Career change without a plan

As I wrote in my first post, this blog was partly to tell the story of leaving a 15-year career as a public servant for something new. But unlike many people who embark on a career change, I didn’t have a new career in mind – and I still don’t .

I don’t have a particular creative talent that I want to explore or I job I always wish I’d done. In fact for me, being a diplomat was probably the best job I could have imagined. The jobs I thought about as a child – fashion designer, journalist or lawyer don’t hold any attraction anymore. And leaving the public service, the big thing for me was changing the way I worked – being able to work from anywhere and not necessarily doing just one thing – which apparently even has a name – a Portfolio career.

Telling the story of how we came to be in the Barossa to new people I meet is quite funny because as I listen to myself speak, it doesn’t really sound like me. The fact that we pretty much decided to move here on the basis of some great recommendations and some enticing Facebook pages (so glad the Farmer’s Market has lived up to expectations), arrived on the Tuesday and had a house by the Friday makes us sound really adventurous. Whereas I’m actually someone who organises travel with spreadsheets, who spends whole days agonising over which hotel to stay in and writes packing lists. In truth, we were packing up and leaving Hanoi and were going to end up somewhere different!

Deciding to do a Masters in Arts and Entertainment Management because I enjoyed the public relations/cultural relations/event management side of my job was a great choice because the skills I’m picking up are fairly broad (although my main take-out from Financial analysis may simply be – employ a good accountant) and could take me anywhere. Doing a subject on Community Arts Management this semester, which involves designing a community project has also been a good excuse to meet with local artists and get to know the area.

And while formal full-time work has been replaced with 3 subjects for my Masters (involving a lot of catch up after spending the first few weeks moving), I’m less worried than I should be about finding a job (although I guess I need to earn some money soon). I’m enjoying being able to focus on my studies while still having time to cook and spend time with my family. I’m having fun painting furniture and some gardening and sewing are next on the list. I’m enjoying sleeping in past 5.45 and meeting new friends for a coffee in the morning.

Most importantly, I am loving having the chance to sit back and think about what really matters and explore new things. My Dad had some significant career changes (all after he turned 60) that came about from the connections he had and probably being in the right place at the right time. In only a short period I have met some great people and talked about some interesting possibilities and realised that some of the skills I acquired in the public service over the last 15 years might actually be useful on the outside.

But not knowing what I want to do is actually exciting because it opens up a world of possibilities.

The first test kitchen Tuesday

I’ve always liked cooking and from a young age, Mum (who is actually a fantastic cook but dislikes it), encouraged us to cook. By my early teens I was cooking (mainly desserts) for Mum & Dad’s dinner parties. But despite a slight addiction to cookbooks and several cooking magazine subscriptions, my cooking in recent years has been limited to odd moments of inspiration and a lot of simple, functional and usually kid friendly stuff (because for some reason two “foodies” have created a couple of picky eaters – but that is a post in itself). The last 3.5 years with an abundance of good local Vietnamese food and a housekeeper meant I cooked even less.

Part of my fantasy about moving to the Barossa Valley was about food. From early this year when I started following the Farmer’s Market on social media, I decided this is where I wanted to live, in a place where food is almost as much a part of the history and culture as wine. So far we have visited the Farmer’s Market every Saturday since we arrived and have been inspired by seasonal fresh produce.

As Mum is visiting we decided to take her to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop for lunch yesterday, which is only about 10 minutes from home. I was already thinking of a roast chicken, but the visit inspired me to use the bottle of verjuice I’d purchased on my last visit and the copy of Maggie’s Table I’d had for about 12 years and make her Roast Chook with Garlic and Verjuice. I then discovered the Salted Brandy Caramel and decided that it deserved some good homemade vanilla ice cream – although Maggie herself does suggest on the label it could just be eaten out of the jar!

So began preparations for a fancier than usual Tuesday night dinner (previous weeks have been Lego Movie inspired Taco Tuesdays) and I decided that I would do this every week as a way to improve my cooking skills and cook the dishes I would want to serve for a dinner party but might be too scared to experiment with if guests were coming.

Ingredients ready for the Roast Chook with Verjuice and Garlic
Ingredients ready for the Roast Chook with Verjuice and Garlic

The chicken was paired with Parmesan polenta (super easy), beetroot (from the market) with Woodside’s Lemon Myrtle Cheever and greens (also from the market) with Maggie Beer’s vincotto.

