Farewell to Hanoi – 3 years on

Today marks 3 years since we left Hanoi at the end of our 3.5 year posting. We have been back in Australia for almost as long as we were there.

Our life has changed so much since then. Our little boys who were 3.5 months and 2 years old when we arrived in Hanoi, were still so little when we left – and are now school boys. We’ve had our ups and downs adjusting to a new life in the Barossa. There are days where I do miss the challenge of my public service/diplomatic career and I wonder whether leaving it behind was the right thing to do. But then I think about our wonderful lifestyle, the new friends who have welcomed us into this community and supported us and the opportunities we have been presented. I look at two little boys thriving in this beautiful rural town, playing sport and learning so much and I appreciate the fact I do have the time to spend with them and create my own new career.

The photos below were just a quick sample, uploaded in between the boys Crossfit class and basketball yesterday. It would be lovely to sit and browse through the albums of thousands of photos we took during the years. But how do you sum up 3.5 years of your life in photos or even words. We grew as parents and as a family and made some big decisions. We had the most incredible experiences and we made friends from all around the world. There are so many wonderful people from Vietnam and beyond that really should be in the photos below.

Its been cold and rainy here in the Barossa today and so I can’t help but miss the Hanoi summer. We are so grateful to have had the chance to call another place home and while it was only 3.5 years, it will always be a very special part of our family’s story.

 

5 things the viral teeth post taught me

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Just a selection of the news articles about the photo-shopped teeth – US, Finland, Belgium, US and France

Last Monday, I really thought the story of the photo shopped teeth was done. I  declined interviews from a couple of local radio stations and a national evening show because I was concerned that perhaps I’d already said enough and I figured I didn’t need to spotlight my son or his school further.

Then I had an offer to republish the post with my byline on Mamamia, a popular Australian online platform.  I’d just read its founder Mia Freedman’s book, Work Strife Balance and given that I’m trying to build my profile as a writer, I thought this was a good opportunity to have my post republished.

As the week went on, the sites that were directing traffic to my blog continued to grow. I found myself asking if anyone could translate the Belgian, French or Finnish articles that had linked to the blog. Articles are now actually referring to the post going viral.

The story was picked up by a couple of sites in the United States, including the Today Show who wrote to me with more questions. So I wasn’t that surprised when a friend on a work trip in the US tagged me on Facebook with screenshots of the story on their breakfast program on Monday. Requests from various US blogs have followed and this morning I’ve had an email from Canada. A couple of photography websites have asked to republish my blog in full – which is great if the industry are thinking about the ethics of photo shopping.

I can’t get over how much interest this story has generated but it has definitely given me a few insights:

  1. You can’t pick what will go viral and once it’s out there, anyone can write about what you have written and share photos.

This is a good reminder for all of us – and a good lesson to share with our kids. While this post might be about embracing the embarrassing photos we have as kids, but let’s encourage our older kids to be a bit careful. Once my blog post was reported on and republished, I wasn’t in control. I was also a bit surprised when one UK news site published a photo I’d posted on Instagram the night before (quickly set my Instagram to private for a little while). Once the post started going viral, I was definitely glad I’d kept my son’s name, his school and the company out of the post.

2.  The media cycle isn’t as short as we might think.

I was excited when my post was first shared by a couple of bloggers with big audiences. Watching my readers spike was exciting. This post has been read by about 4700 people – the next most read post on my blog has had about 370 visitors – and that was published in 2014!  Last week I thought the story was done here, but then other countries picked it up. Politicians make announcements to kill off stories they might feel have gone on for too long, but when your story has been picked up out of nowhere, it’s pretty hard to influence what gets covered next. It’s  a bit like a baton relay so I’m now just waiting to see who picks it up next – and hope nothing gets lost in translation

3. Just keep writing – even when you don’t know what to write.

I originally shared the story on a closed forum because I was so baffled. But then I learned it was more common and it was sometimes a paid add-on. I wrote the blog to start a discussion about authentic photos – not just for our kids, but also for ourselves. Now my challenge is keep writing and as I wrote in my last post, to write about things that matter to me. It will probably be a long time before I’ll have 4000 people reading my posts again, but I’ll just keep writing anyway.

4. Blogging and social media has changed traditional media.

Although some articles have just copied parts of my blog, many journalists have contacted me to ask follow up questions and ask for permission to use photos. In what feels like an era of continual cutbacks to journalists and photographers in news organisations, I can appreciate journalists need to use the resources out there – in this case bloggers – because they don’t have the time/money to go out and find content. In that case, I’m happy to play a role, and is it really any different to an organisation sending a media release? On the other hand, I hate to think this justifies the shrinking of an important profession. Social media and blogs can play a role in modern journalism but they shouldn’t replace proper well resourced investigative journalism.

