My wonderful web designer-slash-good-friend and I have been working around the clock to revamp my new website, and we are down to the last finishing touches before she pressed that very important ‘Go Live’ button.

So, head on over to my new, very own website http://mariasmcdonald.com/. For those of you who have subscribed to receive email notification every time I post something, your subscription will automatically be transferred across to the new site. For those who follow simply via putting me on your ‘Reading list’ on WordPress, I invite you to come over to my new site and subscribe! The subscription form can be found on the bottom of the home page.

This is it, folks. This is the last post from mariasmcdonald.wordpress.com. See you on the other side!


This is my second week back after 4 weeks of travel. This week also marked the first week I’ve been back at work, and it seemed as though I have never left for holiday; I’ve been so flat out that even though I have so many stories brewing inside my head (travel- and novel-wise), work demands compelled me to take it easy, take care of myself (both mind and body) and not force myself with taking on more than I should.

In my previous post As the Clock Ticks Closer to End 2011, I mentioned that a good friend of mine has given me my own domain as a Christmas present. She has also been patiently guiding me in all things ‘website’ (as my knowledge in this area is very limited), from getting a web host to slowly building my very own, new, swanky website.

So, bear with me as I continue to bombard said friend with a million of seemingly simple-to-answer questions and revamp this current website. But once the new website is up and running – I will post with a vengeance!

Watch this space!

I am sitting here in my husband’s aunt’s home with most of his immediate family and cousins, ready to greet 2012 with a bang. So far today, I have:

1. Endured a full-bodied, 1 hour and 45 minutes massage – all for $12.50!
2. Had a manicure and pedicure, complete with small flowers adorning each corner of my polished fingernails – all for the price of $4.50 or so….

I had thought that I had a more reliable internet connection, but this is by far the longest stretch of connection I’ve had, and there isn’t enough time currently to recount my week so far in this beautiful, unique country. Suffice to say that this trip has been the homecoming my husband has hoped for, and it has been an eye-opener for me in so many levels.

2011 has been a challenging year for me (not necessarily in a bad way). This is the year I’ve taken my writing passion to new heights, including creating a separate, author Facebook page; a Twitter account; this blog/website; and attending writing conferences. What’s in store for 2012?

1. As soon as I get back from Philippines, I am going to a ‘Year of the Edit’ course. It is a masterclass stretched over 6 months which will equip me with a series of skills required to edit the many novels I’ve written.

2. On a similar token of editing/proof-reading, I recently got in touch with a friend who is making her living as a professional editor/proof-reader. I am so looking forward to working with her in further polishing one or more of the novels I have finished.

3. A very good friend of mine gave me THE BEST Christmas present this year – my own domain. So watch this space as I slowly transfer my blog over to mariasmcdonald.com and build my very own, more comprehensive website.

4. Watch this space in general – I’ll be running a few competitions throughout 2012! There are a gazillion story lines swirling inside my head, all with characters yet to be named and places/settings to be determined 🙂

Before the not-so-reliable connection cuts me out again, can I just offer a heartfelt gratitude to each and  every one of you. It is beyond my wildest imagination to have gained 166 followers in the course of 4 months since I broadcast my writing passion through various social media avenues; some of you I have known for many years, and some of you I have never met except through the written posts of Facebook/Twitter. However you’ve contributed to support my writing passion, my sincere thanks, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading about my writing/life journey throughout 2012.

May 2012 be the year you’ve been waiting and hoping for!

Today is the day! After about 9 months of planning, and waiting, and counting down, we are now down to the wire. In about 7 hours, we will leave our home for 3.5 weeks, and by new dawn tomorrow, we will fly across the Pacific Ocean to Singapore, and get a connecting flight to the Philippines.

My next post (whenever that would be!) will recount our experiences in the Philippines. I doubt it will be before Christmas, so to all of you, a very Merry Christmas! May it be filled with joy and laughter, spent with your family and those who are dearest to you.

And as Christmas is my favourite holiday season of the year, it’s only natural that all of my books to date have touched upon this subject. Here’s a little excerpt to bring you more Christmas cheer and joy, from Lizzy & Michael III.

“Ready?” He asked his companion, fingers intertwining with her slender ones, tugging her arm excitedly she had no choice but to trudge along the narrow footpath serving as some kind of an entrance, teeth tightly clamping her bottom lip upon witnessing Michael’s apparent glee.

“How big is this tree going to be?” Lizzy asked, envisioning the available space provided b the humongous living room of the Presidential Suite Michael had called home since May of this year; if he wanted to, he could order a nine-foot tree to fill up a corner, and more.

