On self judgement and new couches


On Thursday I bought a new lounge suite (in case you were wondering, yes, this is part of it. And in case you were wondering, no, it didn’t break the bank. We bought it second hand for a fraction of the cost of a new one, and although I still can’t say I’ve ever had a new couch I really don’t mind. And yes, it IS as comfortable as it looks!)

The coolest thing though is that it fits our lounge room in a way that nothing has before it. I move furniture around when I get bored of it, and I’ve always struggled with the fact that my lounge room just felt wrong. Too small, too unwieldy. Too many uncompromising bits like big fireplaces, small windows, doorways. Now though, now I see it wasn’t my room that was wrong, I just needed furniture that fit it better. Now, with a big new lounge suite, my lounge room is perfect.

Yesterday morning I had another thought, although it took a while for me to realise the thoughts were related. I grew up under a lot of judgement, and all of it said pretty much the same thing: I was wrong. I was too loud or too quiet or too silly or too unkempt or uncouth or whatever else my obviously-extremely-perfect grandmother thought of me. Too wrong, really. My grandmother has been dead a number of years now, but that hasn’t mattered. I’ve proudly kept up her tradition of criticising me. Never missed a day.

Until yesterday. Yesterday I got it. Yesterday I realised that it wasn’t ME that was wrong at all. I’m a perfectly lovely lounge room. My grandma was simply trying to make me fit with the wrong furniture.

That’s all I need to remember. Here’s to non-judgement, dead grandmothers, and things that fit. Here’s to a right furniture future!


What I learned up north about unconditional love


This is me with my friend Yvonne. She, it must be pointed out, is not dead. I tell you this because often we don’t say these things about people until they are, and then they’re not around to hear them and then we have a big moan about how we should have said them while they were still alive and all that. So I’m saying it now, while Yvonne-the-undead is still very much in the land of the living. Because, it must be said, my friend Yvonne is categorically wonderful.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, waaaaaay back when I was a teenager, I went to a church Youth camp up in the north of the state. From memory I was sent to get me out of the house while my grandparents were coming over Easter and because of it I a) decided I was quite interested in this Christianity thing and that it wasn’t just for boring old people and b) met a rag-tag bunch of people who I’ve stayed friends with for more than twenty years now.* I met Simon, and through Simon I met his brother Iain, and somewhere at the end of camp we all swapped addresses and started writing letters to each other. They all lived up north. I didn’t.

We didn’t write about much. There wasn’t much to write about. School. Friends. Cars. Boyfriends. What we planned on getting up to at the next camp. They were fun letters to get, and good memories of friends who, back then, back before the days of mobile phones and Facebook–heck, even before the internet–and well before I got a car or a driver’s license, we didn’t get to see.

I don’t remember when it was, but one day Iain invited me and a few others to his house to stay. Probably for a night, probably before or after a camp, the details are lost to me now. I was pretty shy–okay, very shy–but he assured me that his mum wouldn’t mind, that she loves having people over to stay, and there were a few of us, anyway. We’d all camp out on the lounge room floor. It must have been fun. It must have gone okay, because pretty much every holiday after that I spent a few days at Iain’s house. Sometimes there wasn’t even a camp on and I’d be making the two-hour trek north to go spend a couple of nights hanging out with Iain and his family.

Iain’s family was large. He had four brothers, two of which didn’t live at home any more, and a whole crowd of other “brothers” and others, mates who’d come for the night, and then another, and another, and eventually, for one reason or another, moved in for a season. I met them too. I listened to them all talk cars…and more cars. They took me downstairs to the driveway and popped the bonnets (for my non-Aussie readers that means…oh, I don’t know…opened up the bit where the motor is) and tried to explain to me how cars worked, which I vaguely understood. Iain took me driving in his white Gemini, and just laughed when he slammed on the handbrake as I narrowly avoided walls.

And Yvonne, Iain’s mum, as long as she knew who was going to be there in the evening, fed us all. She never once complained about the excessive amount of food that a crowd of teens and twenty-somethings ate, or the ludicrous amounts of black currant cordial she must have had to buy. She must have gone through about seventeen packets of Weetbix a fortnight, but not once, to us at least, did she grumble about me staying again. I loved her for that.

Yvonne taught me to cross-stitch, showed me how to light a gas stove, taught me folk art painting. She told me all the stories about her grandkids, about her boys when they were smaller, taught me word puzzles from her local paper, and clipped out some spares for Iain to send me with his next letter. I loved my time with her, and more than once I wished I lived up north, wished I could have stayed forever.

And then we grew up.

