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

12 months in the Barossa – and some tips for making a lifestyle and career change

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Today marks 12 months since we arrived in the Barossa Valley. As is often the case with milestones like this, in some ways it feels like we’ve been here forever, but at the same time, the year has flown.

Looking down over Tanunda - the place we now call home
Looking down over Tanunda – the place we now call home

When we decided to make the move to South Australia after our 3.5 years in Hanoi, we didn’t really know what we were in for. For me, it was about leaving a career of 15 years behind to do something new. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted a more flexible lifestyle and that I wanted to be doing something that made a contribution to my community. For Simon, it was about getting back into the wine industry after being the stay-at-home Dad for most of our time in Hanoi. For the boys, it was about embracing life in Australia, the outdoors, fresh air and friendships. We chose South Australia because the cost of living seemed low and there were numerous wine regions to choose from.

Don't think I'll ever grow tired of wide open skies and vineyards
Don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of wide open skies and vineyards

12 months on, I think we can honestly say we made the right decision. We’ve got some great friends, we’re doing work we love and we have 2 happy kids (and a happy cat).

Boys at Mengler's Hill soon after we arriving - the sculpture park is still a favourite spot
Boys at Mengler’s Hill soon after we arriving – the sculpture park is still a favourite spot

Some of the highlights from the last year include:

  • starting a business from nothing that I really hope will contribute to the local community
  • making lots of great friends – from Mum’s at school to work contacts and friends of friends

    New friends and exercise buddies
    New friends and exercise buddies
  • being involved in the Vintage Festival parade – being part of the community and connected to the history of the place

    One of the floats from the 2015 Vintage Parade - which was also a part of the first parade in 1948
    One of the floats from the 2015 Vintage Parade – which was also a part of the first parade in 1948
  • getting involved with the Kindy
  • starting this blog
  • getting involved with the Spence Club – writing content for the blog and nominating for the board
  • having time to cook, knit, sew and read
  • having family and friends come and visit and love the place

    First Barossa Christmas with the family
    First Barossa Christmas with the family
  • shopping local – the Barossa Farmer’s Market Facebook posts for about 6 months before we arrived were a big influence on my feeling that this was the place – and I love that we can buy local, meet the people we buy from and contribute to the community

    Our first visit to the Farmer's Market was as good as we expected, and has been a weekly trip since
    Our first visit to the Farmer’s Market was as good as we expected, and has been a weekly trip since
  • the power of social media – as in Hanoi, Twitter andInstagram have been great platforms to learn about theBarossa but also to connect with people and make friends

    New hobbies in the Barossa - playing German bowls - Kegel
    New hobbies in the Barossa – playing German bowls – Kegel
  • the beautiful scenery and history that surrounds us – from old buildings and churches to living a 5 minute walk from the oldest Shiraz vines in the world – and of course, lots of great wine

    The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil - some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, 5 minutes from home
    The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil – some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, 5 minutes from home

It hasn’t all been sunshine and lollipops, and there have been some big adjustments.

  • being at home – without the household help – and trying to balance studying then starting a business with cleaning, cooking, school pick-ups etc
  • losing my identity – so much of who I was, was tied up in my job and it was strange to not have that
  • not earning disposable income – and not being able to find the “bridge” job I thought I could have because
  • stress of the early days – no one to call if I was running late for pick-up, crying myself to sleep because Xavier didn’t have many friends to invite to his party and feeling like an outsider at school
  • doubts of starting a business for the first time

But the highs definitely outweigh the lows and there is so much that we’re looking forward to in our next year here. – Finding our own house – but given gardening abilities haven’t been as I’d hoped might need to find a compromise between the rural idea and the ‘burbs – but I do want chickens

  • Getting my business off the ground
  • More great adventures with family and friends as we explore theBarossa Valley and more of South Australia

    Definitely looking forward to exploring more of the beautiful coastline of South Australia
    Definitely looking forward to exploring more of the beautiful coastline of South Australia
  • Getting to know even more of the fantastic people that bring us our great food and wine
  • Seeing our kids continue to thrive
  • More cooking, crafting and maybe even some preserving
  • Getting my health and fitness back on track and running the Barossa Half Marathon next year

