The Element Wines Story; Boutique Wine Producers in Hawke’s Bay

The story of how Dom and Rachelle met is so adorable, it could be made into a movie.  The setting was their hometown, Auckland, New Zealand, and it was Tuesday, the 14th of January, 2002.  Rachelle was out for lunch, celebrating her cousin’s birthday.  Her cousin joked with the server that she should get a free drink as it was her birthday; the server told her she couldn’t, dampening the mood, so the girls decided to take their business elsewhere.  Little did she know, Rachelle was about to walk into the restaurant where her future life and wine partner worked.  The girls entered Wildfire, and took their places at the bar.  Dom casually sat down next to them, and was minding his own business; Rachelle goofily wacked the new patron next to her on the leg and told him that they had great drinks at this place, and he should try one.  He mentioned that he’d actually tried, and made, all of the drinks there, before turning to show her his work t-shirt with the Wildfire logo on it.  He took the rest of the night off, and bought dinner for the girls.  At the end of the night, he wanted Rachelle’s number.  Feeling a bit serendipitous, Rachelle told him she’d give it to him, but she wouldn’t allow him to write it down; if he could remember it, he could call her.  Thank goodness for Dom’s memory, because he did retain the number after hearing it only once, and as they say, the rest is history. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Dom and Rachelle now own and run Element Wines, a boutique vineyard and wine label in the Gimblett Gravels micro-climate of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, with their two daughters, Zoë and Zaymia, a couple of cats, Turbo and Bubbles, and one big German Pointer, Brewski, all in tow! 

So how did two Auckland-raised Kiwi’s end up in the Gimblett Gravels, running a vineyard and wine label?  The simple answer, is that they decided that life was too short not to follow their dreams.  The longer, more complicated story includes tonnes of courage, some definite ups and downs, overcoming a lot of hurdles, and binding together to spend their days creating something they love and are proud of, while enjoying their lives as a family.

A day in the life of the Smith family includes high school for the girls, and everything that comes with that, like homework, sport, friends and slumber parties. The girls have spent the last several years helping in the vineyard when they’re finished their schoolwork, and it’s definitely a family affair.  They help with everything from pruning to harvest, and have developed an impressive knowledge of wine-making for their ages.  In addition to running Element, Dom also works full time at Sacred Hill Winery as the Cellar Supervisor.  Rachelle spends her days tending to the vineyard, and running her family.  A typical weekend includes playing with the pets, sitting on their beautiful deck that overlooks their vineyard, and enjoying delicious food, once the vineyard work is done, of course.  Zoë and Zaymia make the Sunday pancakes or waffles, but Rachelle makes the best French Toast.  Dom can craft a mean, made from scratch pizza in his clay oven, or roast incredibly tender and flavourful meats, but whatever the menu, there is always a delicious wine pairing to complete the meal, along with satisfaction after a day’s hard work. 

Owning a vineyard seems romantic, and ideal, and in some respects, it can be.  Most of the time though, it’s really tiresome, and the work never ends.  There’s something to be done in every season of the year.  If it’s spring, the vines are beginning to bud, and need to be watched and protected from frost.  Summer brings growth and ripening, and lots of vineyard and machinery maintenance.  With autumn comes harvest time, unpredictable weather that could potentially destroy a whole season’s fruit, as well as the pressures of making the right decision of when to harvest. Then, the grapes need to be processed, and the wine needs to be made, and maintained, while winter requires pruning in the vineyard to set it up for a healthy spring, when the work cycle repeats. I was curious to find out how all of this became the couple’s dream.

Rachelle didn’t grow up in an industry family, but she was around wine as a child.  She has memories of her god-mother letting her try watered down wines to see what they tasted like.  She also had family and friends with wine labels or vineyards, and she would spend time at their houses; this lead to her developing a comfort and familiarity with the vineyard environment.  Dom didn’t grow up industry either, but was the son of two teachers.  Although his parents drank wine, it was Dom’s hospitality work that opened his eyes to amazing wine. He remembers feeling like he had the world at his fingertips when it came to the wines he was able to experience, both from the old and new worlds. When he used to go out with his buddies as a teen, he noticed that he was among the few whose alcohol choice for the night was a fine wine; he realized that he was actually quite fond of it.  He found satisfaction in making the perfect recommendation for guests in his restaurant, or showing them something different; he once made a recommendation to a Wine Spectator writer, without realizing it, and was thanked and acknowledged by the writer’s wife for making an exceptional pairing.  

