Adventure junkie expat Aussie setting out on a new life as full-time writer / domestic goddess.

Born and bred in Queensland Australia but now living in Ireland after a serial travel addiction. Met an amazing man here and ended up staying. Both of the boys were born here and have a weird accent with touches of Aussie, English, Irish and even Spanish from my mum.

To quote Jane Austen: If adventures do not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.

So I finished my degree and like so many young Aussie's headed overseas on my Grand Tour and a little like one of my literary heroes Percy Bysshe Shelley never really made it home.

Started blogging a few years ago but after getting hijacked by a hacker and the pain of taking down the site, went back to my old school journal by the bed.

Now that I am writing full-time and the laptop is superglued to me, I thought I would take up where I left off.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dreams of silk and lace

I passed by the window each morning on my way to work and had done for nearly six months. I often wondered at the sadness of a wedding dress left hanging in full view for so long. Had it already been worn and was kept as some kind of strange decoration in the front room?

Who lived in the slightly derelict Georgian home? I imagined all kinds of scenarios and each day my mind developed a new story. Passing by in the evening was even stranger as the dress took on a ghostly appearance. The room was always in darkness and the streetlamp outside on the path cast an eerie glow into the room, lengthening the shadow of the dress so that it appeared to float.

I was so intrigued that I took special note, passing the house at different times to try and catch a glimpse of its occupants, hoping to stumble upon some clue. And yet, to this day I had never seen a single soul either in or around the house. It appeared occupied and while there were windows to be painted and a general air of disrepair about the place, the flowers in the window boxes were always cared for and no dust ever settled upon the dress.

My curiosity was so great and I had become so invested in my imagined story that on the morning I saw the woman step out the door dressed head to toe in black, I nearly passed on by in a rush of embarrassment at being caught out as the voyeur that I was. However, the pull of the story drew me back. I walked up to the woman and after expressing an interest in the house, asked her about its owners.
"The house has been in my family for nearly 200 years and I have lived here all my life", she answered.

I was thrilled at my good fortune but now came the part I was afraid to admit to. I would have to admit to my obsession with the dress to find out what I really wanted to know. Filled with all the worst scenarios my brain had come up with I could not ask the question. Sensing my hesitation the woman introduced herself and said she had an appointment but would I like to come back for tea and hear more about the history of the house. I nearly cut her off in my excitement and urgent need to accept and already in my head made plans for how I could leave work early. I stood on the path and after watching her step into a taxi and drive off, turned my gaze once more on the dress in the window and stood staring until it felt too uncomfortable to continue.

More nervous than I would be on a first date, I stood on the dorrstep and took a deep breath of air before ringing the bell. I could hear her footsteps approaching before the door opened and almost chickened out. Finally, the door was open and a waft of freshly baked cake and flowers washed over me and before I knew what was happening I was sitting in the front room in front of a full afternoon tea and in direct view of the dress. The room was beautifully decorated with echoes of days gone by and Miss McKay could be described in the same way. It was almost like both of them had stopped aging nearly 10 years previously and that life had simply passed them by. It made me think romantic thoughts of Brigadoon and living outside the bustle of everyday life.

Even though the room and the woman intrigued me, my eyes were constantly drawn to the dress. Up close it held even more mystery and was simply cut in silk and antique lace. The train pooled on the wooden floor and the lace bodice caught the sunlight from the window in a way that made the room seem magical.
"I see you have noticed my dress", Ms McKay said. "Would you like to touch it?"
"I would", I replied, "But more than that, I would like to hear its story".
"It is not an easy story to tell". And with that remark, Ms McKay walked over to a writing bureau in the corner and pulled out a folder filled with photographs.
I sat down next to her and armed with my cup and saucer listened enthralled as she began her tale.

