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


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 – and 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’).


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 – even 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.

All quiet on the Vegas front

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!

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

Dad and Gail opening presents

Christmas Brekkie

Who is the bigger ham?

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

Long Distance Relationships

I have said before that no matter where I am in the world, I miss someone I love.  Because I have lived in three countries and have spent my adult life being a traveller, I am fortunate to have forged lasting relationships world over.   Of course, many of those I love are travellers themselves, and are scattered to the winds.  It is somewhat corny, but highly appropriate that the ‘world wide web’ is my primary tool for keeping the threads of these relationships intact.  I may not be able to make last minute dinner plans with these loved ones, but these threads are as important to my life as the relationships with those close by.

First thing every morning, after the wake-up-make-the-bed-visit-the-bathroom thing, I greet my cat, Jessie, and switch on my computer.  Throughout my getting ready routine, I check my inboxes (yes, there are several) to see who on the other side of the world is doing what.  Jessie does her yoga at my feet while I fill her in on the lives of my loved ones.  Sometimes I laugh too loudly for her sensitive ears, and she glares at me and skulks off.

While world news bleat from the television, I flick between several web pages and catch up on the news that matters to me more.

Facebook brings the latest escapades of my American, Canadian and European comrades (plus Geraldine in Peru and Christine in South Africa), pics from my interstate friends, the latest ass-whipping from my Scrabulous opponents, and a poke from Darion.  (I once asked Darion to ‘Quit poking me!’ but soon took it back, because I suspect it is a sign of affection.)

Inboxes bearing emails from far-off loved ones, bring as much happiness as a fruitful mailbox did 20 years ago.  And when I see my mum or sis on IM, I know we can have a quick chat just to touch base.

I love getting an international sms – even those that come at 3 in the morning, as every text I ever get from Sharon, my Irish friend, does.

I indulge in interstate text messages daily.  I will zap a ‘must see’ message to Dad and Gail about a program we all like.  Dad sends me footie scores, or an update on where he and Gail are having a fabulous lunch.   I will tell Mum I hope her day goes well.  And she always replies with an ‘I love you’.

As well as the web and the mobile phone, there is a device that sits in my living room on its very own table, and is connected to the wall by a cord.  It rings from time to time, and the cat and I look at each other and wonder what that sound is.  We then realise it is the telephone, and I rush to answer it, knowing it will be my mum, my dad, my friend Mich (who now lives in OUTER Sydney, and has become one of my long distance loved ones), or Suzi in London.

Actually Suzi called the other night, and although I haven’t seen her since this time last year, and she now lives in London, she still feels close.  She is my doppelganger in life, with parallels and likenesses in numbers too great to name.  Even though she is literally on the other side of the world, when she calls our conversations are like those I have with friends I see all the time.


And most importantly, there is the actual ‘long distance relationship’ I have forged with Ben since October ’06.  Because we met overseas and live in different countries, all of these forms of communication have become the lifeblood of our relationship.  We see each other as often and for as long as we can, but when we can’t physically be together, we still feature heavily in each other’s daily life.  Phone calls, emails, sms, IM sustain us as a couple while we’re apart.  We can can fill hours of air time talking about, well, anything and everything.  And nothing.  Sometimes, it is nonsense, which is hellishly fun.

None of this, of course, means that I do not want to defy the laws of the natural world, and move the homes of all these distant loved ones – everyone – into one land mass where we can all live close to each other.  Nothing, nothing (!) beats being able to hug someone you love, or looking into their eyes while they talk to you.  But, we have all these wonderful tools to keep us together when we’re apart.

P.S.  I head west next week for some brilliant face to face time.

P.S.P.S.  Ben and I are working on being on the same land mass.

Long distances

Yesterday I turned 39. I spent the weekend with new friends up in the Hunter Valley – a wine region two hours north of Sydney – and I have some great pics and stories to share soon. And I mean not to take away from the fun, friendship and festivities of the past two days (or from those planned celebrations to come) by saying that, on my birthdays I feel long distances more acutely than any other day.

My parents live in across the country. My sister lives in London. My boyfriend lives in Minnesota. I have family and close friends literally all over the world. This means two things. Firstly, it means that I am inundated with cards, presents, calls, emails and good wishes from all over the planet. I enjoy this, because the girl inside me is part princess and loves being spoiled with love and good wishes.

It also means that, on my birthday I miss my nearest and dearest even more acutely than I usually do. I mean not to bemoan my life as it is. I mean only to say to those of you I miss, a lot, all of the time, and especially yesterday, that I love you. And I look forward to the next time I get to hug you, laugh with you, shake a hair shimmy with you, and sit next to you, with your hand in mine, while you fill me in on all I have missed. You see, the best thing about a ‘long distance’ is the reunion.

