5 things the viral teeth post taught me

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.

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!

A year on – and the parallels between having a baby and starting a business

I’m normally a great one for anniversaries and milestones, and while I knew it was coming up, I completely missed that last Friday marked a year since I started this blog. Sadly in recent weeks, I have been finding it hard to come up with anything to write. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t think of anything to excite you the reader, but I couldn’t even think of anything to write that I wanted to read. I guess like many bloggers, I’m probably using Instagram more, and happy to share a daily shot of life in the Barossa Valley but writing has proved a little more elusive.

Another beautiful Barossa winter sunset
Another beautiful Barossa winter sunset

It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything, in fact, I feel busier than ever – especially as I finally get used to a life that isn’t 75 per cent defined by work. A year on, I am finally finding the balance I need to do everything I want to do – from getting my business off the ground, to getting fit, cooking, getting involved at school and Kindy and spending time with family and friends. It finally feels like we have a “normal” existence after the years overseas that were a constant round of high profile work events, welcomes and farewells and holidays. I always said I felt like we were living in a bubble, and away from it for over a year it really does seem quite unreal. But as much as I love my simplified life, I’m not sure anyone wants to read about it.

My old job did have it's perks - hanging out with Katie Noonan, her husband Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnussen for a week as part of their tour to Vietnam which my team and I organised
My old job did have it’s perks – hanging out with Katie Noonan, her husband Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnussen for a week as part of their tour to Vietnam which my team and I organised

So, I started thinking about this post when read a great post from an old friend from Hanoi that talked about how raising a newborn can be a bit (OK a lot) relentless. One of my favourite parts was when Tabitha talked about how she had prepared herself “for a 12-round boxing match, but what actually ensued was more like one of those games of noughts and crosses where nobody wins”.

I read the post, thinking simultaneously that it was lovely to read Tabitha’s writing again (her blog in Hanoi was one of my favourites – even before I met her and attended her fabulous “traditional Vietnamese” Hanoi wedding), how I was glad to have survived the newborn phase (which seems much longer that almost 5 years and 6.5 years ago) and how starting a business felt a bit the same.

Day 1 of being a parent to 2 boys - almost 5 years ago
Day 1 of being a parent to 2 boys – almost 5 years ago

Just like having a baby, in the early days before starting a business you can read lots and get things set up. Then you bring the baby home (or launch the business) and there are some exciting milestones like getting an ABN, or registering you business name or getting your business cards. (in a baby’s case this using revolves around sleep, smiles and noises and later crawling, walking and food).

But then there is a lot to both parenting and starting a business that is just work – even if you’re very excited and focused about the end result. Like Tabitha says, its not that its bad but you do have adjust you view of what time well spent means and get used to the fact that while there are sometimes moments of great success warranting a Facebook post, on many days, especially in the beginning, there is nothing to report.

Just like being a new parent, being a new business owner, especially working on your own, can be really lonely. This is probably why you do want to share those milestones and why, when there isn’t anything to report, you can start doubting that you’re even doing the right thing.

Fortunately, I survived the newborn phase for both of my boys thanks to brilliant support from my husband, family and friends, coffee, wine and some time out to read, shop or exercise. So I’m following much the same formula for getting Angela Pickett Consulting off the ground, knowing that in the end, these months of laying the groundwork, will all be worth it.


5 reasons I don’t stop working when my boys come home

Leaving on our posting to Hanoi - and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011
Leaving on our posting to Hanoi – and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011

I went back to work when my oldest was 7 months, my youngest 3.5 months, and by then I was working long hours, and sometimes weekends during my posting in Hanoi. I was lucky because I was still able to be involved at pre-school but I also missed out on things like the day-to-day stuff of kids growing up.

Reading to Xavier's class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday - before going to work, September 2013
Reading to Xavier’s class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday – before going to work, September 2013

I remember an Australian colleague in Hanoi recounting a story about another father at the international school who didn’t want to give up his weekly golf game to coach the kids soccer team. What he said to the other dad really stuck with me:

“your kids are growing up really fast, and soon they won’t want you coaching them. Make the most of the fact they do want you around, and your golf game will be there later”.

Now, I’d like to think my boys will always want me around but it did get me thinking. I also realised I was dreading the thought of work more and more and I was procrastinating by doing other things when I should have been focusing on my work (which meant I worked longer hours because I still got stuff done). I realised that if I was going to miss out on that time with my kids and my family and friends, it had to be to do something that I really loved and that I felt really passionate about.

