NaNoWriMo- What I Learnt

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As many of you would know, this year I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) for the very first time. The goal? To write a 50,000 word manuscript during the month of November. I managed 12,227 words. Now, for me it was never really about the words, I said that right from the beginning, it was more about the experience. I have never written a book before, I’ve never even tried, so I was really interested to see how I would find it. NaNoWriMo was something I was using to hold myself accountable, to at the very least, make a start. I started off great, managing to keep up the first week or so but then it all got pushed to the side when my mental health took a nose dive. Then, the most important thing for me became that. The story went out of my head, the characters left because my mind was focused elsewhere, it needed to be. And that’s ok, life happens. I learnt so much in just that one week and 12,227 words that I certainly don’t regret signing up and I am far from feeling a failure. Instead I’m thinking about all the things I learnt and how they will help me become a better writer in the future.

Here’s what I learnt: 

I learnt about the gap. If you’re not aware of what the gap is, let me explain. The gap refers to that space between the story in your head and the story on paper. It goes like this: you think up this story is your head and it’s amazing. The characters are so real, the story is captivating. And then you go to write it and it just doesn’t come out the way you picture it. You can’t find the right words, the right description, it just doesn’t seem…right. Writers hate the gap. It’s our goal to close the gap. And for me, I discovered the gap was large. I had/have the story in my head, the characters are all there, major plot points etc but when it comes to actually getting that out…it all came out a bit wrong. Closing the gap is something I really need to work on.

I learnt writing a book is hard. I mean of course I knew that, if it was that easy everyone would write an award winning novel and get it published straight away. But as I was writing I was really wondering how people do it; like literally. Not only does it take time and talent but also a lot of patience and perseverance. I’m not sure that I will ever have that type dedication. I mean writing a draft is one thing but then reworking and rewriting that draft, pulling it to bits and then having others pull it to bits, sometimes often for years, well, I just don’t know that I’d have that in me. It just makes me admire my favourite authors even more.

I learnt the need to put perfectionism aside. Particularly when writing a first draft. At the beginning it was slow going, I kept rereading over what is written, fixing up parts, trying to get the words just right. Then I realised if I ever wanted to finish I just couldn’t do that. It’s like Shannon Hale said “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” I like that.

I learnt I need to work on my creative writing. Everyday writing, blog posts, opinion pieces, social media, that all comes quite easily to me. Creative writing? Not so much. When I was a kid and into my teenage years it was the only way I would write. But it’s been years. Maybe I’ve lost that, or maybe I just need to find it again. Maybe I need to do some short courses, polish my skills or maybe, just maybe creative writing just isn’t my thing. Time will tell I guess.

I learnt there is always time for writing. Even if your life is busy, you work,  you have kids, whatever; you can always make time for writing if you really want to. Simple as that.

And so, that’s what I learnt. If you joined in NaNoWriMo this year I’d love to hear how you found it. What did you learn?

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I will be ok

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So much to say that I don’t really even know where to start….If you follow me on facebook or instagram you will probably know that I have been struggling a bit with my anxiety lately. Truth is, I’ve been struggling a lot. Sometimes I really hesitate sharing things like that. I’ve always be very open about my battles with anxiety (and in the past, depression) but sometimes I worry. I worry mainly about what people will think of me; that they will think I’m crazy, unstable, weak, weird or unhappy with my life. But actually, none of these things are true at all. And I guess that’s why I choose to share my experience. Because I want to reduce the stigma, I want people to understand that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your life is like; anxiety can affect anyone. Men, women, mothers, children, professional people, doctors, lawyers, confident people…anyone. Anxiety is real, it is common and it can be really debilitating. So yes, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and I’m ok with admitting that.

Anxiety has been part of my life…always. It has come and gone in different ways and levels of severity over the years. There have been times when I have gone years without a panic attack and other times when I have been so crippled by them that I couldn’t leave the house. Before having my son, I think I had probably gotten to the place where I was able to talk myself through a panic attack. I would focus on my breathing, do a bit of positive self talk and eventually it would pass. If all else failed I could crawl into my bed and sleep it off. But since becoming a mother I’ve found that my anxiety overall has gone to a new level. I guess it’s the fact that I have this entire other little human being that I am completely responsible for. And of course, as mothers, we always put ourselves last, we run ourselves into the ground, spend a lot of time worrying, looking after everyone else…and feeling guilty. And no longer do I have the opportunity to just sleep it off! When you’re a mum you just have to keep going.

