A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Me

If you’ve read my previous post about what Greg does, you have seen how a winery operates from the vineyard and winery perspective. My job is quite different than Greg’s.

I work at Church Road Winery as a Visitor Experience and Cellar Door Host. What that means is that I am responsible for many aspects of what makes a visit to our winery a great experience for the customers. I’ve included some examples below:

⁃ doing tastings at the bar for walk in customers or pre-booked groups

– tour operator group tastings at the bar, or seated at tables for small or large groups

⁃ running the till for people to pay for their meals, tastings, wine, or merchandise

⁃ answering the phone

⁃ educating customers about the wine and helping them in the shop

⁃ serving wine and drinks to tables at the restaurant or those enjoying the lawn area. We have a restaurant in the Cellar Door, and although we don’t run the food part, all of the drink orders for all beverages (even Soda, etc.) come through us. We are also responsible to clear, wash and polish all of the glasswear.

⁃ VIP drink service and general assistance at concerts

⁃ tours of the winery and through the museum, which include educating the guests on the history of the company, the wine making process, and our specific procedures

(I don’t usually wear heels to work! This photo was during a private tour for Greg.)

⁃ stocking the shelves in the shop with wine and merchandise

⁃ stocking the bar with wine, drinks, and clean glasswear

⁃ working in the new Container Bar. We just opened our new bar down in our park area. It used to be a shipping container and is now a really nice outdoor bar where we can serve drinks to outdoor customers wanting wine and snacks on the beanbag chairs or blankets in the park. We can also use it for concert service and as an additional tasting area on really busy days.

⁃ So much more!

Church Road is only closed 4 days of the year, and we are the most visited winery in Hawke’s Bay. The team won “Cellar Door of the Year” last year, meaning they were named the best Cellar Door experience in the whole region; this shows and means that the Church Road team takes the visitors’ experience very seriously and places it in high regard. There are about 16 of us that do what I do. We have a wide range of ages represented on the team as well, which is so nice!

We are very busy most of the time! We are open from 10:30am to 4:30pm for tastings, but we have a beautiful venue that is often rented out for weddings and other functions after hours. We are also hosting several Sunday Jazz festivals in our park, as well as 5 big name concerts this summer, like UB40, Fatboy Slim, Toto, Sticky Fingers and Angus & Julia Stone. This all means that my hours can jump around quite a bit, and my weekly schedule is never the same.

We also have a gorgeous setting!

The stage for our concerts is in the beginning stages of set up on the left side of the photo.
The projection and chairs were set up here for a staff meeting; it’s a beautiful place to have a meeting.
The tasting area is pictured on the left, with the indoor part of the restaurant on the right.

One of my favourite parts of my job is leading the tours. We offer 2 tours per day; the Behind the Scenes Tour is at 11:00am and requires booking ahead. This one features an hour and a half experience of a full winery tour, on which the guests get to taste wine right out of our Oak Cuves and Stainless tanks, visit our wine museum, (which is the only one in New Zealand), and have a seated tasting that is paired with food. The second is at 2:00pm and is a Winery and Museum tour, that features a more basic walk through the winery and museum, and a tasting at a private bar afterwards. I have recently begun doing these tours on my own, and have done a good number now, with various sizes of groups up to 15 people. As a teacher, getting to teach people who actually want to be there and who have lots of questions, is so refreshing. Teaching the visitors, and talking about wine with them is really enjoyable, and there’s no homework to mark afterwards either.

In addition, when cruise ships are in, sometimes extra tours will be booked that start at 9:30am or 10:00am, and we will open early for those groups. We’re expecting 72 cruise ships in Napier this summer, and several of them will bring in large groups to Church Road. I just co-lead my first 40 person tour last week; the group was engaged and asked a lot of questions, and it was so much fun to do the tour with my colleague.

It is typical for me to start at either 10:00am or 11:00am, and on my schedule it says I work until “F,” which means when we’re finished! Sometimes, if it’s been a slow or rainy day, and we can get all of our glassware washed, restocking the wine done and all the other cleaning and organizing finished sooner, we will be done work by 4:30pm or 5:00pm. Other days, when the weather is nice, and people are hanging around finishing wine outside, or if we’ve been busy and have lots of glasses piled up, we don’t finish until 5:30pm or 6:00pm. There have been a few days when I’ve been helping unload palates of wine into the store room, after our stock has been replenished, or cleaning up until after 6:00pm.

We don’t get scheduled lunch breaks, because we are usually the busiest over lunch. We take turns popping into the back for 15 minutes or so to eat, and then we come back out so the next person can go. We have the freedom to use the washroom or go grab a snack or drink when we have a moment. Sometimes one of my colleagues will make tea in the afternoon, or someone will bring baking, and we’ll stand at one of the bars and have a cup (if we’re not slammed)! The plus side to a schedule like that is that I’m paid for the whole time, even while I’m eating lunch, or while we’re having tea, so more work means more money.

I also love my colleagues, and spending time with them at work is fun! Lots of times when I go to work, it feels like I’m on my way to go spend the day with friends. We truly have an amazing team of people (and if you can’t tell by these photos, we have a lot of fun)!

