Girl power tunes

There’s nothing more awesome than totally rocking out to a girl power song when you’re a bit down and depressed. I was thinking this the other day as I was driving along in the car, feeling pretty sad and stressed over some horrible events that had happened, when Katy Perry’s Roar came on. I sang it at the top of my voice – and I have to say it totally made me feel better!

So I thought I’d helpfully compile a list of my favourite songs to sing when the world takes a massive swing at you.

  1. Fighter by Christina Aguilera. I tend to blast this one up loud when someone has done something crappy to me. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as turning an attack into a something that makes you a better, stronger person.
  2. This is who I am by Vanessa Amorosi. I just LOVE this song. I feel like I spent so many years not embracing who I really am, and this is kind of like a personal anthem for me.
  3. I don’t want to be by Gavin Degraw. Girl power songs don’t have to be written by girls! I’m all for gender equality 🙂 Like This is who I am, this song is all about just being who you are.
  4. Titanium by Sia. I literally say these lyrics to myself  when difficult things happen. “You shoot me down, but I get up, I am titanium.” It makes me feel invulnerable, and I really like that.
  5. Shake it off by Taylor Swift. Because sometimes you really do just need to shake it off, right? Little Miss and I completely agree on this.

I love all of these songs, but my absolute favourite at the moment is This is My Fight Song by Rachael Platten. Every time I hear it, it gives me goosebumps. I think it’s especially meaningful because I heard it for the first time when a dear friend was battling advanced brain cancer, and I sang it for her. I also love Rachel’s story – she’s 34 and only just hit it big, after years of playing her music to audiences no bigger than about 20 people. I just love how her time has finally come, and she’s roared onto the stage with such an awesome song that probably encapsulates her stage of life right now.

How about you? What do you listen to when you need a reminder that you can totally triumph over whatever it is that has got you down?

 

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You are enough

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about being authentic.

One of my dearest friends sent me a link to a TED talk by social researcher Brene Brown on vulnerability (I highly recommend watching it here when you get the chance) and probably the thing she said which struck me the most was this:

I am enough.

I know it doesn’t seem like rocket science. But this is a concept I have struggled with for so many years – am I enough? If I don’t get the highest mark, am I enough? If I’m overweight – am I enough? If my kids muck up at school, am I enough? If my house is always a mess, if I fail at my job, if I stuff up at parenting, if I publish a book and no one buys it – am I enough?

It was kind of a light bulb moment. So I decided right then and there – yes, I am enough.

And, because the universe is awesome, I had the opportunity to test my newfound revelation right away.

That same week as my epiphany, Souljourneyboy and I were due to go to our 20-year High School Reunion. Now, I have obviously known about this event for some time, and I had grand plans of losing – about 12 kilos.

It became apparent to me a week out that, sadly, I wasn’t actually going to achieve that goal, since I hadn’t, you know, started dieting. So I decided that I could at least get my hair done, as the highlights I had done a few months ago are half grown out and I don’t think they really suit me all that well. Also it’s been ridiculously humid and my curls have this 1980’s Helena Bonham-Carter thing going on which is, well – kind of frightening.

But of course I had this madly stressful week where there’d been no time in between uni exams and work and piano lessons and art class and lapidary club (yes, Picasso does lapidary of all things, but that’s a story for another time) to find time for the hairdressers.

Finally, on the day before the reunion, I found myself in an exhausted heap, faced with a choice – either I could just sink into my comfortable couch for a few hours and read (which is what I really wanted to do) or I could drag myself down to the shops and book in for the hair appointment (which I knew I wouldn’t enjoy).

Then I reminded myself – I am enough. Realistically, would anyone care what colour my hair is or was? Why did I care? Why would I spend precious hours doing something I didn’t really want to do, all because deep down inside I was worried about not being enough?

So I chose the couch and the book – and crazy hair – had a wonderfully relaxing day, and decided not to care.

Then something really interesting happened. At the reunion – which, by the way was fabulous – I couldn’t believe how many people stopped me to say how much they enjoyed my blog. And even more wonderfully, they all said the reason they enjoyed it was because of my willingness to be authentic.

You can’t be truly, authentically vulnerable unless you are happy to accept yourself the way you are. Unless you know that despite all your shortcomings you are indeed, enough. And yet accepting ourselves is so hard to do, mostly because when we are real about our struggles and our failures, we open ourselves up to criticism and judgement.

It’s so easy to sit back and justify your own life and decisions by the failures and struggles of other people around you – you know, when that inner voice says, God, I would NEVER put my child into care/let my child behave like that/wear that dress/eat that/let my house look like that/make that choice like SHE/HE did. 

That’s the scary part of being vulnerable – you put the bits of yourself you usually hide away on show. You are forced to be truly honest with yourself, which, let’s face it, can sometimes be confronting.

