Guest Blogger: Jess Hernandez – Authors for Mental Health

It’s a pleasure to welcome Jess Hernandez to Off the Beaten Track today as part of the Authors for Mental Health blog series.

Jess Hernandez is a not only a writer, but also a librarian, teacher and all-around word girl.

When not being used as a human canvas for baby food art, she writes books for kids. Her debut book, First Day of Unicorn School, illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum, was published in 2021 with Capstone. 

Sometimes Jess writes essays, poems, and short stories for grown-ups, too. Jess lives in a very small, very loud house in Washington with her husband, their three children, a puppy and four chickens.

And now over to Jess.

Outrunning My Kidneys

It was an inconvenient time for a breakdown. I was four years into my marriage, five into my career and adulthood was in full swing. I had a dog, a loving husband, car payments, health insurance, and a 401K [superannuation fund]. Things were going pretty much according to plan.

Except I couldn’t have been more miserable if I’d tried.

An average night found me watching Food Network and binge-eating cupcakes on the couch, feeling exhausted and terrified by the things my mind kept telling me. “You’re useless. You’ll never be happy. There’s something wrong with you.” And most pervasively, “What right do you have to feel sad? Nothing really bad has ever happened to you.” For no reason and for every possible reason, it was the absolute worst time of my life.

Using Dr. Google, I tried to cure myself from the outside in. I filled my apartment with houseplants. I took up crochet and started playing the piano again. I prayed and I exercised. When that didn’t work, I quit my job, changed careers, and went back to school. I even moved to a tropical island. (Yes, really.)

But it only made it worse. My very soul hurt, and I fantasised about ways to make it all stop.

Trying to escape my depression was like trying to outrun my kidneys. My job, my apartment, and the weather didn’t make me like this. My brain did, and until I did something about that, nothing would ever change.

So I got help. I got a diagnosis, a therapist, and a prescription. And while the pills have saved my life many times over, the most helpful thing didn’t come in a bottle or on a therapist’s couch.

The best thing I’ve ever done for my depression is to accept it.

Unlike a lot of people, my depression will never go away. It’s not something I’m going to get over or leave behind like an outgrown sweater. I’m permanently and forever mentally ill. It’s part of me, like my crooked nose and bowlegs. I can treat it. I can ignore it. But I’m never going to get rid of it.

It was a tough truth to swallow. I wanted so desperately to be normal again. Every time I felt something like happiness, I wondered, “Is this it? Have I cracked it?” Tentatively, I’d wean myself off pills and declare myself better.

When the darkness inevitably came back, it knocked the wind out of me, and I would grieve the person I once was all over again. It took years, but eventually I learned to understand that this is who I am now. This person who gets hobbled by sadness and gutted by pointless guilt. This is me. I finally kept taking my pills and stopped trying to convince myself I was better. I know now that my depression isn’t going anywhere

It was a hard realisation. But there was some good news, too: there might not be a way out, but there was a way through.

I don’t always feel so bad. Not every day is an uphill slog through endless suck. Instead, it varies. Some days I have depression. It’s like having a cold – a nagging tickle in my throat that I can power through. But some days – not all, but some – depression has me. It kicks me in the teeth and shoves me down the stairs. It stands on my throat and screams in my face. Those days are bad. But I know now they won’t last forever.

What’s more, I survive them. With practice, I learned to see them coming and take cover. I learned to be kind to myself. I talk back to my brain when it tells me I shouldn’t be feeling this way. And I accept that this is not my fault.

Mental illness is not a moral failing or a lack of faith or will power. It’s a straight up medical condition that requires medication, not self-flagellation or guilt. I try forgive myself for being broken and glue myself back together the best I can.

I learned to do it openly, no longer hiding my struggles from people.

At first, I kept my diagnosis to myself. I was scared people would judge or run. Some did. But most didn’t.