As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities - like hosting this social media training session for local journalists
As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities – like hosting this social media training session for local journalists

I didn’t actually set out to have my own business. As I have written in some previous blog posts, deciding to set up my consultancy was a decision that evolved. Leaving Hanoi I said I was happy to work full-time and long hours, provided I could have some flexibility about where I worked and again, was doing something I really believed in. But as I settled into the life of the stay-at-home mum/student in the Barossa, I realised that actually I did want a lifestyle that provided a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to be my own boss.

A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy
A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy

So unlike a lot of other Mums that become business owners and entrepreneurs, this decision wasn’t just about spending time with my kids, and consequently, I don’t always confine my working hours to the time they are at school or asleep. I’ve heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about always being present for their kids, and not working if they are around, and I completely get that. I certainly don’t want my work to stop them from being able to do after-school activities or spend time with friends. But some days, when they are just having out at home (and they are only 6.5 and almost 5), I do work from our home office. That said, I do prefer to work when they aren’t here so I’m not distracted by constant requests for food and the adjudication of fights!

There's also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate - which I missed when working
There’s also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate – which I missed when working

At first it wasn’t really a conscious decision, but then I realised that they really didn’t “get” that Mummy wasn’t working. Working to them involved me putting on a suit or a nice dress and “going to work”. It probably didn’t help that to start with, I was also studying.

I hope as my business takes off, they will start to understand more about what I do. For now, the 6.5 year old thinks my business is my website and he’s very encouraging.

For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website
For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website

So I was listening to lots of great podcasts and this idea of not working while your kids were around made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was guilt, but I also realised that I want my boys to see me working, for a number of reasons:

  1. I want my boys to understand the value of hard work, failure, entrepreneurship and setting goals.
  1. I want them to see a strong woman and realise both parents have jobs, careers and contribute to the running of the house. Having boys, I think it’s especially important that they don’t pick up gender stereotypes from a young age.
  1. I want them to appreciate that Simon and I work hard to provide stuff for them. Our lifestyle in Hanoi probably set up some false expectations for the boys – having a housekeeper, disposable income to buy stuff and lots of holidays and we are working to refocus that
  1. I want them to understand that as important as they are, the world does not revolve around them. Simon and I also have goals and interests and friends. We’re a family, and a team and we all have to play a part to make things work.
  1. I want them to be able to play together, entertain themselves, use initiative and be creative.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Right now, as I work on finding my first clients, I am still getting that balance right. It seems to me that technology has changed the way we work and there are more parents –male and female – working from home. While the goal for many, and the reason for doing this is to spend time with their kids, I don’t think anyone should be feeling guilty if their kids are playing on their own (or watching TV) or waiting 5 minutes for their next snack while Mum or Dad gets some work done. Hopefully the next generation seeing the entrepreneurs and small business owners of today, working hard and hustling to make a success of their business is providing role models and inspiration for a future generation of entrepreneurs and business people.

My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting - helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities
My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting – helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities

P.S: I got my new business cards last week and I am so damned excited. After years of plain black and white cards with only a government crest for decoration (and maybe a foreign translation on the back), I finally have fantastic, funky cards for my own business. I’m so grateful to my graphic designer Erica Brady, who was able to take my creative brief what she knew of me from our interactions on social media over the last year, to create my fantastic brand identity. It has been great to go to events and hand these out and I’m looking forward to updating my website, social media and other marketing collateral in the coming weeks.

Our first South Australian holiday

It’s a very hot day here in the Barossa and I can’t help but wish the warm weather had appeared this time last month when we headed off to Victor Harbor for our “beach” holiday!

View from our apartment in Victor Harbor
View from our apartment in Victor Harbor

Not long after arriving in Tanunda, it suddenly seemed like people around me were booking summer holidays. Fresh from 3.5 years of regular breaks (due to the need to escape Hanoi’s pollution, chaos and weather), I figured we had better book a beach break too. As it turned out, we now have a lifestyle where we don’t need to escape so often and we probably didn’t need the expense of a holiday, but the idea of the beach sounded great.

Unfortunately we left Tanunda in pouring rain, and I tried to tell myself it would improve. Unfortunately the weather forecasts proved right, and apart from a few beautiful days, we shivered through most of the week away.

