16 May 2020

Safe Travels My Friend

Mostly, I'm okay. But occasionally I have these days where I am so bereft, so lonely and sad, so physically heart broken that it's almost impossible to pull myself out of it. Today is one of those days. Coming home to no Sean is the worst, and it's magnified on the weekends, especially after a hectic day at work. Sean was my actual best friend, and sometimes I miss him so much I can't breathe (not COVID-19, promise). He was my favourite person; one of the few people in this world that understood me, and loved me.

One of the things I've found that calms my mind on these nights is reading the eulogy I wrote for Sean. It might seem strange, that this would calm me, but it does. The eulogy reminds me of our life together, and how wonderful it was; it makes me smile. It reminds me that I had the strength to stand up and read this at his service, that I got to say goodbye the way I wanted to. So, here it is...


We all know Sean loved a list, so here we go.

This is a list of Things Sean Taught Me. It is by no means a comprehensive list or else we'd never get to the pub... 

1. One of the biggest things Sean taught me was to be smarter, wittier, sharper. I'm not saying I'm smart, witty, or sharp - that's for you all to decide - but I am saying Sean pushed me to use my brain, more so than anyone else. He had expectations of me, and those expectations included being smart. He loved to argue, and would often play devil's advocate just to push the discussion a little further. With Sean, I could never just have an opinion, I had to be able to back my opinion up, explain it, argue it, and maybe even *sometimes* convince him of it. 

2. When making a decision, or dealing with a tricky situation, Sean taught me to think through all the possibilities and consequences but also to keep things simple, to not forget the big picture. When it came to McDonald’s, he was a genius at analysing the business and the individuals in the business. He’d think through all sorts of scenarios and possible impacts. But in the end, he always reminded me (and anyone else that would listen) - it’s just about selling tasty cheeseburgers. 

3. How to keep a sink dry. It’s a Sydney thing, apparently… 

4. To pay attention to the lyrics. If you liked a song, saying it’s just got a nice vibe was never a good enough answer for Sean. 

5. To take very seriously the things that matter, and realise that everything else is nonsense. The list of things that mattered to Sean was pretty short - dachshunds, his sons, his family, reason and logic, education, respect for the past, quarter pounders. These things he did not mess with. But - everything else was free game in this ludicrous, nonsensical thing we call life. 

6A. How to travel, and more specifically how to drink coffee and eat meals in Italy. There are rules, and Sean taught me them. 

6B. Related - how to say ‘two large beers please’ in basically every European language. Dave - I think you maybe learnt this lesson too. 

7. How to drive a manual car on the Italian motorway. 

Just joking, that was a lesson I never learnt. We tried it once, for about ten minutes. It ended in three near fatal accidents, stalling at a three way intersection with a large truck bearing down on us, and me sobbing behind the wheel. Sean drove in Italy from then on. 

8. That good things are better than not good things - a good song is better than a not good song, a good painting is better than a not good painting. This was something I always intuitively knew, but he gave me words for it. In recent years there was a lot of discussion about this long standing belief. 

Sean was trying to rank Bohemian Rhapsody against a composition by Bach, and Joe suggested that the theory didn’t hold up when comparing across such different genres. But Sean held firm, so throughout his day we’d randomly ask him to compare and rank different things: Hey Sean - what’s better, a kiwi fruit or a llama? (A llama, of course...)

9. Sean taught me that steak is a good thing. I'd been a vegetarian for about eight years when I met Sean. After our first dinner out I was no longer a vegetarian. I remember the waiter saying - jeepers, if you’re willing to eat a medium rare steak for him this has got to be something really special. And it was. 

10. How to get a crowd talking. Every family dinner or social function, Sean came prepared. Not with small talk, but with conversation prompters. He had the attention span of a gnat and he needed us all to amuse him. Sometimes it was a quiz, sometimes it was a pack of cards, sometimes it was a controversial question - we spent a whole December once discussing seatbelt laws at every, single xmas function we attended...

Sean always had something up his sleeve to engage those around him and get people talking. Even if sometimes the talking was DO WE REALLY HAVE TO DO THE DAMN QUIZ? Can’t we just talk, like normal people? No, Jen, no we can’t… 

11. How to listen when someone speaks. Sean taught me to stop thinking about my reply when someone is talking, and instead to pay attention to what they’re saying, to be curious. Sean taught me to focus on their story, not on what I have to say about it. 

