My Little Sunset Post

My Little Sunshine House has been a bit vacant these last few months. I dropped in occasionally earlier in the year, to straighten things out and brush off the cobwebs. People around the world are still visiting, to learn how to knot a DIY macrame, or to read an interview with a children’s author, or something.

But lately, I’ve been spending my time over in the new, slightly more spangly house, which is a place I designed and made all by myself, and I guess more tidily reflects where I am at the moment, in a professional and personal space.

See, for years, I was waking up in the morning with posts for My Little Sunshine House, or one of its predecessors, fully formed. Blog ideas would rattle me for attention throughout the day. There seemed endless material to blog about. Until there wasn’t.

This has been the first year I can call myself a professional children’s author. The majority of my annual income has been derived from children’s book royalties, or related activities, like running workshops, mentoring and school visits. It’s supplemented by writing blog posts for other people, and writing copy for people’s websites.

So it makes sense that my unconscious and conscious mind is not tapping into My Little Sunshine House material. Truth is, 9 out of 10 times, if you were to scan my brain, you would find me obsessively turning over book ideas, or thinking about something story related. It’s a little hazardous at times, and I think other brain faculties are beginning to fail as a result. My memory, for instance, which has always been a bit on the basic side, is pretty decrepit these days. Maybe I should be spending at least 2 out of 10 times doing brain gymnastics, or something useful.

My Little Sunshine House has been a lovely meander for the last seven or so years. I was never one to sit down and strategically jot down a direction. So I never marched straight, but more wandered off the track. Once on a new and exciting path, I jogged it, and took everything in with passion. I am like that. Easily distracted yet passionate about new adventures. So My Little Sunshine House archives are an eclectic bunch of misfits, and you might wonder what some posts have in common, if anything.

Still, this blog has been instrumental for where I am now. It got me writing. It grew me a community. It allowed me to explore so many creative paths and channels, and meet so many other creative and inspiring individuals. It introduced me to a publisher. I am grateful for all of it. I still teach blogging occasionally, and write blogs for other people. And I still blog over at my author site. But the blog posts have more focus. They are for writers, and readers, and publishing news.

When I started blogging, I thought I was doing something original, writing about my experiences as a mum. Turned out, there were millions of others doing the same or similar things. And it was like a warm embrace, tapping into that community.

But now I can’t really write those personal stories in the same way, with the same candour. It doesn’t suit our family any more. I am sharing trade secrets, which aren’t mine to share. I am creating digital content about people, and maybe in ten years, those people will resent me for being an over-sharer. And if I can’t be candid and vulnerable, then what’s the point?

I can print off those beautiful travel photos, and keep them in a book. If I wanted to, I could journal those beautiful experiences. I have exported all the stories from this blog as a text document, which I emailed to myself, and I know there are such valuable moments in there. Re-reading old blog posts draws me back into that moment, which I wouldn’t have remembered on account of failing memory [see above].

Thank you for meandering with me on this journey. And please do come and visit me at my new abode, if you haven’t already. You can sign up for my newsletter for updates.

It’s not a good-bye, kind regards, or sayonara. It’s a sunset post. A sinking of the sun, and like The Little Prince, who gets to enjoy forty-three sunsets a day because his planet is so small, and he likes sunsets, I will keep writing, and we will stay friends regardless of where we find each other.

REVISION: I have just found out, since writing this post, that the reason the post kept disappearing is because my hosting expired! The serendipity. So this post and the rest of the website will probably be around for about a week, until disappearing altogether! I hadn’t intended that. Oh, now I am a bit sad.

A Love Letter To Lismore

image courtesy ABC News

Less than a week ago, we heard reports that Cyclone Debbie was brewing in far north QLD. Days later, the rain began sheeting down. By Thursday afternoon, the Lismore roads were drenched. I was getting SMSs from school and ballet to take care driving home, and that floods were predicted.

3am that night, the Lismore flood levee broke, and the water rose,

and rose,

and rose.

It reached 11.5m, which is a record high.

Water cascaded down the streets of the Lismore CBD. It flooded shops, cafes, schools, offices, homes.

The town was devastated. Brown, muddy water filled the streets, like an oversized, miserable swimming pool no one should ever swim in.

Even when the rain had stopped, the water filled the streets for days.