Once Dom and Rachelle got together, wine became a big part of their dating life.  They talked about their bucket-list wines, and tried many of them together.  (Trying those bucket-list wines is still something they do today; they can both recall the specific flavours and intensities of a 2006 Dom-Perignon they shared as a celebration of overcoming vineyard hardships.)  Owning a vineyard became their “Lotto-dream.”  If they ever struck it rich, they’d buy one! Ironically, due to hard times, they were put in a position with the business they owned in Auckland where they either had to rebuild, or move on. They were at a fork in their road, and they knew it. Dom had a memorable conversation with a good neighbour friend one evening who recommended that Rachelle and Dom see this as an opportunity to follow their dreams.  They felt the same way, so they did.  

It was the 19th of November, 2012, when Element was born. 

Dom had been able to find employment at a winery in the Bay, so they began looking at Hawke’s Bay properties for their own vineyard.  They also favoured the wines that come out of the region; they love Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Dom quipped that he would rather make “not-Sauvinon Blanc and have no money, than make Sauv Blanc and have money!” He’d been commuting between his job in the Bay and his family in Auckland since that August.  The couple had hummed and hawed over which property to go with, but kept coming back to a special one in the Gimblett Gravels.  It was a 4.2 hectare property, with 2.6 hectares under vine.  The vineyard had Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and Viognier, the wines they wanted to make, not to mention gorgeous lavender that caught Rachelle’s eye. They ended up choosing the property for the vineyard, and not really caring about the specific layout or décor of the house! They got possession on that November day, and the girls still hadn’t seen the house. Rachelle took them to meet Dom to see it together, but Dom was held up at work, so they went for a drink down the road to wait. It really is a family affair! Then, all together, the family complete, Dom, Rachelle, Zoë and Zaymia walked into their new home, to begin a new life and a new adventure. 

Vineyard life didn’t exactly welcome them with rainbows and butterflies.  They had no furniture, and slept on air beds for a couple of months. The girls remember waking up that Christmas together in their half deflated air bed, that they were sharing to save on linen.  The vineyard had been damaged by frost that spring.  Dom had to learn to drive a tractor.  He had to learn to spray.  He had never done any vineyard work before.  He describes it as just having to “jump on board and figure it out.”  He tells the story of one particular night, where a storm was coming in, and he was trying to hook up some hydraulics on a machine.  It was 3.00am by the time he got it going and was able to spray.  To top it all off, he stepped on his sunglasses and broke them.  It was a long, hard night, to say the least. This wasn’t exactly the romantic dream they had envisioned!  It wasn’t all bad though.  The family has lots of fun memories of being together, all learning how to run the vineyard.  Everything was a novelty at first, even for the girls, and they enjoyed lifting wires, bud rubbing, and doing other jobs together.  Although Dom is quite certified now, in the beginning, they were largely self-taught, but they had some helpful neighbours and colleagues that supported them along the way.

After spending time with Dom and Rachelle this year, and seeing how challenging it can be to own a vineyard, I asked them why they chose that route, rather than just purchasing fruit for their label, like so many others do.  Why bother with the work?  Dom replied that it “seemed logical that you grow it and make it.”  They wanted the whole process.  Starting from the beginning, and having control over their fruit is part of their wine-making philosophy.  “Our story is that we grow everything that we make,” explains Dom.  A holistic approach is very important to them.

They strongly believe in nurturing the land, and that less is more.  “We have to tread lightly and look after the land,” Dom shares.  Although they’re not certified organic, they prefer all organic practices. They don’t use any harmful chemicals or sprays on their vineyard.  “My kids and my dog play here,” Dom says about their land.  It’s their home, and they take pride in caring for it. 