Still beautiful on a stormy day - Victor Harbor
Still beautiful on a stormy day – Victor Harbor

But we were determined to make the most of it. We had a nice apartment with a view of the harbour and the steam train going past a couple of times a day. It was only a quick walk to the centre of Victor Harbor so we visited many of the tourist attractions. And with the Fleurieu Peninsula being rich in food and wine, we of course enjoyed some day trips to taste wine in McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek (which I’ll post separately).

Here are some of the highlights of our time in Victor Harbor:

Harbor or Harbour?

Victor Harbor was a former whaling port so there is a lot of history around the whaling industry. It was interesting to realise that while Australian’s generally use the English spelling of “harbor” Victor Harbor is still spelt without the “u” – unless you’re on the train.

An explanation of the spelling of Victor Harbor
An explanation of the spelling of Victor Harbor

Steam Train to Goolwa

Watching the steam train go past our apartment every day, we had to go for a ride. Unfortunately we chose a freezing cold day for the trip to Goolwa, so after a quick beer at the Steam Exchange brewery it was back on the train back to Victor Harbor.

Craft beers at the brewery in Goolwa
Craft beers at the brewery in Goolwa


We did visit Goolwa again later in the week and found a beautiful beach – although the first time I have seen a warning about snakes on a beach!

Goolwa Beach
Goolwa Beach
Rough surf and strong current are fairly normal at an Australian beach…but snakes?

SA Whale Centre

A great rainy day activity and a so well set up for the kids. While the boys weren’t particularly keen about posing for a photo in the shark cage, they loved the digging for fossils activity and the kids corner.

Shark exhibit at the Whale Centre
Shark exhibit at the Whale Centre
Great kids activities at the Whale Centre - digging for "fossils"
Great kids activities at the Whale Centre – digging for “fossils”

Granite Island, Horse-drawn tram and the Penguin Centre

We left this excursion until the end of our week and were lucky to have some good weather, although it started out quite cool. The horse drawn tram was great fun and having walked across the causeway myself, I realised that while the tram was running this was the best option with kids as the “footpath” on it is quite narrow. The penguin centre was amazing. The main keeper Dorothy was so passionate and worked their 6 days a week. She knew all the 10-11 penguins by name. I was really surprised and sad to hear that they are only allowed to care for the penguins and are not permitted to breed the penguins. This is despite the population dropping to around 40 in recent years, no doubt due to decreasing fish stocks.

Horse drawn tram to Granite Island
Horse drawn tram to Granite Island

The penguins themselves are gorgeous and it was the first time I had been close enough to see that their fur is actually a shiny blue colour in the water. I was also blown away by these tiny little things devouring whole fish. Well worth and hour to listen to Dorothy and watch the antics of these beautiful endangered creatures.



After a windy walk around and up to the top of Granite Island, we enjoyed beers and ice creams as the sun came out and we were even treated to a bit of a show by some dolphins. It was a beautiful spot and we were disappointed to hear that the lease on the restaurant and kiosk had not been renewed. It really should be a premier tourist attraction for Victor Harbor, so hopefully this changes and someone can come in and make the most of this beautiful location.

View from the deck at Granite Island
View from the deck at Granite Island

Beach and bakery at Port Elliot

The beach at Port Elliot and the fish and chips from Flying Fish Cafe on the beach were my favourite. It is a really pretty little town, about 5 minutes from Victor Harbor and would be my pick for our next beach holiday in that part of South Australia. Lots of beautiful old buildings, great shops and restaurants and amazing views. Thanks to Instagram, we discovered the Port Elliot bakery and made several trips back for the most incredible donuts. The boys also had a great time in the surf, although us grown-ups decided it was way too cold to swim!

Beach at Port Elliot
Beach at Port Elliot
Old Council Chambers in Port Elliot - just one of many of buildings in this gorgeous seaside town
Old Council Chambers in Port Elliot – just one of many of buildings in this gorgeous seaside town
View from Port Elliot back towards Victor Harbor and Granite Island
Amazing donut from the Port Elliot bakery
Amazing donut from the Port Elliot bakery

Drive to Cape Jervis

One afternoon, I decided we should go for a drive to Cape Jervis where the ferry takes people across to Kangaroo Island. I probably underestimated how far this drive around the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula would take but it was worth it for some beautiful views starting at the Bluff near Encounter Bay and heading down to Cape Jervis, glimpses of Kangaroo Island and back past through Carrickalinga and Yankalilla.

