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!

A love letter to Australia

It is Australia Day 2020. January 26th is a contentious date, because it marks the arrival of the First Fleet―the first European settlers who arrived in Australia in 1788.

Of course, by commemorating this date, Australia ignores that in 1788 we were already populated by hundreds of nations of Indigenous Australians forming the world’s oldest civilisation. January 26th marks the date of an invasion and the beginning of a genocide.

This post isn’t about whether or not we should change the date of Australia Day, although we absolutely should. This post is a love letter to my home, my country, my Australia.

My Australia

My Australia is the person at the tram stop who sees that you’re lost and points you in the right direction with a smile. My Australia is the person at the party who draws the introverts into conversation, and makes sure everyone is heard. My Australia has a hearty sense of humour―often bawdy, always self-deprecating, and sometimes a defence mechanism.

My Australia has skin, eyes, and hair of every colour, and is all genders, faiths, and identities, for My Australia is all of us. We have lived here 60 000 years and 6 days. Our roots are deep and just starting to grow. What we share is beyond cosmetic; it is a connection―to each other, to our land, to our country.

My Australia bears scars―from when we went to wars and defended our shores, from being ravaged by fires, floods, cyclones, and drought, from dark times of hatred, anger, and entitlement, bearing those scars with humility, pride, or shame.

My Australia reaches out when someone is in need. We rally, we show up, we dig into our pockets―we care. We weep together, lean on each other, support and cajole each other. We extend our hands willingly, not afraid of the blisters or back-breaking pain we’ll incur as we rebuild.

My Australia is not the scurrilous and self-serving politicians who banter obscenities at each other and extol the virtues of ‘clean coal’. It is not the hatemongers or nationalists or the bigots. These people are the minority, one that is slowly dying out.

My Australia is adventurous and intrepid, both at home and abroad, with well-stamped passports and battered luggage, with postcards that loved ones have sent from the corners of the earth taped to the fridge, with plans for trips and getaways and long weekends and stay-cations. We must go, see, and do.

My Australia loves the sea, the sun, and the sand, we love the deserts and sunrises and sunsets, we love the rain forests and eucalypts, our native animals* and red, rocky monoliths. We love the bustle and energy of our cities with their sky-scraping towers, and the warm friendly welcome of our country towns, where the local pub feels like home.

My Australia is brilliant, with an intelligent mind, a creative spirit, grit, athleticism, and the ability to see the future. We are doctors, scientists, artists, teachers, communicators, technicians, builders, athletes, and change-makers. We are on the edge of the future, speaking up, taking risks, saving lives with medical breakthroughs and art that feeds the soul. We build, create, and solve. We are―as always―batting far above our average on the world stage, a tiny nation of 25 million achieving wondrous things. We also make the best wine and coffee in the world.

My Australia is home―my home, our home.

And though she is being ravaged as I write this, I have to believe she will recover, wearing her scars with pride as we come together and rebuild.

And on our current bushfire and climate crisis, this image by artist, Melina, evokes what I struggle to put into words.

tribute-art-to-australian-bushfires-1-5e1c2df324674__700

*Except maybe the spiders―we have some really, scary spiders.

Opinion vs Ideology: Same-Sex Marriage

marriage-equality-in-australia-w

I’m angry.

Our (ridiculous) government has gone through with an expensive plan to survey Australians, asking, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

In the context of the discussions and campaigns associated with this survey, I’ve been told – and I have read and I have heard and seen – that ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’ on this matter. This rhetoric is typically used to defend a ‘No’ response to the survey question posed by our (ridiculous) government.

Here’s where that breaks down for me. This is not an opinion-based survey. This is a survey of our deep-seated  ideological beliefs. Because at the core of that question is, ‘Do you believe that all humans should have the same rights?’ This is a human rights issue, and the Australian government should have passed a law guaranteeing all Australians the right to marry years ago. It baffles and angers me that it has come to this.

If you’re reading this and are still on the fence, consider that if this survey asked, “Should the law be changed to allow Indigenous couples to marry?” or “Should the law be changed to allow couples who don’t want to have children to marry?” or “Should the law be changed to allow couples over the age of 55 to marry?” or “Should the law be changed to allow couples where one or both are European-born to marry?” there would (rightfully) be uproar. That would be outrageous! Of course these demographics should be allowed to marry. Why does the law currently prohibit them from marrying? Why are we even having this discussion?