5. The overwhelming response to my post has been that people don’t want their kids school photos photo shopped because those memories are precious.

Can we please all remember this when the expensive photos we have purchased come back less than perfect? This is not to say that we should accept poor quality photos – but if our children’s hair looks bad, their teeth are wonky and there is a pimple on their chin, smile and remind yourself that this just is how they look right now. The same can probably be said for any photos have done. As a Mum, I know there are times I have missed out on photos with my boys because I didn’t have make-up on, my hair done or the right clothes on. But this has made me stop and realise, its up to me to set an example and just accept capturing the moment – even if it isn’t “perfect”.

While Gappy thinks its all a laugh, and our six-year-old is feeling a little left out, this whole experience has been a great lesson in social media and more importantly in accepting ourselves, just as we are.

So if you knew your post would go viral, what would you write about?

What do I write about now?

I’m still blown away by the response to my post about the Photoshopping of my son’s teeth in his school photo.

I was so chuffed to have bloggers that I’ve followed for ages share my post. Then a couple of journalists got in touch, news.com.au ran an article and then this morning on the way to hockey a friend rang to say she’d just seen them talking about it on the Today Show. Another journalist rang me at home – he was wondering if Gappy McGapster and I would like to have our photo taken for the Sunday paper. I declined but said while I was surprised about the response, I hoped it would make all of us think about being more authentic with the photos we share and post. I love the photos Lauren from The Thud shares that remind us that so many of the photos we see on social media are carefully curated (and probably filtered if not photoshopped).

 

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Gappy thinks its all hilarious and as we left a 1st Birthday party yesyerday he said, “I’m surprised more people didn’t recognise me from Mrs Woog’s Page – he’s eight!

But while it is exciting to watch lots of people coming to read my post, I’m not kidding myself that I’m about to turn into some overnight blogging sensation. It has encouraged me to write a bit more but to be honest, I feel a bit how I imagine a debut artist feels when their first song hits number 1 – where to next?

Over the last 3 years, I’ve been a fairly inconsistent blogger and I’ve struggled to find a “theme” and thus an audience. I started the blog as an outlet when I left the public service and we moved from Vietnam to the Barossa. I was excited about the freedom to write about whatever I wanted. I have written posts about recipes, travel advice, career change and starting a business (and failing), as I’ve undergone my own transformation from diplomat to student, trade consultant and business owner and now writer and jack of all trades for a winemaker.

 

I wrote the post about the photoshopped teeth because it mattered to me so maybe I just need write about the things that matter to me, the things that make me smile, the things I like. Maybe they won’t always be popular or headline grabbing, but that’s not what this is about.

Right now, the list of things that matter to me is long – marriage equality, gender equality, climate change, access to health and education,  health and fitness, resilience (especially in kids), opening our homes and hearts to refugees, preserving our heritage and environment.

I love food and I used to love cooking until I had to do it every night. I love wine and I’m loving learning more about the industry from growing grapes to making the wine and then selling it. Admitting my business had failed was hard, but I love not having to juggle so much. I think social media is great but I probably show my age that I really only use Facebook, Instagram and occasionally Twitter (although it’s still my first stop for breaking news).

I love Crossfit when I go to bed early enough to get up, and I will run another half marathon this year – albeit very slowly. I love our old house but I am a crap housekeeper and need some serious motivation to get the garden under control. I love my family and I love seeing the boys embrace new things and make new friends (even if I moan about driving them around and constantly feeding them).

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My “beautiful” backyard

I love the Barossa but I miss my family and I miss living in Asia. I’m reliving our time in Hanoi through the book I’m trying to write – which at the moment is just many pages of  jumbled memories. I wish I had more time to write – and to read. I know I need to budget better, be more frugal and I’m currently obsessed by the war on waste – which means I do need to control my love of shopping and stuff!

So if any of that appeals. Stick around. Follow me on Instagram (especially if you like food, wine and beautiful scenery). Like my Facebook page – where I promise to share more than just blog posts and follow the blog because I can’t promise to be consistent or regular. Comments and debate welcome but play nicely and tell me where I can read your stuff. But mostly be good to each other, and yourself and enjoy life.

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No filter or photo shopping required on a winter day in the Barossa

Don’t mind the gap!

Edited 1 June:

I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to this post. Who knew that a little rant about imperfect photos and memories would be shared so widely and generate such interest.

