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.

Broken Down Lessons

I love that feeling when we first hit the highway, the camper’s on the back, we get a good song on in the truck, it’s dusk and we’re hitting the night driving, and my husband’s just cracked the bag of spits – now it feels like holidays.

Then the truck breaks down before we even get to our first option of where we want to spend the night…

I’m a very reflective person. I know I over analyze things sometimes. I’m always looking for the hidden meaning in every situation. “Why did this happen?,” is often the first response I have to anything unexpected, and perhaps that’s a normal response. I had some time to reflect while my husband was outside on his hands and knees in the engine with a flashlight pulling the truck apart last night. With the truck broken I am reminded of a few things that are symbolic of life to me. Here’s what I can learn from this hiccup in the journey:

1. We can make our plans but the Lord directs our steps. That seems simple to understand, although it’s not always easy to accept. No matter how much we think we’re in control, we’re never really in control.

2. It’s interesting how one part in a vehicle can break and it stops you completely. The truck can not run when even one small piece is broken or missing. That tiny piece not functioning in the way it was designed caused our entire journey to end until it was repaired. This reminds me of our overall health. When we let one thing go, even if it’s so small, it affects the whole of our being. When one area of our lives is out of balance or in disrepair, it taints our effectiveness in every arena of our lives. Even more, it’s often the little things that we wouldn’t think are a big deal that can stop us up completely.

3. It didn’t matter how many hours my husband spent working on the truck in the dark last night; when you need a part and don’t have it, there’s nothing that will work until you get it. We spent the night in a farmer’s driveway on the side of the road until our friend was able to come in the morning with the part. As soon as those guys had it in, it was so quick, and we were on our way again. Sometimes I try and do a quick fix, or I solve a surface level problem in my life without getting to the source and repairing what’s actually damaged. This ultimately is a waste of my time, because until the piece of my life that’s broken or off balance, or unhealthy is replaced with something new, whole and functioning, I’m not going to actually get anywhere. Also, sometimes you just need help from a friend.

4. The farmer came home and had to take an alternate route into his yard because we were in the driveway obviously having vehicle trouble at midnight. He did not come and check on us at all, or see if we needed a tool or any help. This makes me thankful for my helpful friends, and also, for my in-laws! They are such a helpful family, and if the situation were reversed, any one of them would have been out there helping the people with anything they needed, and telling them that of course they can sleep in the driveway! My mother-in-law would have likely invited them for breakfast, too. I’m thankful for helpful, kind family and friends in my life.

5. It’s definitely easier to fix vehicles in the daylight than in the dark!

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Four

After four weeks of Yoga, I agree that there is a physical, mental, and spiritual component to the practice.  In my first Yoga blog, I focused a lot on the physical, and somewhat on the mental; I’ve concluded that Yoga has great physical benefits for me, and some mental benefits.  As I have continued practicing Yoga, writing about it and participating in discussions that have come from my blog posts, I can’t deny that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is a large part of it, or at least, its roots.  The spiritual aspect is largely what I’ll be addressing in this final post.  I was able to get some spiritual benefits from my practice; however, I don’t believe the spiritual benefits were something that I could only get in Yoga.  I believe they resulted from personal intentions of what I chose to focus on for a dedicated amount of time in a quiet space, something I could do (and have done) in other environments as well.

“Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism…True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion.  You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Yahweh…The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment” (Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat Pray Love – p.122).

You may not believe the Bible, but I do, and there are some verses that I love in there that support contentment and discipline. Here’s one:

Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Some might use this verse to suggest a Christian shouldn’t go to Yoga.  I’m proposing the opposite; if Yoga helps someone break away from discontentedness and other “built-in glitches of the human condition” because we are so distracted with our lives, then it could be helping us focus on things that actually matter, and it could be used to renew our minds.

