go along with publishing a book). I’ve finished a work-in-progress and have nearly finished a book I started in August (my 5th and 6th books).

For me, lockdown meant ‘head down’. I threw myself into my work ― the ultimate distraction from a world on fire. I know this was not the case for a lot of authors, but for someone unwilling to spend much time on proper introspection (something I tend towards when the world is not on fire), it was an excellent panacea. With my fulltime job in online learning (and didn’t our industry pick up exponentially this year?) and authoring, it was typical for me to be at my desk 12 hours a day and most of the day on weekends. Work was an excellent distraction.

Publication day celebrations:

I’m in WA now (Western Australia), where we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to for the holidays. Spending time with our family and friends in my home state has been our ultimate reward for what has been an unforgettable year.

And when they ask how we survived it, there is one simple answer: together.

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!

Catching up with Author Natalie Normann

I am very excited to welcome a fellow One More Chapter author to the blog today. She has just celebrated the publication of her new novel, Summer Island. And we have her next novel, Christmas Island, to look forward to in October.

Natalie grew up in a shipping town on the west-coast of Norway and always wanted to be a writer. Actually, she wanted to smoke cigars and drink whiskey like Hemingway but settled for chocolate and the occasional glass of Baileys.

Her writing journey started with short stories in women’s magazines until her first book was published in 1995. Summer Island is her first romance novel in English!

Let’s catch up with Natalie.

  1. Tell us what inspired you to write Summer Island? When I was asked to write at contemporary romance set in Norway, I loved the idea. I had a good think about what I love the most about Norwegian summers. When I grew up, we lived near the coast and I always loved our island trips. Norway is famous for its fjords, but we also have so many islands and I wanted to share that experience.
  2. When did you start writing seriously? I have always written, but it got serious in the mid nineties when I finished the first novel and send it to a competition. It was a collaboration with another writer, and we won a price for “Norway’s best entertainment novel”. After that, we went on to write six more books together. Then it got really serious almost fifteen years ago when I began writing historical romance series, and was able to become a full-time writer.
  3. What do you love most about being an author? Oh, so many things. I love that I can actually do this for a living. Writing stories never gets boring. It’s challenging, frustrating and sometimes so hard, but it’s also fun and rewarding. To create a book is such a demanding process, but at the end of it, there’s a book and there’s readers, who sometimes love what I write – and there’s nothing better than that.
  4. What are you working on now? Right now I’m working on Christmas Island. It’s a sequel to Summer Island and gives me the opportunity to share the madness that is a Norwegian Christmas – it’s something we love and also take so serious. Probably because in mid winter, when it’s dark and cold, we need a long celebration, with lots of lights, to cheer us up. Also, there’s plenty of cake.
  5. What do you hope readers will take away from Summer Island? I hope readers will feel that it gives them a break, especially now with all that’s going on.

About the book

He never meant to stay. He certainly never meant to fall in love…

Summer Island off the coast of Norway was the place London chef Jack Greene should have been from. He’s an outsider in the community that should have been his family, and now he’s setting foot on the strange land he has inherited for the first time.

Ninni Toft, his nearest neighbour, has come to the island to mend her broken heart. With her wild spirit and irrepressible enthusiasm, she shows city-boy Jack the simple pleasures of island life – and what it means to belong. To a place. To a people. To one person in particular…

Home is where the heart is, but is Jack’s heart with the career he left behind in London, or on the wind-swept shores of Summer Island, with Ninni?

Where can you get it?

Follow Natalie!

Twitter | Facebook| Instagram

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).

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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 Grand Adventure: Sabbatical Life

Those of you who followed our sabbatical journey will know that we spent most of 2018 living (and often working) abroad. I blogged throughout the year, with posts specifically about the sabbatical at the half-way mark, and then again on the home stretch.

We’ve been back in Australia about six weeks now, and have just moved into our new home in Docklands. As I interview for fulltime work, as I’m about to sign a publishing contract for my first book, and as I unpack and find new homes for our belongings, it’s a good time to reflect on our year of sabbatical life.

The days are long and the weeks go by fast

A dear friend we made in Bali, where we lived for two months, reflected that when she looked back, the weeks seemed to be flying by, but that each day felt full and long.

I can honestly say that this is how I felt for most of the year.

