To my love

Fifteen years ago, I took myself off to Greece.

I’d been single for several years, dating occasionally but nothing serious as, after two back-to-back relationships with cheaters, I was convinced that all men should f*ck off and die. My status as a late-30s singleton was a concern to many of my family members and well-meaning friends and the topic of far too many conversations. In fact, when I booked the trip, I lost count of the number of time I heard ‘Oh, you might meet someone’.

But I didn’t want to meet someone. At 37, I had met enough someones to know that relationships were not for me. I would lose sight of myself, pretending to be someone I wasn’t just to keep them going.

So imagine my surprise when I said goodbye to two of my oldest and dearest friends, Greek-Australian siblings I’d just spent the week with in Athens and Santorini, and boarded a rickety bus to ride dusty roads to the small port on the southern tip of Santorini – Vlychada – and when I stepped off that bus, I met someone.

‘Are you on the sailing trip,’ said the tall, cute American I’d been watching on the bus.

‘Yep.’

‘Oh, thank god I’m in the right place.’ I smiled at him. ‘Sorry, I’m Ben.’ He held out his hand for me to shake it.

‘Sandy.’ He had a firm handshake and a friendly smile.

‘Should we go find our boat?’ he asked.

‘Sounds good.’

We found the right boat, met the people we’d be sailing with for the next 10 days and embarked on a remarkable friendship. I say ‘remarkable’ because despite have a 10-year age difference, living on different continents and having a vastly different upbringings, professions, and life experiences, I’d met someone who saw the world through similar eyes to mine.

And he was super cute too. See?

Me and Ben, Mykonos 2006

Our friendship turned romantic and by the end of the trip, I knew I wanted him in my life. But how would that work? I lived in Sydney and he lived in St Paul.

Well, we did make it work. We met up to travel together for more than 2 years – Hawaii, New Zealand, a road trip up the West Coast of the US – and then in 2008, we made the (exciting and terrifying) decision to move together to Seattle. There was a ‘hard-to-get’ visa to come by (mine), a job to leave (mine), a job to transfer (Ben’s), and an apartment to find and set up (both of us). There was also a MASSIVE LEAP OF FAITH for Ben to move across the country and me across the world to move in with someone we’d only spent (collectively) 3 months with, face to face.

Cut to 2021.

We’ve lived together in 4 apartments in 2 cities (not counting our 2018 sabbatical, which takes that tally to double digits).

We’ve added dozens more trips to our repertoire (longer international trips, interstate trips to see family and friends and to explore, and shorter local trips to ‘get away’). We’ve taken a year-long sabbatical, living and working in WA, Bali, Seattle, Minnesota, the UK, Edinburgh, and Portugal, and visiting LA, Chicago, Ireland, Wales and Amsterdam.

We’ve tasted wine in regions around the world – Australia, New Zealand, California, the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and Portugal – with many more on our wine tasting bucket list. We’ve been sailing, boating, white water rafting, sky diving, ziplining, abseiling, hiking, water skiing, glacier climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, and paddle-boarding. Ben learnt to surf in Hawaii, but I stayed (safe) on the beach.

We’ve loved 2 kitties – Lucy (sadly, she died in 2015) and Rocky (he found his forever home in 2017)- and are about to bring home a 3rd (disclaimer: no pet’s names have been used in passwordsūüėČ). We’ve had several career changes each, and I’ve published 5 books and am about to finish writing my 8th. I’ve gone from being a brunette to a (dark) blonde (really a silver vixen, but not quite ready to embrace that yet) and Ben has gone from a curly-haired cutie to a smooth-headed hottie.

We’ve made lifelong friends together.

We’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve evolved and we’ve stayed ourselves.

And the past 2 years, we have spent every day and every night together. And through a pandemic, he is still my person, my someone. There is no other person I could have gotten through this with, babe.

Thank you for your good humour, your sometimes lame, but more often clever jokes, for hugs and laughs and dancing in the living room. Thank you for cleaning our windows so we can at least enjoy the view. Thank you for keeping track of seventy million streaming services and finding fun and interesting things for us to watch. Thank you for letting me teach you backgammon and for the games of gin rummy, even though you almost always beat me. Thank you for reading books about philosophy and thinking and how the mind works, broadening my knowledge and perception both by example and in our fascinating conversations. Thank you for enjoying my cooking, even when I’m phoning it in. Thank you for making the bed each morning, taking out the rubbish, and vacuuming to keep our home a sanctuary. Thank you for walks around the city and listening and understanding when it all gets too much. Thank you for celebrating every minor milestone of my publishing career – and thank you for keeping us well stocked in bubbles for those celebrations.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for being my someone. Happy 15th(!) anniversary.