She pulled out a photo of a handsome, dark-haired man and while I held it in my hands she told me how they had met and courted. It was the innocent courtship of a time even earlier than the 70s, of two people from similar backgrounds who did not succumb to the fashion for promiscuous dating. Neither had even kissed another. She told me of their wedding plans and dreams for their future together and I saw tears begin to form in her eyes. She told me of her excitement on the morning of her wedding and her anticipation at seeing her William standing at the alter waiting for her. Her mother had set up the dress in the front room in the very place it still stood, to be put on at the last minute. There was the usual flurry of activity and comings and goings with makeup, hairdressers, flower deliveries and arrivals of bridesmaids and the chatter and noise that goes with it all.

So the ringing of the doorbell and more arrivals did not even register. Ms McKay explained how she was sitting at the kitchen table when her mother came to her, tears in her eyes and wringing her hands to tell her that William had been in an accident and was in a coma. The rest of that week passed in a daze and mercifully friends and famly handled the arrangements and cancellations while Ms Mckay sat at William's side, holding his hand and waiting for him to awaken. A year passed with this as the pattern of her days until her father fell ill and she was needed at home. Uncomfortable around her grief,  her friends avoided her and her life became filled with visits to William and looking after first her father and then her mother as each of them became ill and passed on. Ms McKay seemed bemused that somehow ten years seemed to have passed. Once again, I was reminded of Brigadoon.

"It must be fate that had you cross my path today", she whispered to me. "The appointment I went to this morning was with my solicitor. My William finally gave up his fight two weeks ago and free from the hope of his awakening, I have decided to sell the house and start over."
"What will you do with the dress?", I asked.
"This is why I say it must be fate. The dress has not moved since the morning of my wedding and I do not think it can come with me into my new life. I cannot sell it to someone I do not know for sentimental reasons and my only thought was to gift it to someone who can give it a happy ending. I would like that someone to be you."
In shock, I replied, "But you have only met me today. This dress means so much to you".
"We might only have met but I have seen you passing the house looking in at the dress and on the evening of William's death I stood upstairs at my bedroom window staring out into the dark and the only thing that registered through my tears was the sight of you lingering under the streetlamp to view the silk and lace in all its glory. It is as if the dress has chosen you and meeting this morning on the front step has confirmed it for me. You are young and with your life ahead of you. Let the dress have its day and may it bring you all the love and joy William and I were denied."

Together we carefully took the dress down and wrapped it in tissue paper before placing it gently into a lingerie box. On leaving the house that evening, I looked back at the front room and saw Ms McKay smiling out at me and knew that I carried the magic of previous evenings in the box beneath my arm. In that moment, I knew that my own William would be just around the corner.

Many thanks to Willow for the amazing photograph and Magpie inspiration. A wee nod to Miss Haversham and an Affair to Remember...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An apple for the teacher

My previous post and this great photo from set me to thinking about some of my own great memories of school and especially first days. I was one of those rare kids who loved going to school. I have always loved books and learning new things.

My amazing father was really positive about school and always had such great stories to tell which made the facts more insteresting. It helped that he took the time to talk to us, help us with our homework and answer the litany of insane questions we came up with. He was well travelled and highly educated and always made the dry facts come alive.

I was lucky too in that I had some great teachers along the way. Teachers who really cared about me as a person as well as a student and who took the time to work out what would be the best way for me to learn as an individual and not just as another cog in the curriculum machine.

While I was never Teacher's Pet - I had a tendency to be what they called "boisterous" (read disruptive) - I always got on well with my teachers and was never afraid to ask for more work or speak up in class. This meant I was actively engaged in the lessons and this combined with a slightly disturbing eagerness to please meant I did ok at school and actually enjoyed it.

I still remember my very first day at school believe it or not. I was wearing an outfit my mother had made and was very 70s. I had one of those retro carboard school cases which I loved and still do. My mother had made a beautiful lunch of vegemite and lettuce sandwiches along with an apple. Those were the days of free milk in schools so that was my drink covered. For a blast from the past here is a quick snapshot taken to remember that particular milestone event.

Our oceanfront home in Mermaid Beach was a 20 minute walk along the beach to my school and I have great memories of walking along the beach, hand in hand, with both my mother and father. And like I said, the only apple in my case was for little lunch and not for my teacher.

