Sunday, 31 December 2017

A 2017 Review

***note - edited 1/02/18
It is once again the end of the year and my birthday (sigh, 39). I am slightly baffled as to how and why this year in particular went so fast, it literally feels like 10 minutes since the end of 2016. My blog has gone virtually untouched this year and I am determined that 2018 will not go the same way. This has been a bit of an intense year and so busy that I have not had chance to keep up. Must try harder next year as from where I am sitting right now, it does not look like it will be any less busy....

So what happened? Well, mainly, work did. By mid January it was clear that we had, {redacted} a huge, rapid incline ahead of us. I struggled with this on many levels and it is only in the last month or so - when we hit the finish line - that I was able to process and let go of the stress {redacted}.

Basically, my work-life balance was sacrificed this year - but that was not the hard part, the stress and anxiety that delivering this beast caused were awful. Asking my colleagues to commit every ounce of their strength and sanity to obtaining this goal, when we did not have clear sight of, or information on, what the product was, took a huge amount of trust and loyalty - and it is in those elements that I found solace and positive vibes that got me, personally through it.

I think I should park it on the whole 'M Word' for now. I could literally fill a whole book with what this project taught me and taught us as a team. But I do not want to give it the air time. It is done. Let's move on.

On a personal level, there were some achievements and opportunities that were amazing and which almost compensated for the business of most of my working days between February and December. In addition, two of my amazing ex-colleagues (from UniSA and e3) joined us in April and made everything feel like at least we could have fun. I will always be very thankful to both Alex and Dee for taking a punt on our project (and trusting me) and for the fact that they both brought exceptional talent and incredible teamwork skills to us when we needed them most.  

One of the things I am proudest of this year (and in fact in my career to date) is that I got the incredible opportunity to attend Microsoft HQ in Seattle in late February and presented to them and a number of MOOC makers from other institutes (including Harvard, Berkeley, MIT and TU Delft) about what we do and how we do it at Adelaide. I was more nervous ahead of this presentation than I have ever been before - but I did it. It also made me realise after a year in the job at Uni Adelaide that I DO, in fact, know what I am talking about in this field. It was that moment of clarity and reassurance that I needed. I really do intend to stifle the self doubt in 2018 (new year resolution #1) I love working in HE and I started to feel like I had found my people at this point in the year.

Following on from this, I also had a week in September which I think will stick with me for a long time - on the Monday I got the chance to stand in for my manager at lunch with the VC. In the strange world of HE, this is kind of a big deal - and I felt very honoured, as part of a group of 10 colleagues who had contributed to Innovation within the Uni to sit down to a formal lunch in his (massive) office. I even got to chat with the man himself while we ate and he seemed like a genuinely down to earth and approachable man. One downside was that the lunch was a large, fancy piece of sea bass - and anyone that knows me knows I really do not like fish. Somehow I managed to eat the it (swallowing every bite was difficult) whilst smiling and making polite chat. I am SO EFFING BRITISH.

This same week continued in a crazy vane, with Wednesday being the day that all of the colleagues from the Microsoft event (now officially a 'Consortium') arriving at Adelaide for round 2 of our assessment symposium. At some point in Seattle (over dinner, with plentiful wine) my colleague Nick and I had flamboyantly volunteered to host the next leg following an agreement that this should be a 6 monthly event. I don't think we really thought everyone would be willing to fly to Adelaide (though the invite was very much genuine). We were absolutely thrilled when the decision was made.....and then I had to organise the biggest and most esteemed event I had ever even thought about, alongside the crazy MicroMasters delivery which was in full flow at this point.

I have to say, I have a whole new respect for event planners following this experience - but the 3 days went incredibly well and Nick proved an excellent co-pilot while everyone was in town. I was so shattered at the end of that week that I basically slept for 24 hours, straight through Saturday. Interestingly, I presented at the event too - but second time round, I was too preoccupied with the logistics to be nervous and now presenting to this fab group feels like a pleasure and nothing to be nervous about. For me, that personal growth is a real achievement.

The relationships that are developing out of this Symposium have been so amazing and valuable and are now spawning lots of very cool collaborative projects and conversations, the world feels like a very small place these days. Oh, and in the middle of the Adelaide event I was awarded higher duties and a new job title of Partnership and Portfolio Delivery Manager - which I was very pleased with. I have wanted 'partnership' or relationship manager officially in my role for some time as it is the area of my work that I enjoy the most, and thanks to some considerable effort and positioning by my manager it came to be. 

I have been working on another project which took me to Hong Kong for a few days in November and then I got to go to Whistler in early December for the annual EdX Global Forum which was incredible - both for the networking opportunity and the absolutely stunning and very festive scenery. The travel is still feeling like a perk at this point - and it looks like next year will be more of the same. I feel excited by that and already have a trip to California (round 3 of the Symposium) planned for March.