Most love and accept me for me. Most wish I’d spoken sooner so they could help. They make space for my illness and try to understand. But that only happened when I stopped being afraid and talked about it. When I did, I discovered I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought. Instead, my being brave helped others overcome their fear of telling the truth. So I learned to speak up and speak out. I learned there are people I can help.

I’m not saying this is some sort of blessing in disguise. It’s not. But it’s not a death sentence either. I will survive it. I just have to believe that the good things in my life outweigh the daily pain of living. And they do. The biggest things in my life are the good things. And the longer I live, the more good things I have. Like a family and a home and a job I love.

So I stick around.

I keep breathing, even when it hurts. Because there are beautiful things still on the way and I want to be here when they come.

Image ‘Holding You’ by li.fe fotografie. Flickr.

Cover Reveal: The Christmas Swap

So, the cat has been out of the proverbial bag for a while, but today is the official cover reveal for The Christmas Swap my next novel with One More Chapter.

And here it is!

The Christmas Swap

Yes, I love it too. 😉

I had so much fun writing this book. Here’s the blurb:

Chloe, Jules, and Lucy meet at a Maui resort kids’ club, aged 11, forging a lifelong friendship spanning two decades and three continents.

Twenty-two years later, they decide to swap Christmases, none of them expecting the hilarity and romantic escapades that will ensue.

Chloe from Melbourne spends her Christmas with Lucy’s mum and dad in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England, stunned to the core when she discovers who grew up across the road from Lucy.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend a balmy ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away from her mundane life is just what she needed.

Join these three lovable women as they each get a Christmas to surpass their wildest dreams.

And here’s an excerpt from my acknowledgements:

It’s hard to believe I am writing the acknowledgements for my fourth book, but here I am. I have dedicated this book to my parents―my mum, Lee, my dad, Ray, and my step-mum, Gail. I am extremely fortunate to have parents who not only love me, but champion me and inspire me. They have also instilled in me the importance of family―including the family members we choose―as well as having a sense of adventure and following your dreams.

Family is a prominent theme in this book and as I write these acknowledgements amid the second round of COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, ‘family’ has become more important to me now than ever. And for me, a person who has lived on three continents, that word encompasses all the people I love, all the people who inspire me, lift me up, confide in me, and ease my path. Thank you, family―wherever you are. Stay safe and we will meet again someday soon.

Preorder now! Out October 16 (ebook) and November 26 (print)

Amazon AU | Amazon UK| Amazon US | Kobo | Dymocks(AU) | Booktopia(AU) | A&R(AU) | Waterstones(UK) | Foyles(UK)

Write what you know, right?

In the late 90s, I was a European Tour Manager for a company that specialised in tours for 18-35 year olds. See?

EE 1997-No Contiki

Aside: Gotta love those ‘mom jeans’.

I always said I would never go on one of these tours, let alone work as a TM, but when you have a devastating breakup in Paris from a 5-year relationship and you still want to see all the places you were supposed to see on that trip with your now ex-boyfriend, you book a last-minute tour.

After said Parisian breakup, I arrived home (in London) on the Eurostar, got on the phone, and booked a 2-week trip that started the next morning at 7am. I was back in Paris within 24 hours of leaving and on that trip, I met 5 women who became my bus besties. I am still in touch with Michelle, the tall blonde.

Venice 1996

Months later, while I was living in London and doing day-to-day relief teaching, I saw that the tour company was hiring. “I could do that job,” I thought. I applied, along with a couple thousand others, and after an interview process that would NOT pass muster in this #metoo world, I got a spot on the 7-week training trip.

Surviving that was like getting to the final four of Survivor. It was something akin to bootcamp, but with less creature comforts. We averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night and we slept in tents – in winter – in the snow. We were quizzed relentlessly on routes, opening times, history, currency conversion, places of interest, and architecture. I made lifelong friends, because, really, in the extreme circumstances, all we had some days were each other.

And then I was placed in charge of my own tour – a 5-week camper – the first of a long season that took me into November. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. The best because of the friendships I made, the places I saw, and the experiences I had. And the worst because … well, that’s another blog post.

