15. Hope

Hope for me at the moment is a bit of a double edged sword! It’s lovely when things go your way, but kind of crushing when it doesn’t go to plan. I am the sort of person that is incredibly hopeful. I am a believer in positive affirmations (as you may have seen in my Facebook posts if we’re friends there) and I like to think that some of this positivity and hope manifests in the experiences that I have. I have been so lucky in my life and want to believe that this will keep going; but with quite an imagination and fairly limited patience, I am often miles in front of where I should be in my own head – something that doesn’t always go quite the way I would like.

I think I’ve always been like this… having conversation and playing out scenarios in my head that are never going to happen, and then being disappointed somehow when faced with a completely different outcome. I had a conversation not long ago with a girlfriend in a similar situation to mine, who said more or less the same thing. Planning things based on very lose conversations, and suggestions about things that might be possible, and then feeling let down in a way when that doesn’t happen. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion and anxiety… but without that hope, what do you have!?

I’ve been going through some of this stuff with the boys and their issues in the last year or so. They tell me things or I discover them, we discuss it and then in my head a whole plan is formed. My expectation and hope is that they will do as I have advised (Mum knows best?) and that things will get better… unfortunately my planing is not usually the same plan that they come up with, which has led to more hard conversations and the repeating of things that are not ideal. It seems a lot like going around in circles, but I guess some of that is letting them learn from their mistakes. As their mum, it is really hard (and much more now so than before) to let that happen, especially when you’re looking at a much bigger picture than they might be. Claytie was so much better with this stuff… he was so black and white, and with much less imagination, than me, that he never had the same level of disappointment and couldn’t always understand mine. It’s definitely been a learning curve – and work in progress for me.

I’m finding that I have the same issue with dating and romance. I think probably because what Claytie and I had was for such a long time and so lovely and honest, that I immediately expect a new match to be the same. I imagine romance and dating and flowers and all the lovely things, which apparently is my love language (another conversation with a different friend) – and it has led to me second guessing motivation, desire and commitment. Something that’s not particularly healthy or fair, but I am unsure how to slow myself down.

I really want that hope and I think I need to be able to try and imagine what a future with someone else could look like, but it’s driving even me kind of crazy at the same time. I know that often, I’m moving way too fast in my head, and catch myself when I’m sad about a different level actual response to the imagined one. But how do you move past the now into the next without imagining what that looks like!?

It’s hard navigating this new life of mine, without any sort of framework. I had the fairytale; and while marriage is hard and takes both of you to work at it, I didn’t have to work hard. This new world feels hard, and hope has been an emotional see-saw…. a new ride that I likely won’t get off in a hurry! Wish me luck navigating both the new nexts and the labyrinth that is my brain!

12. The weird and wonderful…

I feel like I need to preface this post by saying that I do not in any way want to come across as judgemental… everyone has a right to live and love in the way that best works for them. We are all different and as long as there is consent on both sides, you do you! I feel like my eyes have been opened to a whole other world, and I’m sharing my observations.

I was talking to a girlfriend the other day, telling her about some of my online dating experiences and how daunting it all is. One of my boys piped up from the other room to say that I should stop with the online stuff if it’s all so weird and just meet people in the old fashioned way… face to face. Now that’s easier said than done, let me tell you, and no less weird!

I chat to people all over the place… I figure I have nothing to lose and lots to gain. Even if it’s only a cuppa and a conversation it’s all new and gives me something to do. I was having a great time a while ago now, with a group of people that are almost as regular at karaoke as I am, and one fellow in particular was quite lovely and flirty. I was having a nice time. The next morning I had a message from him saying he too had enjoyed himself… ‘how nice’ I can hear you say, and it was, however his profile picture featuring his wife and small children put a dampener on things very quickly! Apparently he is one of the very, very many gentlemen around town that are in open marriages…. Upon further conversation with him, it seems that his wife also enjoys variety in their marriage, but it’s definitely not the thing for me!

The whole dating thing is fraught with unknowns! There are couples searching for ‘unicorns’… single women who are willing to be a participant in someone’s bucket list threesome…. I have mentioned polyamory previously as well, and there seems to be a lot of people who enjoy that kind of life style. There are the people who are happy to let you know what number you are on their tally and are offended when you don’t display the right amount of enthusiasm for that! I have come across people looking for a submissive partner, as well as those looking to be dominated… The list of requirements seems as varied as the people posting – something that seems obvious, and yet somehow unexpected!

I am sure that there are also plenty of ‘regular’ people on these sites, those looking for monogamy and true love…. But they seem incredibly hard to find, and a lot of swiping happens before you do! If you’re lucky enough to find and meet one of these people, hang on tight!