Another part of the job that I love is doing tastings. I get to meet so many amazing people from all over the world when I’m behind the bar. Most of the people that come to the counter are traveling, and as they are generally on holiday, and they’re out wine tasting, they’re usually in a great mood (99% of the time). I enjoy asking them questions about where they’re from, hearing their stories, and getting to talk about wine with them.

Every day of work is so different, and there’s so many things I might do. It really depends on the time of year, the weather, if there’s a cruise ship in, if the tours are booked or not, if the restaurant is fully booked and lots of drink orders are coming through, if there’s a function or concert that day, etc.

Another great perk of my job is that we get to have a bit of wine at the end of each work day! I love this part for a few reasons. Drinking great wine is obviously a huge plus. Apart from the obvious, getting to taste the wine helps us keep our palates tuned into the wines we’re talking about to people every day. We have 25 wines at Church Road, so it’s helpful to keep trying different wines again, to keep them fresh in our minds. Even more enjoyable to me though, are the friendships being built during this time. I love that we all sit down for half an hour or so after work and unwind together, and talk about our personal lives as friends. It really encourages a positive work environment and building relationships with our colleagues. Sometimes the Winemaker will join us as well, or our bosses will, and we get to see them in a different light. It’s a really special time of day for me, and I make sure not to rush off unless I absolutely have to be somewhere.

Another question Greg and I are often asked is how much we actually drink the wine from our places of work.

I personally really love Church Road wine; several of them have won many awards and they’re of high quality, so it’s not at all difficult to want to drink them! Our Winemaker was named the best in the country in 2013 and 2016, and he definitely knows what he’s doing. Church Road is a highly recognized and reputable brand throughout New Zealand. It’s too bad we can’t ship to Canada, or I’d be sending it back in hordes already! There are extra perks sometimes too… for example, our Chief Winemaker, Chris Scott, had an interview with a wine writer a few weeks ago, and he opened a bunch of really high quality, aged wine. Not only did us Church Road staff get to try it after work, but as they would just go to waste otherwise, we got to take the bottles home the next night. Greg and I had the remainders of a 2006 Grand Reserve Chardonnay and a 2002 Tom Merlot Cabernet with our dinner.

Surprisingly, I even enjoy some of the tasks I thought I wouldn’t, like polishing glassware. The ladies told me I would find it a nice, zen-like break from doing tastings on busy days, and it really actually is! It’s a great place to either rest our voices, or have a chat while polishing together (like our version of the water cooler)!

Most surprising to me, is that I also love taking the cardboard out. It is so strange to me that I love that job, but whenever there’s cardboard, I’m all, “I’ll take it!” That sounds ridiculous, but allow me to explain. I have moments every time I go do it, when I put that “high-vis” jacket on and get to stroll through the working winery to the cardboard bin. (Side note, I ran into UB40 while taking the cardboard out last week, so that was pretty amazing too.) Besides the off chance celebrity run in, I think I love it because it’s a particular moment in the day when I take a walk outside, and stop to realize that I actually work in a winery. Me. I do! I’ve dreamt of it for years, and now I do. Taking the cardboard out sounds like such a menial task to enjoy, but it reminds me of what I’m actually doing with my life right now. I can hardly wait to take the cardboard out during vintage when I’ll get to see all the grapes coming in and being processed!

Thanks for reading, blog family; that’s such a small glimpse into what I do, but it gives you the general idea for now. I’ll be sure to post updates on my job as it changes, and once vintage starts.

…And if you ever get a chance, have a glass of Church Road wine, and think of me. 🍷❤️

A Weekend in Wellington

We’ve had a very busy January at work (and by “we” I mean “me,” as Greg’s been enjoying all of the public holidays). I’m used to having two weeks off over Christmas and New Years, and then spending the next few weeks of work struggling to get out of bed and motivate myself to get back into the routine, after having to dig my car of out of the snow in the dark, minus 40 weather. This year, of course, with an industry and country change, brought a big life change, and a significant change to my January! I’ve not had more than two days off in a row in a long while, (maybe at all since I started my job), but with that, comes no dread of returning to work, and no broken routine. It’s a good thing I love what I’m doing! January is one of the busiest months in the Cellar Door, and we’ve been working hard, for long hours, in the heat! We’ve had many days in a row of higher than 30 degree weather, and heaps of sunshine. I’ve been spending my mornings going for jogs along the ocean instead of digging my car out of the snow, and getting sun burnt instead of frost bitten!

With all of that work, I’ve been very tired, but when Greg and I realized I had a weekend off, we decided we needed to take advantage of it and go see some more of this beautiful country we’re calling “home.” As we did a “rustic” trip last time (slept in the car, next to a stream on a mountain and hiked 20kms), we decided to do a city trip this time. We chose Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, a four hour drive for us; on route, there is the Wairarapa wine region, with Martinborough in it, famous for its Pinot Noir, something Hawke’s Bay is too warm to do much of.

We left early Saturday morning and headed through many cute little towns on the way to Martinborough. We wanted to fit in a few wineries before our 1:00pm appointment at Ata Rangi.