So how did I get here? How did my anxiety get so bad? Well I could tell you the long complicated story of my life, who I am and where I’ve come from; all the things that have made me the type of person who is susceptible to anxiety. Or I could tell you about all of the things that have happened over the past year or so; the big things and the small things that we’ve dealt with that have maybe contributed to my anxiety…but I would be here all day! So instead, let me just try to explain to you what’s been going on the past few months and how my anxiety has spiraled.

One day a few months ago when I was driving my son to kinder I had a really big panic attack. My hubby had recently had gastro and I had been feeling a bit off that morning. The drive to kinder from our house is about fifteen minutes. As I drove I started to feel more and more sick, I felt like I wanted to vomit, or run to the toilet or pass out. My son was chatting non stop (as he does) asking a million questions and I was just trying to focus on driving and not being sick. And then I started to panic. There was nowhere to stop, what if I didn’t make it to the toilets at kinder on time? What if I passed out while driving? What if, what if…and so my mind went and before I knew it I was having a full blown panic attack. By the time I pulled up at kinder I was shaking so bad that I had to get a friend to walk my son into kinder for me. And then of course my son started to panic too; he kept asking what was wrong with me, I just told him I was sick. And then he started to cry “Mummy, when you feel sick I feel sick too.” My heart broke. From that day on, every time I drive to kinder I get anxious and usually end up having a panic attack. I have to take that trip six times a week. It’s exhausting. And now of course I’ve become trapped in that vicious cycle…afraid of when the next panic attack will hit. What if I’m at the shops and it happens? What if I’m driving my car and it happens? Of course the more I think about it and worry about it the more likely it is that it will happen. And so it has. The panic attacks have been coming thick and fast. I feel like I’m standing in an ocean and the waves keep coming. I get knocked down, I stand back up, only to get knocked down again.

I’m pretty good at seeing the warning signs, I know when my anxiety is getting out of control…I spoke about it here not to long ago when I made the decision to give up all the work I was doing from home, thinking this would make a difference and relieve any stress I had…it didn’t. I’ve tried a number of other things too; things that have worked in the past and also new things; from meditation to herbs to crystals and essentials oils and everything in between…. I’ve tried it all. Last week, it eventually got to the point when I knew I needed professional help and so I made myself a doctors appointment. My doctor agreed that at this stage I probably need medication. The thing is, I will need to slowly wean myself off my current medication to then start a new one. Unfortunately this means things are probably going to get worse before they get better. But that’s ok, because if there is one thing that I have definitely have learnt through all my years of suffering from anxiety it’s that I will be ok. This too shall pass. It may get worse, I may have to take some medication short term, I may have some hard work to do but I will get through it. And I will be ok. In the meantime I have a fantastic support crew; my husband, my mum, my sister, my bestie, my boss and all my other friends who have rallied around me these past few months and of course, my lovely blog readers. I know I have lots of people I can call upon, talk to and ask for help if I need it and for that I am forever grateful. Yep, I will be ok.

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Neighbours

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It’s been over ten years since we moved into our home. We were the first people on the street after building in a brand new estate. In the following few weeks we were joined by three other couples, all around the same age as us at the same stage in their life; moving into their first home, excited and full of dreams for the future.