“Whatever tree that’s light enough for both of us to carry,” Michael replied, sensing the churning of Lizzy’s mind as to how to possibly transport an enormous tree.

Lizzy couldn’t help but chuckle; Michael had booked her diary for this evening as far back as two weeks ago, stating with apparent exuberance that in light of the fact that neither of them will be leaving the Big Apple this year, both wanting to fully experience the joy of Christmas in their own apartments for the first time, they would need to slightly modify their annual Christmas tradition instead of the usual venture to the Fenway Park fete.

“This one’s nice,” Lizzy commented, running her fingers lovingly through the short-spiked leaves of a slender Balsam fir tree the height of her chest.

It would be, Michael thought dryly, for your place. He looked over the tree somewhat dispassionately, believing that his majestic place would swallow the petite plant, making it look even smaller than it actually was.

Lizzy wrinkled her nose when Michael suggested as much, her eyes trailing up and down the length of the five-foot tree with no more enthusiasm than what Michael had displayed just moments earlier. Herself an agnostic, and growing up believing that Christmas was a less-than-special occasion compared to birthdays and Mother’s or Father’s day, the thought of having a lit-up, fancily decorated Christmas tree was foreign and unsettling.

“Let’s find your tree first,” Lizzy said at last. She concluded that should she decide to have a Christmas tree after all, a five-foot tree would be lighter and easier to drag along than a much larger one.

They combed through the well-known SoHo trees displayed on Armsterdam and 98th Street, schooling both their faces to nod and smile appreciatively at the salesman trying their hardest to sell the features of each tree they inspected and put a mild interest on, eyes rolling the whole three-hundred-and-sixty degree or making faces at one another as they walked away from what they believed to be half-dead trees it should already be sent to the chipper.

They emerged out of the lush evergreens some one-and-a-half hour later, both faces beaming and flushed, their hands busily balancing the five-foot tree that had first attracted Lizzy’s attention, Michael’s choice of a seven-foot Douglas fir bushy tree was being delivered this coming weekend, the docket of purchase was safely wedged inside his overcoat pocket; the occasion was made even more memorable as coming out of the display space, they felt small white drops of snow from the sky above, landing on their skins softly like balls of cotton wools.

A year later, Sasha was surprisingly still with us. Her tumour had grown to twice its size, slowing her movements down somewhat.

We decided to get a second, professional opinion. From the moment we stepped through the front door, we had a really good vibe we didn’t feel with the first vet. This vet told us that we could do a simple blood test first, ensuring that her heart could withstand the surgery (something that the first vet NEVER told us – but that was another rant). With that in mind, we booked our baby girl for surgery, waiting impatiently by the phone for every little updates.

One thing I have to say is that our fur kid was a real trooper. Groggy as she was from the anaesthetic, she made it through the surgery, her spirit was only slightly dampened by the fact that we had to put a cone around her head to prevent her from licking, or worse, shred open the stitches with her teeth. For a while, we nicknamed her ‘Little Miss Cone Head’.

'Mummy, get this thing off me!'

But once the stitches had been taken out, and the memory of the surgery was well behind her, the girl thought she was an equivalent to a ‘Supergirl’, the only thing missing was her red cape. She still strived to launch off the edge of the couch (to both my and my husband’s mortification), still do laps around the house as soon as we let her in. And even though her hearing has gone, it didn’t deter me from turning into a Mad Mother, screaming at her to stop running and save her energy.

I realised I’ve digressed considerably from my main point. With our overseas trip looming, we had been racking our brains as to what arrangement we would put in place for someone to look after Sasha for three-and-a-half weeks. We had a friend who lived just around the corner from us who was willing to come over each day and feed her. But still, we worry about her for several reasons. For one, we are leaving her during what would arguably be one of the hottest period in summer. Two, we have put PVC blinds to cover our whole patio, and the hot air would be trapped inside the patio, where my baby is. Three, well… the baby, in dog years, is actually 107 years old! More and more, she fills her present days strolling around the patio, trying to get our attention by sniffing so loudly near the door, and sleeping inside her dog house. And the last thing we want, if we could avoid it, is coming home to a dead dog 😦

So we had to think of an alternative. Last weekend, we brought her to my husband’s brother’s house and tested how she behaved with his brother’s dog. The last time Sasha and my husband’s brother’s dog laid eyes on each other, many moons ago (I’m talking about… 10 or so years), they growled and showed their fangs; the other dog nipped Sasha, so unexpectedly it scared the shit out of Sasha. All this, coming from a dog whom had been Sasha’s partner-in-crime for three years whilst Sasha was living at my husband’s brother’s house.