We visited Poppies, Vynfields, and Schubert during the lunch hour. They were all very small production, beautiful places, and featured the Pinot Noir we were after.

We ran into a family at Poppies that lives in Wellington, that I had done a tasting with at Church Road recently; we all recognized each other, and stopped to chat! They told Greg how great of a time they had with me, and that they could tell how passionate I am about wine and the process of making it. That’s definitely true, and I’m glad it comes through to people who visit me in the Cellar Door!

We had a beautiful, seated tasting, with only 10 people at Ata Rangi, and got to hear a bit of their history, as well as the history of Martinborough.

After Martinborough, we headed into Welly! The first stop was the mall, where I bought some necessities that are harder to find in Hawke’s Bay, and looked for some clothes. Greg and I are noticing that the styles here are very different than in Europe or North America. I didn’t find much, but got a few things. We checked into our Airbnb in Island Bay, and then headed into downtown.

We had a walk around the waterfront, checked out Cuba Street and the candy store, Nicnacs, before having a pint at Hashigo Zake, a craft beer bar.

We had dinner at Chow, an Asian inspired place, that surprisingly was able to accommodate me very well. We loved their food, and atmosphere.

We finished the evening at Noble Rot, a famous wine bar in Wellington, where we got a Napa Chardonnay, just to remember what they taste like, and did a blind flight of three reds from around the world. We did decently well on our guesses, and enjoyed having some red wine from the old world again.

Sunday morning, we slept in a tiny bit, but had too much on the agenda to laze around! We started with a trip to the top of Mount Victoria for 360 degree views of the city. It was beautiful up there, and definitely worth a see!

We checked out the Te Papa Museum, where we learned about some of New Zealand’s history in the First World War, and saw their amazing, more than double life size models of soldiers; they have been crafted in incredible detail!

Next, we headed to the waterfront to walk more of it, and grabbed a coffee. This was a relaxing part of the day, and was a peaceful stroll.

The wind was intense! I had been warned of the Wellington wind, but didn’t quite comprehend how fast it actually is! I literally had to hold my sunglasses on my head because they were blowing off. The wind actually pushed us along if it was behind, and we had to lean into it if it was in front. I had to tuck my shirt into the front of my pants to prevent it from whipping up!

We eventually found the cute huts at Oriental Bay, and then headed to do some breweries for Greg!

Wellington has a really big craft beer scene. We went to Husk first, that features Choice Bros brewing, and great food, and then to Whistling Sisters. Greg found most of the beer very good; his favourites still lie in other parts of the world, but he really liked lots of the Welly ones.

We did some wine shopping at Moore Wilson’s and Glengarry, and were excited to find some wine from other parts of the world. We’ve got a craving for a good Napa or Sonoma red, but we haven’t found that yet. (Do we want it just because we can’t find it?)

The last stop was at Starbucks, for the New Zealand souvenir mug, and an Americano. To be honest, I’m starting to get used to New Zealand’s amazing coffee, and how rich and velvety it is, with a nice foam to it, that I found the Americano a bit lacking; however, it was a weird sized cup and had too much water for the amount of espresso, and it also didn’t have the same flavour as in Canada. I don’t blame anyone, but they’re competing with so many other amazing coffee shops; if Starbucks wants to become more popular here, they need to up their game. (Disclaimer: I will always love Starbucks.) We can’t use our app or gold cards here, and they don’t have the oatmeal, but I did get my Americano free with my mug. The mug was $30 here (yikes) but Switzerland still takes the prize for “most expensive we’ve seen” at somewhere around $32 – $34 Canadian. The Starbucks people probably think I died, seeing as how my gold card, that used to get several purchases a week, went from full on, to absolutely nothing the day I left Canada. If anyone from Starbucks is reading this, I am alive, and I still love you.

We enjoyed the ride home, as it is a really beautiful drive through mountains, with lush greenery, and several cute towns, one of which won New Zealand’s most scenic town recently.

I said to Greg before the trip that I wanted to have a relaxing weekend in Wellington, as I have been so tired from work and not sleeping well due to our almost 30 degree nights (poor me, right?). If you know me though, I always try and fit as much in as possible on a trip, because I like to take advantage of being in the place. I have to go back more than once to be able to fully relax in any place! This weekend, no matter how much I thought we’d relax, was not relaxing, but it was full of sight seeing, and we felt like we were on holiday! I said to Greg at one point, “doesn’t it feel like we just flew here and we have to fly back to Canada soon? But we don’t. We will just drive back home and go to work tomorrow.”

I’ve also noticed there’s nothing that makes me feel more at home in Napier than leaving it, and then getting that comfortable feeling of coming home when we return to Hawke’s Bay. We’ve definitely ended up living in the right place for us, and it’s feeling more like home every day.

Our weekend in Wellington was short and sweet, and we’re happy to have seen the city; we’re also happy to be home… until the next time!