But you also open up real conversations, authentic experiences and connection with others. You open yourself up to change and growth by looking at your inadequacies face-on.

And that’s what came home to me at the reunion – all these lovely people thanking me for expressing thoughts and feelings they had struggled to articulate, people who feel a bit better about their lives and experiences because I was honest about mine.

For a writer, that’s just about the best feedback you get can, I think.

I don’t claim to have reached some pinnacle of inner understanding, and I’m sure there will be plenty more times (today, probably) where I have to remind myself that I am enough.

But I hope by me sharing this you will remind yourself of it too.

And, by the way – I am absolutely sure that not a single person noticed my hair at all 🙂

So let’s all try to remember:

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My first book is now available!

It’s been a long time in the making… but I am very excited to announce my first children’s book called The Spell of Possibility: A Herald Hounds Adventure is now available as an ebook!

The Spell of Possibility is the story of Jake Finnegan and his younger sister Milly, who are thrown into adventure when they visit a strange house called Trickery Hill for the summer holidays. After Jake accidentally creates a powerful spell, they are transported to the Fae Kingdom – a realm where clockwork creatures roam the sky and leprechauns make flying shoes. The children soon find themselves caught up in a magical conspiracy against the Kingdom’s Immortal Rulers. 
Jake and Milly join forces with a faerie called Scoop, the headline-hunting editor of the Fae Kingdom’s most well-known newspaper, the Fae Morning Herald. Scoop hires Jake and Abbie as special news reporters, called Herald Hounds. The Hounds must solve the mystery before the Fae Kingdom is destroyed, always keeping one step ahead of the Herald’s rival newspaper – the sneaky Otherworld Oracle.
Aimed at children aged 9-14 years old, The Spell of Possibility is also for older readers who still love a magical tale 🙂
You can now purchase The Spell of Possibility on Smashwords at:
And please visit my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/emmajblytheauthor/ to tell me how you liked it!
Thanks to all of you who have encouraged my writing over the years. This has been an incredible journey, and your support has meant a lot to me.
Now to start writing the next book in the series ….  🙂

What it’s like to love fictional characters

When I started this post, it was going to be a review of a show I’ve been watching lately – True Detective 2 (WARNING – spoilers ahead!)

While it’s been somewhat panned by critics, I really loved it – I found it compelling and thought-provoking, and the noir cinematography haunting. Yes, some of casting wasn’t brilliant – Vince Vaughn the most obvious example – and some of the scenes overwritten, but I really, really liked it and binge-watched it over the period of just a few days.

Afterwards, when I was thinking about why I really liked it, I realised it boiled down to the affection I felt for the two main characters – Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell, and Antigone Bezzerides, played by Rachael McAdams. While the mini-series is a psychological cop thriller, essentially it is a love story, about two broken people finding their salvation in each other. Ray is an alcoholic, corrupt cop, thwarted in his attempt to connect with his son by his own rage and the memory of having killed the man who raped his wife many years ago. Antigone is a shell of a person, deeply traumatized by having been kidnapped and sexually molested as a child. When these two people finally come together, it’s exquisite. Which of course, makes the inevitability of Ray’s tragic end so heartbreaking.

It’s funny how we can become so attached to the characters we read about or watch. It happens to me all the time – after the ending of True Detective I wandered about in a distraught haze for a day, just so completely gutted for Ray and Antigone. I did the same thing after I read The God of Small Things. When I look back on my “real” life, it is marked by emotionally impacting events – birthing my children, being at my nephew’s funeral, experiencing the sadness and joy that comes along as part of life’s journey. Similarly, my life also seems marked by the times I experienced vicarious tragedy and happiness– when Beth died in Good Wives, or when Anne lost her baby in Anne’s House of Dreams; when Dorothea realised her love for Ladislaw in Middlemarch, when the giant’s heart opens for the little children in Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant or when the mentally disturbed Cyril is executed in Oz.

This is why I love good writing, whether it be a TV show, a play, a book or movie – I feel as though I’ve lived through these experiences right alongside some of my favourite people. It doesn’t matter if I don’t actually know them in the flesh and blood sense – they are real. Sometimes they are a reflection of who we are, or who we were, who we could have become, or who we want to be. And I’m glad there are plenty more waiting for me – in unread books and unwatched shows. Waiting for me to discover them 🙂

Celebrating milestones

Last week Souljourneyboy and I took the kids to a local shopping centre after school. We decided to eat dinner in the food court – which of course sounds much easier than it actually is! Everybody wanted something different and it took a good half an hour for us to help each child get their meal from their desired food outlet. When we finally sat down together I remarked to Souljourneyboy that I am looking forward to the day when we just give the kids $10 each and they are all capable of sourcing whatever food they want themselves.

