Is it weird to be back?

The number one question I’ve been asked in the past two weeks is “So what’s it like to be back in Australia?”. And the best word I can think of to describe it is…. “Weirdses”. That’s Dylan’s word.

When we first came into the house, Finn ran straight to the living room, pressed his face up against the glass to look at the garden and said “Wow. That’s what a lake looks like.” He meant our little spring-fed dam at the bottom of the slope, that after 6 months of living in Singapore suburbia, had metamorphosed into a palatial body of water in his mind.

Dylan ran off to find if there were any of her toys still in the house and she came back clutching her old teddy bear and another little one that someone had left behind. “Look mama!” she said, “my teddy had a baby when we were gone!”.

Yes we kept our farmhouse but it looks different now that it’s been spruced up for rentals to holiday makers and event organisers and it has already had 3 weddings booked and a corporate retreat. Google Cable Car Estate and you’ll find us there.

It’s still lovely and some of the rooms have been decorated with vignettes straight out of Country Life magazine. But sometimes I keep walking into the living room, meaning to play something I’ve just thought of on the grand piano, and then realising there’s just a empty space where it used to stand. It’s a bit like having a phantom limb.


The vineyard looks fantastic, thanks to our trusty vineyard caretaker Paul who is the most reliable person we’ve ever worked with on the Peninsula.

I’d almost forgotten how gorgeous the light is in the afternoons, when it’s filtered through the vines hanging off the eaves and you walk barefoot on the floor over the dancing dappled shadows.


Of course we had to have a party and invited all our friends and neighbours around for the afternoon. Peninsula style. Bring a plate! (This means pot luck, it does not mean we’re out of crockery!) Bring your dogs! Bring your kids! Bring their pajamas! Don’t forget the hummus!

Remember Bruno? Our rescue greyhound whom we gave to our neighbour Jo? He came over to hang out and he was a little stunned to see us again. “Oh, you guys”, he said with his amber eyes and tentative sniffs. Bruno looked so well, it made us all cry a bit. I’d never seen his teeth so clean and he had put on a bit of muscle as well, probably from running around in Jo’s beautiful paddocks and lavender gardens.


The cows in the paddocks were mildly surprised to see us as well. But they went back to munching their cud after a few minutes. Nature’s most definitive law – life goes on.

I spent an hour near the dam, tracing fox tracks, like I was taught by a local hunter. They had entered through the south-east paddock fence where you could see tiny tufts of russet fur caught in the lowest barbed wire strand, and then gone down to the dam to hunt the wild ducklings at the start of summer, but yet this summer we had 6 ducks on the dam who survived. Last year none of the ducklings made it, so the ducks had learned a thing or two in our absence.

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In a sense, we come to the Peninsula to feel small amidst the largeness of nature. When you spend too much time in an urban environment, you start to magnify your problems and your sense of self-importance. The scale of the architecture is human, and wherever you go, things cater to your needs. In Singapore, I can order a masseur to come to my house at midnight, have a roti prata supper afterwards, and then buy groceries at the 24 hour supermarket a 2 minute stroll from my house. We have no frustration tolerance because everything revolves around us.

But in the countryside, nature puts you in your place. You walk in nature and you are an ant amongst the towering gum trees and the craggy mountains. You come back after six months of being away on a farm, and in the bush, the paths you painstakingly carved and slashed have vanished. Nature does not care if you hit the unsubscribe button and fly off to Boca Raton.

But yet your spirit soars. There is a certain bliss in being reminded of your smallness, your mortality. When you know you can’t control everything, you start to let go of the reins that never led to anything much anyway, and your incessantly worrying mind starts to relax and stops drowning out your emotions and the senses of your body.

When you walk, there you are, just walking.

When you eat, there you are, just eating.

So simple, yet so hard.

Is it weird to be back? Yes. Am I happy with the choices I’ve made? Absolutely. To be able to call two extraordinary places home, is a great freedom and a lesson in letting go.

Somehow I have a feeling that the antidote for the Weirdses is a great gift, a state of mind, called “Surrender”.