12. That it’s okay to be a little bit odd, sometimes. We were both a little bit odd, sometimes. It’s part of the reason we worked so well. 

13. To be proud of my strengths and honest about my weaknesses. 

14. And this is a big one, how to be a parent. One of the things I am truly grateful for is that being with Sean gave me an instant family with Sam and Joe, and to some extent Pepe as well, not to mention the whole extended Newton clan, who welcomed me into their fold (after a few initial reservations, but that’s a story for another time), plus the amazing Macca’s family. 

I remember first meeting the boys when they were 6 and 8. We went to Taronga Zoo together. I was completely utterly terrified. But Sean was so happy - he loved me, and he loved his boys, and he couldn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t all just love each other. Sean always made an effort to include me, especially in those early days - drawing me into the conversation, making sure I felt a part of the family. 

Thank you also to Pepe, for letting me be a part of raising Sam and Joe, for trusting Sean and therefore trusting me. A lot of people don’t get it, but we do - everything was and is about the boys. 

15. And lastly, Sean taught me that odd numbers were better than even numbers. Hence this last point so I finish on 15, not 14. 

I am so grateful that I found Sean, that he found me. I am so grateful that I got to experience his humour, intelligence, and love for life; that he wanted to take the time to teach me these things. 

I know every single one of you will have your own lists of things Sean taught you, or at least had a damn good crack at trying to teach you. And he never did it with arrogance, it was always with joy, openness, and humility. 

Sean, I love you. 
I miss you, terribly. 

But  - I also know you will live on through all the things we’ve learnt, from you. 

Safe travels my friend. 

27 April 2020

Grief is a Bitch and Other Random Thoughts

After feeling surprisingly upbeat recently I've been a bit all over the goddamn place the past week or so, so I'm writing because that's what I do. (I also feel that if I can't revive a blog during a pandemic when it's basically illegal to leave the house then when the heck will I ever revive it? Also some thoughts are too long and rambling to constrain to Facebook posts or Instagram stories. So.) 

- Grief is a bitch. It sneaks up on you. Just when you think you've got your shit a bit sorted and even possibly you may be facing sunnier days something comes along and BAM there you are all sad and alone and heartbroken again. And then you get up, again, feeling okay but bracing for the next wave. 

- You don't have good days and bad days, you have good hours and bad hours.

- Some days I just get so sick of being sad. Some days I deliberately don't look at photos of Sean. Some days I deliberately don't listen to our favourite songs, or watch our favourite shows. Some days I am manically looking for anything new. Some days I need a break from remembering. 

- Sydney in Autumn is pure magic. The warm days and crips evenings; the cool, crystal clear nights. The colours on the trees, the afternoon light. Magic. 

- I have realised lately that I don't just miss Sean, I also miss being Sean's wife. I miss taking care of someone I loved, I miss doing little things every day to make him happy. I miss the routine, the daily interactions, the working together. 

- The trauma of being with Sean when he died will be with me forever. It will / has changed me. I have to figure out how to move forward with that.

- I am swearing more than usual lately. I think I get a free pass on that though.

- A few signs it really is the end of times: I actually crave video chats right now; I am listening to music recommended to me by young people and I like it; I have completed two jigsaw puzzles and am about to start on a third. 

- I am so grateful that I still get to go to work everyday and interact with a bunch of awesome people who really do give their all whilst also being funny and interesting and entertaining, They make me so proud to be their boss and, most days, they give me the strength to deal with the trash fire that has been 2020. 

- I loudly said 'hello' to a dog outside the supermarket the other night and thought well that probably sounded a bit crazy and then noticed the guy right behind me also took the time to say 'aren't you a good boy' as he walked past. So, maybe we are all mad. 

- Things I'm really looking forward to post lockdown: hanging out with my sister; going out for dinner (anyone else exhausted by having to decide what to cook / order / eat every damn night?); catching up over wine or coffee; getting my lashes done, getting waxed; seeing a play or movie or exhibition or live gig, or anything that's not my Instagram feed really...oh and TRAVEL, in all caps. 

- Things I quite like about lockdown: not having awkward interactions with food delivery drivers; people showing so much gratitude for posties and cleaners and nurses; having a narrowed focus on what's really important, today; less emails; a sense of community returning; notes to and from my neighbours. 