We only live about fifteen minutes up the road, but we were completely fine. Well out of harm’s way.

Yet Lismore, our dearest neighbour, lay sodden, drenched and distraught. People had lost so so much.

I was born in Lismore. My girls were both born in Lismore. We owned our first home in Lismore. And I spent the first few months of parenting life walking the streets of Lismore, carrying my baby in a hug-a-bub. I didn’t love the hill I had to climb in thirty degree weather. But I have always had a soft spot for Lismore.

When we moved from Lismore, to be closer to friends and family, my love for the town only grew. Spending days in Lismore op shops and cafes were my favourite. I loved the Lismore Star Court Arcade. The vintage shops. I loved Polli and The Blackbird. I loved Shoppe One 17 for quality kitchen supplies. I loved my hairdresser at The Boys. I loved the weekly farmer’s markets. I loved the carboot markets.

And I still do.

Over the last few years, there has been a burning optimism in Lismore. More and more cafes and restaurants have opened. Less and less shops are empty. And shops and cafes are not unlike those in gentrified Melbourne areas, if not better, because they are authentic and unpretentious.

And I keep coming back to Lismore for more of this authentic, and unpretentious vibe. Lismore doesn’t really try to be anything it’s not. What it is, is a vibrant and warm community. It’s people who love and appreciate the town. It’s people who embrace diversity. It’s creatives. Entrepreneurs. Hard working people.

Now my daughter is at school in the Lismore area, I’ve been looking at real estate there. The more time I spend there, the more I love the community.

And then came the floods…

The amazing thing, is that the moment the flood inundated the town, people drew together, and became stronger. Immediately, there were people offering accommodation, food, supplies, clothes, and help to clean.

Some people made music in the streets. My brother’s friend, Tom Papworth, made a sign “Running Low On Chicken Nuggets: Request Airdrop“. He was joking of course, but the humour was in good taste, and was needed.

The moment water was drained from the streets, almost everyone I know did something to help. People gave up work to help clean houses and businesses. The Lismore Helping Hands Facebook group is fast growing. It has gained another thousand members since I last looked. The Edge Fitness gym in Alstonville banded together to collect anything and everything from Alstonville and surrounds, which could be donated. Friends cooked warm meals for people who have lost everything. And my brother and his partner delivered chicken nuggets for Tom.

I haven’t been into the town yet. What I hear is that the streets are broken, and debris is everywhere. I’ve heard that interiors are caked in mud, and structures are destroyed. I’ve heard buildings smell like car oil and fuel.

I’ve also heard that businesses are already re-opening, only days after the flood. Supported by volunteers, Lismore people are getting back on their feet again. Slowly. It will take time, and maybe for some, full recovery is not possible.

My heart goes out to Lismore, where my heart first began, and will keep bringing me back. Lismore, we love you. And you will rise again.

Five nice things

Five nice things that happened this week:

One. Feeling alive and salty

We went into Byron one evening, after a sweltering day hanging at home in the Alstonville plateau. It was ten degrees cooler by the coast. We ate Japanese at our favourite Byron eat place, Japonaise Kitchen. The beach was choppy and blowy, and it was already 6pm. But my daughter and I ran and danced and sung into the ocean. We belly flopped into the waves. I drank the salt water. We felt alive. Then we drank a coconut.

Two. Crying and feeling

I was meant to be working, and the girls and Greg were planning to see Moana at the cinema. I felt exceedingly jealous, but then hung up my keyboard, so I could come along too. I think I started crying in the first five minutes, when Moana sung, and didn’t stop until the credits stopped rolling. I can’t cry about my own problems, but somehow, Disney gets me by the tear ducts. Then Elka got a Cyndi Lauper inspired undercut, and my day was complete.

Three. Drawing and painting

The girls were busy pottering. Greg was working, I think. I have a loose commitment to myself to join the 52 Week Illustration Challenge. I say loose, because if I miss a week or two or three, I won’t be hard on myself. But if I have time, I will use it to paint or draw, instead of aimlessly looking on my phone. I drew a picture of a flying snail called Cleo, and a jealous flamingo.