Hong Kong in November

2018 has some amazing personal things going on too. Stu and I plan to apply for our Australian citizenship at some point in the new year and June 28th will be our 15 year wedding anniversary. We also both turn 40 next year so there will be some celebrations planned for that too. As far as other resolutions go, I have been toying with cutting out all meat except chicken/turkey and might well start by reducing everything else. I want to learn to cook tofu properly (so it does not taste like a soggy sponge) and I intend to improve my cake decorating skills.

And Fin. Always Fin. Through 2017 he has grown into a wonderful dog - no longer a puppy - and I am very proud of him. That we can now walk the whole length of the beach with him off the lead and know that he will stay with us and (mostly) behave has been a major achievement, he has also learned to chill out and behave in cafes and cellar doors - which for us means we can take him with us on our social events quite often, Adelaide is a pretty dog friendly place which suits us well. We already have some trips planned for 2018 which we will be doing with Fin too - he is family after all.

Fin looking majestic earlier this year

Stu surprised me mid-year 2017 with a difficult to beat anniversary present which was the trip to Laos we have just returned from. How lucky am I? And so, after we got the crazy MicroMasters across the December 1st finish line I knew I had a break coming. It was just what we needed, some QT together after a year of both being flat out and heaps of seperate travel. It also needs saying that Stu has been the most awesome support while my work life has been insane this year - he has made it easy for me to do all the travel, looked after Fin alone for big chunks and still makes me laugh in the downtime we do get together. For that alone, I know I am incredibly lucky.  

Me in Laos last week

And so, onwards to 2018. Starting tonight, when our Glenelg gang of mates will help celebrate my birthday and see in the new year. It is a bit odd that for the first year of my entire life I have not seen my family in person over the Christmas break, but given we have lived in Australia for nearly 5 years now, it is actually pretty good going. I have missed them all of course, but social media and photos and skype have made it easier. 

Enjoy your new year wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I shall raise a glass to everything 2017 was at midnight and for once be very excited about the year to come. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Travel Diaries #1 - Vancouver Alone

This is part one of some travel diaries I wrote while in Canada and USA recently and didn't publish at the time...

Today has been one of those days where a poignant combination of jetlag, gratitude and awareness of privilege have rendered me particularly introspective and reflective. 

Firstly, my Sunday has been 35 hours long so far and is starting to feel a tad Groundhog Day-ish. I mean Sunday is a weird old day to start with, even when it is in its usual 24 hour format. I usually treat it with a mixture of derision and passive aggression. A need to "DO SOMETHING" with the day so that I can claim to have had a weekend, tempered with an inherent desire to DO NOTHING and stick the middle finger up to the world. 

Today, I got up at 5am Adelaide time, my amazing husband drove me to the airport, I flew to Brisbane on a Qantas flight which managed to irritate me by not providing a toastie for breakfast (I know, #firstworldproblems and all that but it is mindfuckery when the last 6 Qantas morning flights I have been on all had a toastie and this morning, the offering was FUCKING CORNFLAKES). 

A very disappointing breakfast.

I transferred to the International terminal at Brisbane and boarded a 13 hour flight to Vancouver, which was absolutely chock full and where I had the delightful experience of sitting in an aisle seat with a 6'5" dude in the middle seat who could not help but man-spread into my seat because he was far too tall and wide to stay within the acceptable boundaries of his own. Helpfully he fell asleep within 20 minutes of take off and therefore relaxed further into my space thus rendering any hope of snoozing myself completely untenable. 

I therefore did the only rational thing I could in the circumstances. I selected a wine from the trolley and started watching films. I watched (Oscar nominee) Manchester-By-The-Sea, Bridget Jones' Baby and Deepwater Horizon back to back. All three had me in tears at some point. Also, I can confirm for you right now that the best bit of Bridget Jones' Baby occurs during the opening titles when she mimes to House of Pain 'Jump Around' whilst pissed and in pyjamas and spilling wine everywhere. I experienced a strange sense of attachment to this scene. I also unconsciously found myself miming along with impressive accuracy and I am sure my nearest fellow passengers enjoyed this display of hip hop skillz before I realised and came to an abrupt halt.

Anyway, 13 hours later I was in Canada (ACTUAL CANADIA!) and ready to mingle with Mr Trudeau and his band of singing Mounties. Sadly, they were not in arrivals to meet me and I had to wrangle my suitcase on my own and other annoying shiz because of an annoying lack of amazeballs husband. Between getting off the plane and exiting the airport I checked that I had my passport at least 15 times. Such has it been drilled in to me not to lose the damn thing. 

Bizarrely, when we landed it was 7am. On the same day I had left Australia. I had actually done a Marty McFly and gone back in time. My brain could not deal. This also meant that I was VERY early for check in at my hotel. As my room was still a few hours off being ready I headed over the road to a Tim Horton's (Canadian coffee chain) and got a latte and free wifi #winning 

Vancouver city view

Thank goodness for my kindle, I managed to while away 3 hours before heading back over to see if a room was ready. The team at my hotel had awesomely found me a room on the back of the building and let me have it super early. I was relieved that it overlooks the back because the road out front is very busy, this room is relatively quiet. I fell into bed and slept for 3 hours but managed to then drag myself out to explore.