Iain got married. I got married. We didn’t write any more. Iain drove buses, and when he drove down south he’d drop in and we’d catch up. Sometimes we’d make the trip up North again, and we’d drop in and say hi to them, and sometimes to Yvonne. We had babies, and lives, and mobile phones. Sometimes we’d text. Occasionally, when there was news, we’d call. I’d think about Iain every time I saw a white Gemini, and every so often I’d run into one of his “other” brothers who’d say “Have you spoken to Yvonne?” and I’d feel a sharp pang of guilt because I hadn’t, and a fierce regret, because I’d let life close over that  door to the north where magic used to be.

And then we went away.

This is the thing that changed for me: I went to America. And Canada. We drove hours upon hours to visit beautiful friends in a very different shade of north, and each time I had to say goodbye I missed them terribly (and still do), and dreamed of visiting them again (and still do), even when we went back to our little island on the other side of the world. Missing them made me remember how I missed Yvonne.

Here’s the thing: Yvonne is still alive. And she doesn’t live on the other side of the world. Suddenly, when you’ve driven your kids six hours to see someone, driving them for two hour’s north in your own state doesn’t seem like such a big deal after all. I sent her a message, and Iain a message. Last Thursday I bundled the kids into the car and made the journey north again, just as I’d done all those years before.



Yvonne’s house hasn’t changed. Well, the floors have, and the TV is new, and the couches. But the magic is still there.



It’s not magic, not really. It’s the feeling of familiarity, of home, of this-is-where-I-once-belonged, of where, after all these years, I’m made to feel I still belong. It’s the magic of an unconditional love that never once frowns at me or makes me feel guilty for not being in touch sooner, or more often, but opens its arms and says “welcome!”

When I grow up I want to be just like Yvonne.

*Let this be a lesson to all you parents out there. Be careful about sending your kids to church camps. You never know WHO they’re gonna end up getting involved with. You might find these people at your house STILL, some twenty years later. I don’t think church prepares you for that properly.

This is Iain, drying out after a wade in the pool with his little fella on Friday. Thanks for everything, mate! I owe you one.

This is Iain, drying out after a wade in the pool with his little fella on Friday. Thanks for everything, mate! I owe you one.

On Coming Home

We’re back. I know, you know that. We’ve been back for a while really, a few weeks now. Except…not so much. People ask me all the time, and have asked me pretty much since we arrived back here “Are you settling in to life back home?” They ask because it’s what you ask, and it’s a fair enough question, although the answer is really anything less than straightforward.

I’m reading this book at the moment, called “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”, by Susan Cain (yes, it’s brilliant, and yes I recommend it highly) and she makes the interesting observation that while extroverts tend to throw themselves into events, introverts tend to need time to process the meaning behind the events. Oh Hallelujah! SOMEBODY understands me!! (okay, I’m sure a lot of you do). It helps ME understand me! It helps me understand why, after being back in Australia for four weeks I finally feel now like I’m actually home, and why it’s okay that it took a while.

So yes, thank you. I’m settling into life back home. I’ve gradually shifted that amazing present to the past, and I’m embracing the memories with gusto. I’ve asked all the stupid questions “Why us? Why were we so blessed to be able to do such a thing, when so many others are struggling?” and “What’s the point of it all? How do we deal with it when we come home and step back into life as if nothing has happened, when SO MUCH happened?”

We learned a lot on that trip. We learned a lot about ourselves, about how to do family well, about how to communicate, about how to be effective parents. We didn’t always get it right, and we learned to forgive ourselves and each other and keep going. We made memories. We made family.

Lake Louise AB

Canoeing on Lake Louise, AB, Canada

I think, for all that, a little bit of bumpy adjustment time coming home has been worth it.

When art meets life

Goodness and Mercy by Patti Hill

Goodness and Mercy by Patti Hill

I read this book about two weeks ago.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know how she did it.

I’m only telling you this, of course, because I do think you should read this book, and the only reason I’m telling you now is because it’s FREE today and tomorrow for Kindle (and if you don’t have a Kindle then you can download the app for your smartphone/tablet/computer…and if you don’t have one of those then you’re probably Sonya. I’m sorry Son. I’ll buy you a copy), and because sometimes you read a book that impacts you so profoundly that you just don’t have any words for a little while, and the best you can do is store the memory of it somewhere in the front space of your brain so that you can process it when you do have the words, or maybe so you can grow into the memory of it.

Or something like that.

But I don’t know how she did it still, and that’s a little weird.

When I started reading this book I was cautious, suspicious even. I knew enough about the story from the blurb – teenager kidnaps kid brother and sister from orphanage and hightails them across the country to go seek refuge with estranged family – to already think that she’d get it wrong, even before I started reading it.

She didn’t.

I did.

What I didn’t expect was this: that this writer, that this woman I’d never met, that I know mainly from reading her blog posts, would somehow know not only what it felt like to be me, but know strange details of my life, things so oddly unimportant to me that I’d never talk about them. Yet because she wrote them they became important to me. Because she wrote them she made me think through things that had happened many, many years ago, and then she turned them around and ever so gently peeled back a layer and showed me the other side. You can’t talk about experiences like that, not really. Not in public, when it’s only been a few short weeks since the book finished. Not when the memory of the book is still so fresh, and when I still feel like I need to grow into it.