When I am present, when I live the breadth and depth of each day, they seem longer, fuller. I want to carry that feeling with me, to bottle that secret sauce, because it makes life feel more purposeful and I’m more content.

A sense of accomplishment

As well as consulting for clients (writing, editing, and review educational materials), I wrote and edited two books. TWO WHOLE BOOKS, each 100,000 words. I wrote 200,000 words – funny, heartfelt narratives set in beautiful locations. I made up people, their lives and their adventures. I created from nothing the things they said and did – well, I borrowed some anecdotes from loved ones, but for the most part, those fictional people came to life in my head.

I worked on building my author platform, engaging with readers and authors from around the world, learning from them, supporting them, befriending them. I’ve made some wonderful literary friends over the past year – people I can contact with questions and requests, people who can rely on me for support and help if they need it. I will champion them and their writing, and they will do the same for me.

I also queried publishers and agents, honing my messaging about me and my books. I am proud and excited to say that I recently got a big fat YES from a UK-based publisher, which I will announce officially once I’ve signed the contract. Because of this sabbatical, my first book is being traditionally published and I will get to hold my book in my hands. The others will hopefully follow (squee!).

Feeding my soul

We lived in and visited some beautiful, exciting, and vibrant places. Bali, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland, rural Minnesota, London, the British Midlands, Amsterdam, Seattle, LA, Wales, New Zealand and my home state of Western Australia. Natural beauty, architectural wonders, history, and wildlife in copious doses. Our everyday life was a wonderful cacophony of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that we happily steeped ourselves in.

Walking the streets of Ubud, the sun beating down, the humidity hanging heavy in the air, the heady scent of tropical flowers mixing with petrol fumes and Indonesian spices – this became my idea of heaven.

Spending time with loved ones also fed my soul. Catching up with family and friends in WA, LA, Seattle, Minnesota, the UK, Ireland, and Amsterdam was a highlight. Living with Ben’s family and mine for extended periods of time was something special. Cooking a mid-week meal for people I love is – and has long been – a great pleasure for me. Chatting over that meal, as we recount our days, our mini-triumphs and challenges, heightens that joy.

‘Quality time’ it’s called. We all need that type of time with our loved ones. Even though I’ve lived my adult life ‘away’ from most of my family, I long for those times when I can look across the dinner table and meet the eyes of someone I love dearly but don’t see in person very often. The thing about being a traveller, someone who lives ‘away’ – you always miss someone. It’s the curse of the ex-pat. I had a year of topping up my soul with quality loved-ones time.

And, wonderfully, we made some very dear new friends from across the world.

 
The things you miss

Things are just things, really. We attach meaning to them. As I unpack boxes and find places for our things in our new home, I know (deep down) they’re just things, but they make me feel at home. Books I’ve loved, souvenirs and artefacts from our travels, family photos, my good knives, my cannisters (yes, really) – these things ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo would say. It’s nice to rediscover these things. Do I need them? No, I don’t. I spent the year with my clothes, toiletries and a stack of rectangles (laptop, iPad, Kindle, phone). I can live without things. For now, though, I will especially enjoy them.

I did really missed drawers, though. Like, really, totally, absolutely, completely missed putting my clothes into drawers. Even when we stayed somewhere for weeks or months, we kept our clothes in our packing cubes. Drawers are luxurious. Next time you take an article of clothing out of a drawer, just savour that feeling.

The things you get used to

In Bali, we slathered ourselves in sunscreen and showered several times a day. It was hot and humid and 80% of our time was spent outdoors. My hair looked like wool. And even so, Bali was my favourite place we lived in. I’d live there again in a heartbeat.

I am a creative home cook. In Bali, I cooked with tempeh for the first time and it became a staple. At the lake cabin in Minnesota, I had an electric frying pan and a microwave – that’s it – and I cooked a variety of dishes. In Portugal, it was difficult to get good fresh food – produce, dairy and proteins – but I adapted. In the UK (before and after Portugal), I was cooking for five instead of two, and three of the adults were eating Keto. Spoiled for fresh produce, because you are in the UK, I made giant pots of Keto-friendly stews, red sauces and soups.

I can write anywhere – and did. A sunlounger, a beach, a cafe (many cafes), the kitchen table (in many different kitchens), on planes and trains, and even on a boat. The world was my writing room. I loved it.