The last hazy days of summer

Coming to the end of my first summer spent as full time writer and stay at home mum. I have to admit there was more mum than writer going on but despite this (or maybe because of this) it has been one of the most wonderful times of my life.

The weather has been good, well mostly - it is Ireland after all! We have spent loads of time on long walks, tending to our garden and teaching the boys some essential life skills - how to ride without stabilisers and how to swim. Even got the paddling pool out with its own touch of Aussie life, Crocovile (intentional misspelling) as named by Sam. We have read nearly all of the Percy Jackson books and all of us look healthy and flushed with colour from plenty of outdoor activity and whole weeks of glorious sunshine. We even managed to get a few jobs done around the house. You know the ones, the ones you keep putting off for a rainy day.

This week was the first week back to school for the boys, Ben into Second Class and Sam into Senior Infants. Last year both were the new boys. Ben because he transferred from another school in Dublin and Sam because he was starting school for the first time. Things were so much simpler this year. Everyone knew where to go, including me, and there was no stress at all. In fact, both of them were excited and looking forward to seeing their friends and their new teachers.

The weather was fantastic this week so we were able to ride to and from school everyday which made it all seem so much more fun. A shame it was not so gorgeous for their last week of holidays the week previous but that is Irish weather for you. It makes you feel like it is a personal affront to your plans - great during the week leading into storms and downpours on the weekend! This was like a big raspberry blown at all the kids back into the classroom, staring out the windows at the sunshine.

Not so bad for me though. I got to have my breakfast and morning coffee sitting out on the deck and looking out over the countryside. It has been so nice in fact that I have struggled to get back into any kind of writing routine. My writing was very random over the summer and consciously so. I wrote when the weather was poor or when the boys were glued to the TV and decided to just go with the flow and not beat myself up over it. Determined to enjoy my first summer and just be. Not something I find comes easily so quite proud of myself for the achievement or as the case may be, lack thereof!!

The last couple of months of unstructured joy has left me feeling relaxed and more like the earth mother within than I have for years. On top of this we all undertook a fresh challenge to eat sustainably. This was helped by great first harvests from our kitchen garden and having more time to cook from scratch and prepare beans and pulses the day before. It involved plenty of slow cooking and a noticeable increase in dietary fibre from chick peas, kidney beans and local farmers produce.

I have enjoyed it all so much that while most of the other mum's could not wait for the kids to go back to school to get back to normal, I was dreading it. Back to the alarm clock and a structured routine. I actually missed the two of them terribly all week and was counting down the hours before I could go and collect them. On Monday I actually wanted to go down to the school only an hour into the school day and tell Mrs Kelly that she could not have Sam because I missed him so much.

And while we are coming to the end of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are only 22 sleeps away from our first trip back to Oz in 5 years so should get an extra five weeks of sunshine on our yearly tally. If the opportunity comes your way to take a summer to spend with the ones you love, grab it with both hands. It has been two months filled with joy and one of the best things I have ever done. If I could have one wish, it would be that it would never end.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Forbidden launch party

Christina Phillips is having a party!

Christina Phillips is gearing up for the release of her debut novel, Forbidden and to celebrate she's having a massive blog party.

In addition to the party, Christina's giving away a signed copy of Forbidden to one lucky person who helps spread the love. All you have to do is mention the party (you can copy and paste this blurb), being held from 1st to 6th September at You can Tweet about it, blog, Facebook, MySpace or anything! And then drop her an email at ChristinapPh @ gmail dot com (no spaces) to let her know. Please put Forbidden Launch Party (or something similar) in the subject line. The winner will be drawn for that on Monday 6th September.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Look Mum - no hands!

My baby boy, Sam has finally learnt how to ride a bike without stabilisers and I could not be more proud. He is not really a baby, about to turn 6 in a couple of weeks, but he is my baby!