But, one of the most incredible things about that time is the material it has given me for my writing.

In my 1st and 3rd books, the main character is Sarah Parsons, and like me, she once ran tours in Europe. When her sister, Cat (the main character is book #2), books a 2-week bus tour around around Europe to escape her lovelorn flatmate, Sarah is able to rattle off the full itinerary without hesitation.

And Cat booking that tour meant that I got to write a 2-week bus tour around Europe!

Cat’s 3 bus besties are inspired by my real life bus besties. Michelle inspired Mama Lou, Weyleen (far left above) inspired Jaelee, and Sophie (second from the left) inspired Danielle. I was able to write the places in great detail, because I’d been to them many (many) times. And I was able to write exactly what it’s like to travel on a bus tour – right down to the (ridiculously) early starts, the heinous ablution blocks, the tight schedules, the fast-but-firm friendships that are formed, and how wonderfully Europe excites and entices the senses.

Here’s a little peek into that world…

It was brilliant fun writing That Night in Paris. Early readers are loving it, and you can preorder now (April 15 for the ebook and June/July for the print version) – just follow the link above.


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.

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.


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).

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.


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.


I’m hopeless at being helpless


I am writing this one-handed and I’m wearing pyjamas in the middle of the day.

Eleven days ago I had a shoulder reconstruction and since then I’m sporting bandages on my left shoulder and a sling. I have at least 3 more days off work in ‘complete rest’ mode, and then maybe I can start back at work doing light duties from home.

I have pain in my shoulder and arm and it is different day to day and hour to hour – throbbing, dull ache, sharp at the site of my stitches, not painful at all. They gave me really powerful painkillers, but these make me nauseous, so I’ve been OTC-only for a while.

The shoulder pain was expected and actually doesn’t bother me as much as limitations imposed on me as a patient recovering from shoulder surgery. I mean, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of stuff, but I wasn’t prepared for how that would affect me.

I don’t like it.

I am getting better at asking for help as I get older, but it is still hard for me. It is not a pride thing as much as me not wanting to trouble others with my needs. It’s probably a little bit of a pride thing too, because I am fiercely independent and self-sufficient. I do know the limits of my abilities and at those limits is where I ask for help, but the limits have suddenly and drastically changed.

Things you can’t do when one arm is in a sling and you can’t get your bandages wet and you can’t really lean forward and it hurts if you move too much:

  • make a meal – even putting cereal and milk in a bowl – this is a two-handed activity if you’ve been doing it that way your whole life, and can go very wrong if attempted one-handed – in the mornings, I sit at the breakfast bar and tell my boyfriend, Ben, how many flakes to put in the bowl – I am usually chief cook in our home so it’s frustrating not to be able to whip up dinner in 10 minutes like I usually do
  • wash my hair – the 1000s of times I took this simple activity for granted! My recent hair washing experiences have included plastic wrap, masking tape, the laundry sink, and for the first time ever, Ben
  • putting my hair into a pony tail – girls with long(ish) hair, try it – or even just mime doing it – you can’t do it alone. Ben can now do a neat low pony, but we have yet to graduate to the more advanced messy bun
  • drying off after a bath – when you’re an adult, bath time should be fun or a luxury – at the moment, it is neither – it is solely perfunctory – I feel like an overgrown toddler, needing help to wash under my right arm and to dry my back and legs
  • typing – actually I can do this – it just takes a looooooong time
  • car doors and seatbelts – sure, I can open the car door one-handed, but when I did it hurt like hell – I realised how much that one action relays to my other shoulder, so in this condition, it’s best done by someone else so I don’t bust a stitch
  • opening jars, bottles, etc. – see ‘car doors’ above
  • washing dishes – see ‘opening jars’ above
  • walking – yep, walking hurts – you move a lot of your body when you walk, and here’s a shocker, your body parts are all connected! Ow!
  • carrying – you can can more with 2 hands together than with 1 hand x 2 – this means lots of trips when moving rooms – and see ‘walking’ above
  • working out – I know this is an obvious one, but daily exercise has become vital for my general wellbeing – it gets the kinks out of my body and my brain – I rely on the endorphins, I like being flexible and strong – it keeps the aches and the blues at bay
  • general chores and stuff you do around the house 50 times a day without thinking – I am bumping up against this one a lot

How have these limits on my self-sufficiency affected me?