I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how she wrote a book so busting with life and truth and colour that I stopped thinking of it as a book and started thinking of it as a window into my family. I wish she’d got it wrong. I wish she’d written an awful book, full of awful clichés and stupid saccharine endings, because then I’d smile nicely and hate it and never have to think about it again.

It’s never that easy though. Not when art meets life.

So I’m not going to tell you about this book today, or at least I’m not going to tell you anything more than that it’s FREE, and that it’s very, very good. All the rest you can find out for yourself. Click the link. It’ll take you straight there. But don’t say I didn’t warn you…


The Orphan: a short story

This is a little story – a real, fictional, short story – I wrote a few weeks back. Actually it kind of exploded out of me in a strange fit of…umm…literary diahorrea, if I could call it that (you may describe it as that after you read it, but that’s another story!). It’s been a long time since I’ve written any short fiction, and it could probably do with a good edit, but sometimes when these things come out like that the best thing you can do for a while is stare at them and leave them as they are. 

Here it is, anyway. Hope you enjoy it. 

The Orphan

by Megan Sayer (c) 2013

Millicent lived at the Orphanage on Archibald Street, and had lived there since the death of her parents when she was five years old. She loved the grand arches of the doorways and the tall oak doors. She loved the creak of the floors above her as she studied her books and looked at her sewing during the days, and she loved the swoosh sound of the great oak branches on the roof above her as she lay in bed every night. She slept in a room with five other orphans, on a narrow wooden bed with crisp white sheets that were changed every other day by Miss Nancy, the housekeeper; and given porridge in the mornings and sandwiches at noon and pot roast in the evening for supper, with boiled potatoes and vegetables. Millicent loved boiled potatoes and pot roast, and she loved knowing that on Sundays there would be apple strudel for dessert, and for birthdays and adoption days there would be cake. Millicent loved cake.

Millicent loved the Orphanage. She took pride in keeping the crisp white sheets straight on her narrow bed, and swept the dining hall conscientiously every Tuesday evening and Thursday morning, which were her turns. She loved Miss Nancy, and Miss Hattie the cook, and Mrs Cottlebottom, who sat in her office and presided over the doings of the Orphanage at large. Millicent remembered when Mrs Cottlebottom was just new, and Mrs Hanover before that. Millicent had been at the Orphanage longer than anybody, which is maybe why she loved it. The Orphanage was home.

Millicent dreamed though, and in the mornings while she straightened her crisp white sheets, and during the days while she did her bookwork and her sewing, and during the evenings while she bathed and dressed and after dinner on Tuesday evenings while she swept the floor of the dining hall, she dreamed that one day she too would be adopted. Everybody who wants to gets adopted, that’s what Millicent believed. That’s what she’d seen, too. Everybody who wants to gets adopted eventually.

Not everybody wants to though. Everybody knew that, everyone from Miss Cottlebottom right down to the very smallest children. They’d all watched the ones who didn’t want to go, watched as their eyes turn hard on the faces of would-be parents and the frowns come over them, watched as those ones came back after afternoon visits to the park and swore never to go again. They were the ones who’d leave on their own—or sometimes with a friend—and find a job and an apartment and start a new, orphanage-free life of their own. Not Millicent though. She knew in her deepest heart that one day, if she kept dreaming, that one day she’d be adopted.

It was a Thursday morning the day her dream came true. Mrs Cottlebottom sent one of the smaller girls to fetch her up to her office, telling her not to worry about finishing sweeping the dining hall, to come and to come now. Millicent did so. She dropped her broom right where she was standing, hitched up her apron and ran as fast as she was able on trembling legs. She knew before she got there what was about to happen. Being called to Mrs Cottlebottom’s office meant only one thing.

Millicent didn’t expect that her nerves would go out on her at the last minute. She’d never once, in all the times she’d dreamed this moment, imagined that the great dark-oak doors would look so foreboding, or make her feel so small, so unlovely. She knew then, in the seconds it took for her to smooth her hair down with her hand, why it was that some of them didn’t want to go.

Taking a deep breath and an even deeper swallow, Millicent pushed open the door. “You asked for me, Mrs Cottlebottom?”

“Millicent, my dear. Come in!” Mrs Cottlebottoms’s smile was wide and welcoming, as always, and Millicent stepped inside, letting the heavy door swing shut behind her. Mrs Cottlebottom sat behind her desk, as usual, and next to her sat the oldest woman Millicent had ever seen. She was as brown and wrinkled as a sultana, and as skinny as the empty grape stalk that grew it. Her hair was powder-white, and fluffed big like a cloud, although thin enough to see through it all the way to her brown and wrinkly scalp. Her mouth was wide and pink however, and showed a row of teeth so shiny and white they must have been polished with bleach, and above that smile were eyes that glowed like diamonds in the sunshine. Millicent liked her, but found herself too shy to meet her gaze.