It was summer and we would often spend our evenings sitting our front in the street chatting away. Time went on. One couple split up and moved out, another couple sold their house and moved to a different town. Today, only two of the four original couples remain, one being us. Our street has slowly turned into a revolving door of renters. The couple who fought loudly all the time, the young group of friends who threw parties and played loud music every weekend, the guy with the loud car that he would start up at 4am every morning, the family who we never saw. They’ve all come and gone. I find myself not even bothering to say hi anymore. I walk quickly to my front door from my car not wanting to make eye contact or engage in conversation. I can’t be bothered and don’t want to be bothered.Part of me doesn’t mind. I quite like just keeping to myself. Our home is our sanctuary and my retreat. But the other part of me is a little sad, that our son isn’t growing up in a neighbourhood where there are other kids his age that he can play with or neighbours that we know well enough to call upon in a time of need.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about moving. It’s an idea we’ve kept coming back to for many years now. And we probably will eventually. This was never meant to be our forever home. But it’s also a scary thing, to leave a home you’ve been in for ten years. And we know that we will struggle to find (and afford) exactly what we want. Blocks of land are so much smaller these days and I think, isn’t it funny, that we’re all so much closer yet more disconnected than ever before. Do you agree?

Do you live in a friendly neighbourhood?

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Julia

A quick post today but an important one.

About a year and a half ago I was sitting at a table at a blogging event when a lady came and sat next to me and introduced herself as Julia. We began talking all things blogging, she told me excitedly that her blog was currently being turned into a book.

“Oh wow, that’s awesome” I said “What’s your blog about?”

She told me she started her blog when she had been diagnosed with bowel cancer a couple of years prior.

“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that, but everything is ok now?” I asked

“Oh no, its terminal” I fell silent in shock, not really knowing what to say. The woman who sat beside me looked like the picture of health; glowing and smiling from ear to ear. Julia went on and told me her blog was called Five Fairies and Fella, she had four young children, all girls. Man, can you even imagine? Being the mother of four young children and knowing that you are going to die…and soon.

 

Julia’s blog did get turned into a book, it’s called Breakfast, School Run, Chemo. You may have seen her on 60 minutes a few months ago. If you’re part of the blogging community then I’m sure you’ve already heard of Julia and her story. She continued to blog and keep everyone updated on her fight against cancer over the past year. And what a fight it has been. Julia has continued to defy the odds and push for more and more precious time with her family, any little bit she can get. I have read every single one of Julia’s posts yet rarely commented. Why? Because the words have always failed me. My words have never seemed enough. But today I hope that my words might be able to help somehow. Because this week Julia was told there was nothing more that can be done. She is to be discharged into palliative care and her beautiful friends are rallying behind Julia and her family to raise some much-needed funds so that Julia’s husband Gary, will be able to take some time off work and spend it with his wife and girls during this difficult, and precious, time. At last check the count was nearing $30,000.
If you would like to donate (every small amount helps) you can do so here. And if you want to read more about Julia’s story head to her blog here.

Sending you love and strength Julia.

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Taking Stock

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A quick catch up today as it’s a public holiday here in Melbourne (Cup day) and also officially the first day of NaNoWriMo. I have no idea if I’m going to be able to keep up with blogging or if I’m even going to feel like writing after attempting to write 1500 words everyday so if things get a little quiet around here you know why!

But before I jump head first into the month long writing challenge I thought it was a good time to stop and take stock with Pip’s Taking Stock list. Here we go:

Making: An indoor herb garden. It’s on the to do list for this week! I’ve got herbs, just need to buy the pots.

Cooking: Nothing much exciting lately, I’ve been in a bit of a slump but that’s gotta change! Anyone got any great simple recipes to share?

Drinking: Freshly squeezed orange juice with my breakfast.

Reading: These books. I’ve also just finished The Dry by Jane Harper which I loved. I’m not sure if I’ll get much reading done in the next month though.

Wanting: My anxiety to fuck off.

Looking: Forward to summer and Christmas holidays.

Wishing: My anxiety would fuck off. (Noticing a theme here?)

Enjoying: Daylight savings.

Waiting: For our great bunch of friends to come over and celebrate Melbourne Cup day with us today.

Wondering: How our little man will go at school next year. I hope he loves it!

Loving: My friends. I’ve called on two in particular in recent times, they get my anxiety and have really been there for me. Thank you. You know who you are.

Pondering: How I’m actually going to manage to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

Listening: To Smiling Mind meditations at bed time.

Buying: Christmas presents. I started last week, determined to get it all done early this year!

Watching: Some good new Aussie dramas- The Wrong Girl and Doctor Doctor. Who else has been watching?

Cringing: At the recent online drama. between two bloggers That’s all I have to say about that.

Needing: A nap…always.