If I’m honest, I’m a little blue. I don’t like being helpless. I am a doer. I get shit done. All I have gotten done in the last 11 days is read 4 novels, watch 3 complete series on Netflix, trawl Facebook and Reddit 3 times a day, and develop an excruciating headache that sent me to bed for 2 days.

And healing.

I am very busy healing, and even though my current state frustrates me, I know this is my number one priority. I must heal so I can get back to doing all the other stuff.

Very special thanks to my darling Ben who has become my left hand. And thank you to friends for visits and driving me to the doctor and helping me do stuff I can’t do by myself at the moment.




When FRIENDS burst onto the scene in the mid-90s I devoured it with an appetite I hadn’t had since TV shows were named after addresses in California. Of course, I wasn’t alone – it was a juggernaut. It was refreshingly funny, it was aspirational, it was Seinfeld for Generation X. I can still watch any episode and laugh out loud; it’s my go to viewing when I am stuck on a long flight and all the movies are rubbish.

And while so many people were saying, “I wish I had friends like that,” I actually did. My uni friends. I loved the show back then, because it depicted the types of friendships I had in my 20s.

We were a theatre crowd. We smoked socially, precociously kissed each other ‘hello’, and we danced until the wee hours, sweaty, grinning, wrung out and happy. We had sing-alongs where someone played a guitar – yes, really. We were poor, so we shared plates of chips, our beds – mostly just to sleep – and our cars. Someone would always let you crash at their place or give you a ride. We drank gallons of tea and instant coffee, and ate Vegemite toast for breakfast, capping off impromptu sleep-overs. We sipped on cheap wine – Chardonnay and Cab Sav – thinking we were so sophisticated. I remember a stint of gin and bitter lemon on hot summer nights.

We fell in and out of love with each other, and crushes changed almost weekly. We were beautiful and talented, self-conscious, eager, brilliant, and naive. We discussed important things with the passion and youthfulness of those who had only just discovered Marx, and Freud and Steinem. We still are beautiful, talented, and brilliant, by the way.

We numbered more than 6, but our large group was fluid and many of the friendships forged then still run deep today. The others are there, vibrant in my thoughts, nostalgic bursts of happiness. We have struck out into the world, spanning all continents bar one (I haven’t heard any news of old friends taking up residence in Antarctica – yet). We have become parents, partners, spouses, actors, teachers, writers, intrepid business owners, corporate wizkids, and culinary geniuses. We even have a real life Ross and Rachel who married in a glorious beachside wedding in the noughties, and now have two gorgeous little boys. And there are other lovely couplings from those days who have made lives and families together.

I freely admit to having the hugest crush on Ross – the one on TV, not his counterpart who married my best friend from uni. Ross was thoughtful and loving, incredibly smart, and sexy as anything; the man rocked a turtle neck. And the very best thing of all, is that in my late 30s, I met a guy like Ross. Only he’s also got the wit of Chandler. So, in other words, I hit the jackpot.

I love my uni friends – from afar when we’re apart, via Facebook (which for all its criticism, is my tether to friends around the world), and when we’re sitting down to coffee, or sharing a decent bottle of wine, or eating a great meal. It feels the same. The laughter is still deep, the love is still strong, and they are so very dear to me.

Writing with abandon

by larryfire

I have been writing a book for nearly a decade.

When I type out those words it seems impossible that it has been that long, but it is true. Nine years ago I started penning a travel biography about my time in the UK and Europe from ’96 to ’97.  I began this project old-school; I literally wrote the first draft.  By hand. Onto paper. With a pen.