Going Home

This weekend I fly to Perth on the west coast, and will drive 5 hours to the southwest coast to see my dad for his 60th birthday.  I am going ‘home’. 


‘Home’ is a word laden with connotations that make me feel a plethora of emotions.  Coming ‘home’ after a long trip brings mixed emotions – from relief to sadness, and many shades in between.  From necessity in conducting a long-distance relationship, Ben and I have come to know our ‘home’ as ‘wherever we are together’.  Home in the context of my up-coming weekend, is my hometown, and even more than that, it is where my parents are. 


Ironically I have never lived in the house where my dad and step-mum currently live.  They sold up the house that was my home – and home base – for 15 years and moved from Perth to the south coast.  They did this a couple of years ago, and the last time I saw them at that house, in the hills outside of Perth, I drove away in tears.  I had lived there, moved away, lived there again, and then moved away again; it was my home base, my longest permanent address ever.  I still had boxes of stuff there long after I had moved to Sydney.  It wasn’t until my dad called and said, “Darling, come and get your boxes,” that I knew he and Gail were serious about selling up and moving elsewhere.


Now they are building a new home that my clever dad designed, and while they do that, they live in a rental property in the tiny, extremely beautiful, town of Denmark.  This is where I will be heading to this weekend.  But even though I have never lived there, and this is only my third visit to the house in two years, it feels like home.  As I have said before, ‘home truly is where the heart is’. 

I will sit at the breakfast bench in my pyjamas, with messy bed-hair, and as a 38-year-old woman, let my dad squeeze me fresh orange juice.  When he places it before me, I will say, “thank you, Daddy,” as I have done for decades and he will say, “You’re welcome, Darling,” as he has said for just as long.  It is a ritual that is a small, but integral part of the whole.  And in no other context do I drink orange juice; it is just what we do, one of the things that makes their home my home too.


In addition to the trip south, I will spend a fast and furious Friday seeing as many people as I possibly can, all of whom are ‘family’.  Like ‘home’, ‘family’ means so much more than its dictionary definition, as I am fortunate to have long-time friends who are as precious to me as my relatives.  I will be seeing three of these friends tomorrow. 


First will be Thomas, who I met in the first week of university many years ago.  We get to see each other so rarely, but it is always a homecoming when we do.  Tom has been my partner in crime so many times, that just a single word, or a look can set us both off on a nostalgic fit of giggles.  He understands my love-hate affair with my hair, as he has his own, he is unfailingly supportive and compassionate, and our mutual love of the dance floor has made us an impromptu floorshow dozens of times.  Even though we can only squeeze in a quick coffee tomorrow morning, it is worth it just to see him.


I will then hit the road and arrive at Jules’ house for lunch, and Stace will join us.  Both women have known me since I was 14; both are my sisters.  They have known me through bad 80s hair, and bad 90s hair, come to think of it.  In those 24 years we’ve all gained weight, lost weight, gained it back and lost it again.  We have seen each other through every relationship we have had, including three marriages (not mine), and the heartbreak we all endured in our 20s.  We have seen each other at our best and our very worst.  There are three children (again, not mine), so I have happily adopted the moniker ‘Aunty Sand’, and I am an awesome aunty.  Tomorrow I meet my newest niece, who arrived only a few months ago.


Tonight I will be collected from the airport by my dad’s sister and her husband, and we will catch up over a bottle of red, as is our ritual.  I am, at once, a friend and their ‘young’ niece.   I have travelled and worked and lived enough to have wonderful, worldly, lively conversations with them, but at the end of the evening when they hug and kiss me goodnight, I am their ‘Sand’, who still loves to be showered with affection and called ‘Darling’ before she climbs into bed.


Going home to Perth is often these whirlwind trips where I cram in as much love and laughter and, as many ‘catch ups’ as I can, but I do not come back to Sydney depleted.  Just the opposite.  Even though I love to go far and wide, a trip ‘home’ to Perth feels like an oasis.  With ease I strip off the roles I play in my working and grown up world, and just be me, the woman-child.  A dose of family and old friends, a visit home, where I am just ‘Sand’, becomes a sliver of heaven in my busy world.


I will not get to see everyone this trip over west; it is too short.  I will miss my mum and her sisters and their families.  I will miss many old friends.  I will not be able to take Ben with me this time, maybe the next. 


But these are not thoughts to dwell on, as I am looking forward to my glass of orange juice, and to wishing my dad a very happy 60th birthday.


Happy Birthday Daddy.