If you do connect with a person and start messaging and chatting, that comes with complications as well. Conversation can be lovely and you think there is a connection with someone and then they are gone and you’ve been ghosted. They can also veer into weird territories very quickly if you’re not careful and then you need to be the one that does the blocking.

It’s incredibly hard to work out the tone of a written message… I know my intent when I send my message, but is it received in the same way!? If it takes a long time for a response to come back, what does that mean!? … did they not like my message? Was it too much? Not enough? … or are they just busy with whatever is happening in their world at that time!? Do they want to meet? Or not – and why not!? And if you do meet, when/how do you follow that up!? How much is too much, and at what point does it become clingy!?

I’m finding that I am now spending way too much time second guessing absolutely every single thing in the dating context.… I’ve been on a couple of dates with a very nice gentleman – he of the crazy playlist response ( see previous post – second date also had several significant to me songs play one after the other!). I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him, both in person and chatting online. We seem to have a lot in common and he makes me feel good. He’s not great at replying to messages in what I think of as a timely manner though! And yes, I know that not everyone is as attached to their phone as I am! He’s a busy man running his own people facing business that takes up a lot of his time, and I understand that he has other things to do besides immediately reply to a message from me. It’s not great for my second guessing tho, and I’m driving myself nuts! And then there is the whole meeting up side of things and finding a time that works for both of you… it’s all a bit tricky! Haha…he is a lovely fellow and I quite like him so I guess we will see where it goes!?

10. All the new things

So here we are at the end of another year of craziness and chaos, and it seems only right to recap some of the many new things I’ve encountered in this next that is now. There has been a whole lot! Some good, some not so good, some funny, some downright shit… but all of it new for me!

I was very lucky to have been able to do some traveling this year… a lovely long weekend with Clayties sisters down in Wollongong – time that was so important for us to spend together! An amazing trip to Uluru that touched my soul and grounded me, and left me with an insatiable desire to see more of this magical country. Whale watching and a glorious three days at one of my favourite beaches as well as countless early morning ‘salt therapy’ and meditation trips to the Gold Coast (not my favourite, but the closest one to home) reinforcing my desire to retire to the beach one day (lotto win permitting of course!).. I’m really looking forward to more trips next year – be they in Australia or overseas, alone or with friends !

I’ve also been super lucky with the people that have chosen to share my world – I have met some amazing new people, especially those from the Widow support group aka The Echo chamber of Misery. I feel like I have made some life long friends through this group (the shittiest club to be in), and they have been a godsend for good days and bad! There is always someone to talk to who gets where you’re at and doesn’t judge you for it. The girls at work have also been amazing, and I have appreciated all of the chats (both PG and R rated!) I’ll miss them hugely when I am rotated out of that position!

I’ve also had the chance to reconnect with some old friends, and their checking in on me has been the loveliest affirmation that true friends will always be there. Not so close friends have become best friends, and their acceptance and widening of their circle to include me is a whole other level of friendship that I wouldn’t trade for the world!…. I have been so very, very lucky and I appreciate everyone of these people for their role in my life – they absolutely more than make up for the ones that were not willing or able to stay for whatever reason.

The boys and I have had some pretty full on moments – health scares, new jobs, new homes, cars and all sorts of things that I wont share because that wouldn’t be fair. Suffice it to say that all of these things have brought us even closer and instigated some pretty honest conversations – often quite confronting for me. The boys and I are quite different people in so many ways, and I often question whether I’m the best/right parent for them! My anxiety and fears are often far worse than the situations require, but I’m all they’ve got, and we’re muddling through! I’m pretty sure Claytie was much more understanding and better at a lot of this stuff than I will ever be, but we’ll get there! My mantra for them is ‘Behave, be safe, be sensible and make all the right choices’ – something they should all get tattooed when I die!, and which usually gets an eye-roll response and a ‘yeah, yeah!’

Then there’s the dating thing! – an eye opening experience to be sure! Ive chatted with all manner of people and learned a whole lot about the online dating world and how I fit into it! I’ve been stood up, asked to buy groceries and offered to be the top-chick in a group scenario! I’ve learned a whole lot about peoples proclivities – which ones I’m ok with and which ones are most definitely not for me! It’s a weird and wonderful place with some incredibly interesting characters! The good, the bad and the ugly… and an occasional spark of delightfulness!

