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

Goodbye 2016 – year of busy, hello 2017 – year of making time

A quiet Christmas has provided a good opportunity to sit back and think about the year that was and plan for 2017.

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In the days since Christmas, we’ve watched the news covering the deaths of icons like George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, prompting further discussion of how truly awful 2016 has been (and that’s without venturing into politics). But there have been some positive posts about the good things that have happened – including this one from Emma Grey who was able to draw positives from this year, despite the sudden death of her husband. Her posts have been a constant reminder of the need to “turn up the light” when things look grim.

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For me, 2016 has been topsy-turvy. Some very low moments – particularly Simon’s tumour diagnosis in late February and surgery the following month – and the highs of returning to Vietnam and buying our home in the Barossa. For me there has been a new job – learning the new skills that come with working for a winemaker and doing pretty much everything but making the wine. It has been fun and has reinforced my interest in the wine industry (not to mention wine). The boys have thrived at school, reconfirming the wisdom of our decision to move here. Our 9-year old cat Polly died suddenly in November but the addition of kittens Gertrude and Daisy has again filled the house with crazy kitten antics.

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I started – although somewhat sporadically – Crossfit – and while I may need to make 2017 the year of the box jump, I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and testing myself with a new and ever changing fitness program. I even won an award for biggest improvement in a fitness test!

Simon’s surgery and recovery was probably the catalyst for putting my trade consulting to one side (or at least not pursuing it actively). Working on a program focused on Creating Consumer Value with experts in design-led thinking, luxury and innovation was just the inspiration I needed and I hope some exciting opportunities will come from it 2017.

But on the last day of the year, I can’t help but feel that 2016 was just busy. I feel like we lurched from week to week, term to term, just keeping our heads above water. I felt like I was always running late, always leaving a to-do list unfinished, the house in a mess. Menu planning fell by the wayside and I found us eating the same old stuff (and not always that healthy).

Three things have come together this month that have made sit down and think more about how I want 2017 to look and how I want to feel.

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Firstly, actually making the time for my “Make Time to Write” course. I signed up when we were still in Vietnam after I felt the pull of writing a book about our time there. I started to write during NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month in November) and while I didn’t win (ie: write 50,000 words in the month), the 7,000 or so I wrote were still more than I started with. It finally started in December and while I hadn’t been blogged, I’ve realised I was missing a creative outlet.

So often I go to bed with all these ideas and things I wished I had written down but I feel like I don’t ever have any time to write. The 30-day boot camp as part of the course starts on Monday and the aim is to write 10,000 words during that time. The introductory modules have made me realise that for most writers the key is to use the small snatches of time throughout the day and just write.

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My Write Your Own Adventure Planner

Secondly, I have a beautiful planner for 2017 from Emma Kate Co called the Write Your Own Adventure planner and I think it’s the first thing I’ve funded on Kickstarter. After years of trying various diary options, I’ve realised I need a paper diary for jotting down ideas and plans – not necessarily to do lists (which I really do need to function) but more to create some space to think up new things. I’ve realised I waste a lot of time mindlessly watching TV or looking at my phone when I could be doing something like reading or writing.

Finally, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pre-launch copy of I Do Have Time, which was written by Emma Grey and Audrey Thomas from the My 15 Minutes program. I joined their first program in 2013 and was fortunate to finally meet them both in Adelaide in October during a workshop. While I’ll review the book in detail in the new year, my takeaway from my first read, was that we all do have time. We all have the same amount of time and we just need to decide how we are going to use that time. Yes, we all have commitments and responsibilities – but it is about saying yes to the things that lift us up, and ditching some of those things that don’t.

Meeting Audrey and Emma in Adelaide, october 2016
Meeting Audrey and Emma in Adelaide, October 2016

Words like mindfulness and intention are over used these days, but spending time planning out 2017, making time to write and making time for other things in my life has made me realise that sometimes we all need to stop and take the time to think about why we are so busy and whether we’re really doing the things that make us – and our families, friends and community – really and truly happy.

I gave up on resolutions many years ago, and while I haven’t gotten as far as coming up with a word or a sentence for 2017, at least for now, its about stopping, letting go of busy, working out what makes me happy and making the most of my time.

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Learning to find (make) time to write

Last week I published my first blog post in 9 months. I use the word published because I’d actually written it 2 weeks ago when I’d decided I really did want to write again. But I procrastinated for a fortnight because I didn’t have time to sit and upload photos. So I hit publish and then did nothing else. No social media sharing – despite having set up (and then unpublished a Facebook page for the blog).  I even changed the name, the theme and the profile on my blog. But apart from the 40 odd followers who will probably unsubscribe when they see the notification, having forgotten who I am or that they had even subscribed when they get an email, I didn’t tell anyone – not even my family.