“Come in, dear. Sit down.” Mrs Cottlebottom indicated the chair in front of the desk, and Millicent quietly obeyed.  Her mouth felt dry and she could feel her heart beating so loudly in her chest she wondered if the ladies opposite her could actually hear it. They didn’t seem to notice, and Mrs Cottlebottom’s bright voice continued its lullaby of words and information. Millicent studied the sunlight shining through the lace curtain.

“…of course Gertrude will always…” Millicent tuned out again, tuned in to the rhythm of her heart beating, wondered what vegetables there would be with dinner tonight.

“…And don’t forget, my dear, if you ever…” Millicent suddenly realised she would not be there for dinner that night, perhaps not any other night after this either. A fat tear formed in her eye, and she opened her eyes wide, as if to try to suck it back inside.

The old lady, Gertrude, was filling in papers with peculiar spidery handwriting, her gnarled hands gripping the pen in a way that looked completely unnatural to Millicent. This woman was to be her mother. After all her years of dreaming she was finally to be adopted.

A mother of her very own.

A home. A place to belong.

There would be cake for lunch today, maybe even a chocolate one. And today the adoption cake would be for her.

Millicent went to live at Gertrude’s house. It was neat and shiny as a new pin, with polished rails leading upstairs to two bedrooms, side by side, one for Gertrude and one for Millicent. Her new bed was not narrow with crisp white linen, but wide and soft, with a mattress that sank into the middle with a body on it, and hugged that body all the night. Millicent liked it, but she wasn’t sure how much she was allowed to.

She wasn’t sure how much she was allowed to like the new things for dinner, either. Sausages in casserole. Chicken pieces with breadcrumbs on them. Real ice cream, and no apple strudel on Saturdays. Gertrude told her that she didn’t need to sweep the kitchen floor on Tuesday evenings or Thursday mornings like before, but she did anyway. She didn’t know any other way.

Gertrude, in spite of her age—or perhaps because of it—was sprightly and adventuresome. She rose early in the morning and cleaned the already-clean kitchen and polished the already-polished bannisters, then she cooked some porridge for Millicent and herself and set about her day’s activities. She volunteered at a home for unwanted cats on Wednesdays and walked with her ladies’ group on Mondays and Fridays. On Tuesdays she shopped and on Thursdays she cooked. Every morning she asked Millicent to join her, to come with her on whatever activity she had planned for that day, and every day Millicent said no thank you. She preferred to stay home and do her bookwork and her sewing, just as she had always done.

The ache in Millicent grew though. She took herself to bed earlier and earlier each night so as not to have to sit with her mother in silence, companiable or otherwise. She could no longer enjoy the soft hug of the mattress, so she took it off the bed and slept on a blanket over the springs. She could not eat cake, so she feigned illness and left dinner untouched. Then one day she stayed in bed instead of coming downstairs for porridge, and decided she may never come back downstairs at all. Millicent understood finally that she had been in the Orphanage for too many years. Her dreaming for so long of life with a family had not prepared her at all for the reality that one may really show up. Dreams are neat, and neatly contained. Dreams have beginnings and endings. Real life, like family, is a messy affair.


Millicent was still in bed at lunch time, when Gertrude came back from her morning at the home for unwanted cats. Millicent heard the creak as the old woman climbed the stairs and turned over in bed, set her face to the wall. She didn’t look up as the old woman sat down gently beside her on the side of the bed, but as the tears began to shake themselves up and out of her gut she began to talk.

“I don’t know how to do it, Gertrude. I don’t know how to do family. I don’t know what the rules are any more. What if I’m doing it wrong?”

Gertrude stroked back Millicent’s white hair from her face, and wiped the tears from Millicent’s wrinkled cheek before taking her adopted daughter’s liver-spotted hand in her own. She’d been in the Orphanage the longest of all, Mrs Cottlebottom had told her. Since she was nearly five years old. Sixty-five years is a long time to live in one place.

“You’re doing just fine, darling,” Gertrude smiled her wide pink smile at Millicent and squeezed her hand in love. “There are no rules.”

No rules. Just love.

Millicent looked up, finally meeting her mother’s gaze. “I waited a long time for you. I always knew you’d come. I didn’t give up believing.”

Gertrude’s eyes shone again like diamonds.

“I came for you, my daughter. Just like you knew I would.  I came for you. All these years.”

No rules. Just love.

Millicent sat up in bed and allowed herself to be encircled in her mother’s embrace. Just love.

No rules.

Gertrude took Millicent’s hand and helped her up out of bed, and the two white-haired women together slid down the polished bannister and went into the kitchen for cake.