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New Year Revolutions

It was a still, scorching hot 39 degree New Year’s Eve yesterday. We sat in the blessed dark coolness of Diggers Cafe in Heronswood with our tongues hanging out like puppies, watching the heirloom vegetables outside sizzle in the sun, and made our New Years Resolutions lists.

My favourites from the kids’ lists – from Dylan: “I will take better care of myself” and “I will spend more time outside” , and from Finn, the slightly contradictory “to meditate everyday” and “more multitasking”.

I am a sucker for lists, I probably have 20 To Do list productivity apps on my phone (which I never use, I always end up using Notes for everything). It’s just the idea of ticking things off that appeals to me, because I am so disorganised in some areas of my life and in other areas, I have military grade precision systems in place.

Some of the things on my list for 2016:

– Play more board games with the family

– Spend more time on the farm

– Camping or sailing with the kids (this is part of their usual camping tribe below)



– Make more time for friends. I can be very anti-social when I’m busy because I’m surrounded by a huge team all day at work and people dashing in and out of my office, and then when I get home, the kids take over with their poking, prodding, pestering, pleading. A hot bath with sage bath oil and a cold sheet mask is my prescription for sanity. So I realised I haven’t really been all that great a friend for the past 6 months.

– And getting back to writing again. Last year I was all tapped out after the constant proposal and paper writing at work and writing just felt like more work. My book agent called to tell me that a publisher was interested in my memoir, but I didn’t even have the time to do an edit or look at contract terms.

But over the past weeks I have been getting that itch again. There are stories inside that have been bubbling on the back burner and I need to get them out before they evaporate and turn into a burnt stain of a memory. It could be my blog, it could be another book, but I know I need to write, it’s part of who I am.

So 2016, here’s to you, you beautiful, unknown, feral animal. As we say in our family when we talk about our hopes, may it be so.

Farewell for now

What if you were given just one perfect day to say farewell?


Would the elusive winter sun come out and bless you with its golden treacle rays?



Would loved friends arrive laden with platters of home baked cakes and biscuits, not quite ready to send you off?




Would the laughter and riotous shouting of children hang thick in the air?





Would you make a speech, lump throated, whole hearted, heavy yet light, knowing nothing and everything to say?




Would your friends tell you that your home is the most home like home they have ever known?



Would you then understand the meaning of abundance and what it means to have enough?


At times like this, poetry is my solace. This week I’m taking refuge in this poem.

Late Fragment – by Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Farewell for now, my friends. Until we meet again.

Why I’m moving to Singapore

Don’t be afraid, you were born to do this.”, my husband said to me before I went up on stage.

I was at the National University of Singapore, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, to share my views on holistic education and self-development with an audience of academics and faculty staff.

My presentation was titled “Roots & Wings – A real education for a real world”.

The night before, I had told one of my dear Singapore friends about my presentation and he yelped “Huh? Why are you speaking at the University? You don’t even have a masters degree! And you didn’t study education! What on earth could you teach them?”. It was slightly disheartening. But I realised that this was precisely why I wanted to share my views.

Because I believe that what we need is to shift our focus from academic results, rankings and hard skills, to what are known as soft skills.

I like to think of these so-called soft skills as personal and societal leadership. Roots and Wings stands for the personal and interpersonal skills we need to make us whole. Things like taking responsibility for one’s destiny. Resilience and frustration tolerance. Unlearning old habits and being able to learn new ones. Emotional intelligence. The art of persuasion. Roots let us come home to ourselves and Wings allow us to contribute and connect to our society.

They’re called soft skills but they are what employers are looking for today, and they are what will make the biggest difference to your happiness and fulfilment because they apply to every area of your life from vocation to relationships to parenting.

I think about what Lazlo Bock, head of hiring at Google, said.

“You need a big ego and a small ego in the same person at the same time.”

We need to have an ego big enough to speak up, embrace risk and defend our ideals but also the humility to step back when we’re wrong, learn from mistakes and embrace better ideas.

Another great quote by Nisargadatta Maharaj:

“Wisdom tells me that I am nothing.
Love tells me that I am everything.
And between the two, my life flows.”