View from Encounter Bay towards Victor Harbor
Ferry to Kangaroo Island
Ferry to Kangaroo Island

Relaxing with the family

Although the weather meant we weren’t on the beach every day as I’d imagined, it was great just to spend time together as a family. One of the best things about our location was being across the road from the harbour and having 2 great playgrounds so afternoons usually involved a trip to the park while I did 30 minutes of exercise as part of the World Vision 30-for-30 challenge that I was doing to support child and maternal health.

Great spot for an afternoon run
Great spot for an afternoon run

So while we weren’t on the beach each day as I’d imagined, it was great exploring a new part of South Australia. I thought we’d actually covered quite a lot of ground, until I looked at the map of South Australia againand realised there are many more adventures out there waiting for us

Was there anything we missed in Victor Harbor? Any recommendations on where we should visit next?

Highlights of our first Barossa Christmas

Santa in a tree, Tanunda December 2014
Santa in a tree, Tanunda December 2014

As I sort and pack away the Christmas decorations for another year, it’s a good time to reflect on our first Barossa Christmas, which also marked the first Christmas in many years that we weren’t overseas, packing to go overseas, having a baby or working. This meant I had loads of time to really enjoy the lead up rather than getting super stressed. That said, I still scaled back my somewhat ambitious plans. But Christmas was everything it was meant to be – a lovely time to enjoy the company of family and friends.

Christmas baking with kids
Christmas baking with kids
My first attempt at making mince pies (apart from the Careme Pastry) - recipe from Gourmet Traveller December 2014 - Delicious!
My first attempt at making mince pies (apart from the Careme Pastry) – recipe from Gourmet Traveller December 2014 – Delicious!

Time with family and friends was definitely the highlight of our Christmas. We got to catch up with a good friend we hadn’t seen in over 3 years who lives in Hong Kong. He’s one of my oldest friends and probably the first person I ever met from the Barossa. He might have moved away 20 years ago, but still visits alot so we’re looking forward to catching up more often.

We also had a fabulous visit from my best friend and bridesmaid who now lives in the UK with her husband and 2 children. It was fabulous to see the kids all playing together like they had never been apart. Not surprising, a trip to the UK is now high on the boys’ wish lists – also influenced by the realisation that Paddington Station was a REAL train station! (If you haven’t seen it, the new Paddington movie is fabulous).

It was great having Mum here for her second visit and having my sister, brother-in-law and their girls come to the Barossa for the first time. The house was crazy, crowded, messy and so full of laughter! We ate well, drank lots of great wine, delighted in the kids having a “sleepover” every night (complete with a bedtime story from my brother-in-law) and showing them around the Barossa.

Baked french cheese and French wine from a friend of ours making wine in Burgundy - a festive treat
Baked french cheese and French wine from a friend of ours making wine in Burgundy – a festive treat

Christmas Eve was definitely a highlight. Once the kids were finally asleep, the five grown ups were busy little elves. I sewed a Santa sack to replace my niece’s which was missing, there was cooking, wrapping and finally the all important delivery of presents. We watched the carols from Melbourne, laughed, drank and stayed up way to late (especially knowing little people would wake early).

Fabulous ham from Barossa Heritage Pork at the Barossa Farmer's Market
Fabulous ham from Barossa Heritage Pork at the Barossa Farmer’s Market

Christmas Day was fabulous. The early wake-up call was worth it watching the excitement on the faces of 4 children aged 1.5 to 6 as they discovered what was inside their Santa sacks – and opened other presents. My favourite comment had to be from our 4 year old, who exclaimed so sincerely on seeing his Santa sack – “Santa has been so kind”.

Santa has been!
Santa has been!

Christmas lunch was fabulous and relaxed. We’d enjoyed our brilliant ham from Michael at Barossa Heritage Pork on Christmas Eve, so we had a great breakfast. Mid-morning, the first of the bubbles were opened to enjoy with scallops wrapped in Schultz bacon – which was one of my Dad’s only cooking specialties. Lunch was a 7kg turkey, which I cooked. Thanks to a Maggie Beer recipe and the advice of using 2 oven bags, my first turkey cooking experience was stress free and delicious. It went very nicely with bacon wrapped stuffing rolls and duck fat potatoes from Donna Hay, some more veg and of course a sparkling shiraz from Peter Lehmann. Our raspberry, white chocolate and nougat “pudding” was amazing (and easy) and our simplified version of a Black Forrest Cake (a choc brownie with fresh cherries covered in cream and grated chocolate) as requested by the 6 year old birthday boy was a big hit!