- I'm going to miss my long late night walks when we all return to 'normal'. There is such a quiet calm late at night, no traffic. The skies have been so incredibly still and clear, and there's a warm glow from all the full houses. You can often overhear snippets of heartfelt conversation, or smell a delicious dinner. On Fridays and Saturdays there's always people out on their verandahs and balconies, sharing a physically distanced bottle of wine or loudly figuring out a playlist over Zoom. It is my current favourite thing. 

I hope you have found a favourite thing during these strange times. 
I hope you are holding on to the bits of your sanity that matter to you.
And I very much look forward to seeing you all on the other side of this x

04 January 2020

19 Things in the Year of the Pig : The One + Only Recap


One of the things I wanted to achieve in the Year of the Pig was to blog again. There was a rebirth, a reboot. 



But it's the start of a new year and that fever of naive optimism has infected me once again. I'm already working on a '20 things in the Year of the Rat' list but before I get to that I thought I'd update how I went on the last list. Which basically - and following the exact same pattern of previous years - is not so well...

1. Get back to blogging and writing more in general. I'll count this as a win if I end the year with twelve blog posts and one published article. F-. Okay, so I wrote TWO whole blog posts, both in the first two weeks of January, and then zip, nada, zilch. I did write a profile piece on the amazing Shani and her Breadtag Project for my favourite magazine UPPERCASE though so that's something.

2. Related, get back to taking photographs on a regular basis. I'd like to end the year with at least 52 Instagram posts. B-. I ended up with over 52 posts but almost all of them were from our trip to the Arctic so does it really count? Probably not. Related - do visit my Instagram if you like walruses!

3. Read more. Specifically read twenty books in 2019. A+. Smashed this one! Read 23 books from many and varied genres. Reading is definitely an entrenched habit now, hurrah! You can see all the books I read and my reviews on Good Reads (or on Facebook if you're my friend there).

4. Do 1SE more consistently. B. Did okay on this one, I guess. I ended up with a 6ish minute video that I'm pretty happy with and that the husband enjoyed. (FYI this is a really great app to get if you want an fun, easy creative project for the year!)

5. Learn the piano. E-. Okay, so I was going really well, and then I just...stopped. Occasionally I'll find five minutes and have a go, but not playing it consistently just means those five minutes I find are really frustrating. 

6. Get back to properly learning Italian. F. Niente.

7. Call and message people more. C+. Better but not best. 

8. Visit my Dad at least once. F. Nope, sorry Dad.

9. Visit my Mum. B. Yes, did this and had a blast. My sister came too! Drank gin; watched Fleabag; found out Mum had signed up for a dating app, once; walked the dog; laughed, a lot. Was wonderful.

10. KonMari every drawer in the house. And my office. C. My drawers look great, have tided the husband's clothes and the step-son's clothes, and the kitchen drawers are pretty solid but my office still looks like a total goddamn tip. It may have actually got worse to be honest.

11. Use my large collection of cookbooks more. B-. There's some I definitely use more, but there's a lot that are still gathering dust.

12. Related - expand my veg / mainly veg cooking repertoire. C. Um, sort of, maybe? I think I have but it really hasn't been intentional so who knows.

13. Eat less carbs. B-. Yes, I believe so. And feeling better for it. I've found a few people to follow on Instagram who have really great, super simple but healthy low carb (not no carb) meal ideas. I've always struggled with getting the balance between protein and carbs right but I feel like lately I'm nailing it (more on that in another post, maybe).

14. Eat less sugar. D-. Let's be honest, this should probably be an F.

15. Keep up my steps. A. Indeed. Most days I smash my 12,000 step target. I maybe miss one day a month and that's usually because I'm sick or just really run down.

16. Visit the gym at least once per week. Preferably twice, but once is the goal. F-. If you'd asked me in April I'd get a B+ but things kind of stopped, completely in the last six months.

17. Complete the City2Surf again. A+. Completed, with a bigger team, and raised a heap of money for RMHC!

18. Personally raise $2000 for our local Ronald McDonald House (Sydney). A+. See above, plus another fun run earlier in the year and a few additional donations.