Our eldest, Ben, decided one day in February that he wanted to learn to ride without stabilisers and went outside into the street and in the few short moments it took Aidan and I to grab a coat and suitable shoes managed to teach himself. He does not have much patience for waiting and figured "How hard can it be?", so he just kept pedalling until he stayed upright and in a straight line.

Sam on the other hand had used so many delaying tactics to put off the moment he would have to go it alone that I began to think it would never happen. We tried bribing him with treats which is usually a winner, we appealed to his pride and showed him that all the other boys in the street could do it and even took off the stabilisers so that if he wanted to ride with everybody else it would have to be like a big boy - nothing! He would cry and insist he did not want to ride, anytime it was mentioned.

How 2 kids could be any more different I do not know. Sam is so cautious by comparison with Ben who flings himself out into the ether and trusts to some kind of divine hope that he won't get injured. Sam likes to know he will be safe. You can almost see him thinking ahead to the consequences.

So, to our surprise, on Monday he got dressed to go out and play in the street and asked Daddy to help him learn to ride. Not sure what made him change his mind. He does this - thinks things over in his head and just comes to a decision and sticks by it. So out into the street they went. It was perfect timing because all the neighbours were not home so he had the street to himself with his brother and Daddy.

I gave them 15 minutes before following them out and by that time Sam had mastered the riding in a straight line thing but still needed someone to help him push off. Some encouraging clapping and yahooing, lots of hugs and high fives and another hour of back and forth up and down the street and he could do a tip toe running start on his own and turn in a nice tight circle at either end of he street. Miraculous!

What it is about boys in particular that they don't set limits on what they can achieve. By the end of the next day, Sam was copying his elder brother, racing down the street with his legs up on the handlebars, rubbing his chin and calling out "suspicious" or riding while standing up in the saddle and mounting the kerb at every opportunity. I had to intervene when he thought he could ride down the hill and try and jump over a ramp used by the big kids in the estate when they skateboard. Evil Kneivel eat your heart out!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to a heroine

Where have all the great female role models gone? I think about my heroines and compare them to the women today's young women want to grow up to be and feel a little sad.

Magazines are full of stories and pictures about the likes of Cheryl Cole, Posh Spice and Jordan. If you ask teenage girls who they want to be when they grow up, it is a pop star, a model or a footballer's wife.

I cannot remember the last time I saw a great article about a clever, witty young woman that was not about who they were sleeping with and whether they had plastic surgery. No-one asks what their favourite book or film was and who their childhood heroine was.

One of my own heroines - she helped me decide who I wanted to be when I grew up is Dorothy Parker. She was terribly glamorous, brilliantly witty and lived an adventurous and slightly wild life.

Born in 1893, she shares a birthday with me - which makes today the anniversary of her birth. Happy Birthday Dottie!

More caustic than the best drag queen, more social than the most flittering butterfly and willing participant in many ill-fated marriages and affairs, she was a prolific writer of magazine articles, verse and was nominated in 1937 for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for  "A Star is Born".

She led a life dogged by controversy. She was a vocal advocate of radical left-wing causes, a fierce civil libertarian and civil rights advocate and a frequent critic of those in authority which meant that she was on the Hollywood blacklist and had an FBI dossier after being listed as a Communist.

She made the move to Hollywood after a prolific decade during the 20s writing for the likes of  Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker. In the 1920s alone she published some 300 poems and free verses. The subject matter ranged from her short, viciously humorous poems about her many (largely unsuccessful) romantic affairs to others wistful about the appeal of suicide, which was a warning for her numerous attempts at taking her own life.

Along with Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood she was a founding member of the Alonquin Round Table, so named for the daily lunches held at the Alonquin Hotel which joined by other newspaper columnists and it was through their re-printing of her lunchtime remarks and short verses, particularly in Adams' column "The Conning Tower," that she began to develop her national reputation as a wit.

One of her best known quotes sums her life up very well:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.