Thinking upon it later, I was reminded of similar times, when I’d look forward to various milestones that held the promise of making parenting just that bit easier. It’s funny – you desperately look forward to the time when your child is capable of some new feat, but when they actually do achieve it, it’s easy to rush forward into the new stage without really celebrating that the old one is over. And so, with a 6-year-old, 9-year-old and 11-year-old, here’s what I’m thankful for right now…

Everyone’s finally mastered this sleep thing 

I really think sleep deprivation is the single most exhausting, frustrating and difficult thing about parenting. I remember being up with a newborn in the middle of the night,  just crying, wondering why on earth I’d even bother trying to sleep when I knew I’d have to be up in an hour anyway. And then the years of everyone waking up and demanding attention at 5am! It’s a wonder I’m at all sane. Anyway, I’m pleased to report now that, apart from the odd bad dream, everyone pretty much sleeps in their own bed all night. They go to the toilet by themselves and when they wake up they do their own thing and don’t wake us up. It’s quite, quite wonderful.

Everyone can get their own drink

I know this doesn’t sound like much, but to parents with toddlers this is a REALLY BIG DEAL. I always felt like I’d just sit down after hours of playing/baking/cooking/cleaning and I’d hear a small voice – “I thirsty”. They can get their own drinks and their own food, and it makes life so much more enjoyable!

Having their friends over makes life easier  

When kids are little, there’s a limit to how long a play date can last. They really enjoy it for the fist hour or so – but then all of a sudden your kid doesn’t want to share their “favourite train” (you know, the one they haven’t played with for three years) or their friend throws something and it hits someone’s head, and it’s all over. Now, when they have friends over they disappear for hours and I rarely have to sort anything out.

When they help, it actually helps

I recall gritting my teeth when a little voice asked to “help” cook or mop or use the vacuum. I felt like it drained all my motherly reserves of patience! But now, it’s actually helpful 🙂 They can vacuum and clean and even cook without too much assistance.

There are no more naps This literally changed my life. My day is no longer carved up into pockets of time, with that constant underlying fear that you’ll stay somewhere 10 minutes too long and someone will suddenly get overtired and throw a tantrum at the shops. I really am so glad the napping stage is behind us.

What milestones have your kids reached that you are grateful for?

Things to do in Kuala Lumpur with kids

Kuala Lumpur was the last stop on our trip. In hindsight, this is the only part of the itinerary I would have done differently. It took me a few days to get in sync with KL and at first I thought I didn’t really like it. But after a while I realized I was just in beach-mode after Langkawi and Koh Lipe, and it was taking an effort to get back into city/sightseeing-mode. We didn’t do as much as we could have or thought we would (it’s been stinking hot), but here’s what we enjoyed:

Petronas Towers

We were planning to go up to the skybridge and then to the top, but when we got there, the lines were HUGE. My advice – you really do need to get there early. We skipped that part and wandered the shops for a while, which was fun, then headed to the large park behind the towers. It was lovely here, and there’s a big playground and public pool. The kids were so annoyed they hadn’t worn their swimmers! A word of warning, though – the park attendants watch you like hawks and blow their whistles every time they see a rule being flouted. And there seem to be so many rules! About lying down on the grass, or accidentally walking on the tiled area with your shoes on, or sitting on play equipment if you are too old. We all found it quite funny.

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The pool and park behind the towers. 

Petrosains

The Questacon of Malaysia, Petrosains is funded by oil and gas company Petronas and is a science and discovery centre with loads of interactive exhibits and activities.

The kids LOVED this place. We spent four hours here and didn’t get around to everything. It is a must-do for kids in KL. I have to say, though, the blatant, over-the-top propaganda for the petrol industry kind of sticks in your craw. I felt like a bit of my soul died (although as I drive a car I can’t be too high and mighty!) Also, we caught one of the educational shows, which was all about how the digestive system works – informative, and kind of gross. But then it got quite weird when the educator finally got to the end of process – the rectum – and started explaining in graphic detail how people smuggle drugs in their faeces! The kids were round-eyed with surprise, and Souljourneyboy and I couldn’t stop laughing, it was so absurd.

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Bookworm enjoying one of the interactive exhibits – he’s about to go down the oil rig escape hatch. 

Central Market

A marketplace with airconditioning! We were in heaven and spent way to much money. A hand carved wooden chess set and an antique gong from Borneo were our favourite finds. And we had a foot fish spa! Yes, where the fish suck off your dried skin. I didn’t think I was going to be able to last 15 minutes, it was creepy and ticklish and kind of sandpapery, but I hung in there 🙂

Petaling Street (Chinatown)

Mostly knock-off junk but fun for a morning stroll. I bought converse sneakers for $15, Bookworm bought binoculars for $6 and there are lots of handbags and sunglasses etc if you’re into that sort of thing.

