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.