Three years among the vines

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The view over the Barossa from Mengler’s Hill – 29 July 2017

Three years ago today, a family of four, including two little boys aged three and five, left their motel in NSW, drove through Victoria and arrived in South Australia. In the early afternoon, with two children asleep, they drove into Tanunda, the place they had decided (with only some online research, two friends and a handful of visits) was going to be their new home. Leaving the boys to sleep, they drove by the school (where they were meeting the principal the next morning), and the house they were hoping to rent. The weather wasn’t great and as they arrived at the motel, they were a bit worried about that choice, but it was exciting. Besides, since leaving their house in Hanoi six weeks before, they had already stayed in eight different places. A massive storm hit as they were picking up supplies from the supermarket and as they put together a meal of pasta and sauce on the floor of their motel room, she was grateful they were together – even if they didn’t know what would come next.

That family was us and I still can’t believe it has been three years since we moved here. We have had our share of ups and downs, but I don’t think we have ever regretted the decision to move here. It still surprises me how quickly it all happened. We arrived here on the Tuesday and moved into our house on the Friday, with the stuff we’d had stored in Canberra arriving that same day. The boys started school and childcare that day and Simon started work the following Monday. Suddenly I was at home alone, the reality of my career and lifestyle change slowly sinking in.

I wrote this post a year after we arrived and I think a lot of it still rings true. Probably the one thing I didn’t expect was while you can make friends and feel settled quite quickly, there are still days where it doesn’t come easy. People often joke that you need three generations of Barossan family buried here to call yourself a local. While we have made incredible friends through school, work, the kids and their sport and more recently through Crossfit, there are times when you can’t help but feel like an outsider. I think it’s for that reason we’ve tried extra hard to learn about the history, explore places to eat, find our favourite cellar doors and get involved in the community.

We’ve really appreciated the friends who have provided job opportunities for us both, got our  boys playing hockey and basketball, invited us to social activities and made us feel welcome. When Simon had surgery in early 2016 to have a cancerous tumour removed and 20cm of titanium inserted in his arm, we were blown away by the support that was offered to us. The boys consider this their home, and after we bought our place last year, I have to say that I feel truly at home here.  A wardrobe full of too small clothes is also evidence that I’ve heartily embraced the best the Barossa has to offer, but fortunately in the last year, I’ve started to focus on exercise again and I’ve started running again.

After three years, I still find the juggle of part-time work,  housework, the boys activities, trying to develop a writing career and have a social life can become overwhelming and I think I’m just coming to terms with what a big change it was to leave a 15 year career. Deciding to wind up the consulting business I started was a difficult decision, but it has been great to just focus on  my part-time job in the wine industry while I try and write more. Leaving my career and not knowing what I would do next has probably made settling down more difficult, particularly as it isn’t something my friends here have experienced. I am only just coming to terms that making such a big career change also necessitates a big lifestyle change. There is the odd pang of jealousy when I see a Facebook post from a friend on an overseas posting enjoyable some fabulous travel experience but then I remind myself of the beautiful place we’re living and the opportunities that we have on our doorstop.

One of the highlights of living here has been visits from friends and family as it always provides a great opportunity to explore new places and revisit and share our favourites. It is hard being away from family, especially when they might be unwell or missing important birthdays and other activities, but it has also made me appreciate friends and family more. We couldn’t have made such a massive change without their support.

Reading back over my post from the first year (and a post from one of my favourite bloggers about her tree-change seven years ago), I was trying to think whether there was anything I would have done differently and I honestly can say, I don’t think there is. I think had we thought too much about our decision, the enormity of it all probably would have caused us to chicken out. I feel like three years on, we are all starting to feel settled, having our own house has given us a base to build on and there is no question this is where we want to be.

And while the locals might not see us that way (and the Swans remain my number 1 footy team), this is our home and we’re pretty happy about it.

 

 

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?

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!

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

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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Making time to write

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A month ago, I got up before 6, made a cup of tea and began writing a book. I’d decided that after thinking about a book on my visits to Vietnam between 2003 and this year, including the 3.5 years we lived there, that the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo was a good time to start. A workshop with Emma and Audrey from My 15 Minutes – and finally meeting them in person was further encouragement and motivation.

I joined the rebels forum as I would be writing a non-fiction work, I signed up online and started mapping out what I would write.

Despite having only moved into the house 6 days before, I cleared away some boxes and made sure I could write without distraction.

That first morning I knocked over 700 or 800 words before going for a walk with a friend. I came back later in the day and got to 2000 – surpassing the daily goal of 1700. The next day was busy and I thought I’d failed – but after dinner, I forced myself to sit down and write, and got to about 3600 words. I don’t remember what happened then but I know I only wrote a couple more times, and made it past 5000. So much for the 50,000 word goal.

The annoying thing was that once I actually sat down to write, the words flowed. The memories of my first visit in 2003, living there with Simon and the boys and then reliving our last visit in July when I decided I wanted to both record my feelings about Vietnam and my observations about the things that had changed (or stayed the same) over the years.