Wearing: My PJ’s

Knowing: It will be ok. 

Thinking: too much. It’s a problem of mine.

Getting: Sick of hearing about the American election. Is it over yet?!

Bookmarking: House floor plans. We’re dreaming of a new house again!

Disliking: Spam, auto bots and the follow then unfollow trend on Instagram. Annoying much!

Giggling: At our lil mans dance moves. Crack up!

Feeling: Loved.

Celebrating: Melbourne Cup day! And lots of little ones birthdays this month.

Embracing: The next three months at home with my boy before I go back to work next year! 

For those of you that read my post last week and are wondering what the results of my biopsy were, at this stage, it’s still a bit unclear. Pathology results came back as not being skin cancer however the specialist was not happy with some parts of the results and still wants to remove the lesion. I’m currently seeking a second opinion. Whilst I know it’s better to be safe than sorry with these things I have also unfortunately had bad experiences in the past where I’ve undergone procedures that just weren’t necessary, so I’ve learnt now to question things. I won’t be cutting anything off my face unless I need to and will also be asking for a referral to a plastic surgeon if that is necessary. Thank you to everyone who commented, called or sent me a message after my post, I really really appreciate it.

And that’s it from me for now. What’s new with you lately?

’til next time

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Book Reviews- October

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It’s been all about non fiction books for me this month. Here’s what I’ve been reading…

Gut, The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-Rated Organ: Giulia Enders

Giulia Enders is a German writer and scientist who has been studying the human gut for years. In this book Giulia explains in simple and often humorous ways, the inner workings of the gut and how it affects so many aspects of our health. I found this book really interesting, in particular the relationship between gut health and things like anxiety and depression; it’s definitely opened my eyes to some things. If you’re into learning more about how your body works and how to manage your health in more natural ways then this is a must read!

On Writing– Stephen King

I’ll admit upfront that I’m not a Stephen King fan, as in I’ve don’t think I’ve ever read one of his books or watched any of the movies. But I certainly respect him as a creative mind and even more so since reading this book. It is part memoir and part instructions on writing; and the two blend perfectly together. Because I didn’t know much about him, it was interesting to read Stephens life story and he has some really great, practical advice on writing. I also love how he is straight to the point and just tells it like it is. Every writer or aspiring writer will find pieces of gold in the book, I’m sure of it.

Bird by Bird– Anne Lamont

This one has been on my ‘must read’ list for a long time after having it recommended to me by so many people. Similar to On Writing, Bird by Bird is a must read for any writer, no matter what level you’re at. It has so many great tips on how to get started, how to overcome obstacles, where to find ideas, how to get those ideas out of your head and more. Anne shares her own experiences on writing and publishing openly and honestly which was a nice reminder that it doesn’t come easy to anyone; all writers have to do they hard work.

Cabin Porn– Zach Klein

This book is based on the tumblr website Cabin Porn which is a collection of beautiful images of cabins submitted by people from all over the world. The book contains two hundred of these images as well as ten ‘behind the scenes’ stories about the people who built the cabins. It makes a gorgeous coffee table book and flipping through it makes me want to runaway and build a cabin in the woods.

What have you been reading this month? Any of these books tickle your fancy?

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One Step at a Time

A couple of months ago I was at my GP, “What’s that on your face?” My doctor asked, squinting and leaning forward. She was talking about this…

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“Oh I dunno” I said, touching the spot “That’s always been there…what is it?”

My doctor said she wasn’t sure, nothing to worry about at all but she could give me a referral to a dermatologist if I liked, they could probably just shave it off, make the skin smooth. Sure, I said, why not. So she gave me a referral and I made an appointment.

On the day of the appointment I considered cancelling it. The spot didn’t really bother me that much so did I really need to go? But I kept the appointment anyway. The dermatologist came in, asked me a few questions then started to examine the spot. He went very quiet. After a while he asked me,

“How old are you?”

“33” I answered.

“Hmm” he paused “So, I think what you have there is skin cancer.”