Another important company mandate to mention is that Element strives for a “true, terrior driven wine,” which is why they don’t mind to break away from popular trends and make wines that aren’t influenced by oak.  They currently use no new oak in any of their wines (even the reds) and are moving towards eliminating all oak use soon.  Many of Dom’s favourite wines from the old world haven’t touched new oak.  He remembers some specific wines from France that were made in either neutral oak or concrete, and he describes that “they get this intensity and expression from the vineyard and fruit not manipulated by anything else.”

After hearing their wine-making practices and philosophies, it made perfect sense to me why they chose their name, Element.  Their wines, born of the earth, from the vine, through the grapes, and into the bottle, truly reflect a sense of place, and are something completely unique to them. 

So where can I find this special, unique wine?  Customers can order directly from Element via their Instagram handle, @element_wines, their website, http://www.elementwines.co.nz, or see it on some wine lists throughout New Zealand. Rachelle offers tastings by appointment (021 146 8925) as well.

Options are Viognier, Cabernet Merlot blends, and Syrah from Element, as well as potentially a 2018 vintage 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although they don’t enter wine shows, their Syrah has been their most highly accoladed wine with their 2016 Syrah getting 93 points from Cameron Douglas, Master Sommelier, and 93 points with The Wine Front in Australia.  Their Cabernet Merlots have certainly been popular among customers as well, and are often quick to sell out.  Element is truly boutique, meaning they produce only around 100 cases of wine per year, so if you want to get your hands on some, do it soon!

Their Viognier is aromatic, fresh and floral, with a beautiful oiliness to it that melts in your mouth. The Syrahs have that classic pepper spice, loads of cherry and liquorice, and a flinty minerality that can only come from the soil. The Cabernet Merlots have great structure, red and dark plum and black currants, a lovely hint of cocoa and beautiful soft, round tannins.

In reflecting on their wines and their journey, Dom and Rachelle realized they’ve already overcome several challenges.  They definitely had an uphill journey, especially at the start.  They had to learn how to manage a vineyard, while running a family. This means they have to sacrifice a lot of their personal time, and days off, to ensure that the girls and the vineyard both get the dedication they require.  Trying to find a trustworthy place to make and store their wine was a challenge as well.  They don’t have a winery on site, so to find a safe place where they could make their wine that would allow them creative control was a journey, but one that has rewarded them with a currently great home for their wines, and the all important creative freedom.  Having a vineyard is a lot like farming; the weather interferes negatively sometimes, and then they’re faced with challenges of how to work around that.  “It’s hard work, and hard work has to go in, in order to get the rewards,” Rachelle says. “When you’re small, you have to do more to reap the rewards.”  Lots of others also want to have their share, and have tried to get wine for less than nothing. 

When I asked them if owning the vineyard has been worth it, they both replied in a heartbeat, with a resounding, “absolutely!”  They’ve learned a lot about themselves, and each other, their relationship and their family.  It’s taught them that they still love each other at the end of the day.  It gives Rachelle the freedom to be a stay at home parent, who can be available when the girls need their Mom.  Dom shared that they’ve learned that “wine can bring amazing people together, because it has.”  They have made amazing friends within this industry, and the friendships they’ve gained, have been “the coolest thing it’s done.”  If there are three passions that consistently come through when spending time with Dom and Rachelle, they’re family first, relationships, and of course, wine. 

Pictured left to right: Dom, Zaymia, Rachelle, Zoë

We met Dom and Rachelle in the exact way adults always warn children to never make friends – over the internet!  When Greg and I decided to move to Hawke’s Bay, I started Instagram messenging every winery in the Bay that I could find.  Instagram used to lock me out after so many, and I would have to wait 24 hours before I could send more messages.  A lot of them never replied, but Dom did.  He was the first to reply to me, actually, and explained that they were a small winery, and couldn’t offer us jobs, but that he would help in any way he could.  After conversing with Dom for a few days, he invited us to come for a wine with him and his partner when we arrived.  I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen, but I said that we would love to.  I continued to message back and forth with Dom over the last month we were in Canada, with so many random New Zealand questions.  I think I actually asked him if they had peanut butter here! He was extremely helpful the whole time.  Once we had arrived, it was Dom that I sent a picture to of the first cockroach I had killed asking what it was and if it was poisonous! (We don’t have them in Canada.)  We did end up going for a wine with Dom and Rachelle, on only our second day here, and that wine turned into a dinner, 5 hours of conversation, and the start of a great friendship.