The chicken was delicious and so moist especially with the reserved pan juices but I learned that in future our non fan-forced oven requires slightly longer cooking times. Adding the extra verjuice and water at 20 minute intervals was a bit more work that my normal chicken cooking method but actually helped me to catch-up up on some much needed study in nice 20 minute bursts.

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The side dishes worked well with the chicken and dinner was enjoyed by all (including the little people).

Roast Chicken, Parmesan Polenta, Beetroot and Goats Cheese and salad greens.
Roast Chicken, Parmesan Polenta, Beetroot and Goats Cheese and salad greens.

Dessert was probably where I went a little over the top to attempt a complicated vanilla bean ice cream. This was the third time I’d used my Cuisinart Ice Cream maker and the first time I’d used one of the more complicated custard based recipes. Again many of the ingredients were from the Farmer’s Market including Jersey Fresh milk and cream and Tathra Homestead eggs. I added the salted caramel towards the end, but given the richness of the ice cream, it might have been better to just drizzle a little over when serving – but otherwise very tasty!

Rich vanilla bean ice cream with Maggie Beer's Salted Brandy Caramel
Rich vanilla bean ice cream with Maggie Beer’s Salted Brandy Caramel

I’m now looking forward to my trip to the market on Saturday for inspiration for next Tuesday – and the excuse to pull out another cookbook from the collection.

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!

10 things I miss about Hanoi – and 10 things I love about the Barossa

When one of our friends declared late last year, shortly before leaving Hanoi that “the only thing she would miss about Hanoi was passion fruit juice”, she was set a challenge to come up with a list of 10 things she would miss. I think she actually got to 15 – but the idea of the “Top 10 things I will miss about Hanoi” list was born. I can’t remember if I did an actual list when we left– although I did tag quite a few Instagram posts #thingsiwillmissabouthanoi. So I thought I would put together a list of things I am missing two months after leaving and then add the things I’ve found to love about the Barossa so far.

My top 10 things I miss about Hanoi:

  1. Food – especially street food like Bun cha (pork rissoles and noodles), Pho Bo (Beef noodle soup), banh tom Ho Tay (West Lake prawn cakes), Pho Tieu (cold noodle dish) from Dong Xuan market, Cha Ca (fish in turmeric with noodles)

    Pho Bo - Beef noodle soup
    Pho Bo – Beef noodle soup
  2. Vietnamese Coffee – especially over ice, the yoghurt coffee at Café Duy Tri and Iced egg coffee (like Tiramisu in a drink) from Hidden café

    Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe
    Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe
  3. Lakes around Hanoi especially morning runs around west lake and the Lotus ponds

    Dragon on West Lake, Hanoi
    Dragon on West Lake, Hanoi
  4. Cheap fresh flowers
  5. Cheap fruit and vegetables, especially amazing tropical fruit – pomelo (like grapefruit), mangosteen, limes, pineapples
  6. The kaleidoscope of life in the streets – things stacked on motorbikes, street side cafes, and festivals in the street

    Heavily laden motorbikes in front of Hanoi's mural wall
    Heavily laden motorbikes in front of Hanoi’s mural wall
  7. Living amongst the varied cultures in an expat populations
  8. Opportunities to travel around Vietnam and to neighbouring countries
  9. Shopping – beautiful clothes especially from Chula, gorgeous home wares from Tan My, crazy t-shirts from Gingko and all the other lovely shops especially on Hang Gai and through the old quarter
  10. Amazing friends and colleagues and great support staff

Of course there are also a few things I don’t miss:

– Crappy weather – grey skies, humidity, too hot or too cold

– Pollution

– Rubbish on the streets

– Crazy traffic and trying to cross the road

– Rats – especially those that insisted on sharing our home (and eating favourite pieces of clothing)!

Now, having been in the Barossa 3.5 weeks, here are the things I have found that I love so far:

  1. Barossa Farmer’s Market – buying beautiful seasonal local fresh produce from the people that raised, grew or made it, great coffee, flowers and a fantastic atmosphere
  2. Loads of great food and wine – of course
  3. Great parks for the boys – including one a few minutes walk from home
  4. Being 5-10 minutes to school, gym, shops etc
  5. Having at least two cellar doors walking distance from home – one of which also happens to be Simon’s place of work
  6. Fresh air, (mostly) blue skies and beautiful scenery – especially all the vineyards and beautiful old buildings, Mengler’s Hill Lookout and the sculpture park
  7. Sense of community, history and place
  8. Proximity to everything we need and great roads to drive on plus parking on the main street with no restrictions
  9. Lovely school/childcare for the boys who have been welcomed by teachers and friends alike
  10. Friendly welcoming people who love where they live and are excited about sharing that place with visitors and newcomers
Around Tanunda, Barossa Valley, August 2014
Around Tanunda, Barossa Valley, August 2014

The story so far….