Say what? Did he just use the C word? I tried not to panic and focus on what he was saying. He explained that he believed it was a BCC lesion, the most common type of skin cancer.  My mind wandered back to just twenty minutes before when we’d been walking down Chapel Street and had spotted Jarryd Roughead, the footballer who’d had a skin cancer spot removed a couple of years ago only to find out recently the cancer had spread. This is what I was thinking about as the doctor spoke to me.

He assured me that it is very rare for this particular type of cancer to spread, it is usually self-contained. The first step would be to get a biopsy, just to be one hundred percent sure that his diagnosis was right. It would need to be removed obviously. Non-surgical removal wasn’t an option, it would need to be cut out and due to its size he recommended that it be done in hospital under general anaesthetic (and we all know how I feel about hospitals). I asked a few questions and the doctor answered them but mainly he just said we need to take it one step at a time, starting with the biopsy. So that’s where I am today, off to get the biopsy done. I’m trying not to worry, of course it would be great if the results come back and the doctor has made a big mistake but if it turns out he’s right…well, like he said, one step at a time.

Regardless of what the results say I’ve learnt a good lesson; something I’ve read about and heard about and been told about before but never really worried about before; check your spots, know your body, get any changes checked out. It is always better to be safe the sorry.

I’ll keep you updated on how I go, wish me luck!

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NaNoWriMo

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Last week I signed up for NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t already know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual online event where participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in one month (November). I’d been thinking about joining in this year (for the first time ever) when a friend posted that she was doing it and encouraged me to do the same. I’ve always wanted to write a book; there’s always been an excuse not to, but right now, I really have no excuse. I’m not working at the moment so I have the time (albeit only about twelve precious hours a week whilst my son is at kinder) and I do have an idea… of course it’s only fear holding me back. But, like my wise friend said I can not do it and still be in the exact same place in a month that I am now or I do it and who knows….at the end of the day at least I will be able to say I’ve tried.

I am under no grand illusions that writing this book will actually lead anywhere, that’s honestly not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it purely for the experience, to see if I actually can do it, to see if I can take the ideas in my head and put them into words, shape them into a story. It’s been so long since I have even attempted to write fiction. I used to do it a lot when I was younger but now I have no idea where to even start! So I’ve been reading some books, (On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont to start) seeking some advice and then last week I received perhaps the best piece of advice of all from published author Wendy Orr who told me “Support like this is fantastic and these books on writing are great but never forget that it’s your own journey and you’ll find your own path as you do it”. And so I’m going to try really hard to remember that when I start my journey next month (thanks Wendy).

Have you done NaNoWriMo before? Are you joining in this year? Any tips or pieces advice you have for me?

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The Anxious Mother

I work really hard not to let my anxiety affect our son. It’s not so much that I actively hide it from him, I don’t really believe in doing that (mental illness is not something to be ashamed of or something to be hidden) but he is only five, there are things he just doesn’t need to know yet, things that are too complex for him to understand. I don’t want to expose him to adult problems and I definitely don’t want to put my anxieties on him. I don’t ever want to be the type of mum that stops him from doing things he wants to do because of my own fears. And so, I might tell him I’m scared of doing something, like going on a fast ride or an aeroplane or going to the dentist but then I do it anyway. I hope by doing that I’m showing him it’s ok to be afraid and that sometimes we just need to face our fears and find out that it’s not so scary after all. But sometimes, I’m ashamed to say that my fears get the better of me, my mind takes over my body and I can’t…I just can’t face them those fears.

When he was a baby our son suffered from severe reflux. I’m not talking about a few baby spews after a feed, I’m talking non stop, clothes change inducing, full on vomiting. We were referred to the Royal Children’s Hospital when he was a few months old for some testing. One particular test involved him fasting for what ended up being nearly eight hours…this for a baby who was at that time feeding every three to four hours…well, you can probably imagine what that was like. By the time we got into the x-ray room our poor little man was over tired, starving and screaming. The doctors explained that we would need to hold him down and keep him as still as possible whilst the gave him a small amount of milk with a special dye mixed into it. It was important that he not drink too much, they would take it away, “he won’t be happy” they warned, then they would watch the milk flow through his body and take regular pictures on the x-ray machine as it made its way down. Because of the radiation from the machine hubby and I were required to heavy full lead vests. So, put an already anxious mum together with a hot room, lack of food and a lead vest that weighed a ton and bam, you’ve got yourself a full-blown panic attack. I could feel myself fading, I reached for a nearby chair because I felt like I was going to pass out. The doctors suggested that maybe I wait outside. I looked towards my husband and he nodded; assured me he’d be ok. A nurse escorted me out to a hospital bed where I laid down and she fed me sweet biscuits and cordial. I sat there and cried. I was so embarrassed. I felt like an absolute failure. I had crumbled in the moment when my child needed me the most.