19. Catch up on three years of photo books. F-. No, and it hurts my heart a little. Have started, but am so behind...

So there you have it, actually not all bad. I'll share my new list with you soon (I bet you can't wait). Will this be the year Good Things* actually does make a comeback? Should I start a betting pool?

ps. It does feel a little frivolous writing this while our country is on fire, but I actually needed the distraction, the time out from watching relentless videos of flames and animal carcasses. It is all so devastating and heartbreaking, and at times utterly infuriating, but at the same time there are so many people doing so many good good things. I'm trying to help out when and where I can, it helps me feel a little less hopeless. 

There are a hundreds of posts out there letting you know the best places to donate or volunteer, I won't add to them but if you do want any tips or links just let me know. 

Stay safe x

19 January 2019

19 Things in the Year of The Pig

Because it's worked so well in the past (it hasn't) I thought I'd kick this blog reboot off with a list of things I want to achieve in the Year of the Pig.

If previous years are anything to go by I'll update my progress once around eight months in and then do a final recap post approximately nine months after the year has finished and everyone has moved on. These recap posts will mostly consist of me mocking my earlier self - so filled with naive enthusiasm and unwarranted optimism - as I detail all the ways I have failed to complete any of the things I thought I wanted to. However, I'm feeling like this year is going to be different (she says with a naive optimism...). It's going to be different because my list is going to be different; it's going to be realistic. Maybe. I hope.

Here goes:

1. Get back to blogging and writing more in general. I'll count this as a win if I end the year with twelve blog posts and one published article.

2. Related, get back to taking photographs on a regular basis. I'd like to end the year with at least 52 Instagram posts.

3. Read more. Specifically read twenty books in 2019. On reflection twenty seems pretty unlikely to be honest, but I'll give it my best shot. I've kicked off with an absolute pearler - the book of the moment, Boy Swallows Universe. I'm currently halfway through and am completely loving it and missing hours of sleep because of it. (ps. If you're on Good Reads please be my friend! And if you're not on Good Reads and you love reading you should definitely download the app - it's such a good way to keep track of your 'to read' list, as well as providing even more ideas on what to read next.)

4. Do 1SE more consistently. Note 'consistently' not 'everyday'. I know it's meant to be '1 Second Everyday' but this is meant to be a realistic list and I know based on previous years there is zero chance I'll remember to film one second every single day. But I'd like to remember most days.

5. Learn the piano. We have a beautiful piano in our house because the youngest step-son is a pretty accomplished musician. It seems a pity for it not be be used more, and whilst I'm not particularly musical I did play clarinet as a kid and I can sort of read music if I pay attention. I've downloaded the Simply Piano app and whilst it's early days I am completely hooked so far. I plan to keep the momentum going and practice at least four times a week.

6. Get back to properly learning Italian. I've picked up a bit from our travels and the husband talking to me (hence the learning of very useful phrases like Io non sono un polipo for when everyone is expecting you to carry everything, and Potrei mangier un cavil for when you're really really hungry) but I really don't know a lot. I've downloaded an app - +Babbel - and started off strong but then just neglected it. Time to get back to it.

7. Call and message people more. I've found as I get older it's super easy for me to become Ms Hermit and basically restrict my social interactions to my husband, sister, mum and two friends I've had since forever. Which - although mostly ace - isn't always enough. I need to make an effort, get over my phone phobia and initiate things more.

8. Visit my Dad at least once. My Dad lives in Lakes Entrance, about four hours drive outside of Melbourne. I know that's not that far but our trips to Melbourne are always just a few nights and they're packed with catch ups and meetings. It's hard to get away. But, my Dad isn't getting any younger (and neither am I, come to think of it), and I really want to go see him. Also there are some killer op shops to visit along the way, so win-win.

9. Likewise, my Mum has just moved to the Mornington Peninsula, about an hours drive from Melbourne. I know she'll come visit me in Sydney but I want to make sure I take the time to go visit her too. Also - op shops, wineries, hot springs, beaches, fancy restaurants. But mainly it's about visiting my Mum...

10. KonMari every drawer in the house. And my office. I've never read Marie Kondo's books but I've fallen hard for this tiny crazy lady whilst watching her Netflix show. I love her because contrary to popular backlash she is not a minimalist, she just wants us to really appreciate and take care of the things we have. And FYI 'sparking joy' isn't some shallow happiness-at-all-costs mantra, it's more about meaningfulness and emotion (I read somewhere that 'joy' would be better translated as something more like 'jolt'). Anyway, she's ace and I've folded most of my clothing because of her. But I still want to tackle the husband's drawers, and the step-son's. And if I can figure out a way to tidy up my home office, and keep it tidy, that would be amazing.

