Long live the blog

When I first left work 3 years ago and moved to the Barossa, I was excited about starting a blog. It would be about my career change, and our new life and after 15 years working for government, I could say whatever I wanted. Over time it has included career change interviews, cooking, travel (both local trips and some of my favourite places in Vietnam) as well as my experiences with starting-up (and winding-down) my own business.  More My blogging has been erratic at best and I have often struggled to come up a proper blog post with photos – not to mention having any sort of theme. But I’ll happily write a Facebook post.

One of the reasons I wanted to blog was to have a conversation and engage with other people. But despite sharing my posts across social media, I wasn’t really seeing that many people (apart from family and friends) visiting or reading. While this probably has alot to do with the inconsistent subject matter and posts, I did wonder whether people were actually reading blogs anymore. Is our online time now taken up with Facebook groups, podcasts and other social media?

After deciding to try and write a book last year, I have looked at blogging as a way to improve my writing. Then a couple of months ago, a post about my son’s photo shopped teethpost about my son’s photo shopped teeth went viral and was republished in a number of places. It made me think that perhaps rather than spending my time blogging for free, I should start focusing on writing paid pieces and use Facebook to build a community and engage with people on a more regular basis.

I put this question to the Chats 10 Looks 3 Facebook group. This group of fans (aka “chatters”) of the podcast by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales started about 2 weeks ago and already has over 7000 members. Given that they are a very well-read bunch, I figured it was a good place to start – do you blog? Do you still read blogs?

I was quite excited and a bit surprised by the answers. While there is no doubt that people are using Facebook more to interact and engage with their online communities, a blog is still seen as a more personal space to write longer pieces – even if there isn’t the engagement from readers. It is a space you can personalise and it is yours. As someone pointed out, you don’t have control over your Facebook post and what happens if Facebook blocks you?

For many people, they are just happy to have the space to write for their own enjoyment and that of their readers – even when the group might be small. For writers and authors (and those starting out) a blog seems to be a great platform. For many people it is a more personal way of sharing their story – whether it be fighting an illness, parenting, building a career or travelling. In some cases, blog posts have led to paid writing gigs and other job opportunities.

When I posted the question, I was really trying to decide whether to keep blogging but after so many lovely comments (and a long list of new blogs to add to my reading list), not only have a decided to keep blogging, but I’ve written a post!

Do you blog? Do you still read blogs?

And if you don’t feel like commenting below, please visit my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/wordsbyange/ and we can have a chat there.

So many things to read means not nearly enough time to write

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

Rediscovering the joy of writing

 

img_0058For the last 30 days, I have been doing a writing bootcamp as part of the Australian Writer’s Centre “Make Time to Write” course. I’ve woken up each morning and checked the tasks with a level of excitement. Some days I had to write 250 words, sometimes 500 words in 30 minutes, occasionally 1000 words. There were days where we were encouraged to stop, be creative, plan. We were encouraged to test writing at different times of the day. The key was to realise that we don’t need whole days locked away in silence to write. For most writers, its about finding small pockets of time during the day to just write.

I completed every task although there was a week where being on holidays and spending time with my sister and her family meant I didn’t write, but I didn’t give in and when I sat down to write, the words flowed. On those “catch-up” days, I realised I could actually write a lot – and sometimes, having had a break for a few days, I was filled with ideas and inspiration.

For the 30 days, apart from one blog post, I have focused on writing my memories about my visits to Vietnam – my first 12 days visit in 2003, our three and a half year posting between 2011 and 2014 and then an 8 day holiday last year. Once I started writing the memories flowed and on most days I surpassed the word count. In high school, I was always told quality not quantity, but during this course, I learned that it was better to have bad words to edit than no words at all. During the last 30 days, I haven’t edited or researched. I had a list of topics and quite often, starting to write on one topic, lead me to another.

The main aim of the course was finding time to write. I had barely blogged for the last year because “I never had time”. While I haven’t written apart from the book, I have finally rediscovered a love of writing that I had lost – if I’d even had it. I used to like the idea of writing but actually sitting and typing has seriously got the creative juices flowing and I’ve had several nights where it’s been after midnight when I’ve gone to sleep – either because I have been writing or researching about writing. I’ve found writers to follow on social media, found guides on writing (especially about travel memoirs) and actually started to believe that I could write a book.

The only downside to this new excitement is a few nights where I have struggled to go to sleep because my mind was buzzing with ideas for blog posts, rewriting my website and chapters for my Vietnam memoir. I’ve skipped more gym sessions that I should have because I’ve stayed up late writing and I just hope that now the boys are back at school, I can carve out a bit more time at reasonable hours so I am not leaving it until after 9pm to start writing down everything that has swirled around my head all day.
Rediscovering writing has been just the creative outlet I have needed and realising that I don’t need a whole day to write a blog post will hopefully mean I’ll update this blog a bit more. While I’ll continue to write about travel, career change and my Barossa life, I’ll also start sharing some more thoughts about writing and I expect, some draft chapters from my Vietnam book as it takes shape.