    Definitely need to expand the veggie patch
    Definitely need to expand the veggie patch

And for anyone thinking of making a big, bold lifestyle and career change, here’s a few things I have learned:

  • it takes time – there will be good days and bad days but stick with it, and know some days you just have to cut yourself some slack
  • knowing why you want to make the change makes it a lot easier to cope with the challenges
  • be open to new stuff, say yes – but don’t completely overwhelm yourself.
  • If you’re a planner, you’ll still need to plan. I realised I still need menu plans, to-do lists and I still need to get up early because even though I I’m working full-time and be flexible with my day, part of my career change was about having time to do other things like cook, exercise and craft – and there are still only 24 hours
  • Coaching and networking is so valuable – especially if you’re starting a business. It’s great to have someone keeping you accountable and cheering you on, especially when you are doing something completely new and don’t know that many people.
  • Enjoy it! Celebrate the little victories, get to know your new town and focus on the good stuff!

IMG_3269 Finally, a huge thank you to Simon and my boys, our family and friends – old and new, who have provided so much support along the way. We couldn’t have done it without you!

From public servant in Hanoi to business owner in the Barossa

Leaving Hanoi, June 2014
Leaving Hanoi, June 2014

For the last week, I have been struggling to come up with a blog post to mark one year back in Australia. What could I say that wasn’t simply a rehash of the last month or so of Timehop photos I’ve posted from our last weeks in Hanoi and our arrival in Australia. I thought of trying to come up with a list – maybe the things I’ve learned, the best bits about being back in Australia, the things I miss most in Hanoi.

My boys on our last morning in Hanoi. Hard to believe they were only 2 years and 3.5 months when we arrived
My boys on our last morning in Hanoi. Hard to believe they were only 2 years and 3.5 months when we arrived
My favourite photo from our Disneyland stop-over
My favourite photo from our Disneyland stop-over

But nothing really flowed, and to be honest, I’ve been fairly busy trying to get my business off the ground and getting organised to head back for our first trip to Canberra, Wollongong and Sydney since we moved to the Barossa.

But as the week has gone on, I felt like I needed to write something about the last year, because when I look back at it, it has been pretty amazing and I am sure a period of our lives we will look back at and wonder how we did it.

The blue skies and open spaces were things we'd really missed in Hanoi. Tanunda, August 2014
The blue skies and open spaces were things we’d really missed in Hanoi. Tanunda, August 2014
  • We packed up 3.5 years of our lives in Hanoi and moved back to Australia
  • I left the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after 15 years – my first (and only) full time job
  • We moved to the Barossa Valley (where we only knew a couple of people)
  • Simon started back in the wine industry and now has a fantastic position at the Artisans of Barossa tasting room
  • Angus started Primary School and Xavier started Kindy (pre-school)
  • I started a blog
  • And probably the biggest of all, at least for me, I decided to launch Angela Pickett Consulting
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa

I am not very good at keeping a diary or journal, but I recently found some entries I made last year about taking a redundancy, deciding to move to the Barossa Valley and restarting our lives back in Australia. There was an entry where I scoffed at the suggestion from my good friend Lisa (who would become my business coach ) that I should start my own business. There was also an entry about crying myself to sleep because Xavier only had a couple of friends coming to his 4th birthday because we’d only been in the Barossa 6 weeks and I’d planned his party for the first day of school holidays and the AFL (football) grand final. Reading that, I really wished I had written more because it was great to look back and see how far we’d come.

He didn't care how many friends turned up - as long as the cake was great
He didn’t care how many friends turned up – as long as the cake was great

I think one of the hardest things for me over the last 12 months, but also one of the most exciting was losing the part of my identity that was so closely tied to my career. It has been refreshing to make new friends who have nothing to do with work and who have no idea of what I have done in the past. Many of my new friends are the Mums of the boys’ friends and I feel very fortunate to have such an amazing support network. I truly feel part of a community where I know there is someone to call if I’m running late for school pick-up or need a last minute babysitter. Not only that, but I know have exercise buddies, ladies to chat and laugh and share the (occasional) glass of bubbles with.