Common wisdom suggests you should start before you’re ready. I really wasn’t sure how to start this blog and was even less sure about what people would be interested in reading. But, thanks to some encouragement from a lovely lady I met this morning, I am just going to write like I speak and hope that something interesting appears on the page.

As the title suggests, this is a blog about my career change and my move from Hanoi, Vietnam to the Barossa Valley in South Australia. After 15.5 years as a public servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (including two postings in Beijing and Hanoi), I decided I wanted to do something different. Unlike many people who decide to change careers, I didn’t have a hobby or a passion that I thought I could turn into my own business. In fact, I wasn’t sure (and am still not) that I wanted to work for myself. What I did know is that I wanted to change the way I worked and the environment I worked in. I wanted to be surrounded by entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiasm and excitement – something that the bureaucracy doesn’t always promote. I wanted to be flexible about when I worked and where I worked. After 3.5 years in Hanoi where blue skies were few and far between, I wanted to be able to make the most of beautiful days and work outside, or from a café. And as I began to explore social media further, I wanted to do something where I could engage with people online – as well as in real life.

Not quite two years ago, I learned the value of jumping in without a plan, when a chance comment to my boss about wishing I could do part of my colleague’s job saw us doing a job swap five days later and me taking over a significant program of events to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam. Suddenly I was not only managing the Embassy’s bilingual Facebook page with my team (only the second Australian Embassy to have a Facebook page) but I was coordinating a Vietnam-wide program of events that included performances by Bangarra, a three city 40 piece Questacon exhibition, concerts by Katie Noonan and Elixir and numerous other events.

So, the idea of a career change and some new exciting work came together. There are two moments that still stand out. One was after Bangarra’s second performance, in Ho Chi Minh City. After running the Hanoi event with my team, I was really only there to support my colleague and to farewell Bangarra when they left Vietnam. There was a moment during the post-performance reception I remember thinking – “this is I” but not really knowing what “it” was – apart from a feeling about how I felt. Emma Grey from Work Life Bliss talks about a scene from Wind in the Willows where Toad is sitting in the dust beside his damaged gypsy caravan, drooling over his first glimpse of a car. As she describes it “A whole world of possibility opened up”. This was reinforced a few months later watching a veteran Australian ballet dancer – 79 year old Colin Peasley instructing a group of dancers from Vietnam’s national ballet company. Sitting cross-legged on a couch in a sundrenched studio, I realised I couldn’t stop smiling because I was surrounded by the passion of people doing something that they really loved.

I decided to test the waters and start a Masters in Arts and Entertainment Management, reasoning that it was perhaps better to spend a few thousand on a unit of study, than tossing my 15 year career in. At the same time, I was able to continue running events and applying what I was learning, as we started to plan our return to Australia.

The opportunity to take a voluntary redundancy came along (and was a long drawn out process not worth recording) but at each step we would ask ourselves whether we were doing to right thing, as I prepared to quit work without still being 100 per cent clear where exactly this course of study would take me – or where I wanted it to take me.

Around Christmas, we spent some time in Hanoi exploring our options. As much as we loved Canberra, we both agreed that in a climate of public service cuts; it was not going to be somewhere that provided the opportunities we were looking for. With a husband who had spent most of his working career in various aspects of the wine business, we’d also entertained the thought of moving to a wine region and South Australia stood out, partly due to the cost of living. Gradually I started following people and businesses in the Barossa on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and in my mind’s eye, I started planning our move to the vines.

I can save the ups and downs, stresses and worries of quitting work and moving to a place we’d previously only visited for another day, but 2 months after leaving Asia, and here we are. It’s only been three weeks and while our world is still quite small, it all just feels right. From the first day we arrived, I was blown away how welcoming people are, how friendly, and most of all, how much people enjoy living here. And while there are obviously lots of families who have been here for generations, newcomers are welcomed. Most of all, life is easy, and after the chaos, pollution and hustle of Hanoi, we can’t help but love being five or ten minutes to wherever we need to be, a great gym close by, fantastic schools, great cafes and amazing food and wine – just as we’d imagined.

As for the career change, while my studies continue, I’m even more excited by the chance meetings and the opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’m hoping this blog will be an opportunity to record some of our adventures as we make a new life in the Barossa, while also taking some time to sit back and reflect on a very busy 3.5 years in Vietnam.