Unexpected Bonus: The Bay of Whales Gallery

We discovered a new Indie art gallery in the small hamlet where we go camping every year.

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After a crazy-busy Christmas and New Year “silly season” followed by some medical events with my father, we managed to get away for a few days to one of our favourite destinations.  It’s a little caravan park (aka ‘trailer park’ in American English) nestled into a bend on the Surry River on the south-western coast of Victoria, just down the hill from a small hamlet named Narrawong.  

Many people might drive through Narrawong on their way from Warrnambool to Portland and suspect that there’s not much there. 
They’d be wrong. 

This area is full of surprises. We’ve been spending part of our January here for years, but we are still finding new things to do and see. 

This year’s unexpected bonus was a visit to the Bay of Whales Gallery, where wildlife artist Brett Jarrett creates and exhibits his amazing realist art of all sorts of animals and birds. 


Visitors are welcome to talk with Brett and watch him work, which makes them feel very connected to his artwork.  It’s a very relaxed and comfortable place, and it was lovely to be able to walk around and peruse Brett’s paintings at our own pace. 

There is beauty outside the gallery, too. Peacocks and chickens roam the grounds of the building, which sits atop a hill that overlooks natural bush, farmland, beach and bay.

The Bay of Whales Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday. 

My friends and I can personally testify that very good coffee and a range of delicious home-made cakes are available on weekends.  

Follow Brett Jarrett Wildlife Artist on Facebook or Instagram.

‘Smoke and Shadows’: #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry!

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has taken the flag for ‘#1 New Release’ on Amazon’s US store.

I will readily confess to being a little overwhelmed right now. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has a little orange flag beside the title on Amazon US, declaring that it is the #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry. While I know it won’t last terribly long, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a. real and b. not a cruel joke. 

It was a strange mix of surprise, pride, excitement and humility that hit me when I signed into my browser after a few days away from home and that popped up.

It also comes up when anyone clicks on ‘Hot New Releases’ and scrolls through the various genres. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I know that I have worked hard to ensure it’s a great collection, and I am incredibly proud of these poems, but I know that it couldn’t have happened without readers being willing to give my work a try, nor without the support and encouragement of those who help with tricky things like marketing and promotion.  I couldn’t have done any of it without those key individuals in my life who remind me regularly that I can do this, that my work is good, and that there is no reason why I should not deserve success. 

To each of those people: thank you for helping me achieve this honour, as fleeting as it may be. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your contribution to my achievements so far.

Of course, it all depends on how one defines success.  Some people might consider dollars in the bank as a sign that they’ve made it.  Some might look at whether or not they can quit their day job and just write. Some might want to achieve “celebrity” status.  Others focus on book sales, page reads, and their ongoing rankings in various lists and stores.

I won’t deny that any or all of those things would be nice, and I absolutely do hope that people will buy, read and hopefully enjoy my books, but for me, the ultimate success as a poet is when someone tells me that my poetry is relatable, that it moved them or made them cry, or that it helped them to put a painful experience behind them.  One of my favourite comments about my book Leaf came from a young woman who told me, “I read your poems, and I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to know someone else understands what I think and feel.”  That has never left me, and never fails to spur me on.  The fact that people connect and relate to my work in that powerfully emotional way is how I measure my success as a poet. 

So, I don’t need that little orange flag to show that I’m successful. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have it, and I’m going to take pride in it.  And I might brag about it just a little… because I know it won’t last long. And in all honesty… I’m going to tell everyone I know, just because I can. 

The View From The Top Of The Mountain

Why it’s been two weeks since I last wrote a blog post.

Wait.
What?
It’s the end of December already?

What a busy month it’s been.  The last time I wrote on this blog, I bragged about turning my alarms off and being able to relax because school was done for the year. HA! Add that to the list of things I shouldn’t say if I don’t want to tempt the fates. 

In the few days between school finishing and Christmas, my father had a slew of medical appointments. Christmas shopping had to be done. End of year breakup parties had to be attended. Some decoration of the house, at least, had to be done. Then the presents had to be wrapped. And all the time, people kept telling me to take it easy, to not worry about things, and to not feel I had to do all the usual Christmas things.

I did have to, though. My husband’s family were all coming for Christmas, and mine were arriving shortly after, so I needed to make some effort. I’m glad I did, too – we had thirty people sharing Christmas lunch in our home. Everyone brought part of the feast with them, so my contribution was minimal – I made a chocolate honeycomb cheesecake, a trifle, and the maple glaze for the ham, all of which were done the day before. 