The photo company involved have been really honest, explaining that a number of staff had been seriously ill and it had been stressful dealing with this and training new staff. The staff member who swapped in his “2016 mouth” now realises it was an error of judgement. It was sad to hear that in the past they have been criticised for NOT photo shopping out messy hair, bruises, cuts and stains on shirts.

The best thing has been the realisation that for the most part parents want these memories of their kids to be just as they are. Its also a good reminder to all of us – and especially to those of us with kids –  not worry about filters and photoshopping. Sharing photos should be about sharing authentic memories – even if they are a bit messy and wrinkled!

There is something amiss with the photo below. I’m not talking about the missing teeth on the left – that’s the right photo. The problem is the photo on the right.

Surely we have lost the plot when we start photo shopping an 8 year old’s gappy grin.

Arriving home from work yesterday, my excitement at finally receiving the boys’ school photos was quickly replaced by bewilderment. As I looked at the photos of our eldest, I thought – “I didn’t realise he still had teeth when the photos were taken”.

In the world of a primary school Mum, and one whose term two started with both kids down with chicken pox in week one, photo day in term one seemed a lifetime ago.

But then I looked at the family photo and his class photo – and there he was. Gappy McGapster (as he currently calls himself) in all his glory.  At first, I thought they’d given us last year’s photo – but then I looked closer. Nope. His mouth had been photo-shopped with what looked like last year’s baby teeth swapped in.

Some people might have been angry at this point but I was just baffled. Why would anyone think to do this? At what point did missing teeth because something to be “fixed”?

Body image has not been something we have had to worry about too much yet with two young boys. But having recently finished Mia Freedman’s new book Work Strife Balance, I was reminded how often we are confronted with unreal, photo-shopped images.

While I did turn a blind eye to the guy in our local photo shop in Vietnam touching up my passport photo a few years ago, I’m too lazy to filter or alter my own social media images.

But this wasn’t touching up the light on a sunset or brightening up the group shot to see everyone better.

This is a kid who didn’t lose a tooth until he was almost seven. He’s not embarrassed by the gaps and wonky teeth, he’s excited because lost tooth = gold coin. He doesn’t notice the crooked new teeth because he’s a kid and he is more interested in basketball, hockey, Netflix or finishing his collection of Marvel disks – and what he can eat next.

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Year 4 – buck teeth, centre part and a skivvy. It was 1983!
I had really bucky teeth as a kid (my Year Four photo above is a good one!) While kids can be awful, and reciting a poem called Butterflies before I got braces probably didn’t do me any favours, I love looking back at those old photos. I want my son to be able look back over all his school photos and see how he has changed.

And while some might blame social media for this obsession with “perfect” photos, for me, social media – especially Facebook came into its own last night as I shared my “WTF” moment. Not only did it save me from publicly railing against the company, but sharing it with my friends and then with the wonderful community that Mrs Woog has created made me realise this was something really quite weird – and wrong.

But instead of getting angry, I shared my bafflement and quietly send a pretty measured message to the company.

I went to bed giggling at some of the exchanges I’d had with friends and strangers and woke up to a very apologetic message from the company agreeing it was wrong, promising it wouldn’t happen again and attaching the original photo (with reprints to come). There was no excuse made which made me think this was not the norm and so I was happy to leave it at that (who knows why someone thought it was a good idea). I let the school know (and had a chat with the completely flabbergasted principal).

I am glad I called them on it and while I heard a few similar stories from others, I feel pretty confident it’s not the norm and best of all, there didn’t seem to be anyone out there agreeing that this was a good idea.

But had I not said anything, who is to say it wouldn’t become the norm?  It was also important for our son to know we love him as he looks now. Accepting the photo-shopped photo says to him that we think there is something wrong with how he looks.

Our kids are growing up with so much technology that for them that perhaps we do have to remind them (and ourselves) of the importance of imperfect authentic photos and memories – gappy teeth and all!

Career change 1.0 – redefining failure

Last month, I finally decided to face something that had been on my mind for some time. After much thought, I decided to call it quits and wind up my consulting business.

Admitting that my idea hadn’t worked might have felt like failure, except I had made a decision when I started that I would give the business two years. When I started, I reasoned that I could spend two years researching and talking to people, or I could just launch the business, and test and change along the way.

While I was able to contribute to some interesting projects with local industry bodies, I realised that my original concept of providing research and analysis to identify opportunities might have sounded good on paper but it was not what small businesses needed. Working for a small winery,  I realised that small businesses needed concrete introductions and contracts and there are other organisations (mainly government) better placed to provide that.