A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Greg

You all know we’re “working in the wine industry,” but we’ve been getting lots of questions about what we actually DO all day, our hours, colleagues, wineries, etc., so if you’re interested in the specifics, read on, and I’ll walk you through what Greg might do during a typical day or week. (I’ll post a separate blog for my typical week as they’re quite different!)

Greg works at Linden Estate Winery as a Vineyard Hand and Cellar Hand. For right now, he’s working Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 4:30. (This will change during harvest time.) The guys take coffee breaks, which they call “smoko,” in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon. Linden provides basic coffee and tea for them, but Greg brings his own lunch.

He works with a small team at Linden, which he loves, because he gets to actually do a little bit of everything. Trevor is the Head Winemaker, and Alex is the Assistant Winemaker. Greg works closely with Alex most of the time, but spends a great deal of time with Trevor as well. There’s another man who drives the tractor and does most of the spraying and trimming of the vines.

Linden has a small Cellar Door, with only one full time Cellar Door host, and another office manager that helps as well. Greg doesn’t see them too often as he’s not in the Cellar Door.

As Greg works with the vines, his daily tasks are constantly changing with the stage of growth of the vines and grapes; the weather has an impact too. His vineyard has recently added some new blocks of vines, so their young vines need appropriate trimming to keep them growing upwards instead of outwards; they are too young for spray, so they need to be weeded manually. The guys go by hand and break off all the extra shoots that are not the main shoot of the vine.

The grass needs mowing in between the rows every so often in all of the blocks. This is part of Greg’s job.

As the more mature vines are growing, they grow like a bush and the branches spread out, but they need to grow straight up. There are wires in the vineyard that keep all of the rows contained. The branches that grow out need to be pushed back into the wires. Greg helps when the vines get taller and the wires need to be pulled up; this process is called “tucking,” and “lifting wires.”

(Pictured above is a comparison of vines that need to be tucked, versus cleanly tucked vines. The wires I mention are shown more clearly in the second photo.)

A few times per season the vines also require what’s called “bud rubbing.” Vines grow out of everywhere, even on the stumpy looking part of the vine at the bottom. If they were left there, they would grow up and cover the fruit from the sun, which wouldn’t allow the grapes to ripen properly. Vintners also just don’t want too many shoots growing because the more fruit a vine produces, the lesser the quality of the fruit. Wine will have more concentrated flavours and complexity if the vines only produce a small amount of fruit that they can invest all of their energy into. In order to prevent these extra shoots from growing, Greg will go from vine to vine and snap off any little shoots that are appearing, and rub off any buds that are beginning to show.

When he helps in the winery, he is working with the wine that was harvested within the last few years and is currently aging. As wine is aging in oak barrels, a small portion of it is constantly evaporating. (We call this the “angel’s share.”) At least once per month, if not more, the barrels need to be topped up with more wine until they’re literally overflowing, to ensure no oxygen is in the barrel. Oak allows a small amount in, but this is controlled and good to help the wine soften and be more palatable. Too much oxygen will ruin the wine and make it taste unpleasant. Greg helps refill the barrels with wine from a different tank. He has to pay close attention to which wines go in each barrel to keep them consistent with the grapes and years that the Winemaker wants.

Greg also cleans and sterilizes hoses, pumps and tanks before filling or using them. Once the Winemaker decides on the percentage of the blends for certain wines, Greg helps him transfer those wines together. He uses a barrel washer machine to clean out barrels once they’re empty. He mixes up a special compound that is applied inside the barrels to keep them sanitary while they’re in storage.

Greg also does a process called “batonnage.” When wines are aging in the barrel, the dormant yeast and other solids sink to the bottom. Sometimes, with certain wines, these are removed throughout the aging process. Other times, they are left during the aging process, and stirred occasionally through the wine, because they add complexity of flavour and contribute to a creamy mouthfeel. Batonnage is when Greg does the stirring.

Linden has additional clients that bring their grapes into the winery for Trevor, the Winemaker, to make into wine for them. Greg helps Trevor with whatever he needs for this as well.

Once the harvest begins, in late February, Greg will be working many more hours than he is now, and will be required to help with anything necessary. Getting grapes off the vine and into the winery has to happen in a very small window of time. The grapes need to be processed in the winery as soon as they’re off the vine, whether it is day or night. Harvest goes throughout March and into April. That will be a very busy, and important time of year for anyone in the industry.

We’ve also been asked if we get discounts on wine. You bet! It’s awesome. As we get such great prices, and the wines are good, lots of the wine we buy is from Linden (and lots from Church Road too). Greg comes home with the occasional, “here, drink this with your wife and tell us what you think,” wine, which is homework we’re definitely not complaining about. (I’ve been known to bring home a few left over bottles here and there as well.)

There are, of course, many other day to day tasks Greg does that can’t all be mentioned here, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of what his roles are, and can see why he appreciates the small team he works with and the wide variety of experience he’s gaining! He is really happy at Linden so far, and I’ll keep you updated on the craziness of our life, and his new tasks once harvest, or “vintage,” starts.

A Year of Courage

“Courage” was the word I chose for 2018.