My big takeaways

I love Australia. It’s home – Melbourne especially. It’s a terrific city and we have loved ones here. I was happy to come back and I am excited to start the next chapter here.

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Our new view

I would do a sabbatical year again – or create a life where we live abroad for several months every year. There was a time when that thought terrified me – now I think it will become essential to us.

Ben is an incredibly brave, wonderful, supportive, imaginative person. “Why don’t we trade a year of retirement for now,” he said a couple of years ago. I am so grateful he did, but even more so that he gently nudged me to make the commitment. He is my bestie, my partner-in-crime, my travel buddy, my champion, my love. Thank you, Ben, for being all those things and more.

Could be anywhere…

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When you’re living and working around the world – rather than holidaying for a year –  the highlight of some days is having a decent cup of coffee.

This is how yesterday, a Saturday in Edinburgh, went:

  • got up – tea and porridge for breakfast
  • checked social media, Amazon and Goodreads (unpaid author work) – more tea
  • started on an editorial project for my client (paid work) – more tea
  • realised most of the the morning had disappeared and we hadn’t left the house yet (Airbnb accommodation)
  • moved to a coffee shop where we had decent coffee
  • worked on the editorial project
  • had lunch at the cafe – while working
  • realised we’d been there for two hours and our butts hurt from the chairs
  • went to the supermarket and got fruit, TP, and stuff for dinner
  • at home, finished the editorial project
  • put on a couple of loads of laundry
  • realised it was five o’clock and opened a bottle of wine and watched Netflix
  • cooked and ate dinner – had more wine – watched more Netflix
  • went to bed

A normal day…

We could have been anywhere in the world…

We’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and yesterday we saw no more than our local neighbourhood, the inside of a Sainsbury’s and a busy cafe. But I don’t consider days like this a waste. They are a part of being nomads – and once in a while, we just need a day of normal.

And today? We’re off to climb Arthur’s Seat and to explore more of Old Town!

Mid-way through our mid-career sabbatical

 

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Last day in Seattle

At the end of 2017, I posted about our 2018 sabbatical. Ben and I embarked at the beginning of February, so last week marked the mid-point of our year of living abroad. In that time, we have visited friends and family, explored new locations, lived life like a local and have worked remotely.

Here are some of my reflections and lessons learned from the mid-point of our sabbatical.

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Exploring northern MN with the Doctor

Home (really is) is a state of mind

Just before we left the US to begin our UK/EU stint, I fell very ill and had to spend a night in hospital. After 40 hours in a hospital gown, my vitals being checked every two hours, and being tethered to an IV stand, all I wanted to do was go home. At that stage in our travels, home was Ben’s grandmother’s house, and when I arrived back there – still, weak, tired, and yet to fully recover – I was ecstatic. I was home.

Home has been various places in our travels. With my bed count for the year sitting at 27 (Ben’s is 26, because he hasn’t sleep in a hospital bed), home really has become a state of mind. That’s not to say that all of those beds felt like home; it means that when we have taken side trips for a few days and returned to our longer-term accommodation, I have had an overwhelming sense of returning home – and that feeling is marvelous.

So, at our mid-way point I continue to subscribe to the ‘wherever I lay my head’ philosophy I posted about here.

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Chicago with our dear friend from Bali days, Kelley

It’s possible to get a lot done while you’re travelling

When we meet new people or catch up with family and friends, we invariably end up discussing the ins and outs of sabbatical life. The most frequent clarification during these conversations is that taking a sabbatical is not ‘being on holiday’ for a year.

Ben and I both have our own companies in Australia and consult for clients – Ben in an ongoing capacity and me on project-based work. There have been many weeks where we’ve worked full-time, or close to it. This type of work suits us both, as we can carve out the time to do it around our larger plans, we can take advantage of coffee-shop WiFi, we both enjoy working in a variety of environments, and – to be frank – it helps fund this year abroad.

Additionally, since we left Melbourne, I have written and published my second novel. And I am soon to start my third! I love writing, I love writing novels, and I love writing ‘on the road’. Plus, each new location, each new friend, each conversation with a loved one, each excursion and adventure could be the kernel of an idea for book #4 – and the ones after that.