For more information, pictures and videos please check out the Dorothy Parker Society at

I have often wished I lived in New York in the 20s and 30s just to be part of her glamorous lifestyle and if she could manage to write with everything going on in her life there is hope for me yet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eddie Izzard for Children?

One of the biggest joys of having more time to spend with my boys is the random conversations we have. At lunch yesterday, the topic came around to what ringtone would different people have on their mobile phones - when they were old enough to have one of course!

After some discussion about the pros and cons of various suggestions, it was decided that Daddy would have the original Star Wars Darth Vader theme tune. A pretty good choice I think and one I had no input in, it was all Ben and Sam.

We moved on to try and decide on what Mummy's ringtone would be, but before we got very far I noticed that Sam had stopped contributing. He was sitting at the table with his hands over his face and chuckling so hard that his whole body was shaking. I asked him what was so funny, but he said he could not tell me because it involved swear words. Had to find out what was amusing him so much so Aidan and I agreed to a once off lifting of the swearing ban so he could tell us what was so funny.

Sam then proceeded to compose himself and give us a word for word performance of Eddie Izzard's Death Star Canteen. To the best of my knowledge he had only ever seen this once before and it just goes to show the power of the swear word in a child's brain. He had the timing down and even had different voices for Vader and the canteen worker. Priceless! As mortified as I was that he remembered my Youtube faux pas - who thought that googling for Lego Star Wars would bring up such age inappropriate content - it was pretty funny. Note to self...don't google with the kids peering over my shoulder. All I can say is - classic comedy, just not from the mouths of babes!!

Eddie Izzard- Death Star Canteen

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The art of timeless travel.

It has taken me most of my life but I think that I finally might have worked out the important things in life. Real joy and happiness does not come from the things you own or even the job you do. The last ten years slogging it out, working ridiculous hours, wearing designer suits and a fancy title, provided money to buy lots of things we did not need, but left us bereft of one of our most precious gifts - Time. Time to be with family and friends, time to write, time to travel.

This is the year of timelessness - allowing myself the luxury of time. Time to spend with my two amazing boys, Ben 7 and Sam 5, doing lots of mummy activities - baking cakes, painting pictures, reading books, treaching them to swim and play piano as well as just be together. The most important lesson I have to teach them is the one I have just learnt. Allow yourself to just be. It is good to push yourself and want to do anything you set out to do to the best of your ability, as long as it is not at the cost of living your life.

It took nearly losing my Aidan to brain surgery to realise that we had become so busy working, paying bills and being parents that we devoted very little time to being a couple. This year, I am allowing myself the time to be a great partner, to just be together - not any enforced, weird date nights or allotted mummy and daddy time - but just chilling out together, maybe reading, going for a walk, playing with the kids, asking questions about what he wants from life and from the future. The answers have changed for me since we first asked the questions of each other, so probably have for him too. It also means taking the time to challenge some of his answers and help him to step outside of his comfort zone - to help him defeat the mental lethargy left behind by his illness. More challenging than you might think. Do you decide to address past hurts (the ones you were too busy or felt ill equipped to handle at the time) or draw a line in the sand and agree to go forward always into the future. Is there a right answer?

Time for family and friends. Time to remember the people who supported us through the dark times and kept the very fabric of our little unit together and more importantly kept me from losing my mind. No longer will time be the enemy. I will find time to be there for these guardian angels. After five years away, I am packing up the tribe and heading home to Sunny Queensland to be with my sister as she has her first child and meet my brother's gorgeous daughter's and the boys amazing cousin's, Amy and Isabel. The last time we were home was for George and Emma's wedding in Palm Cove. So many kisses and cuddles saved up for my cute nieces and cannot wait to see how the two little angels interact with my own two monsters. While on the subject of little angels, I am so excited that I will finally meet Sophie and Oliver, the babies of my very good friend and although she does not know it yet, the inspiration for one of the main characters in my screenplay, who I also have not seen in five years.