Given this lack of self-promotion(?), even I question the need for a blog. Surely a diary would suffice. But if I’m really honest, two years on from starting my blog, I still do like the idea of building a community and interacting with those people. I have no grand plan to become a BabyMac or Mrs Woog but I’d be lying if I said, I’m writing just for me or my friends and family.

My excuses for not writing are varied but in short, I’ve backed myself into a spot where I  only seem to write at the desktop computer and I had to have photos to upload. The silly thing is, when I first moved here and left my career, my big thing was being free of being tied to a desk. I wanted to work anywhere. That means that when time is short, I don’t just sit and write and yet, mornings in the shower, evenings cleaning my teeth and other times in between,  I find myself dictating blog posts in my head.

When Simon’s tumor was diagnosed in February, part of me wanted to write. But another part of me felt it was his story, not mine to tell. And to be very truthful, I didn’t like the idea of starting a story where there was a chance the ending wouldn’t be great.

I’ve also realised that something else holding me back has been this idea of separating the blogging me from the consultant me. I wanted to write about the challenges of starting a business but what would that say to people who might want to hire me. The word authentic is almost as overused as journey but not writing about how it feels to start a business from scratch and juggle it with a part time job and a family didn’t feel very authentic.

The truth is, I have a wealth of knowledge about trade policy, free trade agreements, negotiations, market access and amazing networking skills. I am great at connecting people, identifying valuable research and opportunities. None of that is erased by me saying that starting a business is hard.

During our trip to Vietnam,  I was struck my this need to write something about our the 3.5 years we spent there, as well as this recent visit and my first visit in 2003 (which I still have a full journal of notes about). While a true writer would have scribbled a first draft, I mulled over ideas and signed up to a writing course which will be launched later this year and will hopefully teach me how to be a better writer and to allocate time for it.

While I don’t often back myself, I have a small arrogant streak that truly believes I could write a book. But in order to do that, I need to cast off some bad habits and just write. So first step, writing this on the iPad in bed, (even if it then took be another week to edit and post) and maybe, just maybe along the way, I can entertain my readers as I improve my craft.

Being thankful for the opportunity to make a change

Reading Lisa Messenger's Daring & Disruptive at the park
Reading Lisa Messenger’s Daring & Disruptive at the park

Today has been a day that has really reinforced for me how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to have made a change – both to my career and to my family’s lifestyle.

After staying up way too late watching some crazy American show where three guys fossick for stuff in abandoned buildings, the snooze button was hit a few too many times before I finally displaced the cat sleeping on me and headed off to the gym. School holidays allowed some extra flexibility with only one child needing to head off to childcare which my husband could do before work (again the joys of flexible hours).

An hour and a half over lunch was spent participating in a “Directors at a Distance” webinar run by Women on Boards. The two-part webinar is aimed at women outside capital cities or who have other commitments that prevent them from getting to the workshops that WOB run to help women prepare themselves for board positions. Most importantly, there is a focus on creating your profile and board CV. After some experience in a board in Hanoi, I’m hoping that one or two board positions could be a good way to broaden my experience and utilise the skills I have. My big take out from the session this morning was focusing on What I Understand and What I Am rather than simply the things I have done. As I have thought more about this as the day as gone on, I think this is valuable for my career more broadly particularly given I don’t know exactly know where I want to go next. So I need to focus on the skills and the attributes I have acquired up until now.

Thinking about what next is taking up a lot of my time – and probably more so as I meet new people and talk about opportunities. I’m also excited about starting some business coaching/mentoring with a really talented entrepreneur who just happens to be a good friend. This is a big step for me because I have always said that I didn’t want my own business and a career change for me was just about looking for a new career when I left the public service.

I’m realising that the big question for me is not WHAT I do next but HOW. As much as I am loving the Masters I am doing in Arts and Entertainment Management, I am starting to feel like actual (paying) jobs might be limited in a regional area, and the more I settle into our life in the Barossa, the more I come to think that I don’t necessarily want a full time job that involves a commute into the city (around an hour each way).

So the focus on finding my next career path is about HOW I work. I want to be flexible both in hours and location. I want to have the space to learn and explore news things, to create – whether it be writing, cooking, sewing or gardening, and I want to be there for my family when they need me. After Hanoi and 15 years in government and Embassy buildings, I want to be able to take my work outside when the days are beautiful or find a cosy café when its cold and wet.