I was lying awake at night worrying about how I could “fix” things and telling myself I needed to be more aggressive in selling myself.  I tried to find articles about what I should be doing – and whether walking away was the right move but it would seem that unless it is a massive failure that leads to the next big thing, many people don’t talk about failure or even just when to walk away from a business. (There’s a whole other blog post here).

I was feeling like a fraud and found myself stepping away from the networks I had made because I didn’t want to talk about what wasn’t happening in my business. I was unhappy and stressed – which was not the plan when we embarked on our career and lifestyle change. And I reminded myself that it wasn’t this business idea itself – but rather the need for a change that was the reason I left my previous career.

I felt that it was time to try something different, and I just wasn’t going to be able to find something new while I worried about where to take the business. Even my goal to write more had fallen by the wayside becuase it’s hard to be creative with something unresolved hanging over you.

And while I knew this business wasn’t my big life passion, it still wasn’t an easy decision to admit that something I had created – and that bears my name, hadn’t worked.

 

“We must be willing to let go of the

Sending the first few emails to those contacts that had supported my business was tough but I was positive. While the experience hadn’t turned out the way I had hoped, I had learned a lot about the realities of small business, about the region, about myself and most importantly, established an incredible, diverse network of contacts. I am confident that good things will come out of my experiences and my networks.

The next step was to post on Facebook. It was actually harder admitting to family and friends that my business idea had not worked – but the positive words of encouragement I received from so many people helped me confirm in my own mind that I had made the right decision. I had tried, it didn’t work and I was moving on.

Throughout it all, my family have been amazing and while this first career change might not have gone as hoped, we have no doubt our lifestyle change and moving to the Barossa was the right move.

 

I have a great job (which I describe as everything but winemaking) in an industry I’m interested in and I have time to spend with my family, watching my boys develop their interests. We have a beautiful little house in a town that we love – and a garden that needs a lot of love and attention. I have time to pursue all those interests I never had to for before – from exercise to cooking and I am keen to focus on my writing – both this blog and my book on Vietnam and I may even take some formal writing lessons.

 

Despite this, it would be very easy to feel pressured to come up with my next move. I’m almost 43 and it’s almost three years since I left my government career. Shouldn’t I be doing more? For a brief moment, I even considered going back to the public service and trying to juggle full-time work.

But I am taking comfort in knowing that there are many successful people who have changed careers late in life. This article from Australian journalist and academic Jenna Price on her 60th birthday makes the point that in our 30s and 40s, we seem to racing to the career peak, when really we have a long career left in front of us. There is time to find the right thing and it is OK to take things slowly.

 

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The Chicken Pox blogging challenge

Hello and welcome to the Chicken Pox Pity Party. If you’re related to me or one of my friends on Facebook, you’ll know that two days into the term, after what seemed like an eternally long holiday, I got the call from school that every parent dreads.

“Hello, it’s the office – we think A has chicken pox”. 

So at least wasn’t the school sores the teacher had suspected and I’d dismissed after a quick search of Dr Google.

“I’ll come and get him”.

I didn’t dispute it – after all it’s 27 years since I had the chicken pox and I hadn’t seen it since. The biggest mystery was where they had picked it up as we’d been away from school for two weeks and we haven’t heard of any cases recently.

The day before, I’d looked at his spotty face and assumed that it was the usual mosquito bites or grass rash – because like his mother, this kids blows up from the slightest mozzie bite.

I picked him up and he was chirpy. He perked up more we he realised that sick kids home from school get to binge on Netflix and the iPad – especially when their mother needs to work. At this point, I should thank my lucky stars that while I have a casual job with no sick leave, I have a very accomodating boss who is happy for me to work from home – and the office (which I’m usually the only one in) is 5 minutes from home.

He was a little itchy so we stocked up on Pinetarsol solution and Clarantyne. I’d already booked a doctors appointment before the school called after the teacher’s suspected diagnosis.

By the time I went to pick the small one up, he already knew his brother had gone home sick. Off we went to the doctor, who agreed it probably was chicken pox but took a swab anyway. Vaccination means the cases are less severe but the odd breaktrhough case happens. X wasn’t likely to get it. The doctor even got the student doctor see if she knew what it was because apparently young doctors have barely seen a case – but in his usually confident manner, A announced he had chicken pox (no need to be so proud about catching that one mister) as soon as she walked in.

The worst bit was having to let the school, hockey and basketball know. We were those people. Most friends were relaxed. One friend with older kids suggested I open “pox camp” and get it out of the way for everyone.