For me, any type of medical environment; being in a hospital, dentist or doctors waiting room causes huge anxiety. Even if I’m only there for something as simple as a prescription refill, just being there or even thinking about being there is enough to make me anxious. I know now that this is due to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) something which I am only now really coming to understand. So when our son needed to go into hospital for an operation at the age of two it was my husband who held him whilst him was put under. And just this week when our son had a bad fall which resulted in him losing half his front tooth it was my husband who took him to the dentist. And I hate that. Not that I hate my husband being there, my god I’m so grateful he was, that he is, but I hate myself for not being strong enough to be there for my son when he needs me the most. Because there is nowhere else that a mothers wants to be when her child is in trouble than by their side.

Last night I thanked my husband, as I often do, for being there when I couldn’t, for being the strong one when I can’t be. And I promised him and myself, as I often do, that I will continue to fight my anxiety and face my fears not only for myself but also for our son because the thing I am most afraid of all is letting him down.

Are you an anxious mother? Ever felt like you at letting your child down?

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SAD

Every year, around this time, I get a case of the sads; seasonal affective disorder that is. It’s totally a thing you know; depression caused by winter. A friend who used to be a nurse told me that it was one of the first things she learnt about at uni; to look out for the SADs. She said that the incidence of depression and suicide sky rockets during the winter months and I believe it too.

It took me a few years to figure out that my depression would usually rear it’s ugly head during the winter months but now that I know I try to take steps to prevent it happening. Being aware of it is always the first thing. Experts say to try to keep up the exercise and eat well…I know I definitely find it harder to do this in winter. It’s too cold to go outside for a walk and its much easier to eat healthy in summer when you feel more like eating salad or fruit. This year I’ve also tried to just embrace it and focus on the positives of winter; camp outs in the lounge room with blankets and a good movie is never better than in the dead of winter. One of my best memories from this winter is the day that I spontaneously picked up my niece  and nephew, rugged up my son and told hubby to hurry home from work. Then we drove about thirty minutes to the top of a mountain in a nearby town where it had been snowing that day. It was the first time all three kids had seen snow. There was lots of throwing snow and lots of laughter…it was the best day.

But this winter has been long… it seems to be lasting forever and my patience is wearing thin. I’m craving sunshine and warm air. I’m craving being outside…maybe I’m just craving a holiday. I’ve been googling tropical holidays like it’s going out of style, knowing full well that even if we could afford to go anywhere right now (which we can’t) hubby just wouldn’t be able to get the time off work anyway. But still, I continue to torture myself. Spring started a few weeks ago but it would appear that Melbourne has yet to get the memo. It’s been all rain and cold wind here. We’ve been blessed with a few sunny days and we all get very excited. My son made me fill up his little outdoor shell pool the other week when it was only 19 degrees, we ate icy poles on a twenty degree day. Yeah, we’re really hanging out for summer here as much for our own sanity as our past white skin!

This week it looks like much of the same; cloud, rain and wind (it’s been so so windy!). I see a little picture of a sun next to Friday and hold out hope…bring on the sunshine Melbourne!

Have you ever experienced a case of the SADs? Or are you one of those lucky people that I see on my instagram feed living in a warmer climate, wearing a pretty dress and smiling? I’m not jealous at all…..ok I’m totally jealous, can I come for a holiday?blog signature, www.sarahdipity.com.auP.S. Did you know that you can subscribe to this blog and receive every new post direct to your email inbox? Well you can! Just pop your email address in the box below. I promise I won’t annoy you with daily emails or spam (cause ain’t nobody got time for that) but it’s the best way to ensure you never miss one of my posts.