My sister and I - dresses from Milk & Thistle
My sister and I – dresses from Milk & Thistle
Simon carving the turkey
Simon carving the turkey
Simon pouring Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz
Simon pouring Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz
Raspberry, nougat and white chocolate ice-cream pudding - recipe from Women's Weekly December 2014
Raspberry, nougat and white chocolate ice-cream pudding – recipe from Women’s Weekly December 2014
Christmas  lunch table ready to go - with place cards made by the boys
Christmas lunch table ready to go – with place cards made by the boys

The rest of the holiday was a lovely mix of showing the family around the Barossa, which included the following highlights:

  • Showing my sister and brother-in-law around the Twilight Farmer’s Market – such a lovely Christmas vibe
  • Lunch at St Hallett – the duck platter is a must when visiting and the magnum of Riesling we took home for dinner that night was pretty good too!
  •  A visit to Seppeltsfield for a tasting (love that the kids get raspberry cordial while the grown-ups taste) and a Barossa Roasters coffee on the lawn

    Beautiful Gnadenfrei Church on the way to Seppeltsfield
    Beautiful Gnadenfrei Church on the way to Seppeltsfield
  • Tennis on the lawns at Jacob’s Creek – visited so we could buy a bottle of Barossa Pearl to remind Mum of the 60s – although turns out she was only allowed to drink the Lindemans version as that’s where her uncle worked
    Jacob's Creek Visitor's Centre
    Jacob’s Creek Visitor’s Centre

    Barossa Pearl - Jacob's Creek re-release a 60s classic!
    Barossa Pearl – Jacob’s Creek re-release a 60s classic!
  • Another visit to Artisans of the Barossa where we enjoyed a bottle of Riesling (Sons of Eden Freya – new favourite) while the kids played cricket and totem tennis on the lawn. This could seriously be my favourite new summer hang-out

    View from the deck at Artisans - great spot for a drink while the kids play on the lawn. Fabulous wines and a great team
    View from the deck at Artisans – great spot for a drink while the kids play on the lawn. Fabulous wines and a great team
  • My first visit to Mengler’s Hill on a blue sky day. That view will always remind me of our early days here in the winter and it is even more stunning on a gorgeous day

    Family at Mengler's Hill
    Family at Mengler’s Hill
  • Visiting Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop and not only seeing lots turtles but the most amazing display by one of the peacocks

    We watched for ages as this peacock (name King Fu peacock by the kids) put on a show for us at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop
    We watched for ages as this peacock (named Kung Fu peacock by the kids) put on a show for us at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop
  • Of course, there was loads of time just relaxing and enjoying each others company, reading, building Lego, playing on the triple water slide and scooting in the backyard. All in all a perfect Barossa Christmas.

What were your Christmas highlights?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Well, December is here, and finally we can start counting down the sleeps until Christmas. The advent calendar is up and the boys are enjoying finding a small gift each morning (apart from this morning when I forgot to fill it – oops). Last weekend we went up to Adelaide and were lucky to get the boys in for a photo with a lovely Santa at David Jones, without even needing to queue. It’s the first time they have had a photo on their own without parents or cousins and it is a really beautiful photo and a lovely momento of our first Christmas back in Australia.

We cheated a little and put our tree up last Wednesday. After years of beautiful real trees from Santa’s Shaped Christmas Trees in Gundaroo just outside Canberra, we thought it might be just easier to stick with a fake tree and went off to find something big enough to hold a huge collection of ornaments. The boys were so excited when we got home, and as it was the one afternoon we were all home together, I relented and broke the rule of only putting the tree up on 1 December.