My husband and I had agreed well before the day that it would be better to leave the running of the day to him and his sisters, so that I could preserve both my back and my energy.  There is, after all, no point in undoing weeks of healing for in the course of one busy day. 

My Christmas Day was, therefore, quite relaxed. I was able to relax in my recliner and cuddle my adorable great-nephew, drink whatever lovely cordial was in the glasses that people handed to me, and enjoy a wonderful day of fun, laughter, conversation and sharing with my family. In the late afternoon, we went to visit our best friends and exchanged gifts before sharing dinner with them.  That time, too, was precious and relaxing and lovely.

Boxing Day for us is always a day spent with extended family and friends, so we gathered at my sister-in-law’s home for a barbecue with another group of thirty or so people – some were double-ups from the previous day, some were not – on a blazing hot 40 degrees Celsius Australian summer’s day. Thank God for shade, fans, and lots of cool drinks!

Tomorrow, my sister and her family arrive from interstate for a second Christmas, and to spend some valuable time with my father. And that means it’s going to be busy again! 

For that reason, I was determined that today would be blissfully quiet. It was stinking hot again: 41C in the coolest part of mainland Australia – so I stayed indoors and enjoyed the air conditioning. Thankfully, I managed to catch up on some social media and prepare the rest of Book Squirrel’s Golden Squirrel Indie Book Awards for the 31st, which I really needed to get done so that everything is properly prepared and ready to roll. 

So, I really shouldn’t have made flippant remarks about being able to relax. It’s true I’ve been able to sleep in a bit, and I haven’t had to put real shoes on more than once, which is always nice.

In all honesty, though, getting to the end of this year feels like I’ve climbed a mountain to find that I’m standing on top and looking out to the western horizon as the sun sets.

I’m thankful to have survived the journey thus far, and I can see how far I have come.  One thing is for sure, though – I won’t complain if 2019 is kinder than its predecessor.

Don’t Miss The 2018 Golden Squirrel Awards

Book Squirrel will present the second annual Golden Squirrel Awards on December 31st, 2018.

The logo of the Golden Squirrel Book Awards page.

Book Squirrel has read and reviewed some fantastic books this year.

While not every book can receive an award, Book Squirrel will present the second annual Golden Squirrel Independent Book Awards to books in more than twenty different genres, across a variety of age ranges, interests and styles. 

Last year’s awards featured some excellent books, and gave a number of Indie authors another vehicle for promoting and sharing their work. This year, the selections are equally commendable.

Just to make it clear, this is not a contest that people can vote on. This is an entirely subjective and preference-driven selection process. Book Squirrel knows what he likes, and that’s what he reads. When he reads, he always leaves a review. And on the Book Squirrel blog, he awards gold, silver or bronze acorns instead of a star rating system. 

At the end of the year, he chooses the best of the books he has read and reviewed, and gives some nice shiny awards to the wonderful authors who entertained and enlightened him in the past twelve months. 

You can be sure that the winners of Golden Squirrel Awards are excellent reads, and worthy of recognition. 

Naturally, my own books are ineligible for a Golden Squirrel, as Book Squirrel is a most ethical creature and strives to be impartial. He does love reading them, though!

Follow Book Squirrel on Facebook, Twitter and WordPress.

Current Status: Alarms Have Been Turned Off

I feel like one of those athletes who stagger over the finish line and collapse… but I made it!

Today was the last day of term and the end of the school year.

The last two weeks since I returned to work after my surgery have been brutal and I feel like I have run a marathon, especially having had dad in hospital again at the same time, but I’m proud of myself for doing it, and looking forward to a very well-earned rest.

One of the things I really enjoy doing on this one particular day of the year is turning all my morning alarms off. It may take all of ten seconds, but it’s a ritual that restores my sense of “owning” my time again. I love being able to embrace my inner night owl once more, and take my daylight hours at a slower pace.

Catching The Train.

Today, I caught a train to Melbourne. Perhaps I should have thought about that a little more.

Today I caught a train into Melbourne for an appointment tomorrow. 

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but.. ouch. 

I didn’t even think about only being seven weeks post-surgery when I got on the train.  I probably should have done, though. 

Here’s the thing. A country rail journey here is bumpier than a car trip and the jostling is constant. You can’t adjust the seat or change your position, so it is what it is. 

The great thing was that my travelling companions were a. people I know well, b. very helpful and c. not actually able to walk much faster than me, so apart from the jiggling it was quite a good trip. 

By the time we arrived at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, my back was feeling very tender indeed. It was great to get off the train and walk for a bit, which helps to relieve the inflammation and get the circulation going again. 