Four. Playing on rocks

I was given a voucher to get a family photoshoot done by Kate Nutt, which is very lucky, because she is very good. We met at Shelly’s Beach, and the girls played with bubbles and hula hoops. When the shoot had finished, I followed the girls along the black rocks, while Greg bought fish and chips. They skipped from rock to rock, and deliberately sunk themselves, fully clothed, into pools. Picked up starfish which looked like star rainbows, instead of starfish. I didn’t think about anything much as I followed them, except that maybe spending as much time in nature with your kids is about the best piece of parenting advice I could ever offer.

Five. A string of nice moments

Elka went on the big waterslide with her cousins, so I took Rosie down the road to the Serpentine in Ballina, which is my favourite waterside place, because you can sit under a giant weeping fig, and run into the water when you feel like it. We were surrounded by families at first. By lunch time, most people had gone. Rosie put sand and water into the bucket, tipped it out and did it again on repeat for a couple of hours. Under the weeping fig, I decided that if all I can do as a parent is give my children a string of nice moments and pleasant feelings, then that’s okay.

How was your week? Tell me your five nice moments?

 

Welcome to Marry Land

Most couples make it out on a date night once in a while. For many couples we know with kids, date night is an essential ingredient to remaining connected, and happily married.

For us, my husband and I, date night comes but once a year; our anniversary. It’s enough of an excuse to ring in a willing family member to take the kids. We savour our together time without kids, melting into each other’s company, and feeling 31 & 22 respectively, the age we were when we met, and fell in love.

This year, we are ten years married. And even better than making it a full decade, our anniversary fell on Friday the 13th. Thirteen has somehow been our lucky number.

A few babysitters fell through. We eventually lined something up. I prepared a surprise Adventure of Love through the hinterland, which all centred on me getting dressed into my wedding dress, and buying champagne while Gregor took kids down the road to friends.

Trouble was, Rosie was onto me, and refused to go. She could sense something fun was happening, and didn’t want to miss out. When I whispered the plan into both my daughters’ sweet little ears, they banded together, and decided that neither would be babysat. They were coming with us.

And so we went. Our date-day of the year, encumbered with two {delightful} darlings.

First stop – the place we married, ten years ago today, out the front of God’s fine Eureka abode, looking over the rolling hills.

As it turned out, having two {delightful} darlings made the occasion even more perfect, because, as they pointed out, they missed our actual wedding.

Little Rosie named our wedding place Marry Land. In Marry Land, snakes get married, the wedded couple dance, and we all climb frangipani trees.

I remember most details of our ceremony ten years ago, up to the feel of the wind whipping our hair.

What I didn’t remember was the ancient frangipani tree, which turned out to be the perfect place to sit under ten years later, in a bed of fallen flowers, with flowers in our hair, drinking champagne. The girls made a treasure hunt out of  flowers. We took slo mo movies of us kissing.

Marry Land was better than I remember. Maybe it was because our daughters were there this time too.

Next stop, Doma Cafe, Federal. We’ve shared many a happy meal in the surprising and wonderful Japanese cafe, in the heart of the hinterland. I got burned in the shade, but still. Nothing beats that halloumi burger.

And then, a bare foot walk to the base of Minyon Falls. Even 100% humidity, and 36 degree heat couldn’t spoil this.

 

I love that the children come alive as soon as their fingertips touch a fern, or their feet touch the earth. The little fairy door some clever person has carved into a fallen log added more magic. And if you ever go, swim in the waterhole, stand under the waterfall, and look up. The sight of drops falling…

At home, we made Chinese soup, drank champagne and sat in the garden. I asked Gregor what’s the best thing about the last ten years, and he made a few jokes, which is exactly why we work so well together.

I said his legs were the best thing about the last ten years. And the fact that he’s an incredible father to my girls. And a great support to me. I forgot to mention how much I love the fact he washes up every night.

There was more than one raised eyebrow when I told friends and family 10 + years ago I was throwing away my life on a random Dutch guy.

Today, a friend said it was lucky I followed my instincts.

It was instinct, I guess. It was also a lot of luck, and a little work. Like, for instance, recently, when I resolved to use my ‘nice voice’ as much as possible, and not dump my irritation on Greg. Relationship patterns develop without you even realising it, and suddenly they feel unbendable. But they can bend. Neither of us want a nagging relationship, for ourselves, for our relationship, and for our kids.

Anyway, the Adventure of Love, and our trip to Marry Land, kids and all, was the perfect way to celebrate ten happy years together.