One of our beautiful real Christmas trees in Canberra
One of our beautiful real Christmas trees in Canberra

While I have always loved decorating the tree, this year I decided to let go and leave it to the boys, only helping out on the higher branches. While I do love looking at the carefully styled and decorated, colour coordinated trees in all of the shops, I can’t help but feel that just buying a big box of matching ornaments in one go is a little devoid of memories and feeling. Like our house, our decorations are a random collection picked up over many years and in many different places. There are also gifts from family, 1st Christmases and friends from far away places. It was great fun telling the boys about where each of the decorations were from and it was pretty amazing to think that over the years we have collected decorations in Denmark, Austria, Russia, Slovakia, China, England, Vietnam and Cambodia. So as crazy and random as it looks, I can’t help but smile when my eye catches one of the special ornaments.

Our first Barossa Christmas tree
Our first Barossa Christmas tree
One of my favourite decorations from Hanoi
One of my favourite decorations from Hanoi

While Simon’s parents came laden with lots of presents when they visited last month, these are still hidden away in our room, and I have yet to start wrapping ours. I am not entirely sure the boys are quite up to resisting the temptation to peek – even if the presents aren’t for them. I’ve also been promising that we’ll decorate paper by bursting balloons full of glitter and decorations (thank you Playschool for putting that idea in their heads) but I need to psych myself up for that much mess.

With our eldest turning 6 on Christmas Day, we first have a big birthday party to get through this weekend, and we decided to invite the whole class as a nice way to end the year. He has been so lucky to settle into school so quickly and to have such a fantastic group of friends. He has also started bringing cards home from school, and is looking forward to writing cards for all of his friends. I am also pretty excited about finally finding a use for the excess cards I have accumulated over the years (especially as we have moved to sending an electronic card).

But once this weekend is over (and the three level superhero themed cake is decorated) it’s time to start the Christmas baking. First up will be the fruitcakes so we can post these off to some of the family. I think I have purchased most of our gifts but there is always that nagging feeling you have forgotten someone.

While there is lots to do, now it is December, I really feel like we can start to celebrate and enjoy the season properly. Tomorrow night will be our first Barossa Christmas parade down the main street of Tanunda, and I will be walking with the boys in a group from school. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Barossa celebrates Christmas and especially looking forward to hearing the local town band and choirs singing Christmas carols.

Christmas Wreath - not bad for a first go to use up some old fabric - and done in a night in front of the TV
Christmas Wreath – not bad for a first go to use up some old fabric – and done in a night in front of the TV

Getting into the Christmas Spirit

More great DIY graphics from Canva
More great DIY graphics from Canva

I’m sure the fact that Christmas is so close is starting to fill some people with dread but I am excited, even though I can feel myself being sucked into the “oh no, I still have so much to do” mindset. But when this starts to happen, I remind myself just why I love Christmas. I’m also going to think about two lovely friends I caught up with last week. Both have had some very difficult things happen for them in the last year but they are both excited about Christmas. They are both focusing on the joy of the season and the excitement of spending time with loved ones. I think this is something we all need to focus on, rather than stressing if we have remembered every present and will have enough food.

I love the preparations, the shopping, the wrapping, decorating the house and cooking. I like planning for Christmas lunch, which is now followed by a family birthday party for our eldest who arrived at 3.47pm on Christmas Day 6 years ago. I’m especially excited this year because we are back in Australia, and able to buy all our ingredients including fabulous local produce. We have already ordered our ham from Michael at Barossa Heritage Pork and I’m now trying to decide which of the glazes featured in this month’s Gourmet Traveller we’ll use.

Ham Glazes, Gourmet Traveller December 2014
Ham Glazes, Gourmet Traveller December 2014

I’m still hoping we’ll be able to continue our tradition of oysters and prawns with bubbles mid-morning, so the big decision is which meat we’ll enjoy alongside the ham. I’m leaning towards a turkey or goose. The options for sides and desserts are endless although we still need to decide if anyone is cooking pudding. I’m hoping to start cooking my cakes in the next week or so (sadly the ants got into one batch) and I’ve decided to have a go a making some fruit mince tarts. I’m not game to attempt a gingerbread house (the last few years the boys have decorated a ready-assembled one from Hanoi Cooking Centre) but I am going to attempt some Christmas trees made out of layers of star biscuits both for the table and as gifts for teachers. And if I don’t succumb to the heat, some traditional Danish biscuits are also planned.