Well, here we are, having a national discussion about whether or not an entire demographic of Australians are equal to the rest of Australians. That’s why I’m angry.

And the only reason I can think of for a person to vote ‘No’, is because their deep-seated ideologies tell them that they are superior to others, and that some others do not deserve the same human rights as they do.

But what if homosexuality is against their religion, and they are deeply religious and a ‘Yes’ would be contrary to all they believe?

I’ve given this a lot of thought too. I was raised in a Christian religion that is (wayyyy) far right of centre. I learned that homosexuality – along with a host of other things – was sinful. I have since unlearned this, by the way. I never learned, however, that I should hate homosexuals, nor think that God loved them any less than he loved me.

If you truly believe that your God wants you to hate other people or think that they are less than you are, or that your God loves you more than others because you hold true to his (or her) teachings, then theologically-speaking, you’re doing it wrong.

You can be (highly) religious, believe that homosexuality is a sin, and still believe that all people deserve to have the same rights. Many people who have voted yes are religious.

But what about the sanctity of marriage?

Let’s talk about that. We have a domestic violence problem in Australia. It is rampant, and ugly, and the majority of victims – male and female – are afraid to speak up. As a nation, we seem not to know what to do to eradicate domestic violence, but we do seem to agree that it is a blight on our society.

But never once has their been a discussion (or a survey!) about whether or not perpetrators of domestic violence, people with a blatant disregard for the sanctity of marriage, should have their right to marry removed (a discussion for another time perhaps). So, does the so-called ‘sanctity of marriage’ argument really deserve to be rolled out by a nation that allows perpetrators of domestic violence to marry?

So, no, I don’t accept that this is an opinion-based survey.

Rather, what our (ridiculous) government has done by purporting that this survey is to gauge our opinion on what is essentially a human rights issue, is to normalise bigotry.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, sure. But, I’m not okay with calling a this an opinion-based survey when it’s not.

And that’s why I’m angry.

#VoteYes

 

 

 

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

I have just had another brilliant Christmas.  I truly love Christmas.  I love the cookies,the music, and being with family and friends. Oh, and I LOVE presents.  Having spent the last two Christmases in colder climes, I was thrilled to be able to have a true blue dinky di Aussie Christmas – well, our version of it anyway.

The abridged day is:

Christmas Stockings, big presents, champagne brekkie of prawns, smoked salmon and fruit salad, Christmas ham for a late lunch, and much wine.  We also fit in a game of backyard Boules, Trivial Pursuit and some more wine.

And Linda
Aunty Linda’s first stocking

Stocking stuffers
My stocking stuffers

Surprise
Dad and Gail opening presents

Christmas Brekkie
Brekkie

Who is the bigger ham?
Yum!

Christmas Lunch
More food

Backyard Boules
Backyard Boules

That was all a couple of days ago, and we haven’t slowed down – oh no!  How much fun, laughter, food  and drink can one person handle?  It was lovely, and made even moreso by phone calls to loved ones, and the arrival of more loved ones on Boxing Day.  It was a brilliant Christmas, and it also was a wonderful send off.

My aunty

My next grand adventure FINALLY begins in a couple of days.  I said a sad goodbye to my family today, and drove the four and a half hours north to Perth, where I sit and write this.  Tomorrow I fly to Sydney for a last night with my Sydney family, and then on Monday I fly to the U.S.

These past months have been a rollercoaster ride, with every little triumph and setback seeming monumental.  I have cried – with sadness and joy – and laughed often – once so hard I made no sound.  I have used up my quota of swear words for 2009 and probably 2010.  I have packed, unpacked, and re-packed bags, boxes, and more bags.  I have lugged heavy things up and down stairs, and have given away or sold half of my ‘stuff’.  I have traversed the continent and the cities.  I have been on the go for what seems like forever. 

When I was on the south coast of Western Australia for Christmas, I got a glimpse of what ‘at peace’ feels like.  I was able to be still for many consecutive days, and to just ‘be’.  It felt amazing.  I am now looking forward to more of that feeling.  I know that it will come when I unpack my bags and boxes, and when I settle into a lovely apartment with the man I love, and embrace my future.  I feel nothing but awe and excitement when I think of the possibilities.  Now that the visa is approved, the flight is booked, and the boxes are in Seattle…Now that the car is sold, and I have said my good byes, I can look ahead and feel ‘at peace’.

I will miss my family and friends – you all know that.  But I will be back.  Ben promises, and so do I.

Me and Dad