But I have to start at the beginning - we had New Year's Eve, of course, and I tried my hand at making oliebollen for the first time. Oliebollen are a Dutch traditional dish that is eaten around New Year's Eve. It's basically just a deep-fried Dutch doughnut, served with copious amounts of icing sugar. I decided it was time I gave it a go, considering the fact that I am full-blooded Dutch (even though I've never visited Holland). It turned out surprisingly well.
Early in January, we headed away on a cruise to North Queensland. Before this time, we had some trouble finding friends who were available to take care of our dear little dog, Peyton. However, in the end a couple of friends volunteered, and we let them take Peyton out to their farm, twenty kilometers out of town.
We cruised with P&O, and in all honesty, neither of us are particularly keen to do it again. The actual boat had the atmosphere of a floating pub or a badly crowded food court in suburban Brisbane. Cruising is meant to be about enjoying the journey as well as the destinations, but all I can say is that the destinations were fabulous and the journey was a necessary evil. The decor of the ship was like a muddy nightmare from the eighties, and the one swimming pool they had was the size of a small living room. The maximum bathing load was fifteen and no jumping was allowed, so naturally as many as twenty children could be seen lining up along the sides and jumping in almost simultaneously, narrowly avoiding killing the thirty people already packed in there. Needless to say, being in that pool was a hazard to both my health and my baby's, so I didn't spend much time in there at all during the cruise - even though we were voyaging to North Queensland in the hottest part of summer. Additionally, I know I'm a snob, but the live entertainment was rather pitchy at times, and the ship just felt too crowded overall. Clearly I don't do well being trapped on a boat with two and a half thousand other people.
But the good thing was that our destinations were amazing. We went to the Whitsundays, Cairns, and Port Douglas. My husband Michael and I had experiences like seeing some of the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary, and cruising down the Daintree River spotting crocodiles. We also had the pleasure of swimming in Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Forest, which was simply paradise. Port Douglas is infinitely better than Cairns, by the way. I have never seen anywhere so green or so beautiful.
We had three days at sea after seeing these destinations, and once we entered reception, we had a phone call from our friends to say that Peyton had gone missing during a storm and been missing for thirty-six hours already. My heart just plummeted. I couldn't understand how it could have happened. Sadly, our friends were not used to taking care of a small dog and had left her on the veranda while they had gone out for a time. The veranda was, they thought, enclosed. But any gap large enough for a cat is more than large enough for a Yorkshire Terrier. This is the reason I have always put Peyton in her crate when we are out and advised friends to do the same, so that she can feel safe and cozy, even if there are scary sounds or thunderstorms.
We were in Brisbane on receiving the news, and we disembarked and our friend Russell picked us up swiftly so that we could head home. We took all the toll roads and drove through several storms to get there. The moment we were out on our friends' farm, we started looking. But it was hopeless. There was nowhere on their farm that would have felt safe, warm, and soft enough for Peyton to hide. Everything was made of clanging metal or scraping wood. The landscape was desolate, and not far from their house, a wedge-tailed eagle was wheeling in the sky. I called her, sang to her, and eventually just cried for her. I still can't believe that she's gone. It's been over two weeks now since she vanished. She was my writing companion, my friend, and my fellow explorer. We saw New Zealand and Australia together.
Our friends were deeply sorry too, and one of them volunteered to come with me to Brisbane a few days later, when I wanted to visit some Yorkshire Terrier breeders. I couldn't bear to eventually bring Peyton's things home and not have my dog. It was too painful. I still feel her absence really keenly. But I was blessed to be able to bring home another Yorkshire Terrier called Heidi. Heidi has a similar bloodline to Peyton's and a similar temperament. She's also five years old - the age Peyton was. Sadly, Heidi had been living in her and other dogs' feces, so she was matted, grubby, and filled with fleas and other parasites. It's taken a while, but I've cleaned her up and it's her time to shine. Like Peyton, she didn't really know any commands when I got her, so I've been toilet training her and teaching her basic things like "sit" and "come".
School has begun, and it feels weird for all the regular schedules to start up without Peyton being around - she was such a huge part of my life. It really does feel like there's a hole. We never found her body, so I still pray that maybe she'll be alive somewhere, and that she'll be safe. But I don't know, and it's incredibly unlikely.
I'll always remember my first ever proper pet, Peyton. I don't know where she is. But she lives in me still, having changed me and made me a more patient and kind human being. Our new Yorkie Heidi is a lucky girl, to come after such a predecessor - because Peyton taught me how to love animals, and Heidi is benefiting from that.
A bigger journey is still to come, when our child will be born in the middle of the year. I will need to learn to love and care for a baby too, which is a huge task.
Maybe one day I'll have to write a book about it all.