In the time we have gotten to know Dom, Rachelle and the girls, I can clearly see their strength, resilience, perseverance and dedication.  They were so brave to leave their life, family and everything they knew in Auckland, to move to the Bay and follow their dream.  They didn’t know if it would work out or not, and they took a huge risk; I have found though, that the greatest risks in life can lead to some of the greatest rewards.  Dom and Rachelle still work incredibly hard, and they invest their hearts, souls, and pocketbooks into Element.  They love their daughters more than anything in the world, and they’re doing a great job raising the girls; Zoë and Zaymia are beautiful inside and out.  Dom and Rachelle are some of the kindest, most hospitable, generous, and down to earth people we know. We are honoured to call them our friends.

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

Home

What is “home?”

I asked the question, and a lot of you gave very thoughtful responses. Here are some of them, paraphrased and summarized.

Home is where you are heard and appreciated.

Home is where you feel the most comfortable to be yourself.

Home is where love is abundant.

Home is where you are relaxed and free.

Home is that soft place to land, where your heart smiles, and your soul shouts, “yes, this is where I belong.”

Home is different for everyone, and it can change over time.

Home is somewhere you look forward to going each day.

Home is wherever you put down roots.

Home is where you are authentically yourself, and loved unconditionally by yourself and others.

You can have more than one home.

My husband’s answer to what home is, was that it is anywhere I am. Although this caused a bit of friendly teasing from some of you, many of you know that when you have a partner in life, you can choose to go almost anywhere with them and make a new home.

We’ve been living in Hawke’s Bay for 6 months today; we’ve been away from Canada for a bit longer than that, but we’ve been living in this new place for half of a year now. To some that may seem short, while to others it may seem long. To me it seems perfect, because this is exactly where I have needed to be.

So when does it become home? We’ve been proactive at choosing to make this our home, right from the start.

Canada will always be our home. Saskatoon will always be our hometown. I still feel at home every time I visit the camp I grew up attending. I feel at home when we arrive at our favourite lake in Saskatchewan. I feel at home in our camper, wherever we may park it. Hawke’s Bay also feels like home to us now.

We don’t know how long this will be home, but for now, it is home to us. So when you ask us to “come home,” or when we’ll be “coming home,” the answer is, “we’re already home.”

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.)

The Last Starbucks

I have been picturing this moment for years now… picturing, dreaming, envisioning, hoping for, praying for, questioning at times, even fearing it if the anxiety got too tight a hold, but grasping onto it in my mind as clear as day. Greg and I talked about “that dream moment,” many times, when we would be HERE, sitting in the secure area, at our gate, with our last Canadian Starbucks. 

There were many times it seemed like it would never come. I even started typing this post a long time ago so I could read it over when I needed a reminder to have faith and hold tight to the dream. Every time we travel I take a secure area Starbucks photo before we get on the plane; if you’ve followed me in the past, you know the ones.

This is “the last Starbucks” on this side of the ocean for a while. This is the last Starbucks on this side of a one way ticket to New Zealand (I left a blank when I typed this months ago because I used to be sure it was Rome but somehow knew it might be somewhere else).  

This is the last Starbucks on this side of the life we know, the last Starbucks on this side of a life we can almost predict. This is the last Starbucks on this side of safety in our people, comfort in our communities, stability in the familiarity of home. This is the last Starbucks in the same building as family members and close friends, who we’ve just hugged and cried with downstairs. This is the last Starbucks on this side of the biggest adventure we’ve ever known, this side of the contradicting panic and fear, and also complete peace that we have in knowing we’re supposed to do this. This is the last Starbucks as people who have only ever lived in one city, before changing everything we know, and trusting God more than we’ve had to in a while to provide everything we need. This is the last Starbucks on this side of the hugest leap of faith we’ve ever taken. 

This moment is here

This moment is real

This moment is now

Woah.

We’ll catch up with you on the other side of the world! Cheers. 