Let me explain. Several years back, we were challenged to get rid of New Years resolutions that we would likely not keep, and instead, choose one word that would be the theme of our upcoming year. I’ve done that for 3 years now, and I’ve found that my words have indeed acted as themes over the course of those years.

As 2017 was wrapping up, I felt that “courage” was the word I needed for my 2018 theme. I didn’t even know how much courage I would actually need when I chose that word, but it’s been a huge year of us making the most courageous decisions and leaps of faith we’ve ever had to make.

When I tell our story to people I meet, they often comment on how scary it must have been for us to pack up and leave our entire lives to move across the world with nothing over here, in hopes of starting a new life. It was! It was really scary. It was absolutely, completely, lose sleep, sick to my stomach, question everything, we’re completely crazy, “scary as!”

I once read that courage is not the absence of fear; courage is being afraid but choosing to step out anyways.

We literally got on the plane 7 weeks ago today, to come to Hawke’s Bay, our new home, never having been to New Zealand, let alone Hawke’s Bay. We had no jobs, no cars, no place to live, no friends, basically no contacts, no experience in the industry we were wanting to work in, and not a whole lot of money either.

We got on the plane with our one way tickets, 3 suitcases between the 2 of us, 2 Starbucks Americano’s (decaf for me), and a dream…

I feel like the theme of “courage,” really came to life for me as we took steps towards moving, in that pre-flight moment, and in several more that followed!

As we wrap up 2018, we still need courage, to continue on with this new life that we’re building, and trust that we’re going to be in the right place for the right time, and build relationships that matter.

I’m still thinking about what my word for 2019 needs to be.

If you’re up for a change from New Years resolutions, I encourage you to try choosing a theme word for your 2019, and see if it makes a difference over your year, or if you come back to it throughout the following months.

Thanks for reading, blog family, and I wish you all a happy and wonderful New Year and 2019!

A Merry Kiwi Christmas

We just celebrated our first warm Christmas in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, 2018, and it was wonderful. When we first chose our moving date, and I saw we were to arrive in Hawke’s Bay on the 13th of November, I said something very similar to the following to Greg. “We’re getting there so close to Christmas that we’re not going to have any time to meet people and make any friends who will invite us. We’re going to spend Christmas alone.” The many groups prior to Christmas, and the three wonderful groups of friends we spent Christmas Eve and Day with are yet another set of blessings we’ve received in this move. ❤️

Prior to Christmas, we were fortunate to celebrate with several work parties! Church Road had a formal party at the Napier Prison in November, that we were happy to attend, and enjoyed a lot! Then, during our December staff meeting, they gave us some quick notes, then took us down to our new container bar outside and surprised us all with another Christmas party, complete with Christmas songs, Christmas crackers, silly hats, bubbles, cocktails, and loads of food. They paid us for the time too! Then they sent us all home with several bottles of wine as Christmas gifts. We celebrated once more on the 23rd at a pub near our house with the Cellar Door and restaurant staff! Greg’s winery, Linden, also threw a Christmas dinner at an Indian place in Napier, and provided us with as much food and drink as we wanted, and great conversation and celebration.

Secondly, our connect group through our church had a Christmas BBQ with lots of great food, laughter and fun. We really enjoy the time we get to spend with our new friends, and the more we get to know them, the more we appreciate them! We’ve been honoured to be welcomed into the group by everyone. We had a gift exchange and I came away with a beautiful, Maori patterned picture of New Zealand, drawn by one of the guys who is an artist.

On the 23rd evening, Greg and I made the traditional Kiwi Christmas dessert, Pavlova. We had never seen one or tried one before, but we wanted to, and my colleagues kept saying, “oh you can’t buy one, you have to make one!” They gave me some recipes, so we set out to make it happen.

Christmas Eve was a great day; we both worked, and I did my first tour of the winery on my own, which was a great accomplishment for me. A few of us baked Christmas cookies and celebrated with some wine and baking after work! Greg and I had been planning to have Christmas Fettucine all year, like they do in my favourite movie, “The Holiday.”

We had the pasta for supper, watched the movie, and then went to join our new friend, L, with some others we had met before for dinner. We had great food, and stayed until after midnight. We learned that in many South American cultures, and some European ones, they celebrate Christmas at midnight! We watched the clock and had a Christmas toast at midnight before opening presents. Some of them had even gotten little gifts for us, which was so sweet. Finally, we got Kiwi approval on our Pavlova.

Unfortunately, it rained so much, all day on Christmas Eve! The weather forecast said there was to be a 100% chance of rain on Christmas Day. As this was our first warm Christmas, I had been dreaming of getting to the beach, and being able to wear shorts and sit in the sun. It sure didn’t look good, but I knew it was still possible; I was definitely praying for some sun.

On Christmas morning, we did a video chat with Greg’s family, who were all together after their lunch. It was nice to say hello to everyone, and to see their faces. It was still raining, and the forecast was not looking good.

We joined a family from church for lunch, who included us with their parents, siblings, children and nieces and nephews. I got to watch the children open their gifts, and run around playing with them, which reminded me a lot of being with our family. It was a really nice experience to sit together with a whole, extended family at their Christmas table, and share in a meal on one of the most special days of the year. They made us feel very welcomed, and were all so friendly. While we were there, the rain stopped, and the sun came out!