And indeed my life flows. I have been offered a role at the National University of Singapore heading up the Centre for Future Ready Graduates, leading a team of counsellors who oversee career guidance and personal growth.

It is an extraordinary privilege to continue the self-development work that we have pioneered in Legacy and bring it to a platform of 20,000 undergraduate students and 2,400 faculty members. Unfortunately this means that I will have to leave Legacy Retreat, but I will be handing over to Mark who will take over Legacy’s corporate training programmes and custom retreats. Mark will be communicating our new direction for Legacy Retreat shortly.

But right now, I will have to say farewell with much sadness and happiness, and leave you with a story.

When Lee Kuan Yew passed away recently, it was harvest day at our vineyard in Australia. We had a bumper crop this year and the whole vineyard was full of beautiful plump ripening Pinot Noir grapes. It was a sad thing to grieve alone. No one in Australia understood how I felt. For most of us Singaporeans, regardless of whether we agreed with the man or not, there had been a death in the family. I snipped the bunches of grapes off the vines, reaped our beautiful, heavy fruit and thought about the abundance that the man had created and wondered about Singapore’s future after he had passed.
Later on that evening, Mark said to me, “I find it strange that LKY’s funeral is at the National University of Singapore, I guess I’m used to seeing funerals in religious buildings.

And I said, “But education was LKY’s religion. And NUS was his cathedral.”

Well today I find myself honoured to be called to be in that cathedral and to do work which I consider sacred.

In the coming months, my team and I will embark on an ambitious journey to reshape our attitudes towards education. I’ve come back home because I believe that our survival is tied to this project. That our visions of innovation, research and learning have to be married with visions of self-awareness, higher consciousness and unlearning. Above all, I have come to invite everyone to walk with me until we find our way back home.

Sending you love & light

What marriage looks like 11 years on

My wedding anniversary is always slightly confusing for me because we had three different weddings. Our marriage was registered on the 18th of January (‘The Regiversary’ as the Irishman terms it), we had a small wedding for 38 people in Bali on the 26th April (The Baliversary) and a big wedding for 350 people at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore on the 30th April (The Rafflesiversary).




When we were young and had more time and money than sense, we used to celebrate all three dates. Mark would get me earrings for the first one, a necklace for the second one and maybe a ring for the third one. Now that we’re ancient, have three kids and live in the countryside, I buy myself a new set of knickers on the Bali anniversary and call it a day. Well to be fair, for our 11th anniversary I did something incredibly romantic. I went down to Bunnings and bought a tube of Shellys Instadry Bathroom Filler and grouted up 3 small holes in our bathtub that Finn had made from playing with rocks (don’t ask) ALL BY MYSELF as a surprise for Mark. My eternally hopeful salesperson George from Bulgari who sends me a anniversary card on razor sharp cream card stock every year would be so appalled.

But this is what romance at 11 years looks like.

Exhibit A – Waking up to a lovely homemade Irish breakfast complete with heart shaped toast and tiny wee rosebud from the garden. By the way, you see the silver mirror behind Mark’s head? there’s a large strip of silver duct tape attaching the mirror plate to its frame after it jiggled loose during the 19th house move we’ve made. According to the Irishman, the duct tape was a temporary solution until he could get the mirror fixed. It’s been there for three years now. Guess what I’m doing for our 12th wedding anniversary??

Exhibit B: Look at this little Sean dancing all night at our wedding. He was 5 years old then. Younger than Dylan is now. And he’s turning 17 this year. WHAAA??

The most overused words in the English language. Time flies. But yet it does. This was our Bali wedding, and that little baby in the sailor hat is now a beautiful athletic young lady whom I see on Facebook setting swim records and going to the prom. And my other bridesmaid Adele has just become a mother to a cute little boy. Everyone there is there same same but different.

I like this photo of me and my bridesmaid Kylie, waiting for the ceremony to start. There’s that sense of innocence and a slight hesitancy about it all. The big adventure I was about to embark on. Kylie still looks EXACTLY the same after 3 kids. It’s infuriating.