I hope you enjoy reading and I’d love to know what you think!

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!

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.

I’m back…where to start?

I cannot believe I haven’t written since last year. That said, I’m not sure where the first two-thirds of this year disappeared. Writing a blog post about all that has happened might seem like a whole lot of excuses – so instead, here’s a month by month snapshot and some photos with the promise of more to come.

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Stunning beach at Port Hughes – a couple of amazing days at a cabin in the caravan park

January – a great Christmas in Sydney, sold our house in Canberra and came back ready to start the year. A few days in Port Hughes making the most of a great summer. Decided I really needed to get a job so started looking around for cellar door roles. Got the boys ready for school. Simon finally decided to see why his arm was bugging him so much – and bought a ute. Finally we had 2 cars.

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First Day of school – Year 2 and Reception (Kindergarten)

February – 1st of the month saw our youngest join his brother at school and I got a job. Simple. Met for a coffee, chatted, walked to the office – organsied handover. I like to decsribe my job with Schwarz Wines as anything but making the wine – which isn’t entirely true but it’s an awesome mix of office administration, finance, marketing and recently, even some selling. We got back into the groove of working and school and I got ready to run my first training session on free trade agreements as part of a China Ready program run by the local regional development association. Great presentation – not such a great day. Turns out the pain in Simon’s arm was a tumour.

March – day 1 of the month was Simon’s biopsy and 11 days later his amazing surgeon confirmed the worst. A 9.5cm tumour (chondrasacoma) in the cartlidge in his upper arm bone.. The treatment – removing about 20cm of bone and replacing with titanium and so another 11 days later, Simon was under the knife. Amazing doctors and nurses at Flinders made us very glad of our choice to move to South Australia – and thankful my Mum could come down and help. After a week in hospital, brough Simon, his bionic arm and his sling home to start rehab. Fortunately with this kind of tumour, treatment was limited to cutting it out – and as he went into surgery, we learned it hadn’t spread.

April – no idea what we did. Simon went back to work pretty quickly. His employers and colleagues at Artisans of Barossa were amazing. The boys took it in their stride. Friends were amazing. Teachers and after school carers a huge help. I started Crossfit because I needed some exercise after Easter! The Dawn Service in Tanunda was lovely and I realised it was the first time I’d attended a local service. We had a wonderful visit from old Beijing/Canberra friends and again got to play tourist in our own town. Lots of great wine was drunk. Simon’s first follow-up appointment showed all was looking well and the surgery had removed all the cancer. Went on my first decent bushwalk in the Barossa – so beautiful.

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First proper Barossa bushwalk – 10km from Little Kaiser Stuhl to Bethany

May – continuined the juggle of work, my business, trying to stay fit, kids sport etc etc. Went to Sydney for my sister’s 40th – great to spend time in their newly renovated house and catch up with some many friends. On a whim, booked the trip to Vietnam we’d thought about earlier in the year.  More walking and the rain began….

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Rainy morning in the vineyards

June – June was just June. Winter so cold and so wet. The countdown to Vietnam was on. More fantastic walks, work, work and family stuff.

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Hanoi really turned on the weather

July – The countdown to Vietnam continued and Mum came to look after the boys for the first week of the school holidays. It was freezing. I got hailed on going to the toilet at work one day and Mum pointed out it was colder than Lithgow or Canberra. We got our work done and finally we left for Vietnam. 10 amazing days. We landed in Hanoi exactly 2 years and 1 month after leaving – but I’ll save that for another post. We came back and it was still cold, wet and there was work to do. But then a friend pointed out a house that was on the market.

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Beautiful weather for our escape to Hoi An too

August – The first week was jam packed. Did our tax (yahoo money back), saw the mortgage broker and I went to Sydney to sell wine. Was glad I’d listended to Simon over the years. Sucked at getting public transport (even with apps on my phone I missed trains) but discovered Uber. Caught up with friends as well as my family. Came home and got serious about buying the house (more on that to come). Simon’s recovery continues and he’ll hopefully be behind the wheel again soon. I’m getting clearer about the work I want to do with my consulting business and got to work with my execllent B2B colleagues on a fantastic conference (more on that soon too).

September – its trying to warm up but it’s still wet. The canola and blossoms are beautiful. I’m working on a great project that will helpo business to understand how to create better value for consumers. Settlement it later in the month. Right now its all about booking tradespeople, deciding on colours and choosing lights.

It’s definitely been busy, and had it’s ups and downs. I’ve wanted to write but couldn’t work out when or where to start. But while we were in Vietnam, I suddenly had this huge urge to write about our posting experience and the experience of my three trips to Vietnam – first as a single girl in my 20s (during my posting in China – so lots of comparisons), then our posting which started with a 3 month old and a two year old and me going back to work, and then going back.

So, it’s time to start writing blog posts again, and while there might not be a theme (and expect lots on rennovations, gardens and decorating), I’ll try and make it fun – and include lots of photos.