We had to go home in the afternoon to prepare some food for our evening meal, but we took the time to get to the beach. We walked down to the ocean, and enjoyed the sun and water! Greg swam, and I waded, and it was so warm and lovely and beautiful and perfect. Getting a tan on Christmas was a great gift for me! I loved my hour and a bit at the beach and was so thankful to experience that!

In the late afternoon, we headed off to see our other friends, R & A, where we celebrated with their two wonderful daughters, their Grandma and Grandpa, and a brother and sister-in-law. Everyone was, again, so friendly and welcoming to us, and made us feel like part of the family. The weather was still so beautiful out that we enjoyed drinks and charcuterie on the patio while R BBQ’d, and the girls made Kiwi snow angels 😂 (dish soap on the trampoline)!

We had so much food! They BBQ’d a leg of lamb and chicken, which were both amazing, and had several salads. We contributed a broccoli salad and stuffing balls from Canada. We had a huge array of desserts as well, including a fruit cake, which I normally don’t like, but it had coffee and chocolate in it, with icing on top, and was so good! Our Pavlova was a bit over-iced this time, so it lost some of the crispness, but still tasted good. We played some Twister, Jenga, and opened gifts, and were again honoured to receive a very throughtful, Kiwi book of some of the history of where we live! They even sent us home with some of Grandma’s recipes, and Christmas left overs that we’ll get to have for lunch this week.

When we got home, we opened gifts that we had been given by two of the couples in our connect group for Christmas. They knew we wouldn’t have many presents to open this year, and wanted us to have a little something for Christmas Day. One of them gave me a really nice candle that I had mentioned wanting a couple of weeks back, but didn’t have the budget for. She even remembered what my favourite scent was! The other gave us some cute Kiwi coasters, fresh cherries, a candle jacket with artwork that symbolizes life, love and new beginnings, and some quality chocolate bars, one flavoured with Canadian Maple syrup, and the other flavoured with Hawke’s Bay berries, to show where we’ve come from and where we are beginning our new year. I was so touched by both of these gifts, and our day ended with us feeling so unbelievably blessed at how loved we were this Christmas.

We got to speak to my family over video on our Boxing Day, which was their Christmas. It was special to get to have a chat all together, from afar.

I had been so concerned that we wouldn’t have friends, or wouldn’t be invited for Christmas, and all for naught. We were part of SO much celebrating, and received so many generous and thoughtful gifts. I even got my sunny, warm beach experience, despite the weather forecast saying it wasn’t going to happen. Christmas Day, a day to remember the birth of baby Jesus, was one more example of God’s blessings in this move. ❤️

It was a very wonderful, blessed, Merry Kiwi Christmas, and one I’ll remember as long as I live.

(Pictured above is a Pohutukawa Tree, that blooms in beautiful, bright red, over the Christmas season, giving it the nickname of the New Zealand Christmas Tree.)

In Times of Waiting

The more people I speak to these days, the more I realize that many of my friends, in Canada, and in New Zealand, are in the process of waiting. Whether they’re waiting for a spouse, children, a job, direction, healing, wisdom, friends, or something else, people are waiting, and it’s wearing them down. I get it! Wow, do I ever understand that feeling.

Seeing as how it’s advent, a season of waiting for Jesus to be born, it felt fitting to post this now.

Below, in Italics, is a post I wrote in the middle of September, when I woke up in the middle of the night. At the time, I was so frustrated that things didn’t seem to be working out towards our move. It seems crazy to think that I only wrote this just over 3 months ago, and that’s the position we were in at that time. We were just on the edge of God answering our prayers, but didn’t know it yet. Here it is:

Doubt; The Struggle is Real

It’s 4:16 am on September 12, as I write this. We already thought we’d be moved away by now. I’m laying in bed thinking about our life and our future and right now, doubt is winning over faith. It’s a daily struggle, because our house has been up for rent for almost four months now, and we’re still in it. We wanted to live in the camper this summer and summer is over. We don’t have plane tickets, or visa applications underway. We can’t even answer people’s questions about what we’re doing yet and we sound like idiots every time we’re asked.

I was just at worship practice last night helping play piano so the new singers, who took our spots on the team we’ve been singing with for over 10 years, could practice the songs for the first Sunday that it becomes their team. It brought up a lot of feelings in me, like sadness, grief, maybe even some ugly ones like jealously, and certainly questions for God.

The kids and teachers all went back to school last week, and I didn’t. God allowed me to be laid off in the spring, and I was so happy at the time, because I was convinced we were supposed to move this fall. Faith was winning at that time, but it’s not in this moment anymore, as I watch everyone else, all my colleagues and teacher friends, plan bulletin boards and lesson plans, set up classrooms, and as I hear them share about their students. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out.