Wow. The air here is so crisp and cold and clean. Every lungful feels like it is almost burning with purity and it makes me nostalgic for the European winters I grew up with and chilly blue see-your-own-breath days. Vancouver is a pretty stunning city with proper snow capped mountains ringing the city centre. I walked along the edge of the water to a Craft beer place I had read about and just enjoyed the Sunday afternoon pace of the city, people out with their dogs and kids, all wrapped up in many layers. 

Cool beer house in Olympic Village, Vancouver

Beer offerings - so much choice!

There is something quite liberating and empowering about being alone in an unknown city and I am so lucky to get the chance to do this for work. Sure, I miss Stu and would love him to be here and sharing this with me, but being here alone will not stop me getting out and seeing things. 

Years ago I might have felt a bit intimidated by walking into a heaving, vibrant bar on my own and sitting on my own, amusing myself. These days, it actually feels like a rare privilege and opportunity to legitimately people watch and the fact that I am alone bothers me not one jot. I think one of the best things about getting older is feeling far more confident in ones own skin and giving far fewer fucks what anyone thinks. 

Anyway, I passed a wonderful few hours and chatted on and off to a barman and sampled a few ales. All very civilised. Then I wandered back to my hotel and collapsed into the kind of sleep that can only happen when you have been travelling; un-moving, deep and restorative - ready for the crazy schedule I would be on for the next few days.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Happy New Year?

Happy new year one and all.

Wasn’t 2016 just a joy? Actually, I can logically and rationally see that many positive things happened in 2016, including, for me personally, the below:

The birth of my niece Lydia in January.

A new job with University of Adelaide which finally found me happy and sufficiently challenged in my work life in Australia.

An awesome visit by my aunt and uncle in May with much reminiscing and happy time together.

A new car which has finally given us security and freedom to explore the state further.

An AMAZING trip to Africa and Mauritius in August/Sept which took in some incredible safari experiences and concluded with the wedding of my little brother. We met an incredible bunch of people on our G adventures tour and I know that many of them will be friends for life.

This beautiful bunch of awesome people was a highlight. Africa 2016.

Some great QT with my mom in October/Nov when she stayed with us whilst doing a course.

An exciting visit to the NT with my folks and Stu for Christmas which included memories I will treasure for years.

About to fly over Kakadu - utterly wonderful!

So, there you go, on balance some good things really did happen. Sadly, we also had our fair share of sadness and heartache and it felt like the world had lost its collective shit with some of the unbelievable political decisions and global acts of terrorism which also occurred.

I have stalled in blogging about the Africa trip due to us having an unexpected and completely shocking family bereavement which, to be honest, we are still kind of reeling from and which has prevented me from being able to concentrate on much else.

You see, my lovely father-in-law passed away suddenly in early November and it has rocked our world on its axis in a way I never could have predicted. I guess I should be thankful to have got to the age of 37 before experiencing a bereavement like this. Supporting a spouse through the loss of a parent is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is not something there is any guide book for and the hardest part is not being able to heal their pain in any visible or rapid way. Add to this my closeness to my brother and mother in-law, both fully in the grips of overwhelming loss and shock and pain, and who I also cannot help in any real, tangible way. The helplessness is crippling.

I miss my father in law greatly and am grieving myself too, though I can appreciate I am one level removed from the intensity of the grief for Stu and his mum and brother. I have been part of this family for 18 years this year and he has always been this incredibly kind and warm personality in my life, so welcoming of a “daughter” into his family. He has left a huge hole in our collective lives and I am still finding myself regularly shocked to remember he will not be with us for various family plans and special days. New Year was incredibly hard. I do not feel ready to draw any kind of metaphorical line under last year because that feels like we are drawing a line under him and it feels so wrong. I know it needs time but it breaks my heart on a regular basis and I guess will continue to do so for many months yet. 

I will pick the Africa blog posts back up soon, I just need to get back in the mental head space to be able to do it justice.

Other things on the horizon for 2017 are helping me to think positively but I am considering some CBT for a few things (including the grief) which I can’t seem to process at the moment.

Anyway, Stu has booked a weekend in Moonta for my birthday which includes the beloved pooch and so for now I am just aiming for that, mid-February. I refuse to feel in any way defeated by 2016 because it was just an extreme year and one which included many things I never thought I would have to see or deal with at the age of 37. It taught me a lot. 

The sun is out here in Adelaide, our dog is a constant source of joy and the best therapy is walking him on the beach with the sand between my toes. A book I received for my birthday is called "May you live a life you love" and I intend to do just that this year, more of the good stuff and less of the crappy stuff I feel obliged to do. That, I think, is the extent of my "resolutions" for 2017.