With Sasha’s hearing completely gone, and her strength almost non-existent, she couldn’t be bothered to retaliate. As the other dog growled and nipped her, Sasha strolled past without a care in the world; a factor, I think, that contributed greatly to the fact that the other dog gave up after about 30 minutes. And you know how, for Mothers out there, when you feel immense pride when your child does something ordinary? When s/he gets teased/provoked and they stand their ground without getting themselves into trouble? Well, I felt like that when Sasha casually strode past the other dog; a feeling of overwhelming pride of my cutest, most wonderful (not-so) little girl, who has learnt all the life’s lessons and realise that fighting back isn’t always the best course of action.

All's well in the world 🙂

No, this is not a gushing post about my husband, despite me loving him so dearly. This time, my utmost affection is being solely directed to the other, most important creature in my life; my beautiful 15-year-old Jack Russell, Sasha.

Our poser Fur-Baby

To say she’s ‘mine’ was also not entirely correct (though my husband would beg to differ for the reason I’m about to disclose). He was the one who spotted and fell in love with her first, when he was working  in a mining town in another state, a few years before he met me. But from the moment I came into the picture, and caught her mid-air as she bounded and leapt to me, I was completely smitten with (back then) the precocious, cutest three-year-old puppy.

From that first, memorable meeting, a special ‘Mother-daughter’ bond was formed. I remember those days I didn’t have to go to University to attend lectures or meet up somewhere for group assignments; I would let my baby inside the house, and let her curl beside me whilst I read my textbooks, did my homework, or watched daytime soaps. Over time, she had extended this tradition by sitting on my lap, pressing the length of her little body either in-between my stretched-out legs or moulding the curve of her body perfectly to that my folded leg(s), her sigh indicating that all was well in her world.

It was a habit she carried on in the frequent occasions we let her sleep with us on our queen-, and later on king-sized bed. You’d think that she’d appreciate the space, happy to choose a corner spot, and sprawl herself silly? Apparently not! To our furkid, the most ideal sleeping arrangement was to press her back right up against one of our legs. There were many times that she had ‘kicked’ me inadvertently with her paws to stretch. And there were equally many times that both my husband and I ‘retaliated’ and bumped her purposely with our legs, or pushed her to where there was an abundant of space (mind you to no avail – the cheeky girl would always shuffle back to press herself against one of us).

Just like any other baby, the furkid grew up. Whereas in her prime, she loved to dig her way out of the backyard fence, happy to galavant and see the world far beyond what she witnessed when we took her on walks, as the years went by, she gradually lost interest in the outside world (thank goodness). Whereas before, she could last a whole day chasing after the much-worn out, much-loved tennis ball, the ageing doggie gradually lost the strength to run up and jump up on the bed. The times of playfully trying to devour other furkid’s head – something that at first horrified me – is now deemed as too much of an effort.

Slowly but surely, her hearing disappeared, and the opaque that affected her right eye grew larger. Shortly after her 13th birthday last year, she developed some kind of a breast tumour, which expanded the size of one of her nipples to… well, let’s just say unnaturally enormous. We went to one vet, who told us that given her age, putting her through surgery might mean she might never ever wake up again, and perhaps it would be best if we just make the rest of her short life as comfortably as we possibly could.

I’m talking about ‘Secret Santa’/’Kris Kringle’ – that notion of gifting someone you may not necessarily know very well. I’ve been involved with a few of these over the years, playing the game and conforming to all variations of the rules. As I wrote a card for one of the SS/KK I’m involved in this year, I realised that I put a lot of thought and energy into the whole concept. Below are some of the ones I have done/thought of over the years.

1. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of an open book. I trust people semi-easily, and I tell people things about myself. When it came to Secret Santa/Kris Kringle and having to ‘torture’ your ‘victim’ for a period of time with cryptic clues, I found myself having to be very inventive with the clues I give him/her, so as not to be guessed correctly too early in the game. I once even did a word scramble, but alas, it was a bit too hard for my victim to guess, and I stopped doing that since.

2. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I could write a whole other post about giving gifts based on the intended recipient’s wants/needs/interests vs giving whatever present you deemed appropriate, “it’s the thought that counts” argument.  But over the years, I find that even with close friends, their preferences change from time to time. When it comes to work Secret Santa, the challenge of sourcing a gift that is remotely aligned to that particular colleague’s wants/needs/interests become that little bit more… daunting, to say the least. So, over the years, I’ve set myself a little detective work, trying to find out a little about my victim’s interests (more often than not involving another work colleague who might know my victim a little bit better than I do), and give a gift accordingly. I pretended that I didn’t know who the gift-giver to my victim was and struck a conversation to find out whether they liked the present or not.

3. This relates more to the Secret Santa present I have to mail out, either to another part of the state I live in, or a different state altogether. Each year, I’ve been involved in Secret Santa with a bunch of close friends I met on an on-line wedding forum many moons ago, when I was planning my own wedding. There were only about 20 of us, and if they were like me in conducting a vigorous detective work, they could probably work out who their Secret Santa is from either the location the mail has originated, or from their handwriting. To that end, I took great pains in posting the gift from a suburb different to the one I live, or work in. I enlisted my darling husband to write the address and sign the ‘Dangerous Goods’ Declaration Form’ on the parcel. I alter the curves and lilt of my handwriting, to ‘stretch’ the Secret Santa game to the very last possible moment.

What about you? What measures have you gone to to ensure that your SS/KK victim doesn’t figure you out so easily?

Is the greatest artist on earth. The sound of his voice, singing or otherwise, flutters my heart.

That is all – I’m off to swoon again 🙂

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping,
And I’ve bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

I do wish I could tell you that one of my Christmas traditions involve sitting by the fireplace, roasting corn/marshmallows, watching the snow fall down steadily from the Heavens. But I have gone through a few Christmas traditions in my time, both with the family I originated from, and the one I created ever since I married my husband.

One Christmas Tradition that never dies...

My earliest memory of a Christmas tradition, back in Jakarta, included a night-time Mass that ended right at the stroke of midnight (or just slightly after). Because our parish serviced about 4 massive areas, the Church was packed up to the carpark area, and if you wanted to get a seat to brace the over 1-hour Mass, you had to be at the Church around 8 at night for a 10PM mass.  Growing up, I had very much looked forward to this even if cramming yourself into a room during a windless, humid night meant you also had to fan yourself vigorously for two straight hours); it was a chance to meet with my friends outside school setting, a chance to wish them a ‘Merry Christmas’ right there on the spot instead of waiting until New Year, when the school resumed.

On Christmas day, all of us went on a family outing. Being a Muslim-oriented country, the shops in Jakarta remained open, despite Christmas day being officially declared as a public holiday. It was the one day that we put aside all our differences as a family,  traipsed around the many levels of the shopping centre of choice, and had a wonderful, peaceful Christmas lunch. I would have loved to be able to say that afterwards, I happily checked out the Christmas/after-Christmas sales, but being small, with no money whatsoever, I had to satisfy myself with following my Mother around whilst she checked out the sales, trying out whatever clothes she deemed appropriate for me to have. Failing that, I retreated to the bookstore and devoured new release books until the moment my parents declared that family outing time was finished and we headed home.

Imagine my bafflement therefore when I migrated to Australia and experienced my first Christmas here. I grew up watching American shows, where the weather cooled right down to freezing nearing Christmas. Every Christmas movie I watched showed people rugging up from head to toe, protecting them from snow and blizzard. Based on this, and the experience I have had in Jakarta, I was thoroughly disappointed to find that on Christmas day in Australia:
1. The temperature could reach early 40 degree Celcius, making it difficult for ANY kind of make-up to stay on your face for long.
2. The shops are closed for the whole day. Even the cinemas at one stage were closed.
I know, I know, it was a time for family to get-together and enjoy each other’s company. But seriously, the first Christmas I spent in Australia, it was only my Mum and I (unlike a flock of birds, when we migrated to Australia, we had staggered migration – with me and my Mum travelling first, and the rest of the family coming in much much later – but that’s a whole other post!). We were living in a unit, we didn’t know anyone, and we weren’t prepared for the quietness that ensued following the morning Mass. Everyone else in the apartment building had gone to their respective families to celebrate Christmas; the thought of bracing the journey to town in public transport, only to be greeted by closed doors were equally unappealing. It was, by far, the dullest Christmas I’ve ever experienced, a far-cry from all those warm, fuzzy feeling I’ve watched on TV, and I got so disheartened by Christmas that particular year I actually cried!