How We Planned to Move to Italy and Ended Up Choosing New Zealand; Our Story Part 2

We spent the 2017 – 2018 school year doing our best to be grateful for our jobs and home, and all of our blessings here, even though we had hoped to be in Rome. It was a lesson in patience and gratitude. We would get there in September, we thought. In December, my brother in law got engaged, and picked October 5th as his wedding day! He wanted my husband in the wedding, and us to sing. We wanted to be there too, but we thought we were moving in early September. We planned to miss the wedding, and stick to our September plan.

During that winter, I was out of town for a friend’s birthday. We were in a big mall, and my husband and I ended up having a miscommunication that left me pretty upset. I was crying in public; as classy as that is, I wanted to be somewhere alone for a few minutes. I ran into the first store I found (Indigo) and went to the farthest back corner I could find where I could pretend to look at the shelves and finish crying. Low and behold, something caught my eye. I was in the calendar section, and there was one that was upside down and misplaced. I could only see a corner of it, but I thought it looked like Italy, so I pulled it out. Sure enough, it was an Italy calendar. It was 30% off, (and I was going to be 30 when we moved, and found that significant at the time) and I bought it. I saw it as a sign. I couldn’t wait to find out which month Rome was. I was sure it would be September, because that’s when we were planning to go, and it would be so serendipitous! Nope – Rome was November. November? No way we weren’t moving until November. I hoped this wasn’t foreshadowing.

A few months later, we decided we really should be a part of my brother in law’s wedding. We decided to postpone our move to November, and then travel around a bit before finding work for me in January. The only thing that I was disappointed about was that November is probably the worst month ever to travel Italy. They get tones of rain and lots of places are closed down for the winter. There’s a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and as much as I made fun of it the first time I heard about it, I am a full on SAD sufferer! If it’s not sunny often enough, I am upset and tired. If it’s raining when I’m trying to travel or be on a holiday, I am Up-Set! We couldn’t decide where we’d want to travel in November to get out of the rain, and not kick our move off with me being very SAD, leading to Greg being very annoyed.

By this time, Greg also knew he would love to work in the wine, spirits or beer industry. Ice-cream-in-the-square business out; alcohol industry in! A few years ago, some friends gave him some old home brewing supplies to sell for them, and he decided to keep the supplies and try his hand at it. We had no idea how much he was going to love it, and how that passion would lead to him wanting to work in the alcohol industry one day. He found a passion for brewing beer, and over the years and many trips to wine regions, we both found a passion for wine. The answer to his cousins’ question from years ago was finally clear.

As our 10th anniversary was approaching, I decided to get him a nice watch as a gift. I found what I thought was the perfect one and waited for it to go on sale. It had my birthstone on the front, and was clear in the back, and called the “open heart” watch, which felt great for an anniversary gift. I ordered it and paid. Within a week, my money was refunded to me and I was sent an email saying they couldn’t fulfill my order, with no reason! I was so disappointed. Greg, of course, knew none of this, and happened to notice one of our city’s private liquor stores was offering the WSET Level 2 course in the spring. We had wanted to take this before, but it’s not cheap. He asked if we could take the course together as his anniversary gift. Seeing as how I had just been refunded the watch money, and had no idea what to get him, I agreed!

We loved every minute of it, and both passed with distinction. We started volunteering at wine tastings and participating in everything we could to learn more. We made new friends in the industry and had great connections with them over a bottle of wine. When people asked what we were going to do in Italy, our answer was now, “well Chelsea can teach English, but what we really want to do is work in the wine industry.”

We knew it was not easy to get jobs in that industry in Italy unless we spoke Italian or had connections. Our liquor store hosted an Italian wine tasting with a wine maker from Italy on site. We spoke to her of our plans and she made it seem very unlikely that we could get jobs, other than maybe as harvest hands in smaller centres. That was a bit discouraging, but we kept holding onto the idea that we wanted to work in the wine industry and we were going to at least try; I had my English teaching certification to fall back on. We relayed this dream over and over to people who asked what we wanted to do for work, but we didn’t hear ourselves saying what our passion really was.

My husband surprised me with a trip to France for our 10th anniversary in June. We went back to Paris, and spent 5 days exploring several iconic wine regions. (We clearly love this industry.) I was so excited for the trip for all the obvious reasons, but also because I expected God to give me this incredible sense of peace while we were over there. I was sure He would confirm for me that we were making the right decision to live in Europe.