Karaoke and trivia are also new for me this year, and both have been a whole lot of fun! I’ve met some really lovely people at both and am so looking forward to more good times with them next year! Being brave and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone has really paid off with these things… I have had the best times with fabulous new and old friends who have added a whole lot of sunshine to my world! If anyone has any other suggestions for things I should try, let me know – its all part of the adventure!

My other – and possibly favourite new thing has been this blog! – Who knew that this book worm would have so much fun writing! I have absolutely enjoyed putting my thoughts on paper (so to speak)… and I’m looking forward to sharing (or perhaps over sharing?!) whatever adventures come my way in the future! I really appreciate the support that I have received from so many of you! I love the feedback and knowing how eager some of you are for new instalments!! It’s been so encouraging to know that so many of you are following this journey of the new that is next! I hope the new year brings lots of happy adventures your way and mine… xx

11. Signs

A funny thing that happens after someone you love dies, is that you look for signs from them everywhere you go. It seems to be universal, and if you google it, there is a list of things that are recognised as such. It is really hard to just let go – Death is such a big thing to get your head around…. How can your person just suddenly be gone!? There must be more to life than what we see!? – surely it can’t just be over!? So looking for signs makes sense.

Dragonflies, butterflies, feathers…. They are always there, with little attention or meaning paid to them, but suddenly after a death they are signs from a loved one. Dreams, coins or the scent of their perfume or aftershave are all things that are supposed to mean something. I know someone for whom the humble bin-chicken is a huge sign – and her explanation of why and when she sees them make complete sense; others have numbers that have meaning and they see them everywhere. I’m not sure what signs are mine, I just know the ones that it wouldn’t be, they don’t feel right for us – or at least I think they don’t…?!

I do believe in energy and some form or reincarnation. There are too many things that happen in the world that defy logical explanation… but those things are much easier to explore when they are for other people. When it’s your person that you miss and want to connect with, there is a bit of a feeling of desperation in the search for signs. At least there is for me! I find myself second guessing everything, and it’s exhausting! And then there is the knowledge that Claytie absolutely didn’t believe in anything like signs, reincarnation or in fact anything remotely ‘spiritual’. He was an incredibly black and white person in so may ways.

I have always thought that because I more or less believe in such things, that I would get really obvious signs from Claytie…. And a couple of times maybe I have – like the ones on his birthday when the boys and I went to get tattoos (see previous post), but for the most part it just feels like maybe I’m looking too hard and ignoring the obvious, or maybe the lack of a sign is the sign!? … you could absolutely drive yourself nuts thinking about it!!

I find myself asking him for signs all the time! It would be incredibly reassuring to ‘hear’ from him… kind of like a pat on the back to say I’m doing OK – because I am so unsure about what I am doing with everything all of the time. I overanalyse every single decision; I have never had to be the one responsible for everything, I was always quite happy to leave Claytie in charge and be the ‘kept wife’….it is all hugely overwhelming, and I am constantly asking him if am I doing the right thing with everything, including dating! The whole thing is so weird it would be nice to have his input!

But I guess its a case of be careful what you wish for! I went on a date not so long ago, and it was lovely! He lives about an hour away from my place, which is a bit of a pain, but other than that ticks a whole lot of boxes… we sat and chatted for about 2 hours, and it was really easy and fun! We had a hug in the car park, and discussed when we could see each other again – both of us, I think, feeling good about it…Driving home I had my playlist going on shuffle. It is incredibly varied and about 6 hours long, give or take about 100 songs…. Every single song that played was one of Claytie’s songs (happy, sad, all of it!) … and that never happens!! Not one after the other like that, I don’t even usually get two in a row!! Now, I have to confess that it did freak me out a little bit (tears and goose bumps) and I don’t know if I should read it as a thumbs up or down, but it definitely felt like a message! …. Now if only I could work out what it was saying, I’d feel a lot better!

So I guess in the spirit of seeing what comes next, I will be going on a second date with the same gentleman soon! … I’ll let you know what my playlist does, or if there are any other signs!

9. Feelings

It’s a difficult thing being widowed, or I imagine grieving for anyone, and coming up to big dates – holidays or anniversaries. You know that they are going to hurt… the feelings start early and weigh you down as you get closer. Some dates are really obvious – like all of the firsts, but others almost catch you by surprise.

Clayties birthday was the first first that we had, just two short weeks after he died. Claytie’s Dad, the boys and I decided that we needed to do something really big to mark that day. Claytie always said that if he was going to get a tattoo, he would get a picture of Daffy Duck on his upper arm. He never ended up getting any sort of ink, and would snarl at the kids when they came home with something new, but I think that at some stage he might have done it. With this in mind, we went into the city and each got a tattoo! Now we didn’t just get any old thing put onto us, this was a carefully thought out and proper tribute! The six of us all now have the same picture, taken from a t-shirt that he used to wear, and albeit in different places, we all now have a Daffy Duck somewhere on our skin.