Pox-kid and I stayed home. I searched for ear-muffs and decided larangytis would be preferable. He didn’t even seem sick. He still needed to be fed.

We survived another day at home, took the small one to his first Crossfit Kids class at my  gym,  sent him off to basketball with a friend for the first game of the season (with the team his brother had probably infected on Monday).

All good – until bath time.

Six spots – maybe ten at best. ON THE SMALL ONE!!

Next round of apologetic emails and texts to those he’d been around – and dread that quarantine had been extended by another two days. And not only that – two of them – together – one iPad, one TV. The small one can’t be guaranteed to bury his head in a book.

And so I went to bed last night, wallowing in my own little pity party. I also decided I’d probably better chuck myself in quarantine – just in case.

However, as we come to the end of Friday, they haven’t killed each other, I still don’t have spots, I’ve done some work and the doctor called to say the diagnosis is inconclusive but to proceed on the basis of it being chicken pox.

But, I’m focusing on the positive. I got to work from bed, in my PJs until after 10 this morning, and I’ve decided to use this extra time at home to read and write – hence the chicken pox blogging challenge!

Husband is also coming home with wine – and I figure I’ve just doubled my Mother’s Day present!

Stay tuned

A beach holiday in Normanville

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I have often wanted to blog about places we have visited but then I  get overwhelmed by the feeling that I need to include all sorts of details and reviews.

As my word count on my Vietnam book increases and I start to think that I might actually write a book, I’ve started to research travel writers and especially those writing memoirs. Last week I came across this post, about how this travel writer was no longer going to blog, and it struck a chord. I do want to share stories about the places we visit but I don’t want to feel I need to provide pricing or details or tell you why I liked the food or the wine. She made the point – and I think this goes for all of us when we share about our holidays, that we can’t miss being in the moment and enjoying the holiday just because we’re too busy recording and writing down details. I have always taken lots of photos, even back in the days of film that cost precious savings to get printed, but I definitely take way more on my iPhone now, and I need to make sure that I don’t miss the experience of the holiday because I’m too busy recording in – and as another aside – must get myself in more photos – no matter how I look.

So with that in mind, I wanted to share a bit about our week in Normanville towards the end of the school holidays. We went as friends have been visiting there a lot and I loved her photos. My sister and her family were also joining us for a week and so I wanted us to have options if the weather was bad.

We were able to book 2 side by side cabins at the Beachside Caravan Park, and while it’s a little out-of-town, it was super quiet and our back corner position gave us lots of space. Our cabins backed onto the sand dunes so we also had some great views

Here are some of the we did during the week:

– lunch at the Victory Hotel on the way down to Normanville from the Barossa

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Lunch views at the Victory Hotel, Sellicks Hill

– beers and chips at the beautiful Normanville Surf Life Saving Club high above the beach (run by volunteers, it’s always great to be able to support an organisation that keeps us safe in the water)

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Normanville Surf Lifesaving Club

– dinner at the Normanville Kiosk and Cafe right on the beach – great wine list and enormous (and tasty) meals with a fantastic kids option

– cloudy cool day adventures visiting Second Valley climbing over rocks, Rapid Bay and then to Victor Harbor to watch the Tour Down Under

– snorkelling with friends at Second Valley – and discovering the great work Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries are doing. Free, guided snorkel tours with all equipment provided teaching people about the local marine life in various parts of South Australia

– A couple of visit to McLaren Vale that included Paxton Wines, lunch at S.C Pannell (the best duck curry, great wines, more good kids options and fantastic service), d’Arenburg (saw the almost complete cube and had a great tasting) and Beach Road Wines (excellent pizza).

– lots of sand castles and beach walks

 

– a crazy windy walk along the beach felt like a scene from Star Wars

– watching the horse riding groups passing past the cabin window and along the beach

– totem tennis and games on the deck

– awesome cousin time (and a few late nights spending some quality time with my sister)

– delicious treats from Yankalilla bakery, op shops galore and great coffee from 21 Junk Street and One Little Sister in Normanville (must go back for a meal)

– first run in months to Carrickalinga and then back along the beach with my sister

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It was everything a beach holiday should be. Lots of relaxing, exploring and just hanging out together. The cabins were simple but all we needed and worked well as my sister and her family were only there for 3 of the 7 nights. I think Normanville will definitely be a regular holiday spot in the coming years, especially as it’s an easy two hour drive away.

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Second Valley, January 2017

What did we miss? Any recommendations for next time?

I’d love you to leave your comments below. What makes a truly great beach holiday? Where are your favourite beach destinations?