So what stopped me writing? Too many things.

I certainly underestimated how much work moving into a new home would take. And while we’d had some of the main work done like painting and floors, there was some work we did ourselves like painting the kitchen cupboards and wardrobes for the bedrooms.

The overgrown garden is a never ending battle and while I can’t help but feel that gardening makes me feel very grown-up, my body wonders how older people keep up with it. But now, I’ve decided that apart from the obvious weeds,  we should take the advice many have given to see what is out there before we start pulling too much out.

Add to all that work, a possible new consulting project, and the day to day house and family stuff – and Christmas and it’s easy to see how distractions took over.

Yesterday was my first blog in a long time and came after starting my Australian Writers Centre course on making time to write. This course popped up in my Facebook feed towards the end of our trip to Vietnam in July and it was a sign that I should do something with the ideas floating around in my head (and the diary full of notes from my first visit in 2003).

The key takeaway so far is that many writers (especially starting out) make the most of small amounts of time during the day to write – the idea of a full day of writing sounds nice but most of us have other things to do – and even if we did have the time, chances of being distracted by everything else are high.

So, while I probably should be at the gym, I’m not, so I may as well make the most of some quiet time and get into the habit of writing – because apparently its a habit that might take  254 days of doing it to stick!

A new home in the Barossa

A couple of months ago, we got the keys to our new house in Tanunda. It all happened quite quickly and two months after looking at this property (the weekend after we got back from Vietnam) we had our very own place after renting for the past 2.5 years.

Our new house
Our new house

We spent a few weeks doing a few things to freshen up a 50 year old property that had been empty for five years – new lights, new paint and ripping up the carpets and lino and polishing the beautiful floorboards. Then at the end of October,  just before our 10th wedding anniversary, we moved in.

That was six weeks ago and yesterday, I finally unpacked the last box – if you ignore a few boxes of books and the “stuff” in the carport. We are slowly finding space for everything (we’ve lost a bedroom but gained linen cupboards and a pantry, lost wall space but gained amazing windows). We’ve gained an incredible established garden that continues to throw out surprises – like the discovery of some peonies last night. We’re trying to get on top of it and plan for how it should look, but we’re taking our time as we work out what is actually out there.

The peonies I discovered in our beautiful but overgrown garden
The peonies I discovered in our beautiful but overgrown garden

We had three plumbing disasters in two weeks – the final one being a leaking pipe that will eventually see the whole bathroom replaced. And a couple of weeks ago, our beautiful cat died suddenly which has made the house a little emptier than it was before.

And while we still don’t have pictures on the walls, and there is still another wardrobe to paint so we can hang all our clothes up, and there are curtains to be hung and weeds to be pulled, the most important this is it feels like home.

Put the tree up before all the boxes were unpacked
Put the tree up before all the boxes were unpacked

I wrote the words below the night before we got the keys back in September (almost a whole school term ago):

As I went to bed last night, I thought about the last 2 months, and the long process from looking at this house “just to see what’s out there”, to buying a house that will be the closest to a forever home since I moved out of Mum and Dad’s (the house I’d been brought home to as a baby).

Since then, houses had been transient – even though I settled in and made them home, I always knew they had a limited lifespan. Host families in Denmark, a share house in Sydney, a dorm in Slovakia, the Palace in Canberra, my apartment in Beijing. Even coming back to Canberra, I rented, not willing to commit to buying a place of my own, although it would turn out that Simon moved in within the year. After we got married, we bought our own place but even then we knew a 3 bedroom town house was not forever. But it was  the home we brought both boys home to, and the home we left for Hanoi, so selling it last year, even after 5 years away was strange.

Our first Hanoi home had seemed great on paper – 4 levels, multiple bathrooms and bedrooms – but the reality was the neighbourhood was isolated and there was no living space. Our next home in Hanoi was special – it was where our babies grew up, parties happened (often impromptu) and decisions were made about the next stage of our life.

Arriving here in the Barossa, we just wanted to unpack our stuff, and as we arrived on the Tuesday afternoon, I basically took the attitude that as long as this place was livable, we’d sign a lease. We saw it the next day, said yes on the spot and signed a lease on the Thursday night.  It was only lying in an uncomfortable motel bed that night that I realised I’d not only be without a housekeeper, but also a dishwasher.

But apart from this, the house was just what we needed. It was on one level, had a backyard and there was sky. We were living walking distance from vineyards, I had a great running tracks, and lovely neighbours and school was 5 mins away.While it was perfect for our introduction into the Barossa, today we get the keys to a place we can call our own. More importantly, for the first time in my adult life, I’m getting ready to unpack and throw away the packing boxes and say, this is it. This is home.

Reading this again two months later, makes me quite emotional because as someone who has spent most of the last 24 years travelling (or at least thinking about where to live next), it is a strange feeling to finally unpack and say, this is home.

But, as strange as that feeling is, it is both comforting and exciting and I can’t wait to see what unfolds in the coming years here.

Roses in our backyard
Roses in our backyard