Christmas Gingerbread Houses made by Hanoi Cooking Centre and decorated by our boys, a Hanoi tradition
Christmas Gingerbread Houses made by Hanoi Cooking Centre and decorated by our boys, a Hanoi tradition

Inspired by these gingerbread star Christmas trees we saw at the Adelaide Show
Inspired by these gingerbread star Christmas trees we saw at the Adelaide Show
Fruit mince tart recipe, Gourmet Traveller December 2014
Fruit mince tart recipe, Gourmet Traveller December 2014

This year will be extra special because it will be the first time we have had the family together in our house and it will be our first Christmas with our youngest niece and cousin, who has just hit that age where she’ll be into everything.

Being back in Australia this year, it does feel like the Christmas shopping season starts earlier and earlier, even with Halloween now being a bigger event than before. As excited as I’d like to get by seeing all the decorations, but I can’t help but feel that seeing all that in October and November has people stressed even earlier, and has them spending more and more. I read something from an American writer yesterday who said they like to have everything purchased before Thanksgiving in late November so they can enjoy December as a family without the stress of shopping. While it does makes sense, I have such fond memories of the excitement of finally going out to do Christmas shopping and having Santa photos in mid December once school finished.

When it comes to buying presents, I’m torn between surprising people with something nice and buying something they really want. I’m glad that for the last few years my family has been big on Christmas lists. It’s still a surprise to open gifts on Christmas Day and everyone has something they really want or need, and doesn’t have to feel guilty about immediately logging on to eBay!

Santa still calls at our house and we have been having fun working out what the boys will write on their lists, at the same time reminding them that Santa can’t buy everything. I think the message is getting through! We also had a special shopping trip last weekend, partly to think about their lists, but mainly for each of the boys to choose a present to be put under the giving tree at our local shopping centre. I was inspired by a discussion on philanthropy at a recent conference I attended and we decided that at 4 and almost 6, the boys should start to understand the joy of giving and helping those less fortunate than they are.

My goal for this weekend is to write a list of everything I would like to do for Christmas and then make a plan and work out just when all this cooking, shopping and decorating is going to happen. I’ll share it with you on the blog next week.

What are you most excited about this Christmas? 

And what will be on your table at Christmas Lunch?

8 weeks until Christmas – buying for kids


Only 8 weeks until Christmas and it’s almost November, which makes me feel like planning can really begin in earnest. All my favourite magazines are arriving with great suggestions of things to cook and to make. I’ve also finally sorted the spare room – just in time for the in-laws arrival today but after they leave next weekend, I will have a sewing room and can start on the projects I’ve been waiting to do.

The first of these is a Christmas sack for my niece Saskia. For Angus’ first Christmas (technically his second as he was born at 3.47pm on Christmas Day), I made large calico sacks for him and my niece Zali. There was no real pattern so the size was dictated by the width of the fabric and as luck should have it, I had enough to make 4. I always figured we’d have two kids and same for my sister, so I made 4 sacks at the time. I was glad I’d done this bit of preplanning the following Christmas, as I only had to sew/stick Xavier’s name on – in the midst of packing up our house for 3 years! We weren’t home last Christmas, but my sister figured at 7 months, Saskia wouldn’t know she didn’t have her name on her Santa sack, but this year will be the first time we’ll all be together so getting her name on is my first job – a nice simple one to start.


I also picked up some lovely fabric so the girls will have some dresses as part of their present from us. I have to admit, I like that the girls are still happy to receive clothes, while my boys at 4 and almost 6 have started to turn their noses up. I’m also looking at some Goldie Blox which are very cool toys for girls interested in building and problem solving.

Which brings me to buying for boys. I think my boys have everything they need and the house already feels quite cramped. I’ve always liked the idea of one big present and some smaller ones. I also need to come up with Angus’ 6th birthday present (we celebrate after Christmas lunch), so it becomes quite tricky. And I’m not working this year, so I’m not feeling as extravagant as I might have in the past. After 3 years in Hanoi they are enjoying the toy catalogues that come in the junk mail and I have been using these for inspiration while at the same time hosing down expectations that Santa will bring the $300 water slide and castle.

In addition to trying to make sure they are getting things they both want and need, I’m also trying to make sure the presents are age appropriate. This gets tricky as they want to have what the other one has which isn’t too bad as the age gap is only two years.

I’d also like to see them outdoors more and being a bit more creative, which then means the house is littered in glitter, foam shapes, pens and cardboard creations but is a better option than having them in front of the TV all day.