The Young and the Breathless taking on the 6000 Adelaide Oval Stair Stomp
The Young and the Breathless taking on the 6000 Adelaide Oval Stair Stomp

At the same time, thanks in part to social media, I’ve also developed my own networks and it is through these networks that I have been able to take opportunities and start my own business.

New hobbies in the Barossa - playing German bowls - Kegel
New hobbies in the Barossa – playing German bowls – Kegel

When we left Hanoi, I knew I needed a break from work, and as I wrote in my last post, my study provided with a bit of a safety net. For me, and I’m sure for friends and family, giving up a career didn’t seem so crazy because I was studying towards something new. I’d always said I just wanted to change the way I worked, and I wanted to be more flexible and yet, I dismissed the idea of having my own business.

While it is still (very) early days, I wouldn’t change this decision for anything. While my initial post-fulltime work idea of going to the gym after school drop-off has been replaced by early morning workouts and I am still doing way more housework than I’d like to do, I am loving being my own boss. I am busy but it is doing the things I want to do and it is exciting. For so many years, my working life was so tied up with the frustrations of working in a very bureaucratic structure, where responsibility and reward were tied to your role and level. Now its just me, and while this can sometimes be a bit daunting after so many years of asking permission, I am actually enjoying being in charge of both my own business and my own choices. There is no-one else to blame if things don’t go the way I had planned and I finally feel like I can make mistakes that I can learn from.

I do miss having colleagues to brainstorm ideas with but thanks again to social media, I have great networks across the globe who can provide advice, support and encouragement as I tackle things I never expected I would be doing – setting up my accounts in MYOB, briefing a graphic designer, setting up a website and writing proposals for clients. I’ve become a huge podcast fan – especially during my morning workout – and have learned so much from podcasts like Being Boss and The Lively Show.

I finally feel confident and in control and while my to do list is never ending, I love being to pick the boys up from school, catch up with my friends for coffee or take some time out to cook. I’m finally getting my fitness and nutrition back under control (which is really hard when you are surrounded by great food and wine) and I’ve even started running and agreed to do an obstacle course event next month.

Of course, there have been moments where I have wondered if it was the right decision and wished I had had the foresight to know I wanted to start a business and put away some money to start, rather than waiting until I worked out that the perfect job didn’t exist because this was what I was meant to be doing. I’ve also realised I’m really impatient. When I feel like the business should be further advanced and I should be doing more, I have to remind myself about how far I have come.

Beautiful views over Tanunda, May 2015
Beautiful views over Tanunda, May 2015

Looking back, it has been a fantastic year. I think the life we have created here is probably even better than we had imagined, and at least for now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

A day of wine tasting in the Barossa

Two Hands Wines
Two Hands Wines

One of the advantages of not having a full-time job is being able to make the most of the opportunities when they come along. So when the opportunity arose to help a friend out by playing chauffeur last week, I jumped at the chance. The guest was Kamal Malik, the Head Sommelier from the Conrad Resort in the Maldives. Kamal was in Australia as the guest of Teusner Wines, as he was the winner of the Hilton Hotel Group’s South East Asia Sommelier Cup, which Teusner had sponsored. I met Kamal on his last day in the Barossa, picking him up in one of the big black Teusner utes (a definite highlight for this city girl who has only recently moved to the country). On the way to our first stop, I learned that Kamal had started in hospitality and after being assigned to the bar in the hotel he was working, decided that wine was more interesting than cocktails and decided to make a career of it. After several years in India, he moved to the Maldives where he has been for about 9 years, the last 4 with the Hilton.

The bakehouse
The bakehouse

Our first stop was Two Hands Wines in Marananga, one the prettiest villages in the Barossa. We were met by Daniel Hill, who recently joined the Two Hands marketing team. Daniel showed us around the winery before taking us up to the old bake house for a private tasting. The cellar door is in a beautiful old farmhouse and the bake house was apparently where the locals all came to bake their bread. The bake house also has a glass floor so you can look down into the cellar of back vintages below. Being the designated driver, I enjoyed a coffee while Kamal tasted, although I did taste a couple of the Flagship wines as I figured this was a special opportunity. While Shiraz is definitely the focus (including single region wines from six different regions and single vineyard wines), we were able to try a yet to be released white from the Flagship series as well as a Rare Muscat in one of the coolest bottles I have seen.