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Meeting my favourite author, Lindsey Kelk (Birmingham, UK)

Things are just…things

When we left Bali in May, we left behind many of the things we’d bought to make Bali life a little easier – storage containers, coat hangers, food staples, Costco-sized toiletries. We did the same thing when we left Minnesota, with the addition of some red wine glasses, a life-time supply of sunflower seeds we barely made a dent in, and a yoga mat. We also filled a large bag with summer clothes which we dropped into a charity donation bin. Clothes I previously had ‘loved’ were tossed aside without any remorse.

It’s just stuff – and we’re travelling light.

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With my nephew, Alexander (UK)

It’s going fast

I truly cannot believe we’re half-way. Since leaving Melbourne, we’ve been to New Zealand, two other states in Australia, Bali, three states in the US, and the UK. Next week, we’re off to Ireland and we are starting to firm up our plans for Scotland, Amsterdam, Paris and Portugal.

I know that before we know it, we will be on our way back to Melbourne for Australia Day 2019 (January 26). That date is important, because Ben will be attending a citizenship ceremony to become a fully-fledged, dinky-di Aussie (I am so proud).

The speed with which this year away is rocketing by, means that we must continue to seek out and enjoy the small pleasures. We must continue to take every opportunity to explore, live like a local, see people who are dear to us, meet new friends, and accomplish great things.

Because, ultimately, that’s what this year is about – living life to the fullest.

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Secret Beach Day Trip (Bali)

 

Lake Life

They call Minnesota Land of 10,000 lakes, and Ben and I are spending most of the summer at one of them – well, technically, we’re on a chain of 14 lakes called the Whitefish chain.

With so many lakes, many families in Minnesota have a lake cabin – some of them in the family for generations, like the one Ben and I are staying at – and some of these ‘cabins’ are luxury homes only used a few weeks a year.

‘Our cabin’, on a small lagoon on Rush Lake, is not a luxury home, but it’s luxurious to us, because this is our view from the deck:

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Simply, it is beautiful here.

The cabin was built nearly a hundred years ago and was bought into Ben’s family in the 1950s. They’ve been coming here every Summer ever since and Ben spent a lot of his childhood here.

On the inside, it looks like this:

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Yes, that’s a charming hodge podge of furniture, housewares and artifacts that span decades, including a fairly strong representation from the 80s (like the collection of VHS movies) – check out that carpet!

Lake life itself means being on the water. At least once a day, we head out on either the jetski (Ben’s) or the pontoon (the family’s). We may be going somewhere specific – all of the restaurants in the area and the nearest town, Crosslake, are accessible by water and have docks where we ‘park’ – or we may just cruise around exploring. The other day we rode the perimeter of Rush Lake and found some lagoons Ben has never seen before – even after coming up here for 30+ years. Oh, and that’s Ben going to the store on the jetski to pick up a few things.

Lake like is also about a slower pace and savouring the little moments, liking making S’Mores over the firepit:

And stopping for coffee at the local coffee shop:

And exploring Crosslake:

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butterfly chair

And lounging on the water:

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lounging

And exploring the surrounding forests:

And having fun with visiting friends:

 

And the wildlife! On the property are red and grey squirrels, chipmunks, and green frogs, who keep Ben up at night with their raspy ribbits. The lagoon is frequently visited by two families of geese – one with young cygnets and one with teenagers – a family of ducks, a stunning blue heron who flies arcs over us, and a woodpecker! There’s a muskrat that lives under the bridge who’s also busy collecting reeds, and we’ve seen painted turtles, bald eagles (one being chased by a starling), and a multitude of fish. And my favourite this summer has got to be the state bird, the beautiful loon. They are are a large water bird who have a distinctive call, and I just love them.

Perhaps most surprising has been the skies. Many mornings are a moody grey which melts away to a brilliant cerulean dotted with white puffs. We’ve had nighttime lightening storms which have gone on for hours, a surreal strobe-light effect that always looks fake in films, but is surprisingly real. But most of all, the sunsets take my breath away.

img_20180709_205529-effects
taken by me, edited by Ben

 

And these stunners by Ben:

Of course, we’re both still working – Ben for his client in Australia and the publication date of my second novel is only 5 days away (!) so I am madly editing – but we take time each day to enjoy where we are and the easy pace of lake life. So far, it’s been a brilliant summer.

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.