Thanks to the fact Halloween seems to be getting bigger here every year, I have already picked up a couple of superhero costumes, and was very excited to come across this great present spreadsheet by Nicole Avery over at Planning with Kids so I can remember what I have bought and more importantly, where I have hidden it.

So far my ideas list includes:

  • soccer goals and soccer boots
  • Lego
  • Craft materials
  • New rash vests and board shorts plus some other beach gear
  • A Slip and Slide – which I’m hoping will keep us all cool and amused on Christmas Day
  • Some old Disney movies
  • Some sort of Hot Wheels track that involves some construction
  • Something to do with science experiments
  • Books – and on this I would love suggestions of great options for a 6 year old who loves to read and is reading quite well.

Writing it down it, there is probably almost enough there to write on the list for Santa and for us, plus the birthday present, but as the grandparents will also ask for ideas, I’d love some more suggestions.

What do your kids like? What are the toys that get played with over and over?


Clare Valley Day Trip

We decided to make the most of the beautiful weather on the last day of the last school holidays and head up to the Clare Valley for the day. My husband was also keen to use his day off from pouring wine to do some tasting.

One of the advantages of the Barossa is its proximity to several great day trips being only an hour away to Clare, Adelaide or the Adelaide Hills.

Clare Valley countryside
Clare Valley countryside

Our first stop was O’Leary Walker, which we’d visited on our last trip to Clare back in 2007. Back then they were still doing tastings in the large shed, so we were excited to see the beautiful new cellar door. It was a good start for all when pens and paper were offered to the boys who could sit at a low table close to the tasting bench. They soon decided that running outside under the sprinklers was more fun, but either way they were amused for long enough for us to taste some really great wine. The riesling was as good as I’d remembered as it was interesting to taste new release 2014, 2013 and 2008 wines.

Tasting wine at O'Leary Walker
Tasting wine at O’Leary Walker
View from the cellar door at O'Leary Walker
View from the cellar door at O’Leary Walker

Next stop was Crabtree Wines which is one of the prettiest cellar doors I’ve visited, and had a great set up with individual tasting “stations” atop barrels with the cellar door person moving between groups. A beautiful cellar door dog, a Whippet named Tiger kept the boys happy along with some chocolate from the lady running the tastings. As expected, the riesling was good and we also came home with some nice clean skins.

Cellar door at Crabtree Wines
Cellar door at Crabtree Wines

Lunch was our next stop and we all had great meals at the Seven Hill Hotel. Great service, tasty kids meals, a cellar to view (where you can select wines to open there or take away), wines by the glass and great service made it somewhere we’d happily return to.

After lunch we drove further on to visit Knappstein, a beautiful cellar door and brewery. Apart from the rieslings, the standout for me was the 2008 sparkling shiraz (which kicks off our collection for Christmas lunch). The beer was also really nice – but I think part of that was my excitement of having an ice cold beer fresh from the tap, rather than a bottle or the warm beer I was used to in Hanoi. We also brought some beer home with it and I am happy to report it was just as good from the bottle!

Knappstein cellar door and brewery
Knappstein cellar door and brewery

After a quick detour to a great shaded playground, we visited Mr Mick. I love the story behind this. Veteran Clare Valley winemaker Tim Adams took on the old Leasingham site on the edge of Clare, and renamed it Mr Mick in honour of his mentor Mick Knappstein.  I really enjoyed the Rose and the tapas menu looked great, so I think we’ll be going back there in the future.

Mr Mick Cellar Door and Kitchen
Mr Mick Cellar Door and Kitchen

Finally, on our way home we stopped in to the Clare Valley Brewing Company were we tasted a few beers and the Good Catholic Girl Riesling, which I’d actually had in Wollongong on my 40th. I’m not sure how I feel paying to taste, but the beer was nice, and we brought home a 6 pack of the Red Ale. I also liked the Miss Molly cider which I was surprised to find out was made with grapes. I was curious how it was then cider and not wine but the brewing technique and the alcohol content for the cider is much lower than for wine.

Clare Valley Brewing Company
Clare Valley Brewing Company

All in all it was a nice day out, and while the boys got a bit bored at the end, most places had somewhere they could either sit to draw or play on the ipad or they could run around outside. There is definitely a lot more we would like to explore in the area, including a few cellar doors that are only open at weekends, so I think it will be a regular day trip for us and probably something we’ll do with family and friends come to visit.

Have you been to the Clare Valley? Any tips for our next visit?