It felt really good to do such a big thing for such a big first, and it got us through a really tough day. The German sausage hut just outside the tattoo parlour felt like a sign to say he approved, and the guy doing the ink had lived in Hamburg, (in a neighbourhood Claytie and I visited in 2019) and just recently came to Australia – another positive sign for us.

The first Christmas was shit. None of us wanted it to happen. The tree didn’t go up at all, and the whole day felt like we were dragging ourselves through but it was a case of fake it til you make it, and somehow we managed. Having small people (niece and nephew) who love Christmas definitely helped too!

I’ve already talked about my birthday – which I really struggled with! How unfair it is that I am now older than he can ever be. That was a real mind fuck, and I had such bad anxiety for the month leading up to it that I don’t think I slept at all. Everyday was tears and snot and it felt like nothing helped. I hadn’t expected any of that, but probably should have. I’m really glad I went on my trip and was distracted to an extent, but I am not sure that I can ever feel the same about my birthday again.

The hardest one for me, and in hindsight sight probably the most obvious, was our wedding anniversary. We had just celebrated 25 years married two weeks before he died. We were really happy and enjoying life. Things were pretty perfect… and then they were as opposite to that as you could get. In my head I had been worrying about the upcoming one year anniversary of his death, and had taken a week off work to deal with those emotions, thinking that this was going to be the hardest day. I kind of hadn’t thought about our wedding day which was a mistake on my part. It hurt in the worst kind of way.

I went to work, luckily in my safe space office, with the loveliest team who just let me be. I’m not sure I got anything done that day except for tears. It was probably a harder day in lots of ways for me than any of the others had been… and I didn’t see it coming!

The one year anniversary of Clayties death was a much easier day- and that feels weird to say! Lots of people had asked me leading up to it if we were planning to do anything – a question that felt a bit weird to be asked honestly – a kind of invasion of our privacy that I hadn’t expected. Possible a reflection of my openness in going through this process, but weird none the less.

The day started with a phone call from one of his best mates, who had been on a plane to Perth the day Claytie died and unable to come home until weeks later. There were tears from both of us, and not too long after the phone call ended, he was at my door. It was actually a perfect way to remember Claytie, and I’m really grateful that we spent that time together.

Clayties parents came for dinner that night and so did his Qld sister, his other sister being stuck in NSW (bloody Covid!). We had his favourite (my least favourite) dinner that he would cook when he had the shits with me in a true passive aggressive way – he knew I hated it, but I would never say no to him offering to cook! Tuna mornay – Catfood casserole, and Ice break iced coffee. He would drink at least 2l a day, so it seemed only fitting! It was pretty bloody nasty… but perfect! We scratched scratchies – with no one winning, and told stories and just remembered him.

His second birthday since he died, was uncomfortable for me rather than hard. We were in the middle of a lockdown and not supposed to go anywhere, but I broke those rules (senior person welfare check) so that I could go and see his parents and give them a hug! Of course there were tears, but it wasn’t the hardest day for me.

And now, here we are, heading into our second Christmas. This year the tree is up and there is a bit more excitement in the air; although since the tree has been up, so has my anxiety. I’m feeling his absence and the loneliness that goes with it so much more, a theme that seems reasonably common on the widow support pages too! I miss my Grinch and his snarky comments. He would pretend to hate Christmas, and then buy more prezzies than anyone, usually at the last minute! He would head to the shops about a million times on Christmas Eve – getting all the things I had left off the shopping list, complaining each time but secretly happy to do it… my boys are not quite so willing and helpful!

I guess this next is just like the others, a largely unknown thing to get through, and get through it we will. I am looking forward to meeting more new people, trying more new things and exploring what that looks like. There are some sparks that I’m excited by and new adventures to be had. I hope you and yours have a good one. Eat the food, drink the drinks and cherish every new memory…. Life is short, do the things that make you happy and tell your people that you love them every chance you get x

8. Questions and answers…

I have always been a reader rather than a watcher of things. I don’t especially enjoy television or movies, I would much much rather have my nose in a book. Claytie used to get quite annoyed with me, because to this day I still haven’t watched two of his absolute favourite films – ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilder people’…. I can’t tell you how many times he watched Julia and Hugh. He knew that movie inside out and back to front, their love song is on high rotation on my playlist, and we used it in the photo slideshow at his funeral. As for the Wilder people, the movie is saved, unwatched by me, on my Foxtel box. It had been on tv not long before he died, and he told me that we would watch it together. He asked me to sit and watch it with him countless times, telling me how good it is…. And it’s not that I didn’t believe him, I just didn’t want to, and now I don’t think I can.