I still have the first draft packed into a box in a friend’s attic in Sydney.  In the book’s first incarnation, chapters either read like journal entries or as essays. It took about 2 months to get everything down on paper.

I then began systematically typing it into a borrowed laptop. Technology was relatively primitive back then so I backed-up my files onto floppies. As I re-drafted over the years, the thumb drive changed my life, and I put the floppies away with the first draft. Then came an external hard-drive, and now my book (a wholly different-looking beast than how it had began) lives in The Cloud.

But I digress…

Once it was input into electronic form, I worked away at my book in spits and spurts. I wrote about the process in a previous post (Write Now!), so I won’t bore you with it again.  The last line of that post says, “Yes, I need to get back to my book.”  And yet, here I sit some 6 months later, and I have managed to squeeze out a paltry 4 chapters.

To change the subject, I saw an old friend last weekend. Well, she is not old, but we have known each other for the better part of 20 years. She, too, loves an American and lives in the U.S. A work trip afforded me the chance to see her and meet her husband (lovely bloke). The fates smiled on me doubly, as I was able to take more away from the reunion than the simple pleasure of catching up.

Larissa (her real name) is a creative type too. We met studying for our respective Bachelor of Arts degrees, both with a major in Theater Arts. She has come full circle after some professional detours and is currently rehearsing a Sam Shepherd play, and is a voice over artist and teacher. I, too, have had some professional detours from the stage, which is why I know I love to write.

I moaned to Larissa that I have no motivation to write my book at the moment. Or any moment, really. I work at a computer eight hours a day, and while I mostly love my job, it does not inspire me to sit at a computer when I am not there. There are many things I would rather do when I am at not at work: reading (Oh, how I love other people’s books!), running, movies, conversation, cleaning, laundry, and a thousand other things that seem more appealing that the thing that I supposedly love to do most.

I also mention to Larissa that I am inspired by something else at the moment.

I want to write the story of how I met Ben, of how we fell in love while living a world apart, and how I ended up packing up my life and moving to another country to live with a man I had yet to spend more than 5 consecutive weeks with. I want to write about that.

But there’s The Book…

How do I abandon one book to start another? Will I ever finish it if I keep finding distractions – literary or otherwise?

Yes. No. Maybe.

Which brings me back to my conversation with Larissa.  “You are not abandoning your book. You are putting it away so that you can follow inspiration. You can always come back to it later.”

She said this while we were walking through Whole Foods looking for the ingredients for my Quinoa/Wild Rice Salad. Suddenly, right there next to the bulk bins, it made sense. I needed to give myself permission to abandon my book, so that I can follow what inspires me now.

On the flight home I scribbled furiously into a scribbler pad. I filled 20 or so pages and there is (much) more to come. A lot of the content has already been written and will come from travel journals, emails,and accounts that I wrote for us after our trips together.

In the car on the way home from the airport, I recounted my epiphany (thanks, Larissa) to Ben. He recalled that a favorite author of his said, and I am paraphrasing, “Some of my best work happens when I am procrastinating from the work that I am supposed to be doing.”

I have asked Ben’s permission to be candid. He has given it. I think. For weeks now the first lines have been bouncing around inside my head. “It seems a little ‘hokey’ to say that I dreamed about Ben before I met him. But I did.” Since deciding to abandon my book, those words are on paper now.

Oh, and recipe for the salad to follow. It is incredible – no, really!

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.

Boys, baristas and burgers


When you move to a new city, your senses are heightened. You notice that everything feels ‘new’, because your body is picking up on the subtle differences between that place and your previous home.

The salt air here in Seattle is brinier than in Sydney, more pungent. On sunny days, the sky seems bluer here too, perhaps because it contrasts so starkly with the usual grey. The people here are friendlier, especially those who work in stores, “Are you finding everything okay?’.