Here’s to ten more? I hope.

Hello, 2017

Hello! It’s been a little while since I have written here. I can’t tell you why, exactly. Maybe it’s that life has been busy. Maybe I have been conserving writing energy for other projects. Maybe I want to conserve words until I have something burning to tell you. There is a flood of words out there, on our screens, surrounding us and closing in on us. We can turn away, and turn them off. But I feel like, unless words mean something, and actually provide something – a smile, a warm feeling, worthwhile thought – I’ll let them ebb to the edges of my brain.

Home life is good. We have made our little sunshine house cosy, and full of exactly what we need. Nothing more. We have spent nearly every second night with friends or family, filling social cups and hearts with festive warmth.

I hope you too are having a happy, relaxing time.

As 2016 gently folds away, and a new year emerges, I’ve been thinking about what this year has brought me.

Time.

Having just moved to Europe, my paid work slowed in February. I momentarily panicked. But ends got met, somehow, and I realised how wonderful time could be. Time to hang out in English-style gardens, and read novels to my kids by the canal. Time to squander in ice-cream stores, or on long bike trips to flea markets. Time for my children to tell themselves stories, in their rooms or in the garden, without the structure of school hours. Time to get dressed in the mornings – hours, and hours, some mornings, until the day was almost gone.

Money is earned, but time is a gift. The Italians have the right idea. They get to work early, then close up shop by 12.30. They spend four hours eating, drinking and sleeping in the best part of the day, then do a little work in the afternoon and into the evening. The day swivels on time spent together, and soaking up life, rather than being industrious and busy.

What else has 2016 brought?

Flow

Between occasional frantic jaunts, looking for work, cultivating new work or developing would-be businesses, I spent empty hours writing, or drawing. I let myself write anything; in any form, and any length. I started several novels, for various age groups. I tried finishing one. I played with picture book manuscripts, and scribbled ideas.

For about a month, when my eldest was transitioning to sleeping alone, I sat beside her room, with a laptop. ‘Can you lie down with me?’ she’d ask at first. But we had a deal. I had to write her another story about two characters, Florence and Fox. When she woke up, we’d read the story.

‘Are you there?’ she’d called out. ‘I’m here,’ I replied, and tap-tap-tapped a new story for her.

The ritual was a discipline, in kind. Like this blog has been for me, over the years, my daughter’s requirements for new stories helped me write without inhibition. I felt like it opened up my writer’s voice. Words came easily, as I sunk into the characters’ world.

When I had a slice of time, I could have spent it scrolling through Facebook. But instead, I started a new chapter or a new story. May the flow be with me.

And what else?

Grey hairs.

Two, to be precise. And they aren’t sporadic, accidentally born bleached. They are persistent grey hairs. Because this was the year I got older and wiser. It was the longest time I’ve spent away from my parents, so maybe it was the catalyst I needed to finally become an adult.

In 2016, I dumped a box of trophies that have sat under my bed for years, because I no longer need stuff, and I no longer need plastic validation. I write, or do anything creative, because I love doing it. I work on something because I want it to be good, not be awarded. I’ll probably never grow out of that pleasurable rush that comes with receiving an award, or a compliment. But unlike my fourteen year old self, I’m not starting the new year with a wish to win an end of year academic prize.

I also stopped needing others so badly. Years of FOMO seeped away, and here I am at home, on a Friday night (while others are sharing pizza and end of year fuzzies). Happily.

A hang-over from boarding school, I’ve felt the need to be everywhere and with everyone. I have a lot of friends, and nurture each friendship. But this year, I spent time nurturing friendships that nurture me back. With grey hair comes deeper and richer friendship, or so it seems.

And so…

Look through Facebook, and you feel as if 2016 has been the year our idols died, and populism took over the world. But we humans are good at seeking patterns, and finding connections, and making stories. Each famous person who passed away added another notch in the supposedly weird year that was 2016. And yes, some very difficult stuff has gone on.

But I am not wishing this year away. Instead, I am keeping it wrapped up safe in an album of photos, on my mantle.

2016 has been a year of growth for me. It’s been a year of excitement. Depth. Exploration. Experience. Productivity. Time. Pleasure.

And what will 2017 bring? Let’s turn the page, and find out, shall we?

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