Anyway, that’s not where this post is supposed to be going!…. I was heading in the direction of trivia! I love a good quiz show – millionaire hotseat is usually on in the background when I’m making dinner, and at the risk of sounding smug, I’m pretty good with the answers. I credit all of my reading with having a reasonable general knowledge. I’ve been to several trivia nights through the kids school and have always had a good time (alcohol involved has seen me dance on a table on at least one occasion!)

So here is where two worlds collide…. I was chatting to a very nice fellow online and there was a connection of sorts, although he seemed reluctant to actually meet in person despite telling me how keen he was. At the same time, a conversation with some friends made through my widows support group, culminated with a planned dinner outing to a hotel on the east side of brisbane, that happened to have a trivia night on the day we planned to catch up… three guesses who our host was for the evening!?

After a somewhat lengthy drive, not helped by a fight with my gps – everyone knows that I am incredibly directionally challenged and not great at driving 1) where I don’t know and 2) in the dark – I managed to get there and meet the ladies, that I had only met once before! We stood out the front and immediately one of them said (and I will quote for accuracy!) “oh for fucks sake, how bloody cliched…. We’re all wearing black!” The only logical choice at this point was to call our group the Black Widows!

In we went, dinner and drinks ordered, and conversation happening. It’s kind of a funny thing that I have found with the support group, you don’t really know these people all that well, but you are immediately comfortable to have hard conversations. There is such a level of shared trauma – even though everyone’s story is different, that you don’t need to do the weird getting to know you stuff that normally happens with strangers.

Trivia started, the host and I having recognised each other and agreeing to a drink after the contest, the ladies laughing and giving me a hard (funny) time. The questions were varied and hard, and an entire round of 10 questions about boxing, put a boot in my smug bum and saw the black widows come dead last!…. Turns out we’re pretty crap at pub trivia! But we had a lot of laughs and a great time!

Trivia finished, and after a last round of wink, wink, nudge, nudge from the ladies, it was my turn for a proper conversation with Mr Trivia. By this point in time I wasn’t at all nervous, but possibly should have been! Once again I have learned something unexpected! Mr Trivia is polyamorous: (polyamorous/ˌpɒlɪˈam(ə)rəs/adjective: characterised by or involved in the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved.) …. Not what I was expecting!

Once we established (very clearly) that this is not something of interest to me, we actually had a really lovely chat. He was also quite happy to answer the 5million questions that I bombarded him with! I think we spoke for about three hours before the long drive home (in my case) made it time to leave. A fabulous hug in the car park, and with my mind overloaded with information, I left my new friend and went home!

I have been back to trivia several times since that day – and you’ll be pleased to know that the Black Widows are getting better each time. I have also had more conversations with Mr Trivia. He is a very interesting man, and I wish him and his partner(s) a long and happy life together. His lifestyle is not the new next I’m looking for, but I have made a new friend – and you can never have too many of those!

4. Magic…a connection to country

In April, for my 47th birthday. I went to the middle of nowhere… literally. I didn’t want to be at home for this birthday. I had huge anxiety leading up to it. The unfairness, that I would now be older than Claytie could ever be, missing him more than I would have thought possible, the sheer weight of my grief… there were a lot of feelings to process. So I thought stuff it! I can sit at home by myself and cry, or I can have an adventure – and cry!

This trip has been on my bucket list since Claytie finished working in Darwin. He had been doing FIFO for 5 years, and was able to purchase one of the site cars – a Prado that he absolutely loved. I flew up to Darwin for his ‘going away’ drinks, and then he and I drove his new car home. It was without doubt one of our favourite trips.

The vastness of the countryside is breathtaking. Beyond anything you can imagine. Litchfield national park, Florence Falls, Katherine gorge and Mataranka Hot springs are all insanely beautiful. The long stretches of nothing take you back through history imagining how difficult life must have been with out the comforts of modern life that we all rely on.

We were whistle stop tourists on our way home. We only had 5 days to do it, 3436 kilometres… but I will never forget how it felt to be that tiny in such a vast space. Those feelings inspired my birthday trip to Uluru – a place Claytie and I didn’t have the chance to see together.