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.

The US

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!

Australia

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).

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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.

 

The home stretch of sabbatical life

In 1979 and 1980, my dad and his then-partner embarked on long-term travel. Their trip included a 3-month drive from Cape Town to Cairo on a giant pink truck with a handful of other travellers, working on a Kibbutz in Israel, and buying a camper van and travelling in the UK and Europe while they picked up intermittent teaching work.

Essentially, they took a sabbatical, only when I think about what they did and when they did it, theirs was quite a bit more bad-ass than ours. Just quietly, my dad is one of my heroes. This is him.

We are ten months into a year-long sabbatical, and I recently posted on Facebook that I was having a ‘travel weary’ day, that I knew the funk wouldn’t last, but at that moment, I just wanted to go home.

One friend asked, “Where’s that?” and it was a good question. I have talked a lot this year about home being wherever lay my head (and where Ben is). I replied, “Just Australia.”

My dad’s comment on the post drew on his own long-term travel. “Once you sense the finish line, you just want to go. Hang in there.”

A friend, who last year completed a year’s sabbatical with her husband, posted, “Been there. Sending love.”

I don’t post this to complain.

This year has been brilliant. When Ben and I look back on the last ten months and all we’ve seen, the people we have met and reconnected with, the places we’ve been to, and all we’ve done and accomplished, it brings us a lot of happiness – even some pride.

But there are two months left, and I do not want to fritter those away by wallowing in homesickness. Ben and I are united in the belief that we are privileged and brave and must make the absolute most of every day for the next two months.

So, with that in mind, we will continue to get out and see Porto and enjoy the beauty and wonder it has to offer us. We will have a brilliant time with our family in the UK over Christmas and New Year. We will add a side trip or two – Wales looks likely, as does a return to London. We will plan out something spectacular for January (our swan song). And I will finish my third novel.

So again, I do not write this to complain, but to share the reality of sabbatical life. Sometimes, you just want to be home.

 

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.

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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).

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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 blas√© 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:

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
  • ¬Ĺ c icing (powdered) sugar
  • 2 ¬ľ c sifted plain flour
  • ¬ľ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¬ĺ c chopped nuts ‚Äď 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

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:

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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.

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…

Leaving home and homeward bound

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I have been home in Sydney for the past week to finalize a work visa for my new job in Seattle.¬† The trip, while being ‘immigrationally necessary’, has been the greatest¬†gift.¬†

When I landed the position at Groundspeak two months ago, I was thrilled Рand then a little sad.  I realized that it meant I would not see Australia, my home, for at least a year and a half. 

Hence, the reason I have treated this week as a gift.  The work visa was approved on Monday morning, and while I awaited the return of my passport, I enjoyed every moment of being home.

I have hugged old friends and chatted excitedly on the phone to others.¬† I have swapped stories, gossip, concerns and triumphs, catching up on nearly a year of absense.¬† I have talked at length with my dad, and spent¬†an¬†evening of laughter and tears at my aunt and uncle’s dining table.

I have indulged in many cups of coffee made by top-notch baristas, and stocked up on Jaffas and BONDS undies.  I have taken dozens of photos of the most beautiful coastline in the world, filled a ziplock bag with sand from Bronte beach, and raided my storage boxes for much-loved books I want to take back to Seattle.  I brought one suitcase, and I am taking two back.  I have a tan. 

And after just a week on Aussie soil, and my accent is as thick as ever (Ben calls it my Aussie accent ‘reboot’).

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In a few hours I will be jetting across the Pacific Ocean on my way home.¬†¬†When I get there it will be one hour after I left, which I love, because it feels like ‘time travel’.¬† I lost a Thursday on the way over, but am happily swapping it for two Saturdays.¬†

On arrival, after hugs and kisses, and unpacking and showering (is there anything that feels better after a long-haul flight?), Ben and I will head over to our friend’s place for their housewarming party.

I will get to hug my new friends, and swap stories about our escapades over the past week, and plans for our upcoming holiday season.  I will spend the rest of the weekend trying to get on Seattle time as quickly as possible, for on Monday morning I (finally) start my new job.  I cannot wait.

So, I leave home to fly home, just as I did a week ago.  When you have two places you call home, you are prone to twinges of homesickness, you will always miss loved ones, and you will sometimes slip into the annoying habit of comparing the two places Рeven if only to yourself. 

But you will also have more love in your life, more joy, more nostalgia, and more hope for the future than you can possibly imagine. 

I do.  And I am very grateful.  For all of it.