We still have that damn Beamer too. Yeah, I’m mad about it. It’s so fun to drive, but what would be more fun is selling it for a half decent price and being able to pay off the remainder of our debt. I did the right thing; when we considered trading the truck for it in the spring, I went with my husband’s gut instead of my own, and I was proud of that. He believed that it would sell quicker and for more than the truck would. We prayed that we wouldn’t make the wrong decision. Honestly though, I’ve questioned that decision since the day it was made. I feel guilty for doubting God, and Greg, but I don’t talk about that, or let myself dwell on it. What good would that do? We can’t go back in time and see what would have happened if we’d stuck with the truck.

We’ve given things up. And the holes of those things are starting to feel big and noticeable in my life. And I feel like we haven’t gotten a return on what we’ve given up yet. If we weren’t supposed to go, then why did God let us get rid of the truck for this car we don’t need and can’t sell? And why did He allow my job at a great school to come to an end? And why did He let us remove ourselves from a ministry that we’ve been part of for so long, that we’re good at?

In the spring, at school staff devotions one morning, we discussed faith. A colleague shared how having faith is kind of like a bicycle. There are two wheels: faith and doubt. She said to imagine a balance of both wheels always turning on our bicycle of life, because faith can’t actually exist without doubt. If there were nothing to doubt in this life, we essentially wouldn’t need faith. Our doubts drive our need to dig down and find our faith.

This principle has stuck with me all summer, as I’ve been riding the faith/doubt bicycle for months now. The whole time we were planning this move, I had so much faith. I didn’t doubt. I know that sounds crazy, but it was easy to know that we were supposed to move for years. God made it so clear, so often, over and over and over. A calendar that turned up out of the blue with Italy on it (cause we thought that was the plan), or a road sign, or something someone would say to us without knowing, all pointed us in the right direction. When we wanted to live in the camper last year as a test run, He brought us amazing renters within three weeks of us posting the house, regardless of the saturated rental market and our short term of availability. Even though the world seemed to be against us, and our family members were angry, and our friends told us horror story after horror story of renters destroying homes, I lost not one wink of sleep over the house, because I knew we were in God’s will. I knew it to my core, and I knew He was preparing us for this move. To live in a small space. To live without things. To be flexible. To trust Him.

He has proven Himself in the past, so why do I continue to doubt Him now? I don’t know. The struggle is real! The doubt wheel is definitely leading my bike at some point in each day during this season, sometimes each hour, and I have to fight and dig deep to turn it around.

I read a devotional last week about wine that was so beautiful it made me cry. I felt like it was just for me, seeing as it was wine, and God knows that topic gets my attention! The premise of it was that in seasons of waiting and not knowing, God is pressing us, like grapes need to be pressed and crushed in order to make wine. Then they sit and they mature and it’s a process that has to happen in order for the wine to be any good, to be ready. God also has to do this with us sometimes. We have to be crushed a bit, or a lot, and we have to wait for the time to pass until we are mature and ready for what’s about to come. And one day, it will come.

Maybe it’s not what we think it is. Maybe God’s leading us through all of this for some other purpose than to move. That’s hard, because that’s been our dream for so long now. Another devotional I read said that we have to live in a tension between knowing that God may not allow our dreams to happen, but trusting that He put them in our hearts. We have to hold our dreams with loose hands and trust that God is faithful to do what is ultimately the best for us. I’ve had dreams in my past that if He’d given me, I’d have never left Saskatoon; now I’m thankful He didn’t give me those things because I have this new dream of moving! So why do I let doubt win in convincing me that this time is any different? Why do I even question that God has my best interests at heart this time? He can see the whole picture of my life and I can’t. The struggle is real!

During this wine pressing season, this season of waiting and fighting to keep the faith wheel leading my faith/doubt bicycle, I heard a sermon by Andy Stanley, called “In the Meantime.” He spoke of how some of the greatest things we do and the most influential times we can have, are in the meantime. When we’re stuck. When we’re waiting. When we’re doubting and struggling and searching and digging. Paul wrote some of the books of the Bible while he was in prison, waiting in the meantime. That inspired me to at least start writing during this time. I’ve been writing a lot and I started my blog up seriously, but I haven’t written about this. It’s too real, I’m too vulnerable, and I don’t know how any of it is going to turn out in the end. I’m no Paul, and this article is certainly nothing close to the Bible, but I have to write. Maybe one day, something good can come of this meantime I’m in. The struggle is so real.

So there you have it; that was raw and real, in the middle of the night, genuine Chelsea struggle. If you’ve read my other posts on our life in New Zealand, you’ll know we moved here and how it’s turned out so far. Amazing, isn’t it?

I’ve learned through my waiting, that there will always be something we’re waiting for. Waiting can be positive, in that it makes us appreciate what we’re waiting for so much more when we finally receive it. It can lead to anticipation and excitement; however, it can also lead to uncertainty and doubt. Without waiting though, we’d have everything we want right now, and wouldn’t be stretched to grow into better, stronger people of faith. Without waiting, we wouldn’t need trust.