We arrived and on the first night, I had an ear ache. Greg was fast asleep. My doctor advised hydrogen peroxide for my ear aches in the past, and I didn’t have any with me. I started thinking about how I needed to buy some, but I didn’t know how to communicate it, or where to buy it. Then I got thinking about how I would communicate with doctors once we moved if something else happened. I realized a lot of things that I wasn’t feeling good about that night, and I basically had a panic attack. I was up most of the night, pacing the Airbnb and out on the balcony, feeling very unprepared and unsettled about the move. I was sick to my stomach for almost half of the days on that trip, and just felt off about the move.

All the excitement and peace I was expecting to feel were nowhere to be found. I was terrified. We ate at an Italian restaurant on the last night and couldn’t communicate at all with the server. I had a reality check of what it would be like committing to living in Italy for a year. At this point, I still thought we were going through with it, so I tried to console myself; I was probably just getting cold feet. “Everyone probably feels this way when they move,” I thought.

Italian Friday’s were not going well either. Every time we tried to do one, we ended up discussing the things we were worried about; we had concerns and were trying to push through them and get excited again, but the reality of living in Rome began to feel more like a burden than a dream. We stuck to the plan though, as we felt God pulling us towards this move, and He had been pushing us to leave Saskatoon for so long. We figured we must persevere.

As we were planning to go later in the fall due to the wedding, we planned to sell the house in the spring in order to get rid of all ties and all debt. I was using it as a test; if we sold the house, we’d move to Italy. If it didn’t sell, we wouldn’t. Our realtor came over, we picked a price range, he took photos, and said he’d be back in a couple weeks once the snow had melted to list it. A couple weeks later however, the comparables in our neighbourhood had dropped by $50,000! Our realtor said he’d never seen anything like that happen before, and he refused to even list it. We would take a loss on the house if we sold it, and it was my grandmother’s; he didn’t want us to go ahead, and told us to fix up the basement and rent it out instead (we have an amazing realtor that actually cares about us).

Selling the house was my test to see if we were really supposed to move to Italy! What now? Without listing it, there went that test. Even despite the sale of the house being my self-proclaimed confirmation on Italy, I felt extremely relieved. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to sell the house yet. I felt bad that my husband had to continue to maintain it, and I was concerned about finances, but I felt at peace knowing we were keeping it for now. (Looking back on it, we didn’t sell it, and we’re not actually going to Italy. Maybe God was hinting and/or clearly shouting at me about the destination, even then.)

New plan, again! This new plan was to rent out our house in June or July (at the latest), and live in our camper again to save money for our move. I was laid off from my teaching position in June. This was actually a huge answer to prayer for me! I was really dreading facing having to make a decision myself on taking another contract, or turning one down. In my city, if a teacher turns down a contract, it’s essentially career suicide. Jobs are nearly impossible to come by with thousands of grads piling up in town, and only a handful of positions open each year. By being laid off, I was able to move forward with no regrets, and it having been out of my control, and this was a major load off of my shoulders.

We also got rid of our truck. We couldn’t sell it, so we traded it for a BMW that we thought would be a quick and easy sell. (It wasn’t! I am still driving that car.)

We posted our house for rent on social media at the end of May, around the same time as we had the year before. We found our first tenants within 3 weeks last year, and I expected the house to go fast again. Despite the delay in selling the BMW, we were taking steps towards the move, finally! Except our house didn’t rent, and didn’t rent, and I really struggled with that.

…to be continued.

Living with the In-Laws; Week One

We’ve been living at my husband’s parents’ acreage for one week now, and so far so good! It’s been a very atypical week for our family, so we haven’t settled into any sort of normal routine.