My plan initially was to go by myself – but with an invitation thrown out that anyone who wanted to come along should do so. My parents and one of my sisters decided that they wanted to do just that! It meant that instead of flying straight into Yulara, we went to Alice Springs and got to see the Parrtjima Festival of Lights… a fusion of modern technology and ancient stories. It was freezing cold and magical, and I am so glad we were able to see it.

Having my Dad there, also meant that we had a driver to take us from Alice to Kings Canyon via a dirt road detour that was an absolute highlight- and I think maybe his favourite part of the trip! – especially the unmarked drainage gullies across the road that he took at great speed causing those in the backseat (not me!) to be launched into the car roof! … he had to do it a couple of times just for laughs!

Kings Canyon, for me, was absolutely like stepping back in time. The place is and feels ancient… the sounds and colours, the sides of the canyon rising up around you. There is a complete feeling of magic and connection, and a weight of history. You can not help but be introspective and realise how insignificant you actually are in the universe when looking at something that is millions of years old.

It was a bit of an adjustment to get back into the car, en route to the rock, this time on sealed roads. Scanning the horizon for that much anticipated first glimpse… fooled by Mount Conner – a magnificent site, but not the one we came for! … and then, there it was. My first impression was goosebumps… that tingling on the back of your neck, hairs standing up in your arm, needing to catch your breath!

Uluru is exactly as the pictures show it, and somehow so much more. It feels bigger than you can imagine and almost alive. There is an energy that comes from it that for me, was incredibly soothing and calming. Walking along the trails at the base, and seeing Mutitjulu waterhole, and the rock art that have all existed for so long, made me feel peaceful and lighter somehow. As though the rock had taken some of my load to carry. There was a feeling of gratitude, that I could leave it there.

Kata Tjuta – the Olgas… a place that felt, initially like it was calling to me, came as a complete surprise. A contrast I wasn’t expecting. I thought I was going to love it. I absolutely didn’t! … I loved the majesty of it, the sheer size and scale. But it did not give me a sense of comfort, in fact, quite the opposite. It felt, and is, incredibly masculine. It was almost menacing, like it was tolerating my presence, but I shouldn’t stay any longer that I had to. I felt relieved to leave there and head back to the feminine comfort of Uluru.

Of course we did all of the tourist activities that we could while there. They were fabulous and I would absolutely recommend them -the helicopter ride, sunrise tour on my birthday and the sounds of silence dinner in particular! But my favourite times were at Kathleen Falls (Kings Canyon) and walking the Uluru base trail on my own.

For me, in this palace, at this time, waking through the Australian landscape, seemingly unchanged for millennia – listening to the sounds of nature.. the wind, the happy chirping of great flocks of colourful birds and the chorus of insects, the incessant buzzing of flies was incredibly soothing. I can see how it has inspired poetry about the stark splendour of old man gum tree and the graceful ballet of spinnefex grass in the breeze. It demanded an apology for hundreds of years of trauma and abuse of aboriginal people at the hands of white man. It struck awe into the soul and initiated conversations with ancestors. It is the sort of magic that everyone should experience, whether your exploring the next that is now, or just because!

7. Drive away date…

One of the nicest things about being with the same person for such a long time, is that you know them and they know you …inside-out! Your likes and dislikes, the things that make you happy. It’s easy and comfortable, reassuring and lovely…. And it’s truly not until it is gone, that you realise just how perfectly fabulous your life was. Claytie and I were so very lucky to have, and love each other as much as we did. I know that not everyone has that and I am so incredibly grateful that we did.

A lot of those people who have maybe not been so lucky are the ones now on dating sites. All of these people, me included, have all sorts of baggage, and it’s up to you to work out how much you’re willing to carry when you’re trying to meet someone on line, and I guess anywhere! I find it incredibly sad when people make negative comments about an ex as part of their biography…. Saying what a mistake it was to have been married. It is meant as a joke perhaps, but falls very flat for me because it is completely the opposite to where I’m coming from. There are also plenty of people who have had some sort of ‘mid-life crisis’ … countless photos of dad bods on motorbikes or fancy cars, and there are others that just scream desperate loneliness.

It’s a very odd feeling looking at pictures and swiping through, trying to picture what a meeting with someone would look and feel like. It’s quite nerve wracking initiating a conversation, online, where tone is so easily misconstrued. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am absolutely an open book. Usually if it’s in my head, it’s out in the universe. I don’t play games and I find it impossible to be someone I’m not… but a lot of people are not like that, so I find myself second guessing everything!! It’s exhausting!