There are still things I’m waiting for. The Beamer still hasn’t sold, and we still have money tied up in that. We have no idea how long we’ll be in New Zealand, or where we’re supposed to go in life from here. We’ll be waiting daily for something for the rest of our lives here on earth. Sometimes it’s hard, and it’s going to be hard again in the future; of that I’m sure. I’ll need to re-read this post, and pray for reminders of what God can do; because He will do it, at the right time… after we’ve practiced waiting. I pray that you, reader, find strength and hope while you wait, and that the wait leads to greatness in your life.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

We completed our first official day hike here in New Zealand on the 8th of December, and it was sunny and warm! We’re not used to warm December dates yet, but they’re fabulous.

Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous tracks in New Zealand, and I had seen pictures of some of the scenery on Instagram before we even knew what it was and thought, “I want to go there.” It’s a 19.4 km day hike to the summit of a volcano, past the Emerald lakes and down through somewhat of a rainforest.

I was a bit concerned about the difficulty level, as we had heard some mixed reviews on how difficult the hike is. There is a sign on the trail that warns people who are not fit enough to turn back. It does include some fairly steep climbs, as well as some descents with loose footing. The tour companies suggest it will take 6 to 8 hours. Some people I spoke to said it took them upwards of that, and that they were sore for a week, or that they lost toenails. People seemed to be shocked that we were planning to do it on a weekend in between work, so their reactions to our announcement of the plan was a bit concerning. We got set up with all the right gear by some generous friends who had also done it; we made sure we were well fed and sunscreened, and our friends told us we’d be fine!

We had driven up to the mountain the night before and slept in the car in a campsite. We got up at 6:00am and had pancakes for breakfast, thanks to my husband!

There are a few shuttling options, but we went with Tongariro Expeditions’ one way option. We parked the car at the end of the hike, and then took the 8:30am shuttle to the beginning of the hike. I went with this option due to another blogger suggesting it, and I was glad we did the one way shuttle and didn’t have to wait for another shuttle at the end. What they didn’t tell us though, was that after getting off the trail we still had a ways to walk to our vehicle; the 19.4 km trail ended up being over 23 kms according to my FitBit.

We hit the trail at 8:48am. It took the first kilometre or so to adjust the backpacks and distribute the weight properly, so we were off to a bit of a slow start, but once we figured that part out, we were well on our way.

The hike begins with a nice, gradual incline into the mountain, and passes Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings.

From there, the first steep climb begins. On the pamphlets and maps they give you, it says it will take an hour to do this climb. We completed it in 35 minutes. The views from the top are amazing!

There is a 15 minute plateau on which we were able to spread out from the rest of the groups on the trail and catch our breath a bit before the next climb, the “Devil’s Staircase.”

It was supposed to take 30 minutes, but we climbed it in about 18.

For a person who doesn’t normally exercise, this would take at least the recommended time, or longer, if one was stopping for rests part way up. We are quite fit, and it was still a very good work out getting up the mountain! It’s not a walk to be taken lightly.

Once at the top, we were able to see the Emerald Lakes in the distance, which were my favourite part of the track. Most people eat lunch at the top, but we decided to continue to the lakes before stopping for lunch, as it was only about 11:00am. Walking along the edge of the crater was really cool!

The climb down to the lakes required an adjustment in walking, as it was about a 45 degree slope with very loose gravel and volcanic sand. We slid with every step. I fell 3 times, but it wasn’t a far fall seeing as how the angle was so extreme that my hands were so close to the ground anyways. Eventually we got used to the sliding and began adjusting for it as we learned how to transfer our weight properly.

We had an enjoyable lunch on the rocks overlooking the lakes, and took the most photos around there. It was really windy! Some days, if the weather is unfavourable, people have to do the crater walk (pictured above) on their hands and knees.

The above photo was our lunch spot!

The lakes were amazing, as you can see.

Once we passed the lakes, we used one of the many toilet stops. No TP was supplied, but thankfully, I had my own! We had to wait in line. I couldn’t believe how many people were on this track!

Then we began the long descent down. The views were great at the top, but the trail down was long. This was the most difficult part for me, as my feet kept hitting the fronts of my shoes, leading to very sore toes. It was also a tedious climb down with similar scenery for a couple of hours, until we got into the rainforest area at the end.

We finished with a walk next to a beautiful, rushing stream, exited the trail at 2:44pm, and then, of course, added on the longer walk to the car.

We were surprised we’d finished so early based on the expected time, but I believe we saved a lot of time during the two inclines; we took lots of time to enjoy lunch and stop for photos, and didn’t rush ourselves, but we still finished in 5 hours and 56 minutes.

We had originally planned to stay another night in the car, but as we finished early, we went to Taupo to some natural hot springs to refresh our sore muscles and relax, and then decided to drive back for a hot shower, and a nice, comfortable sleep in a real bed. Wow, did we ever sleep well that night!

In conclusion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is amazing, and although I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fit, up for a good physical challenge, or is a regular hiker. It definitely requires a certain level of fitness to be enjoyable and safe, and the proper gear, clothing and food/water is essential. Planning ahead for transportation, and leaving lots of time to do the track is important, as I believe 6 to 8 hours is a reasonable expectation for time. We were also fortunate to have amazing weather, and that is key as well. We finished off the night with a celebratory wine from the winery I work at.

Happy exploring blog family, and cheers!