Exhibit C – Rose petals. Dylan is obsessed with this photo of people throwing rose petals at us during our wedding. Last year, we celebrated our anniversary at Dylan’s best friend’s house in Singapore, and she and her friend collected frangipani flowers all day to pelt us with during the party.

Yesterday evening, Dylan came up to us and announced that she had spent all morning collecting rose petals from the garden to throw on us for our 11th anniversary. She seems to think this is an integral part of matrimonial celebrations. So we were made to sit on the sofa and treated to a shower of slightly squashed flowers while our friend Anne snapped this photo.

Exhibit D: Marriage for me has been the biggest learning experience and privilege of my life, but it can also be brutal, confronting and exhausting. Every couple has a different marriage dynamic. Mark and I aren’t conventional in the sense that while many couples have opposite personalities, we’re very similar. We are both headstrong and opinionated and where it all came together was, after many years, learning what to fight for. The most important fight is the one for your family and for your marriage.

I just love this note that Dylan wrote. Mark found it in the bathroom floor and she couldn’t remember why she wrote it but Mark tucked it into a photo frame and it makes us smile whenever we walk past the console table in the dining room and read it. It could be our family motto. We are strong! We will never give up! We will fite!

Tales of a Country Tiger

Every time it’s the school holidays I wonder if I’m manic-depressive or if this is just how having 2 young kids and a teenager is supposed to feel.

Every day I wake up and walk into the living room, and all the sensors and lights in my brain start screaming OVERLOAD! SELF-DESTRUCT!

For example, last weekend, Dylan splashed red paint all over the floor of the playroom and by the time we discovered it, there were red footprints everywhere including doggy paw prints in the cream carpet we lugged home all the way from Morocco. So the Irishman yelled at her and gave her a bucket of soapy water to mop the floor with and (crucial point) did NOT supervise the “cleanup operation”. Which meant that when I came running into the playroom to yell at someone for something, I went skidding across the floor and wrenched something in my back, which several hours and a CT scan later turned out to be a bulging L5 disc, resulting in many days of bedrest in a slovenly house.

So I’ve been rather grumpy of late. The kids, sensing that I’ve been out of action, have been even more rambunctious than normal. And god help me if I receive one more piece of “advice” on social media from a person who doesn’t have kids, I may add human flesh to the dinner menu. After all, I am an expert on livestock dispatch and butchery.

My personal favourite is “Oh Finn and Dylan fight so much! Why don’t you tell them not to fight?!”. OMG. My toes curl up like slugs and my ovaries could combust. Seriously. That’s like “Wow, Israelis and Palestinians are so quarrelsome! Why doesn’t someone tell them to stop it?”. Finn and Dylan fight because they’re contesting holy territory of personal space and parental attention. It’s annoying but perfectly normal and in 15 years time they may even grow to like each other, much like myself and my 2 younger brothers.

Or there’s also the “Why did Dylan eat that medicine / sweets / dead fly? Didn’t you TELL her that those things are bad for her?”. OK. Yes I told her. Just about three hundred thousand times, and yes she “knows”. But 2 things:

Firstly, Explicit knowledge is different from Tacit knowledge. You can tell a child that fire will burn them. That is explicit knowledge. But a child does not know what “burn” really means until the child plays with matches and gets burnt. Now that’s tacit knowledge which can’t be taught.

Secondly, even if children know that something is bad for them, it doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyway. People don’t smoke because they think that cigarettes are good for them. People smoke because they know that smoking is bad but they’ve made a decision to choose the pleasure that they get from the smoking over the potential hazards. Kids make bad decisions all the time. That’s why my household is not a democracy. If my kids were allowed to choose they’d be having McDonalds for breakfast lunch and dinner every day. Just. No.

Anyway, yesterday when I walked into the living room, I saw the usual scene of destruction and I could have exploded but I did something different. I called the children into the room and got them to sit down. And then I asked them a question.

Me: “How smart do you think you are?”

Finn: “Quite smart. No. Very smart.”

Dylan: “A bit smart?”