A few of the wines tasted at Two Hands
A few of the wines tasted at Two Hands

After Two Hands, we drove over to Langmeil, which is literally around the corner from home and was the first Barossa winery I visited on my first visit to the Barossa in 2007. We met Cellar Door manager Jonathan for a tour around part of the vineyard. We started in the blacksmiths forge and I learned that my street is named Christian Auricht. He was a blacksmith and founded the village of Langmeil in 1842. The other old buildings on the property were home to the butcher, baker and cobblers shop and I learned that Langmeil Road was actually the main street. The original “Freedom” vines were planted in 1843, and is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Shiraz vineyards in the world.

Kamal in the old blacksmith's forge
Kamal in the old blacksmith’s forge
The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil
The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil

I was also excited to hear about the Orphan Bank vineyard. Vines planted in 1860 were transplanted from what is now the Langmeil housing estate (where I live) in 2006 and replanted on the Langmeil site. We were also lucky to see the new underground cellar being built in the old water tank. A local carpenter has built a beautiful circular rack around the walls and the wheel from an old machine for crushing grapes has been transformed into a stunning light fitting.

Underground cellar at Langmeil
Underground cellar at Langmeil

After our tour and history lesson, we escaped into the warmth of the cellar door for a platter of Barossa produce (including mettwurst from Steinys and cheese from the Barossa Cheese Company ) and a tasting. While Kamal was taken through an extensive tasting, I limited myself a taste of the Sparkling Shiraz (such a Barossa specialty and often referred to as Barossa Berocca), and the Valley Floor, Orphan Bank and Freedom Shiraz. The history buff in me loved that I was trying wines from such old vines, and while they don’t necessarily make better wines, the history behind them does make them very special.

A fantastic line-up of Barossa Shiraz at Langmeil
A fantastic line-up of Barossa Shiraz at Langmeil

Our final stop was Rockford Wines. I have driven past several times, but hadn’t been in to visit. We were met by Operations Manager David who gave us a brief history of Rockford as we enjoyed the afternoon sunshine in the courtyard.

Courtyard at Rockford Wines
Courtyard at Rockford Wines

In 1971, winemaker Robert O’Callaghan purchased the property and set about collecting various bits of machinery and old granite tanks and set up a winery that David told us was described by a journalist at the time as “a new 100-year-old winery”. It really did look like a museum, with a small window that grapes are hand loaded in through, the old crusher (the wheel of which was the same as the one now part of the light fitting at Langmeil), granite tanks and the iconic basket presses. All the reds are made on-site and I am definitely going to visit next year during vintage. There were so many great stories and things to see – from the new basket presses made by a customer who became a friend that are now exported around the world, to the very old solera storing fortified wine and the impressive barrel stacks.

Basket press at Rockford
Basket press at Rockford
The crusher at Rockford - with the same wheel we had seen as at high fitting at Langmeil
The crusher at Rockford – with the same wheel we had seen as at high fitting at Langmeil

After soaking in the history and stories, we went up to the Stonewall Tasting Room. Being the last stop for the day, I tasted more than I had at Two Hands and Langmeil, but I did work on the art of elegantly spitting. I tasted my first 2015 Vintage – the White Frontignac that had been released that day. I really enjoyed it, probably as it was quite light and zippy and at about 8.5 per cent, I could see it becoming a summer favourite. The Riesling and Semillon were also great and it was interesting to try the Alicante Bouchet – which looks like a rosé but is actually a red-fleshed grape. The Sparkling Shiraz was the first Rockford wine I had tried on my first visit to Adelaide in 2000, so of course I had to taste, and I would have to agree with it being seen as one of the benchmark wines of its type in the region. A tasting at Rockford wouldn’t be complete without tasting the Basket Press Shiraz, which was very enjoyable too. Finally, after managing to taste and spit without embarrassing myself, we finished with the 2005 Shiraz VP, a fortified wine that is made from a friend’s family vineyard before we farewelled Kamal who headed off to Adelaide, while I returned the ute back to Teusner.

