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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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!

 

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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?

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Today, I was given a golden opportunity to do a fifteen-minute presentation on my favourite subject to some of my fellow colleagues – my passion for writing.

To start of with, silly me, thinking that I was all prepared, forgot one simple fact; that Macbook Air didn’t have a direct connection like PC-based laptops do to a data projector, and arriving at the venue on-time, I had no time to source this little device connecting my Macbook to the data projector from anywhere else.

No matter – I have a back-up plan. Out came another device I have armed myself with; my trusty iPad. So I started showing my website on the iPad and asked my colleagues to pass this around whilst someone kindly sourced another laptop for me. Connected that up to the data projector, got visual, sweet! Opened Safari… only to be greeted with that (damn!) ‘Page cannot be found’ and ‘There is a problem in connecting to your Internet connection’ messages. No, no, no, NO, NO!!!!!

What is it they say in show business? ‘The show must go on’? Well then… I ‘ignored’ the technological problem and dived into telling the fellow Secretaries what started my love affair with my scribbling pen to paper, what I’ve accomplished in the past five years since, and what prompted me to delve more wholeheartedly into creating and maintaining social media presence, being unpublished notwithstanding.

You know, I considered myself being not as bad as I used to be in public speaking. I used to always have to type up my speech, memorised it days (if not weeks) prior to the big day, and refer to it from time to time during my presentation. These days, bullet points outlining the main topics were all I needed.

Still, having known the topic of my speech SO well, I could feel a nervous sweat broke out within the first few minutes of standing in front of about 25 of my colleagues; some of it culminating just below my eyes, blurring my glasses I was compelled to take them off and wiped the moisture away.

But I did get through it, and had tremendous fun doing it, even if:
1. At times, I spoke a little too softly for people to hear. It has always been something I need to consciously work on.
2. Whilst I explained to them the dream that started Eleanor I, and read an excerpt from said book, I didn’t think to explain the premise of Eleanor I and/or II (though perhaps, the excerpt would hopefully shed a light on that? Entice the audience to want to know more about the book? You know, the whole ‘not giving too much away’ point of view and all that?).

It is something I need to work on and improve between now and Monday, when I’m reprising this presentation to another bunch of my colleagues. To my very first group of audience today, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your time, and I hope I have managed to captivate/entertain you in some capacity.

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As writers, we all tend to mull over each word, each sentence, each paragraph, making sure that one flows from the next; that the adjective we’ve chosen aptly reflect the mood of the character or the atmosphere of the situation. We consult our trusty Thesaurus over our word choices; sometimes, we even (gasp!) select a whole section we’ve deemed unworthy and press the ‘Delete’ button, or rip pages of handwriting we simply believe are made of utter crap.

Not so long ago, I came across the concept of Freewriting, written by Sue Healy. She describes a writing exercise in which you put whatever that first comes into your mind onto the screen, dismissing grammar and structure. It’s a warm-up exercise; a chance to stretch and flex those muscles inside your head; a great way to ignore those voices criticising your every literary move and just… write.

So here is my debut effort of it, dedicating three whole minutes writing whatever it is that comes into my mind. In 3… 2… 1…!

Sitting in front of my computer, with no sound other than the whirring of the air-cond above me, my husband snoring in the bedroom, it suddenly dawned on me that it’s nearing Christmas. And there is something magical as December approaches. While Christmas carols have been playing in big department stores since October (something I don’t quite get), nearing December, I can’t help but get swept up in the whole festivities. I love seeing the Christmas decorations each department store puts up, the baubles hanging from the Christmas tree branches, the bows on the displayed gifts under it. Nearing December, I always put on my personal Christmas compilation, imagining myself standing in the middle of snow-covered ground, wearing one of those thick, fur-lined red suit, watching the snow falls from the sky.

I must say that writing this was somewhat therapeutic. And I can definitely use that, almost as is, for a passage in one of my books. Go on – I dare you – if you haven’t tried this before… give it a go!

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