11. Use my large collection of cookbooks more. And maybe don't buy any more until I've really worked with the ones I've got. Maybe.

12. Related - expand my veg / mainly veg cooking repertoire. The husband has gone from a must eat steak every night kind of guy to a that tofu actually tastes good kind of guy, which is brilliant news for me because I'm naturally veg-leaning anyway. There's only so many times you can have omelette or stir fry for dinner so I'd like to up my veg / mainly veg game.

13. Eat less carbs. I adore carbs but I also realise I am of an age where if I eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks I put on about a kilo a week. Yay. I'm struggling to tame the middle age spread as it is so this year I'd like to treat carbs with a bit more respect. Some very thin and healthy and restrained person I follow on Instagram is doing the one carb a day thing, which seems extreme. I'm thinking two a day might work for me.

14. Eat less sugar. Now, I don't think sugar is evil. I don't think any food is inherently good or bad or virtuous or sinful. However, I would like to have some control over the mid-morning chocolate habit that I've developed. (See also taming the middle aged spread.)

15. Keep up my steps. I have a Fitbit and I love it. (Side note - writing this I'm starting to think technology does actually rule my life...but that's a whole other discussion...). My favourite thing is when it tells me exactly to the minute exactly how little sleep I've had the previous night. But I digress...I've been meeting my step goal almost every day and I keep pushing it up (currently on 12,000). Hoping by the end of the year it's a little higher than that again.

16. Visit the gym at least once per week. Preferably twice, but once is the goal (I told you it was going to be a realistic list). I'm currently using the Sweat app and it's so good (yes, more technology...). Very challenging and with loads of variety.

17. Complete the City2Surf again. It's become a bit of an annual tradition (twice counts as an annual tradition right?).

18. Personally raise $2000 for our local Ronald McDonald House (Sydney).

19. Catch up on three years of photo books. I used to make one for the husband every year. I loved making them and we love looking through them, but I'm a a bit behind. I need to carve out those big chunks of time and just get them done.

And that's it folks - an ambitious but slightly more realistic list of things I want to achieve, personally, in the Year of the Pig. What's on your list this year?

The Reboot

Last week I was strolling the streets of Paddington in the sunshine, feeling a bit flat and thinking about how much I miss doing creative things. Things like terrible embroidery and taking photos just for the heck of it and writing - I really miss writing. I was having a bit of a whinge to myself about the fact I don't have time to do all that stuff anymore...when the other logical, optimistic part of my brain piped up: 'Um, actually these days you do have time! You just choose to spend that time watching clips from The Voice / Ellen / AGT on YouTube or stressing about things that may never happen or doing all the things that aren't really that necessary and probably won't be noticed if you just don't do them.' 

And it's true - we have a really great team at work now, the store is doing pretty well, so I do get days off and I do get snippets of time to myself. I just haven't been making writing and photo-taking and all that stuff a priority. But I want to change that, starting now!

Last time around I said I was just blogging for me, but that wasn't completely true. I was an ex-pat mostly non-working wife at the time and at the back of my head there was always a teensy little thought that I should make something commercial of it. These days I have a very full-time job. There is absolutely no thought of turning any of this into a 'business'. It is just an outlet, for me (Instagram stories can only quash the desire to write for so long...). If anyone out there reads a word or looks at a photo that's completely ace, but not at all necessary. 

So, what am I going to write about? 

Travel, as always. We have three big trips booked this year. Firstly we're heading to Chicago in May and scored a great deal on a round-the-world airfare (half the price of flying direct!) so we'll also spend a few days in Hong Kong and Vienna. Then we have another amazing family adventure booked in July - we've done Antartica, so now we're going in the other direction, to the Arctic. And then towards the end of the year we'll be heading back to Seoul for the first time since we lived there (mainly to replenish my ribbon stash, to be honest...). 

I'll definitely be posting about dachshunds, of course. And family, work, life. And just generally things I love - books, movies, clothes, recipes, people. My goal is to post once a month (I'm keeping it realistic!); we'll see...

Blogging is dead, long live blogging!