Hence the need to look at whether there is something I could create that allows me to work in this way – and still provide for my family (and allow for my shopping and travel habits).

Too many reading choices today
Too many reading choices today

Which brings me to the latter part of my day. I was excited to receive Lisa Messenger’s book Daring and Disruptive in the post on the same day the latest issue of her fabulous magazine regenade Collective was ready to download onto my iPad. I came across this magazine about a year ago thanks to Twitter and have been inspired by every page since. I hadn’t heard of Lisa Messenger until then and I also enjoyed listening to her when Emma and Audrey from My 15 Minutes did their The 15 Minutes That Changed My Life series earlier this year.

So instead of being stuck at work, doing something that wasn’t getting me any closer to where I wanted to be, I was so, so grateful for having had the opportunity (thanks to a redundancy) to not be working, and to sit in the park in a beautiful rural town, reading while my two boys ran in the fresh air and made new friends. And because I was reading while we were at the park, I almost didn’t feel guilty about the study I should have been doing for my exam next Monday. I’m only a few pages in, but I can see this is a book I’ll read quickly and then go back to again and again.

And while I do miss some aspects of my job (and the perks from being overseas) the truth is, for every great night out or fabulous holiday or highlight at work, there were a lot of hours where I wondered why I was doing something I didn’t believe in and wondered why I was missing out on time with my family. I honesty didn’t think I would ever have this chance to step back from paid work to concentrate on building the life that is going to make sure our family continues to be a happy, healthy unit, and that makes me even more grateful and this experience even sweeter.

Inspiration in my study space - including rosemary to boost the memory
Inspiration in my study space – including rosemary to boost the memory

Unpacking our life

After 2.5 months, and 3 weeks in the house, on Monday we finally received our shipment from Hanoi. About 164 boxes, many of which were full of crockery, ornaments, toys, clothes and photos. No surprise then that this lot of unpacking is taking much, much longer than when we received our (mainly) furniture shipment from Canberra.

On Sunday, I wrote the following list of 11 things I was looking forward to seeing.

  1. my stick blender, colander and assorted kitchen utensils
  2. boys toys – and the boxes, baskets etc to keep them in
  3. the dirty clothes basket
  4. coffee making stuff – plungers, grinder,  machine, reusable cups
  5. paintings and photos
  6. the rest of my wardrobe
  7. the toaster
  8. all the beautiful things that will remind us of our time and our friends in Hanoi
  9. Simon’s tools – let the reconstruction begin
  10. cook books and cake tins – and everything else I need to cook
  11. my step-ladder
The boxes start arriving - this was before every available surface started being covered in stuff!
The boxes start arriving – this was before every available surface started being covered in stuff!

A few days later and I am not sure there is much more to add to the list. However, after living with a fairly basic lot of kitchenware for 3 weeks, it did strike me that we probably have way more plates, glasses and serving platters than we will EVER need. I also realised that in addition to loving a bit of shopping, I tend to hoard keep old things even once I purchase the “replacement” just in case something breaks or gets lost. I am also very sentimental which means I have just about every souvenir I have ever collected and many gifts I no longer want, need or like. Clearly a lot of guilt clutter but the upside of having been without it for so long, is that I have happily parted with a lot of things we don’t need, most of which will be going off to one of the local charities.

Finally - a functioning kitchen - just don't ask to see the cupboard bursting with cake tins and plasticware before I do my cull.
Finally – a functioning kitchen – just don’t ask to see the cupboard bursting with cake tins and plasticware just yet.

The boys were most excited to have the TV back (and it has been good to have news again) and play with their toys. The trampoline is on slowly decreasing list of things that need to be built. But the most excitement was reserved for their new bunk beds. So much joy – but unfortunately I have already realised what a pain they will be to make.

Just before the shipment arrived, I mentioned to friends that I was feeling a little sad at the realisation that this delivery really closed the chapter on our Hanoi posting. We are definitely all very happy to be back in Australia (and I’m certainly enjoy the change from working) but seeing all the things we had surrounding us in Hanoi and that we acquired over the 3.5 years brought back lots of great memories. So many reminders about great times shared with friends, many of whom I hope will visit us from various parts of the world. But, I’m also excited about really settling into our new home and creating a space to welcome new friends and create new memories – just as soon as we unbury ourselves from under the pile of packing boxes!