I haven’t been on an actual date since before Clayton and I got married. We would have date nights sometimes, just the two of us, but nothing too fancy, and none of the butterflies that you get with the new and exciting. So when someone I had been chatting with online, suggested actually meeting for dinner, I was nervously excited. Over the phone, he was lovely, full of stories about his kids and a granddaughter, his job, and mowing the lawn at his mum’s place – a gentleman. He ticked a lot of ‘safe’ boxes …. Everyone has all kinds of advice about safety when you’re online dating, and it can be scary. I told the boys what was happening – and we all agreed that the whole situation was a bit weird, but they were really lovely and told me to have fun.

My date and I had decided to meet at a local pub for dinner – in hindsight, mistake number 1. His suggestion was to meet out the front as he wanted to walk in together, both of us a bit nervous about seeing friends there but keen to meet….. I had been in my usual default state of tears and snot on and off all day – raging anxiety and nerves. Terrified but also excited at meeting a new friend and having a night out doing something different.

Two of my kids decided that they were going to the pub as well and got a lift over with me – mistake number 2! My date saw the kids with me while he was on the phone to me, working out where to meet, and at this point things turned to shit!! Clearly I wasn’t the only nervous one, as my date went into full panic/anxiety mode and without too much conversation, got back into his car and drove off……!!

I was left in the car park, phone in hand, head spinning and dumbfounded at what just happened….. stood up on my first date! So with hurt feelings – and the tears that go with it, I got back into my car and went home!

My boys were so incredibly lovely and supportive, saying all the right things, trying to cheer me up… the consensus being that I had clearly dodged a bullet! And thank god for girlfriends… because almost immediately a message came through to straighten my crown and get my ass back down to the pub and to forget about the dud date. A couple of drinks in, I laughingly told my story to a friend, who then offered to step in and give me a happy ending! – an offer that I very, very awkwardly declined!…. In the end, I had a great evening, and was able to have a laugh about it all! I did delete the app for a couple of days, but loneliness and not knowing how else to meet new people, meant it didn’t stay deleted for very long!

Online dating and trying to see what comes next is a funny thing… everyone you speak to will tell you how weird and awful it is… but there are so many people giving it a go! Surely we can’t all be crazy!? … having said that, if you have any other suggestions for meeting people, let me know! In the Spirit of working out the new next, I’m giving a whole lot of things a go that I’ve never done before, so maybe I’ll try your suggestion and see what happens!?

3. A new hobby…?

So for my birthday this year – the first one without Claytie since I turned 18, I did two things that have had a big impact for me….I had a party of sorts, and I went on a trip to Uluru. I will tell you about my trip another day, this story is about my new obsession!

My ‘not a party’ party was held at our local pub. It was an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come. Dinner if you were hungry or just a drink or two … and Karaoke! I LOVE IT! I have been going almost every Friday night since April – barring those weeks that were lock-down affected. I know the regulars, and they know me. We haven’t really spoken a whole lot, but we’ve bonded all the same. I know their names from their stage announcements and I know who’s got it and who just wishes they did. The boys behind the bar know how I like my steak cooked and if I’ll be having a drink or not depending on who I am with – mostly my drinks are free, and I’ve been known to help tidy up at the end of the night.

My Kids think I’m completely and totally bonkers- as do a lot of other people!… but it’s good, clean fun, and if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be on the couch at home with my two dogs for company! Music and singing changes your mood – in my case for the better, and the people watching is spectacular! I love getting out and mingling with new people, or the kids and their friends. It’s new and fun, and safe! This is all part of the next that is now… this is me, being brave and going out.

I very rarely get up on the stage, although it has happened, but getting up to dance is another story, I’m all for that!! Abba is usually my go to music of choice. I’m not what you would call a great singer – Unless it’s in the shower or the car, I’m pretty shit! … but I have the best time!! I love the sheer (drunken) joy that people feel singing their hearts out. Those that can actually sing, and those that think they can. I love the people watching…I love knowing what kind of night it will be, based on who walks in at 9pm and which DJ is in charge for the night. The whole thing makes me insanely happy.

The regulars have the system down pat. They come in and load their favourite songs… usually 3 each, and they vary wildly from Journey to Frank Sinatra, Matchbox 20 to Michael Bublè, Shannon Noll to AcDc…they have their moment in the spotlight and are generous with their praise and support (mostly!). There is a real camaraderie between them and it’s uplifting to watch.

There are the ladies that come dressed to the nines, with their ‘Farrah Fawcett’ hair, only drink water from home and knit (yes, actually!) while waiting for their songs to come on. You have those that are dedicated followers of the circuit, those that just love the limelight and others that are in it to win the $50 draw that happens twice each night. Mostly they chose the same songs from week to week, but every so often they will surprise. – usually if too many people sing along with them on their first song of choice and steal their spotlight.