Me: “There are three types of people in the world. Smart, Normal and Stupid people.
A Stupid person is the type of person, when you tell them there’s a problem, they’ll ask you what to do about it, and when you give them the solution, they may even tell you that they can’t do it.
A Normal person is the type of person, when you tell them there’s a problem, they’ll think of a solution and try to fix it.
A Smart person is the type of person who you don’t even have the chance to tell about the problem because they’ll walk into the room and use their brain to see all the problems there are or could be and will go to work fixing those problems before needing to be told.”

Finn: “So a smart person is like a mind reader?”

Me: “Exactly.”

Dylan: “Is that why you got mad at Sean the other day when he said he couldn’t clear the table?”

Me: “Yes. Because he was being Stupid. I was cooking dinner, and I needed the table cleared but when I asked Sean to do it, he said he couldn’t. When I asked him why, he said it’s because Dad organised all the medicine cabinet supplies on it and they couldn’t be moved. That was stupid because the problem was that we needed somewhere to eat dinner. If he was being Normal, he would have thought Oh, maybe I could move all the bottles and boxes closer together and make some space. Or maybe we can set the kitchen island for us to eat dinner at. Or maybe I could move the boxes in the order that they are in, onto the floor. But he just told me no. I can’t do it. Now a really really smart person would know that I’m about to finish cooking dinner and clear the table already without needing to be told.

Now this doesn’t mean Sean is stupid, any one can be Stupid, Normal or Smart in a situation. You have the power to choose.”

(Short pause while Dylan and Finn absorb this information.)

Dylan: “I’m smart because I can see 4 problems in this room that I need to solve!” (Darts off and starts packing her toys away and cleaning up.)

Finn: “I’m smarter because I can see 6 problems in this room that i’m going to solve also!” (Runs over to the playroom and starts packing up Pokemon cards)

The Irishman, who has been eavesdropping in the corner, looks up from his laptop and says “Well I think we all know who the smart one is around here.”

I give it about 3 days…

Art and Wine

Did you know that I’m married to a sculptor? Well neither did I!

This week I honour two of the Irishman’s recent achievements. The first being this wonderful rustic sculpture that he made out of old recycled wooden posts, named “Renewal”. It was originally supposed to be a Christmas gift for me, but as Sean was injured just before Christmas, things got delayed and the sculpture was finally finished a few weeks ago.

I love its radiating sinuous lines and how it changes form depending on where you stand. When you walk up from the courtyard garden and first see the sculpture, Mark aligned it to the axis of the courtyard steps so that it looks (to me) like a peacock spreading its tail, as in the photo below.

But from the side, it looks like waves or a helix.

Echoing the way the branches of the trees bend in the breeze.

Remind me to buy longer shirts for Mark. Somehow everything gets shrunken in the wash in this household and our shirts start creeping up until we all resemble a 90s Britney Spears tribute band.


Another view of the sculpture. Isn’t it a beauty! I’m so impressed by Mark’s first effort. Even my mum thinks that it’s like one of her favourite sculptures, the metal fan one at the fountain outside The Regent Hotel in Singapore.

And Mark’s second achievement this month – our bumper crop 2015 Pinot Noir harvest! We have 520 kg of grapes, which will translate to about a barrel and a half or 45 cases. The readings are good with the sugar levels at 22.7% and Ph 3.20. This is our sixth harvest, and it feels surreal that we’ve been doing this for that long.

This year we had very very minimal bird damage and the bunches were so luscious and pretty. As soon as you walk into a vineyard, it transports you to a simpler time. You can feel your blood pressure dropping right down as you walk along the rows, snipping with your secateurs and dropping the fat little bunches into the buckets. They make such a satisfying sound. There’s no form of gardening more civilised and pleasant than pruning grape vines or harvesting grapes. It also makes for a great amiable conversation as you amble along, talking to whoever is on the other side of your row.

Our picking crew this year was Tony and Kate Sutherland-Paul, Jenny Jones, the two of us and of course Paul Wallace our brilliant vineyard caretaker.

That’s Kate telling me to bugger off and stop taking photos of her.

Happy Mark, surveying the grapes.

We had nearly 50 buckets with about 12 kilos of grapes each. What a haul for our tiny little vineyard.

Thank you everyone who came to help! It’s been a bountiful harvest and we are blessed.