Rockford's Black Shiraz
Rockford’s Black Shiraz
2015 White Frontignac - my first 2015 vintage wine
2015 White Frontignac – my first 2015 vintage wine

It’s probably fairly obvious that I am no expert when it comes to wine – I can pick varieties, I can usually pick a couple of key flavours and I can tell if a wine is from an older vintage, but mostly, I either like it or not. I think the thing I enjoy most about wine tasting is the stories behind the wine. Apart from having the chance to taste some pretty special wine, I really enjoyed seeing the diversity in the wine industry in the Barossa. There is such a range of wineries – from large-scale big name brands to small batch producers, wineries with long histories and new players – and something I realised was that they are all important and all have a role to play in ensuring the longevity of the industry and the region. The other thing I have come to appreciate the longer I am here is the importance of the grower. I think before I moved here, I thought of most wineries owning and working their own vineyards, but the reality is, the region is made up of hundreds of growers and vineyards, many of which have been in the same family for generations. In some ways, they are the unsung heroes, perhaps overshadowed (at least in the average wine drinker’s mind) by the brands and big name wine makers. One of the great things about living here has been meeting the grape growers and seeing that at least in this part of the world, they aren’t just faceless or nameless farmers but an integral part of the winemaking life of the Barossa.

With a husband that works at a tasting room (Artisans of Barossa, which is a group of 7 like-minded wineries, including Teusner), we probably haven’t done as much wine tasting here as I would like. So after my day out with Kamal, I’m going to aim to go and visit a new spot every couple of weeks, if only just to learn more about the history of the Barossa and the importance of winemaking to the region.

View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa

I’ve included a link to all the wineries we visited in the blog, but you can also visit Barossa.com or Barossa Dirt to learn more about wine in the Barossa.

Life in the Barossa – a trip to the Tanunda Show

The Tanunda Lone Pine Agricultural Bureau Display - the centrepiece of the show hall displays
The Tanunda Lone Pine Agricultural Bureau Display – the centrepiece of the show hall displays

Last weekend we attended our first Tanunda Show at the local oval, which is about 5 minutes drive from our place. The show has been going since 1910, and I had heard a lot of discussion from many people about the competitions especially cakes and preserves. Given the near obsession with food in the place, I was quite excited to see what was on offer.

The Dill Pickle Competition is a big deal in this very German community
The Dill Pickle Competition is a big deal in this very German community

The display in the show hall was fantastic. Kids Lego creations, cakes, pickles, pickled onions, preserve, fruit and vegetables, grapes, craft and giant sunflowers – and at the front the main display of the region’s produce and wine, which was auctioned off later in the day.

Beautiful prize winning Dahlias -
Beautiful prize winning Dahlias –
My boys in front of the Tanunda Primary School Display
My boys in front of the Tanunda Primary School Display

I had considered entering some cakes, but didn’t get organised and I suspect I was still scarred from my failed entry to the Wollongong Show 30 years ago. It was a kids packet cake section and my cake was a flop. I have no idea how I failed on a packet cake, but I entered it and copped some good-natured ribbing from teachers and students alike. Not one to accept failure, I had another try and brought a perfect cake in for the teachers the following week.

Anyway, I was excited to see a few friends and a a couple of the boys’ friends had won prizes and while the prize money isn’t huge, for a 50 cent entry, I’ll definitely be having a go next year, if only to be part of the community and keep this Australian tradition alive.

These kids vegetable creations brought back memories of school
These kids vegetable creations brought back memories of school

The boys were not as excited by the displays and were keen to enjoy a hot dog and some rides with their friends, although they did come home in the afternoon and start building Lego creations “for the show next year”.

Alpacas
Alpacas

For the kids, the highlight was definitely side-show alley. I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent whose wallet felt somewhat lighter at after only a couple of rides, but the boys had a great time and I at least talked them out of any activity that would have resulted in another piece of plastic or fluffy toy making its way home.

An expensive ride paid for by the boys out of their pocket money - but they had a lot of fun!
An expensive ride paid for by the boys out of their pocket money – but they had a lot of fun!

It was a great way to spend a few hours on a beautiful March day, and I am definitely looking forward to being a part of it next year.