I completed my final week in my Yoga experiment with another evening class of Hot Yoga, with my husband in attendance, and a fourth new teacher.  Guess what?  She was different than all the others.  She had her own style, and there were things I liked about her style (lots of movement through a variety of poses, gentle instruction), and things I didn’t (lack of specific tips on postures, and I don’t think Yoga is the place for repeated silly jokes).  I was pretty comfortable during this class, and finally felt that I knew what lots of the poses were, and how to get my body into them.  I had learned my range for several stretches, and knew when I needed a block for assistance.  I noticed I was way better at paying attention to my breath, and actually taking deep belly breaths without having to consciously remind myself as often.  I was prepared with a verse mantra again, and was able to relax my mind and body, and focus on it with intention during the last 10 minutes of the class.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, you may believe that Jesus existed; regardless of who you think Jesus is or was, historically, he was a rule-breaker for the sake of loving people.  He spent time with everyone that religion said he shouldn’t, did things that religion told him were wrong, and didn’t care what the religious leaders thought of him.  He was representing the Father – love.  I’m not saying that this means everything is okay all of the time.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because there’s a religious rule saying something is evil, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

I’m not Catholic, but my aunt is, and after reading my previous posts, she dropped off some information for me titled, “A Catholic Perspective on Yoga,” by Terry Donahue (2011).  Although I’m not Catholic, I enjoyed the article, and picked up on some key points Donahue makes.

“The problem with Yoga, and what must be rejected by a Catholic, are the spiritual beliefs… of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith…Practicing Yoga in order to reach self-fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment is to be rejected since it is contrary to the Catholic teaching that such fulfillment and enlightenment are found in Jesus Christ.”  He also explains that Catholics should not mistake all feelings of physical relaxation as mystical experiences, but that relaxation techniques can be appropriate in order to be at peace, less distracted, and able to communicate with God.  “Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about any particular body pose or stretch used for the purposes of flexibility, exercise, or physical therapy.”  He finishes the article with the stance that “Catholics should not participate in the spiritual practices of Yoga,” but that Catholics “could learn Yoga poses and stretches from a teacher who does not teach or promote Yoga’s erroneous spiritual and philosophical beliefs.”  For him, it’s the teachers that matter, and what they’re promoting spiritually, not the physical and mental practices of Yoga itself.

I believe in God, the Father, and I believe He created the world, and everything in it; yes, I’m saying that I believe God created meditation, stretching, focus, and many other parts of Yoga. (I wonder what backlash will come of that statement?)

People may have given it a name, but God gave us the ability to sit in stillness, focus our minds, calm ourselves through deep breathing, relax through stretching our muscles, and to set disciplines of gratitude.  I also believe He can meet us in the quiet darkness of a Yoga room, just as much as He can meet us in a church, or in nature, or…anywhere?  As my Yoga experiment culminates after four short weeks, I feel confident that the practice of Yoga can be used, like most practices and habits in this world, for good or evil, depending on the intentions and goals of the teacher and participant.   

My position on this is humble, and stands to be corrected if further information presents itself on this topic.  Right now, this is my opinion on Yoga, but I’m open to learning something new, and I don’t like to be closed minded or set in my ways.  I realize that I possess an extremely limited knowledge of Yoga, and that I’m addressing a controversial school of thought within my circle of church-goers, and to be completely honest, even within my own family.

I’m not trying to persuade you into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; I believe that each person needs to follow his or her own conscience.  I’m presenting what I’ve learned, and what my mind has been opened to during my short experiment, and I’m fighting for more love, and less judgment, in Christian circles on whatever religious rules each person decides are the “right ones” to follow. Just because Yoga/alcohol/(insert taboo Christian topic here) makes one person spiritually uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it should be a write-off for everyone.

I’m also presenting this opinion with my own religious affiliation, and I respect that it may not be yours; however, I’ve learned that unity of people, despite their backgrounds and beliefs, is one of the great things about Yoga. There is so much hate, judgement and division in this world, and I know a lot of people that don’t feel unity in churches.  You and I could be side by side in the same Yoga class, and we could each experience our own physical, mental and spiritual benefits.  You could set your own intentions, and I could set mine, yet we could be unified with each other for 75 minutes, present in the moment we’re experiencing together, regardless of what individual unions that moment held for each of us.  It’s one more way to be a part of a community.

Will I attend Yoga every week now?  No, I probably won’t.  Has my perspective on it changed?  I’d say so.  I believe I’ve found one more tool that I can use in my life for various benefits.  I will go back, when I need a bit of help relaxing, stretching or focusing on a particular something.  I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned there’s even more that I still have to learn – and that’s a great thing.

Namaste.

How to Teach Phys-Ed in Heels

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I adore high heels.  I’m not prejudiced either; I love them in all shapes, colors and styles!  My clock is a red high heel.  I have a high heel shaped tape dispenser (thanks, sis), wine bottle stand, cake server, calendar… Even my spoon rest on the stove is a red high heel.  I also have a few real pairs… (okay, I’m being modest).  After my husband accepted the fact that he’ll never get me to stop buying them, he built me a closet for them.