This heightened awareness, however, does not last. Through a series of simple little acceptances, small snippets of knowing, a place starts to feel like home. The novelty of charming details dissipates, as do the annoying differences (‘I have to pay when someone sends ME an SMS?!’).

Instead those details become part of a fabric called ‘home’. The appreciation may remain, but we come to know those details as the norm. We stop saying, ‘Back home in Sydney…’ and think of the new place as home.

Seattle is now home.

I have started looking after two little boys, aged three and five, once a week. Mostly, our time together is fun, or at least fine. They paint, and play endlessly at a game that I can only describe as ‘not much of anything at all’, but includes lots of running, and uttering of unintelligible words. I even made muffins with the little one, who delighted in cracking an egg for the first time all by himself.

These boys love to stop and smell the flowers, and I mean that literally. Yesterday, a three block walk to the bus took 15 minutes, because they stopped at nearly every garden to smell and admire the flowers. Sweet – a little annoying after 13 minutes – but mostly, sweet.

When I first met them, I was charmed by their strong American accents; it is generally cute to hear any child speak in an accent other than your own. ‘Oh, their R’s are so pronounced – how darling!’

However, that novelty was quickly forgotten yesterday when the oldest one ‘chucked a tanty’ (threw a huge tantrum, for my North American readers). There is nothing cute about a tantrum in an American accent. There is nothing cute about a five year old screaming anything in any accent. (We made up – me and the five year old. Although, I am a forgiver, not a forgetter.)

The boys at Seattle Center

Yep, Seattle is home.

I have a new local coffee shop now. I thought that it would be Uptown Espresso, which I discovered on a visit here last year, and for a while it was. Their coffee is good, and they are only three blocks away.

They were usurped, however, when I happened upon the smooth smell of well-made coffee wafting from the door of Cafe Lladro, a few blocks further from my home.

Jackpot! Their coffee is great. ‘A double tall non-fat latte, no foam, extra hot,’ has replaced ‘tall, skinny flat white’, and is just as good as Pavel used to make back in Sydney. I never thought I would say that about a cafe in the same city that birthed Starbucks, but I am happy to proven wrong about this particular previous gripe. And I would be remiss not to mention that their friendly efficient service is the icing on the cake. Great coffee and good service. Nice.

Oh yeah, Seattle is home.

Last Friday night there was an impromptu gathering of friends at the loft of Lars and Anya, or ‘Larzenanya’, as they have come to be called. Lars promised us a ‘$25 Hamburger’ – not because that is what they cost to make, but because that is what he could charge in a restaurant. It was a big call.

We arrived to gracious hellos, the pouring of drinks, and burger order forms. In: blue cheese, special sauce, onions, or a combo of these. On: Swiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, or Mozzarella? Done: well, medium-well, medium, medium-rare, or rare. Wow. Not sure on the math, but I approximate at least 1500 permutations of burgers with those options.

Lars manned the grill with confidence and flair. Anya, ever the charming hostess, ran front of house like a pro. Ben, long time avoider of red meat, signed on for the ride.

When my burger was done, I added my fixings, and savored the anticipation. Onions in, and Swiss cheese on a medium-rare burger with barbecue sauce, ketchup and mustard.

Phenomenal. I was delighted by every bite, and judging from the lull in conversation throughout the room, so was everyone else, including my mostly-vegetarian boyfriend.

This month Seattle Magazine has readers voting on the best burgers in Seattle. I would argue heavily that the Larzananya’s Burger should win.

For sure, Seattle is definitely home.

I have said before that Ben and I do not know what the future holds for us both professionally, so therefore do not know where work will take us in the coming years. For this reason, we are truly savoring all the little things about Seattle that make it home.

It’s natural beauty takes my breath away. The wonderful friendship we continue to make, make my heart full. That I am picking up some work outside of home is a blessing (no matter the little ‘moment’s that come with child-minding).

I knew well before I moved here that I could happily live in Seattle. And now I do.