In hindsight, my vow never to experience such a Christmas again led me to the next Christmas tradition. I started travelling; instead of staying in Australia for Christmas, I think over the next two years, I went back home to Jakarta during Christmas-New Year. I reacquainted myself with friends I have made from teaching a local Sunday school in my parish. I met, and made new friends with the prayer group I used to attend before I migrated to Australia. I went on a Religious end-of-year retreat.

The tradition of travelling more or less continued when I met my (then) future husband. Granted, he also took me to his family’s Christmas dinner celebration, and I rediscovered the true meaning of Christmas – of it being the time to share the love and joy with those you hold dear. But, as the years went by, and my then boyfriend, then fiancée, then husband and I wanted to cement our own, unique Christmas tradition, travelling during Christmas had become a regular occurrence for us. In the course of 7 years of marriage, we’ve travelled back to Jakarta 3 times; we went to Sydney and Melbourne; and this year, we are about to embark on yet another overseas trip, to Philippines, flying just a few days before Christmas.

So, apart from exchanging presents on Christmas day, what are some of the Christmas traditions you have upheld? Both in the family you’ve grown up in, and the family you’ve created since?

Long before I started writing, another constant passion of mine was singing. In fact, there was a period in my life in which I wanted to be a professional singer.

The dream, after a while, morphed into something more… down-to-earth, though my passion to belt out a tune certainly didn’t. I broke out singing every chance I could – in the car, either on my way to work, or as a passenger travelling to friend’s/in-laws’ houses or weekend getaway destination with my husband; around the house, whether I’m chopping vegetables for dinner or late at night in the midst of writing; in the shower (that goes without saying, right?), mastering the art and skills required to opening my mouth and carrying out a tune without gulping a substantial amount of shower water in the process.

Yes, I really do have a set of waterproof headphones and real microphone in the shower... not!

I have a collection of my favourite songs I sing from time to time. No, I’ll take another step back and say that from time to time, I will play certain songs I’ve encountered, sometimes more than once, and test my singing ability until I can sing as good as the artist. ‘See The Light’ by Mandy Moore, the soundtrack from the movie ‘Tangled’ falls into this category (just as many of the early Disney movie soundtracks did); ‘On My Own’ and ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from musical Les Miserables are there too; ‘Just A Feeling’ by Maroon 5; most of Lee Dewyze’s songs; and the list go on.

I have always stated to those who knew of my singing ability that I can, and love to sing; I can read music – know the difference between a full-note, a half-note and treble notes; I can count beats; I am in no way a professional singer, and my ‘training’ (if you could call it that) consisted solely on being part of the school choir for… 12 years or so (from primary to high school).

This ability, however, has become very useful at work when we are celebrating liturgies/masses throughout the year, from Easter, to Catholic Education week, to end-of-year mass like yesterday. And whereas back in the main head office, I was one voice of many, in the current branch I’m working in, I have been the only voice.

Throughout this year, I had been singing solo, and unaccompanied. Which suited me fine to a certain extent, because no one will know if I’m pitchy or didn’t quite hit the right notes – they will just go along with the notes I’ve sung. On the other hand though… I’m all for sharing the love, and the limelight 🙂 I want that little bit of leniency that when my voice isn’t up to scratch, or when I’m about to run out of breath, someone else can take over for just a little while until I gain my momentum back.

So imagine my excitement when, in preparation for the end-of-year liturgy, a few people have come forward, lending their singing talent and guitar-playing ability. All week long, I have done several real-life and cyberspace squealing to the person co-ordinating all aspects of the mass at the fact that this time around, we have a band!!!!

I soon found out that not everyone share the same singing passion as myself. What I thought would be natural (like being able to read music, or perfectly adapt one’s voice to the rise and fall of a song with a click of a finger) was actually something that took years and years of practice. One of these singers actually even confided in me: I love to sing, but I can’t read music.

So I found myself leading the band, guiding the other members to hit the right notes, taking on several songs by my lonesome and singing it (once again) unaccompanied. And God help me, I found myself having to curb a lot of my perfectionism; I had had to suppress that little voice inside my head that said “all of us are singing all over the place!” or “No, that’s NOT the right notes!” (Oh Dear, I think I just caught a glimpse of what I would be like if I’m ever responsible to manage a bunch of staff in my later years). I had to constantly remind myself that work’s end-of-year mass is NOT the final of Australian Idol; that starting with less than a ‘bang!’ and pitch problems were parts of all normal singing process. And that, from singing solo to having a band, we have grown in leaps and bounds.

What about you? Do you have a passion that brings out the best (or perhaps worst) of your perfectionism?