I originally took my teaching degree to teach Middle Years students, but jobs are scarce in my small city, and if you want one, you take what you get and you don’t get upset!  Long story short, I ended up becoming an Elementary Phys-Ed Teacher for a couple of years.  That’s not where I thought I’d end up, but being the perfectionist that I am, I set out to do the absolute best job that I could, while still being myself, of course.

Myself – wears heels.  I was the gym teacher who wore heels every day.

My students quickly became fascinated with my shoes.  They would wait to see which pair I’d have on each day.  A rumour went around my school that I’d never worn the same pair twice, which I’ll assure you is not true!

“How many high heels do you have?” I’m often asked this question.  My students could tell you the answer I always give.  “I refuse to count.”  There are some things you just don’t need to put a number on.

Another frequent question I hear is, “how do you walk in those shoes?”  My answer to that one is, “the same way you do.  One foot in front of the other.”

“Those can’t be comfortable,” they say.  Honestly, they’re not always comfortable, no.  If what you value most in footwear is comfort, then heels are not the shoes for you.  If you value style, I would argue that there are stylish shoes in any heel height, right down to pretty flats and funky sneakers.  Wearing heels is important to me.  I feel good in them, even if my feet don’t always feel good.  (However, at work I am practical in my choices; I do have several comfortable pairs of heels, that I can wear all day, be active in, and my feet are fine at the end of the day.) Some women do a lot more difficult things in heels than teach! You get used to them.

It was inevitable that someone would eventually comment on my ability to teach phys-ed with heels on.  Some wondered how I could possibly do a good job if I wasn’t in runners.  It’s amazing to me some of the things that people decide to care so much about.  Is my shoe choice really that big of an issue that it needs to become a topic for gossip?

I kept a pair of runners at school for the days I needed to demonstrate a skill; I was the teacher – I knew when those days were coming! With my hobby job and certifications in the fitness industry, I also knew the importance of modeling proper footwear for my students when doing physical activity.  On the contrary, anyone who’s ever taught a phys-ed class knows that the teacher’s main role is not to get in there and participate in every sport.  It isn’t summer camp, and I’m not a counsellor; the teacher’s role is to educate, supervise, support, build relationships, and assess (plus so much more), much of which can be done in heels.  It can – I did it.

My boss thought I did a great job.  The kids thought I did a great job.  Any parent that actually spoke to their child in my class knew that I poured my heart and soul into being the best phys-ed teacher I could, while still being me.  One of my colleagues suggested I do a professional development at a conference titled, “How to Teach Phys-Ed in Heels.”  I didn’t get the chance, so I’m writing this in honour of her now. She knew I was fulfilling my professional duties, while still expressing my personal style. (Thanks, Heather!)

My heels can tell stories.  I remember where I was when I bought them, or an experience I had while I wore them.  I have shoes from places around the world, and when I look at them, they remind me of that trip, or that place, and that brings me joy.  My heels were a point of connection for my students to ask about my stories, and my life.  They were a discussion starter, and a symbol of me, to them.  Now, because of those cute, honest conversations with kids, some of my heels have become reminders of my students, to me. When I see certain pairs, I can see their beautiful little faces.

I’ve had parents tell me more than once that my name gets brought up when their kids see high heels on movies, shopping, or on trips. It warms my heart; it’s nice to know they think of me.

I asked my husband once if it’s dumb that I’m known throughout the school for my shoes. I said, “that’s a really trivial thing to be remembered for.” He reminded me that my shoes are just a fun part on the outside, and how any student that has actually worked with me will remember me for how I impacted their lives. Upon receiving their farewell cards this spring, I can see that they will remember me because I helped them learn something, overcome something, because I listened, because I showed them love. The heels are just a visual reminder.

Whether I want to admit it or not, wearing heels has become a part of who I am.  I feel like myself when I have them on.  People can think what they want about that. As educators, we teach kids the importance of ignoring negative criticism, and fully embracing their own little (or big) personalities. We try to instil values in them like independence, strong self-esteem and acceptance of diversity. We teach that doing things to help them feel great, beautiful, confident, or like they’re being true to themselves is important in presenting their beautifully and wonderfully created selves to the world around them.  Why should we not do the same?