"A Journey of a thousand li starts beneath one's feet" - Tao Te Ching

The proverb may nowadays seem a cliche, but it still rings true for me. In our case, it may not be a li, but we have some steps to climb, some courage to grow, and some persistence to harness.  

The steps disappear in the photo, but they keep going. There are hundreds of them.  The Church of St. Roko atop the hill is beautiful, and the view spectacular. Well worth the climb. 

The steps disappear in the photo, but they keep going. There are hundreds of them.  The Church of St. Roko atop the hill is beautiful, and the view spectacular. Well worth the climb. 

From Bravery to Persistence, Lessons in Love

Bravery was coming here to Europe for this long to work on the wine business. Sure, we travel a lot and are used it it. But every new adventure and every new country brings its own challenges. For example, driving in Italy to our friends’ wedding. At least in Bosnia and Herzegovina there are some rules to the no rules. In Italy there just aren’t rules. Where are the lane lines?  

Jokes aside, Italy was magical and the wedding was beautiful. There we encountered another moment and symbol of courage and persistence: Marriage. One may find the most perfect union in the world, but I think it will always take courage to make such a commitment. Love, magic, excitement, trust,--the list goes on--, yes. But bravery, too. And persistence. We were especially happy to reflect upon our own upcoming marriage: what it means to us and how we want our wedding to be. I thought about Matt’s bravery in leaving an abusive relationship and how that has given us the opportunity of our lifetime, the greatest adventure. And, how as Victoria and Dave made this wedding their genuine own, so will we make our wedding all that is us. Congratulations and best wishes for a long and happy marriage with two healthy spirits, minds and bodies, V&D! We love you!

(Wow... V&D... sounds like an STI... or, well, a VD. But it's one I'd like to catch!) 

[Photo Credit: Lauren Merker]

The Adventure Continues

As I’m writing this, we are on the way to Belgrade, Serbia, and eventually on to meet with a winemaker in Negotin.

(Update: I am still writing this while sitting by the Bay of Kotor. Update to the update: I’m still writing this while sitting on our porch in Dalmatia. Updated update to the update: I'm now in Kutjevo. Final update: I'm posting this from Zagreb. I’m a slow writer, OK? Hush.)

A new adventure. New-to-us wine regions. We have driven a lot. At the time of this (updated) post we have put more than 5,000 kilometers (3,000+ miles) on the rental car. At one point, we drove through eight countries in five days. They may be small states, but considering windy roads, customs, and one of them with a contentious border, the trip has had its effect on the emotions. I love traveling; rarely do I hear myself saying, I just want to be back in the USA; or, now, back in Zagreb, which is becoming a second home. 

Zagreb at sunrise. You didn't think I got up that early, did you?

Zagreb at sunrise. You didn't think I got up that early, did you?

Back home? Yeah. I said it three times in the past few days. (Forgetting political environment for a moment.) I know! Right?

Surely, it is due to a mixture of the stress of driving, and, e.g., of eating peanuts, yogurt and cured meats for lunch because we could find neither a bankomat or a Visa symbol on our short stop in Kosovo. (And, yes, we asked.) Due to my sciatica and nerve pain that is flaring up because of the long hours in the car. (Only a few of months ago, it actually took me 10 minutes to move from our room to the car for an urgent care visit... and we live in a small house. Risking that here?) I know that it is exhaustion. I know that it is stress about money going into the business and the fear it will never return. But it’s in these very moments, and during the times I wake up at night in a panic, that I realize I have to persist. I have to stick to it and complete what I’ve started. I'd rather fail at the business and know I worked hard than let it fail because I gave up on it and on myself. And I am glad Matt is someone who can deal with my mood swings and nuclear fallouts. He is my husband-to-be, and I am thankful. He is my family. 


Me on Family, Family on Me

Now, I love my parents and sisters with all my heart, but they don’t often get me. I haven't historically been the best at staying organized, completing ventures, or generally being the most on top of my crap, so their concerns are understandable. But at the same time, I fear they won't easily let me grow past that old me: To them I'm still an early 20-something younger brother or son, rather than a 31-year-old man. I hear: You’ve put a lot of money into this; shouldn’t you get a full-time job instead? (When several months ago, it was a different tune: I think this wine business is a great idea!) Or, Small businesses often fail; we know of people who tried to import wine and lost money.

But I say: I’ve put too much time and money into this not to see it through. Furthermore, if everyone in the world had quit when the going got tough—and terrifying, nerve racking, and insomnia inducing—then we’d probably have very few businesses (or any progress at all or evolution in the history of ideas, for that matter.) And hell! My father started and still owns his own business! Oh! And that French Pinot people are sipping on has to get here somehow, and profitably so.

I get a lot of assumptions: For example, my dad admitted that he thought we were back in Europe for yet another vacation. I had to explain to him that the pictures of us on social media are the glamorous shots or the thought-out posts. They—and the world—don’t really see the meetings with wine makers, the determining of quantities and prices for our first shipment, the state of our car after being on the road for a month, the seven-hour haul through the south Slavic region, or the absolute hanger that occasionally--ok frequently--selectively consumes Matt or me. Holy hell! Does it become intense! (We carry protein bars for Matt. They don’t work as well for me, who needs something more substantial. But I’ll eat them anyway because it’s better to be hanxious than hangry. Or I’ll down a bottle of yogurt. (But best is the sugar from a glass of wine! Shhhhh!))

I have realized that bravery is persisting when I'm not sure what's going to come, and when I don't have the unconditional support and the optimistic expectations of those closest to me. I don't want to vilify my family. They are ultimately supportive and truly love me. But I realize that I'm the only one I have to prove myself to. If I do that, then perhaps they and the world will come around.

These realizations and these understandings of me and my relationships, particularly with Matt--and especially in those times of hanger--, have made me and us stronger. I've grown a lot since meeting him, and since starting School of Home and Vinotopia. I've become better at self-reflection. At breathing. At slowing down. At being less harmfully critical of myself and others; I've become better at constructive self-criticism.

We can gauge each other. Talk to each other. Or if one of us is in a mood, we recognize, sometimes concede, and give the person space or whatever is needed. Ultimately, Matt and I do not fight. Swear to goodness. We’ve had our spats and our issues, of course, but we’ve always resolved them with (relatively) open communication. Somehow we can travel through Eastern Europe for a month and then return home only to miss each other when one of us has a shift or errands to run. And in all the need for bravery, sometimes I just need to be unbrave. I can do that with Matt. I know I have the support and the love I need. It makes it easier to step up in the times I have to be more courageous. It makes it easier to persevere when things are tough, knowing I have a partner (in all senses of the word) by my side.

This is not a business for the faint of heart. And so I must find my fortitude. I must be brave and persevere. I've read in a couple of self-development books that Persistence/Perseverance is one of the greatest characteristics of successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs. I now agree, and I now am understanding why. 

Oh! And that view? After all those stairs? The cherry on top? Yeah... That's the one. It's all worth it. I can only hope that this business venture will prove the same.