On the subject of my screenplay, this has been my biggest treat to myself - the time to write. For years I thought I would be able to both work and write - who was I kidding! When someone is paying you to do a job, they own a part of your soul - the part that gets to decide which hours of the day belong to them. This means that the writer inside gets the time that is left. In my experience, that time was full of exhaustion, crankiness and rare and precious mummy time. Very little got written and what did was generally best used in place of 3 ply in the smallest room in the house. Wrote a few travel articles and a few research pieces for banking and finance trade publications but the dream screenplay did not get beyond the planning stage. Did some comms work for other people but while this does officially count as writing it brings no joy because it is on the clock. Now, I get to write when I want to and more importantly, what I want to. Still struggling to bed down the routine that will turn this from a hobby into the ideal vocation but happier than ever with how I fill my days and feel brave that I gave myself permission to make it a priority. The strangest thing is that I have had more story ideas in the space of 6 months than the preceding 6 years.

The biggest sacrifice of the past decade was the way we travelled. Both Aidan and I travelled quite a lot with work and because neither of us have family here in Ireland, our family holidays were either to Sunderland or Australia for family events rather than relaxation or experience and adventure. Gone were the days of old when we went on lavish adventure holidays or simply rocked up to the nearest airport with a packed bag and bought a ticket to the next destination within budget. I really missed the freedom of having the time to travel, the time to pack up and go at the last minute, the unscheduled time to get a phone call and be able to meet a friend within hours even if they were in another country.

Kids and school mean that we won't get that back in full, but certainly we are making it a priority to travel without purpose and for pure unadulterated joy. The dream is to knock this recession on the head so we can sell up here in Ireland and take the kids out of school for a year to travel the globe. To rediscover the art of timeless travel. To go without a strict schedule, just a rough idea of places we want to experience and an agreement  to be distracted by shiny things and interesting people. To go where the winds may take us.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Goodbye Superwoman and good riddance!

After 10 years spent trying to be Superwoman - mother to two amazing young boys, working 13 hour days to try and support a lifestyle we thought was so important and partner to an incredible man, not to mention the daily drudge of maintaining a House and Garden level of housekeeping - I got the opportunity of a lifetime. The banking crisis meant that my employer wanted people to volunteer to take a lump sum to leave the daily slog and spend more time with their families. For so many I know the decision was difficult but for me it took less than 5 seconds. I decided to take that package, satisfy some of those things I had put off with the "I wish I had the time.." excuse and find myself.

The previous four years had been the most difficult of my life - so much so that I had forgotten what my personality had been like before. Bear with me while I get if all off my chest therapy style... At the end of 2006 there was a massive change project at the bank and long hours, excessive stress and pressure led to the loss of a baby. Within weeks of this news, we finally got the diagnosis for the illness my Aidan had suffered for months. A barrister, he had started falling down stairs and slurring his speech without any visible cause. He was found to have a number of blood clots on his brain and had to undergo firstly an experimental sonic treatment to break down the clots and then to have surgery to remove the clots left behind.

To top it off, I found out that one of my best friends from school who had been like a brother to me and another son to my mother since my dad had died, had been physically and mentally abusing my mum in order to get access to her bank account. The bank reported it to the police and found that over $10K had been taken. However, the pressure of police questioning and the betrayal led to my mum having a heart attack and fall that left her with brain damage and unable to look after herself. I am so far away and my brother and sisters are so busy that we had to make the difficult decision to put her into a home due to the amount of medical care required. Despite the CCTV footage from the bank it was impossible to go ahead with the case without mum's testimony so the charges were dropped - so not even the satisfaction of justice being done to ease the pain.

In the aftermath of all this, I was offerred a role in Risk Management which in the spirit of looking for a change I took. Seemed like a good idea at the time but took me away from a job I loved - the coaching and mentoring of future leaders. Still long hours, still very stressful but with more travel and less job satisfaction. Not a win you might say. By the time the package was offerred, my bags had been packed for at least a year!

I left Halloween 2009 with plenty of plans and dreams for the future and not at all scared. The rough outline for a feature length film screenplay, a book and lots of adventures to have with my gorgeous boys.