We liked KL but as I said before, I would do it differently next time, and make sure the very last stop was for chilling out and relaxing. I’ve realised as a family we do love our beach/pool/swimming time 🙂

 

Fun for the family in Langkawi

When I was organising our itinerary in the early stages of planning, I did loads of research on tropical islands, trying to find the perfect place for a 5 lengthy relaxation stop after 5 weeks of hard travelling. After much research, I landed on Langkawi – and I am delighted to say this beautiful island has not disappointed us! Here’s how we’ve spent the last six days…

 Relaxing at the Bon Ton Resort

A colleague of mine visited Bon Ton earlier last year, and had raved about it. It was certainly far more pricey than any of our other accommodation (which had been super-budget) but a fortuitous tax return enabled us to splurge a little, and we have absolutely loved it here. I think what I liked most is that it’s not your typical big resort, which can feel a little characterless. It’s not large – a handful of beautiful 100-year old wooden Malay villas situated around a lovely but simple pool, beside a lake. The restaurant is superb, the food delicious – the best I’ve had in this entire trip. There are gorgeous touches everywhere – old statues, a boutique shop, lounge areas with daybeds, fresh towels always available by the pool, free water and fruit delivered to your daybed while you’re swimming… and cats. Loads of cats! The Bon Ton operates a cat sanctuary which desexes and houses stray cats, some of whom live at the resort. The kids loved playing with them. The only drawback is that there is a vet clinic with dogs next door, and sometimes a plane overhead will set them barking. This didn’t happen often though. The staff are super friendly and are happy to organize anything for you. Adding to the chilled vibe was that you didn’t have to go anywhere for breakfast – the staff pack it into your fridge the night before. We loved that, and no one got out of bed before about 9:30am each day! Our villa was gorgeous too, two huge rooms, a kitchenette and two bathrooms, one with an enormous timber bath. It was also next to a sister resort – the Temple Tree, and you were able to use their pools and restaurant too. Highly recommend!

Chilling out on Pantai Cenang

The main beach strip in town is a great place to eat, drink and be merry, and just a few minutes’ drive from the Bon Ton. It didn’t feel as touristy as Nha Trang – it has a really great, relaxed beach vibe but without the sleaze. Probably because Langkawi is a Muslim island. The beach itself is nice and there are heaps of water sports you can do. Souljourneyboy took Bookworm and Picasso out on a jet ski – Bookworm loved it, but it was a little bit too much for poor Picasso.

The Andaman Resort

We’d heard that the beaches on the north of the island are amazing, and so we headed out in our rental car to the Andaman Resort, which is an incredible place right beside the beach and hidden in the jungle. We bought lunch there and asked to use the private beach, which wasn’t a problem. This was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to – powdery white sand, and crystal clear water. We swam for ages. Then we used the resort-style Andaman pool for a while before heading back to the Bon Ton. It was a lovely outing, though I probably wouldn’t want to stay there – it was a little too far from everything else. Apparently you can do a similar kind of trip to the Four Seasons hotel as well, and their beach is just as lovely.

Island hopping

The staff at the Bon Ton organized this for us, and it was so much fun, except for Little Miss, who unfortunately had a bad cold. We went out in a small boat to visit one of the outer islands with a freshwater lake, which was fun until we were attacked by an enraged monkey that wanted our bag and towels. It was seriously terrifying, and Picasso and Souljourneyboy were the only ones to keep their heads. (If ever I saw proof that Picasso will make an excellent nurse, I saw it then – quick, cool, calm and collected, even when a monkey was chasing him, screeching all the way. Bookworm and Little Miss were completely hysterical 🙂 ). We also visited a mangrove and watched wild water eagles diving for fish, and then went swimming on an uninhabited island on the way back. Heaps of fun, and less than $100 for the five of us on a private boat.

 A note on car rental for Langkawi and Penang

 You really do need to hire a car when you visit Langkawi. There was no public transport I could see, apart from taxis. It wasn’t expensive – about $30 a day, and we really enjoyed tripping around the island. You organize the cars through the hotel where you’re staying, and it’s very easy to do.

We also hired a car in Penang, which was a LOT more expensive, probably because we got it from one of the companies at the airport. I don’t think it’s worth it if you are travelling alone or as a couple – there are excellent hop-on/hop-off buses that go to all the tourist spots. As a family though I think it was worth it. We could keep our own schedule, leave stuff in the car, and enjoy good air-conditioning as we travelled around. I will say though that driving in Georgetown is very stressful (and caused some raised voices on more than one occasion!) For some bizarre reason, the same road will be one-way up to a half way point, and then switch directions to be one-way, but going the other way. The directions meet in the middle, and the road just veers you right off onto some other road, so before you know it, you’ve turned twice and you are ages away from where you need to be with no idea how to turn around. Quite odd!

We’re heading to Koh Lipe next for a few more days of beachside fun, before flying back to Kuala Lumpur for a couple of nights as our last stop. I am so sad our wonderful trip is nearly over! We have just enjoyed it so much.