In between the regulars, you have those that are celebrating birthdays, out for dinner with friends or just stopping by on their way to somewhere else… They end up on stage, mostly in groups and rarely know the words to their favourite songs. The awkward dancing is icing on the cake for me. My favourite nights are when the company owner is the DJ and the ‘cuzzy-bros’ are singing… but every Friday makes me happy!

And then there is me!…Friday night Karaoke has become something of a ritual for me, and I miss it when I don’t go. It finishes the week on a high note for me every time! Sometimes there is a whole group of us going, sometimes just one or two… and if no one is keen I’ll go on my own! It makes me happy… and that counts for so very much in this world of figuring out what comes next! If you’re looking for something fun to do – come on over and join the fun, I’ll save you a seat!! xx

5. Whale watching

I’ve always had a sense of adventure, and a love of seeing new places. Claytie and I were lucky enough to see a bunch of fabulous spots in Germany, Dubai, Japan and Australia .. but the real bucket list was only just starting. New Zealand and Tasmania were supposed to be next, but Covid happened and then Claytie died…. the possibilities should have been endless! It’s scary knowing that if I want to see new places, I’m going to have to do it in my own from now on!

In the Spirit of figuring that all out, and seeing how it would feel doing something new like traveling on my own, I took myself whale watching earlier this year. I have been dreaming about doing it for such a long time, we had talked about it often, and it got to the point where I thought stuff it! – it’s now or never!

Now for those of you that know me particularly well, you will know that it’s not just as simple as book it and go! I get incredibly bad motion sickness – to the point that Claytie would take it as a personal insult when I would need him to stop the car so I could spew!!! I have been sick on every possible type of moving vehicle… but particularly boats! I once spent a Christmas party evening, cruising on the Brisbane river … with my head in a bucket!

But back to the whales! I got myself all brave and ready to go, had a hotel room booked for the night as well, and then we struck a covid lock down and I had to postpone! In the process, I learned a harsh lesson about booking accomodation through a third party and getting your money back – you don’t! … Activities booked directly through the company, however do get a credit for a re-do. Three weeks later, post lock down, I was back on!

I booked a half day trip, leaving from SeaWorld. The booking was strategic,in that vomiting for 3-4 hours would be more manageable than a whole day! I spent the day before eating travel calm (motion sickness medication) every two hours on the advice of Dr Google, and had ginger tea with my dinner. Breakfast on the day, consumed at sparrow fart (somewhere between 4-5am) was half a packet of ginger nut biscuits and more travel calm. I had my motion sickness wrist bands on and two Stematil (anti vomiting) before boarding the boat, and was also wearing an adult nappy – just in case! 4 kids = unstable pelvic floor that does not take kindly to to the physical movements involved with spewing! I was prepared for all things!

The whole experience was weird, and beautiful and awesome! Sitting outside at the back of the boat, watching couples and families was hard. Claytie and I should have been doing this together! He should be in the selfie’s with me, complaining about all the photos I was subjecting him to but secretly loving it!.

The air was quite cold, but refreshingly so! The ocean was calm and the sun was shining. A perfect day to be out! The tour guides were awesome with their knowledge and interactions and told us all exactly what to look out for…. And we were looking for ages! A couple of times the boat slowed right down and we were told that a pod of whales was under the boat. There was a silence that descended over all of us, wide eyes searching all around. A little while later we would head off again, eyes peeled!…. And then there they were!

Splashes of white against the dark blue of the ocean… flukes in the air, as though waving at us. Huge backs arched, coming out of the water, diving back down with a splash. There is something truly magical about seeing and being near to an animal that’s the size of a bus, and yet so graceful and majestic.

We were really lucky to have encountered a couple of juvenile whales. Old enough to be in their own, but young and energetic enough to be playful and curious about our boat. One of them breached so close to us that it felt like there was eye contact. The whales were watching us as much as we were watching them. It was exciting, and calming, exhilarating and relaxing all at the same time. I could have spent hours more out there! I thought it was magic!!

Heading back to the marina, we all kept our eyes peeled for more. No one was ready for the trip to be over. We did spot a few more whales further out, but no other close encounters. The guides did say to us that we were very lucky to have seen as much and as close as we did.

The main thing I have learned from this trip, is that I can do it on my own, and it’s not awful! I also know that I definitely prefer to have company, especially for meals….. and if anyone need to know, I can help with all of the motion sickness advice and medication!! I also absolutely can not wait to do more whale watching – maybe even a whole day (!) Next year – a new next that I am already planning for!