A lot has happened this week! I had my birthday; it didn’t really feel like a birthday so much this year, but that’s life. My brother-in-law also got married, and my in-laws hosted both the rehearsal dinner and the gift opening dinner, with over 100 guests total. My husband was a groomsman, and we worked on his speech; we sang during the signing and practiced our song lots. I even helped my in-laws with some suggestions for their speech! We chose a date to move, booked our flights, applied for our Australian visitor and New Zealand working holiday visas, and were quickly approved for both. We announced our moving date and destination to our friends and family, and have had lots of conversations about the move. We saw most of our extended family due to the wedding festivities, and there were lots of guns, tannerite, quads and blowing up things, which are frequent family activities. So as I say, this was quite the week!

We moved in on my 31st birthday, so my husband and I had a nice wine and my birthday cheesecake in his brother’s childhood bedroom, across the hall from his parents. It was different than our living room, of course, but still comfortable.

I spent the weekdays doing what I usually do, minus tv, because they only have one channel. Instead of the usual morning show while I eat breakfast, I visited with my mother-in-law most mornings. This, in my opinion, was a better use of time than watching tv would have been anyways.

Something that stood out to me this week was how hard working my mother-in-law is. I got to witness her in action all week as she prepared food for both of the huge meals they were hosting. By the time I showed my face in the kitchen on Monday morning, she had already completed several batches of home made buns, and perhaps a few pies. When I got home later that evening, she was still in the kitchen, and had accomplished more pies and several lasagnas. Tuesday looked much the same, as did Wednesday afternoon once she returned from volunteering at a Mom’s group at our church.

She thinks she isn’t good at organizing and planing ahead, but she had pages and pages of lists of all her meal plans for each meal, and was working well ahead to get everything prepped in time. There were so many pies and cakes, salads, buns, meats, lasagnas and sides! She had even arranged for some friends to come and help serve during the rehearsal dinner so she could socialize with her guests.

As I write this, those two meals are done, but Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the in-laws are hosting our family for that as well! The turkey literally had to come out of the freezer on the morning of the wedding! They amazed me this week with all of the money, effort and love that went into both of the wedding meals, and Thanksgiving. In the midst of all of this, she apologized to me for not putting on a birthday dinner to celebrate me. Let’s just say she’s completely excused!

As my in-laws kept showing up from each trip into town with more and more groceries, I’d ask what the new stuff was all for. “This is for Thursday, and this is for Saturday… no that’s for Thanksgiving.”

Oh and did I mention that they don’t have a dishwasher??? Yes. Everything gets washed and dried by hand here.

We’ve been busy with so many of our own things this week, but we’ve been able to step in and help a bit with prep and clean up, and hopefully we’ve made a bit of a difference for them.

Thankfully they also let us change the doorknob to our room with one that locks. We’ve had so many people in the house this week, that it’s nice to know I have one room, at the least, that’s my private space. I learned more than ever last summer when we lived in our camper out here, that I am a really private person. I value my privacy much more than I ever realized. In being a private person, I find sharing space is hard for me; I’m trying to be as respectful of their routines as possible, and they have been really good at giving us our space and alone time as well. I’m very aware that we are guests in their space, and I’m reminding myself to be grateful that we were welcomed in, to spend this last month at home with family.

A few of the guys ended up getting ready for the wedding in our room, so our teddy bears and string of Christmas lights will forever be in their photos!

I’m hoping for a quieter week ahead, and more relaxation time for all of us! This first week has sure been a whirlwind of activity, but we have seen a lot of our family. We won’t see them for a long time once we leave, and I’m already missing some of them. I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for.

Thanks for reading, blog family, and Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

How My Laundry Room Became a Brewery, and My Backyard a Tire Storage Facility

I remember the night I picked a fight with my husband about the laundry room.  I distinctly remember saying something like, “it’s our laundry room, NOT your brewery!”  I look back on that now, and laugh at myself.  I’m thankful he was so patient with me at the time.  There are things that are worth fighting over, and there are things that just aren’t.  I realize now, that the ratio of washer/dryer square footage to brewing equipment in the laundry room is something that just isn’t worth it.  I learned an important lesson after pondering what happened within me that night to cause my anger.  I seemed to think that I had more rights to our laundry room than he did, but that’s just it – it is our laundry room, not mine.