I also really like this railway station. Melbourne has two iconic stations: Flinders Street Station is old and beautiful, while Southern Cross is funky and cool with its sleek designs and wavy roof. I find it hard not to look up at that roof and think, “That’s SO cool!” 

From the station, it was only a short cab ride to the hotel. Now that I am lying down in my hotel room and have had some ibuprofen, I feel quite okay, so no harm done. 

The Problem of Not Overdoing It.

“Don’t overdo it!” everyone says.
Sure. No problem.

One of the things practically everyone has said to me since I came home from surgery is “Don’t overdo it!”

I fully understand their concern. My back is still healing, I can’t sit upright for any length of time without pain, and it would be easy to screw up the progress I’ve made so far. 

I, on the other hand, have been determined to see what I can do, given that I’m quite aware of what I can’t do. It’s also fair to say that I’m feeling the deadlines marching upon me like automatons trained to take me hostage until I meet my obligations for the end of the year. 

Last week, I managed three days at school before I had to admit that I needed to rest. I stayed home on Friday and spent it recovering from three days in a row of doing more than I had done in weeks. 

This week, all our students’ exams and assignments are supposed to be marked and their end-of-year reports written by Friday.

Sure. No problem. 
That’s totally achievable.   *sigh*

I can honestly say I’m trying. Today I’ve graded essays and assignments, and written my evaluations of those tasks for the reports. I’ve had to do that lying in my recliner with my laptop propped up on my knees, because sitting for that long isn’t an option. My eyes are starting to blur, and my brain is mush. I can’t remember how I ever did this stuff on a daily basis without going mental. 

But hey! At least I’m writing… something. 

Today I talked with my GP about my progress, how I am healing, and what I can reasonably expect. She reminded me I had to be patient, to be kind to myself and not expect too much because my body has had significant trauma and I’m still healing. That’s actually where my body and brain are going to be expending most of my energy for some time yet. 

I know she’s right.

My frustration is that it’s really hard to balance being kind to myself in that way with being professional and doing my absolute best for my students and my school. I don’t know how to make both things happen at the same time. 

I know tomorrow is another day, but it’s also a day closer to Friday and those deadlines that it brings. 
And you know, they matter. The whole school has to work on the same timeline so that everything is done well and on time. 

I don’t want to be the one to let everyone down, and I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the absolutely beautiful and generous heart of my colleague who has taken on doing all of that for my Year 11 class, I wouldn’t have any hope of getting everything on my “to do” list done.

In fact, everyone at school has been absolutely marvellous and supportive, and while I’m grateful, that actually makes it harder for me to ask for more time or more help. I don’t like asking for special treatment, and I hate the thought of it looking like I’m wimping out. I hate to admit it, but the work ethic in which I have taken pride for so long is actually not doing me any favours right now.   

I know. I know. 

So, tomorrow I will simply head back to work and do what I can in the day without overdoing anything, and trying to be kind to myself.

Easy.Right?

Sure. No problem. 

Progress!

I’m feeling positive about the progress I am making.

Now that I am making more progress in my recovery from my spinal surgery and I am moving a little more freely, I’ve decided to be more deliberate and purposeful about starting to retrain my muscles and building up some stamina for both my body and my mind.

Today I got out some pencils and a book, and started colouring, which is always something that makes me happy and peaceful. It’s also something I can do standing at the kitchen bench. I don’t have to do it all at once – it’s something I can do, and leave, and go back to through the day.

Like me, it’s neither perfect nor finished, but it’s on the way.

It may not seem like much, but getting this much done is a big achievement for me. I have been largely horizontal and only walking fairly short distances -although frequently – since the surgery on my spine on October 19.

Since my last update on my recovery, the first lot of bruising has faded to a dull shadow and the deeper bruising has begun to come to the surface now, so I am still all the colours of the rainbow, but the pain is less intense and more manageable now. I’ve ventured out of the house and walked around the yard, and begun to do light things around the house like folding laundry and doing dishes. Things that exhausted me at first are easier now, which is really encouraging. I have, however, learned the hard way that I am not ready for cutting pumpkin (it was just a little bit of butternut) or bending to get things out of low places. You don’t know until you try, right? Suffice to say that dinner on Monday was delicious, but I paid for it on Monday night and yesterday. The aggravation has settled now, though, much to my relief.

Sitting for any length of time is still an issue: I’m currently managing about ten minutes at a time before I have had enough. That means I will have to be ready to stand up most of the day when I go back to work in a couple of weeks. I will have exams to mark and papers to grade, so this seems like a good way to begin to prepare for that sort of thing. I can gradually build up to standing for longer periods of time without feeling any pressure to “perform”.

I also plan to start walking a bit further than I have been, especially now that I am a bit more confident and steady on my feet.

I fully understand that healing and recovery can’t be rushed, but I think that small progress in these ways will only help me to get stronger. And when I have had enough each time, my bed or my recliner will still be here waiting for me.

Today I am feeling positive and encouraged, which is also helpful to my healing and easier to live with all round.

Bling.

An award such as this is signifies a job well done and a book worth reading.


I’m very excited to show off the new bling on the cover of The Silver Feather.

I received notification a couple of months ago that The Silver Feather had won ‘Official Selection’ in the short story category of the New Apple Summer eBook Awards, but the award didn’t arrive until today.

The original email explained that an Official Selection was awarded when the judges were unable to make a decision between two books for first and second place.

So it’s basically equal first, I thought, I can live with that. Holy Toledo! I’ve won another award! I told my husband. I texted my best friend. Naturally, I began to wonder what the other book was, and figured I would have to wait until official announcements were made.

Then one of the Indie Fabs messaged the rest of us and announced that our anthology, Once Upon a Fabulous Time, had won something in the New Apple awards.

Well, blow me down if The Silver Feather didn’t tie for first with the anthology containing my two fantasy/fairy tale novellas, alongside those excellent stories penned by my fellow Fabs.

I was perfectly happy with that, as there is nobody I would rather share first place with than my Fabs.

So Once Upon A Fabulous Time has some lovely new bling on the cover, too!

It’s exciting to show it off, but the deeper value is in the encouragement that an award like this gives to an author. These awards are judged by experts, not popularly voted or arbitrarily given.

These badges on our covers are an assurance of quality and excellence in storytelling. They are something of which we can be justifiably proud because they signify a job well done and a book worth reading.

Current Status: Not Ready For Adulting

Today, I ventured beyond home for the first time since coming home after surgery.

I had to go out today. There was sunshine. There were people. It was traumatic.

My driver’s license expires on Thursday, so my husband agreed to take me to the next town where I could get the photo taken, sign the form, and give a chunk of my cash to the government for a new one.

I did my hair, put on real clothes instead of pyjamas, and put on some makeup.
I thought I was doing okay for someone recovering from surgery, so I sent a snap to my best friend.

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Naturally, she was both encouraging and completely understanding of why I made the extra effort. She is consistently awesome like that.

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Let’s face it, you don’t want to be thinking “Oh yeah, that was that month where I spent two weeks nearly dying from a mystery chest infection and then ended up having spinal surgery after screaming non-stop for four days!” every time you look at your license photo for the next ten years, do you?

The drive to Camperdown wasn’t too bad. I had the seat reclined a fair way because I still can’t sit comfortably for more than about eight minutes, and my husband was pretty good at missing the worst of the bumps.

I walked from the car to the shire offices without too much trouble. I didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, and everything went smoothly so that the license renewal was taken care of in just a few minutes.

Then my husband suggested we call at the supermarket to pick up something for dinner. My approach to grocery shopping is quite pragmatic: get in, get what you need, and get out. I thought I could handle that, even at this stage of my recovery.

Of course, it’s never that simple when you really need it to be. I wasn’t two meters through the door of the store when an acquaintance stopped me for a chat. I had the cart to hold onto – what a clever disguise for an disability support walker that was! – and it was a very good thing, because just standing there, I could feel myself fading and the sweat breaking out on my skin as I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong. In the end, I told her I had to go and staggered off to find my husband, who had been gathering the things we needed and had his arms full of stuff. We went to find the last couple of things, and that was when he pointed out the Harry Potter Quidditch Match LEGO set.

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That may not seem significant to you, but Harry Potter and LEGO are both big-ticket items in my world. I didn’t have to rationalise anything. It was coming home with me. I left the set with Aragog behind, though, because while Hagrid may love giant spiders, I do not.

We got through the checkout and back to the car, and my lower back where I had the surgery last week was really starting to hurt.

The road seemed longer and much bumpier on the way home than it had on the way there. I was really thankful that I wasn’t sitting upright, and tried not to complain but couldn’t help making those awkward little little grunty noise that you make when something hurts and you try to just grit your teeth but the sound gets out anyway.

When we got home I had to take some ibuprofen and lie down. I didn’t even take a moment first to look at my new LEGO set. And once again, I am writing a blog post on my iPad while lying flat on my back.

The good thing is that my driver’s license is good for another ten years.
The not-so-good thing is that I know I am nowhere near ready to use it.