Let’s back up a bit.  I’ll fill you in on my husband’s hobbies.  He’s had a lot of them throughout the length of our marriage, and most haven’t stuck for more than a few years.  It’d be fair to say we regret spending money on some of them now, but he was learning and exploring, and they were important to him at the time.  (I’ve regretted purchases too.) So when he was gifted some beer making supplies and decided he’d take it up, I assumed it would be one of those hobbies that he’d do once or twice, and then let fall along the wayside.

I was wrong.  He is passionate about brewing.

Years, and dozens of home-brewed IPA’s, honey-browns, and English bitters later, he’s got a sizeable brewery in our home, and is constantly stunning tasters of his beer with how great they are.  His friends are benefiting from his generosity and love of sharing his craft with anyone who appreciates it.

He used to take over our kitchen for a day to complete the brewing process, and leave our entire house smelling like sweet malt.  People would ask me, “don’t you hate that he makes your whole house smell like a brewery?”  I didn’t actually.  Or they’d ask, “how come you let your husband take over your whole kitchen for that?”

Although some hobbies were costly, he made money with others – his “side-hustles” as he likes to call them.  He’s very gifted and can fix almost anything.  He’s also patient in dealing with online shoppers from our local used items listing website; he has a small hobby of taking old, broken things, fixing them up, and selling them at low prices for quick turn-over.

At one point, a few years ago, we had close to 50 used tires in our backyard.  I mean, they were everywhere! I borrowed a bunch to take to school for an obstacle course for the kids once; we even threw a Cross-fit themed birthday party for a friend and used them for challenges and a winner’s podium!  Again with the comments, and from the guys too! “My wife would never let me keep junk like that in our backyard.”  “How do you get her to let you fill your backyard with all those tires?” That’s sad to me, that my guy friends felt that way about their wives.

In his brewing craft, he started where most probably do, with beer kits.  Then, he transitioned to doing a few more steps on his own, and after his beer club informed him that if he’s using any part of a kit, he can’t really call it home-brew, he went 100% from the grain.  He literally buys a big bag of malted barley, grinds it himself, and does it completely from scratch.  The kitchen was no longer sufficient.  As he just happens to also be a custom welder, he spent the next year building a huge custom brewery in our basement laundry room.  He’s got 3 massive tanks that he welded, a custom counter and sink, heating systems, an electrical panel to run all of this, piping that hooks up to our laundry venting to the outside to eliminate the steam, numerous other equipment, and hundreds of bottles.

Needless to say, the laundry room is no longer a laundry room; we have a brewery with a washer and dryer in it.

We have a clean and empty backyard now that he’s out of the “tire side hustle,” but there were years when we barely had a backyard; we had a used tire storage facility behind the house.

Fast forward to the laundry room argument… pointless.  It’s not my laundry room, it’s our laundry room.  Can I wash clothes in there?  Maybe not while he’s brewing, but that’s where communication comes in.  It’s not my backyard, it’s our backyard.  Could I have hosted a beautiful garden party with all those tires out there?  Maybe not, but I hosted a pretty sweet birthday party and made the best of it.

So many women carry this idea that the house is their domain; at the very least, the kitchen, laundry room, and back garden are theirs.  The guys can have the garage, or the shed, or maybe some back room in the basement, where guests can’t see when they come over.  I don’t know why we think this, or why this idea is passed on to us by other women.  I don’t know why I just fell into that belief too, without even paying attention to it or questioning it.  I’ve realized over the years, that thinking this house is mine, because I’m the wife, isn’t very selfless or loving.  He doesn’t tell me I can’t park in the garage because he works in there; it’s our garage.  He doesn’t complain about the living room clock that’s a bright red high heel (it’s not tacky at all people, it’s a designer marble clock we picked up in Venice); in fact, he suggested we hang it there so I can see it every day.  We’ve also hung his motorcycle calendars in the kitchen.

It’s not my house, it’s our house.  And in this house, it’s about sharing, and compromising, and making this home a place that we both can put our stamp on, and that we both feel at home in.

I don’t know what this guy of mine is going to get into next.  I expect he’ll keep up the brewing, because he’s great at it, and he loves it.  I hope he finds more money-making hobbies, cause what’s not to love there?  Either way, he’ll be welcome to use our home, for what he needs it for, with no trouble from me; in return, I know I’ll be extended the same courtesy.