It’s Never Too Late…
If someone asked me five years ago what I’d be doing today, I really don’t think my answer would have included writing a blog, taking art classes/painting, and pursuing my WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust based in London) Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits. But, here I am.
Five years ago, I was working in a public school setting, modeling correct production of various speech sounds for adorable kindergarteners, teaching some of the most inspiring nonverbal children sign language, and helping charming second graders construct sentences using prepositions, pronouns, and superlatives. I was mostly in treatment sessions with students or doing paperwork: completing treatment notes, scoring tests, writing up evaluations, or initiating paperwork for eligibility or IEPs (Individual Education Plans). I also spent a good deal of time in meetings discussing students’ needs for special education services, progress made in treatment, and the occasional behavior issue. And, although I loved being a speech and language pathologist (SLP), I realized that it wasn’t where I began and ended. It didn’t define me. I’m a person who enjoys learning and having new experiences, and even though I loved and appreciated my little patch of grass, I still wanted to look over the garden wall to see what else was blooming on the other side.
Fortunately, I was able to continue to work in the field of speech and language pathology as an independent contractor. This extra time and flexibility allowed me to assist Farmguy with marketing and event planning associated with his business as well as a much yearned for opportunity to focus more attention on our farm. It also enabled me to think a little more creatively. It’s during this time that I envisioned my children’s book and therapy tool, Clementine: The Communi-CAT, A Guide for Teaching Social Communication Skills. I self-published this book in 2014, and afterwards, my publisher suggested I start a blog to promote it.
I felt grateful and privileged to work in a field that has such a positive and powerful impact on the lives of others, and while I continued to advocate for people with communication disorders through my job and volunteer work, I didn’t want to blog about speech and language issues every day. I loved it for the nearly 20 years that I spent doing it, but I wanted to put energy into something different. I wanted to have a platform where I could express myself through writing and photography, while sharing my love of Green Hill Farm as well as my interests in travel and wine in a creative and uplifting way. So, in September 2014, I started my blog, Fourth Generation Farmgirl—Wool and Wine to Tractors and Travel.
Earlier that same year, due to our interest in wine, a client of Farmguy’s recommended a documentary film on wine called, “Somm.” The film follows a group of young men on their journey to becoming Master Sommeliers—or wine experts. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and a little bit stressful. These guys were able to identify wines, often completely blind, just by using their nose and palate. It. Was. Stunning. They reeled off characteristics of wine, such as; clarity, intensity, color, condition, aroma, sweetness, acidity, tannins, body, flavor, finish, quality—not to mention grape variety, and many times, vineyard and vintage…all in about a minute. The more I watched the film, the more I was impressed, and I remembered thinking….I want to know what they know. Afterwards, I talked to Farmguy about taking an introductory wine class just for fun. We took the Level 1 course, passed the exam, and were hooked. Time passed, and I mentioned that we really should take our WSET Level 2, especially since we have such a strong interest in wine, where and how it’s grown, techniques used in making it, and a love of sharing all this wonderful information with friends and family.
So, this past summer, Farmguy and I signed up for the WSET Level 2 intensive course, and I mean intensive. This class is usually taken over a six week period with lots of time to process and digest the information; however, since the wine school offering this course is 3 1/2 hours away, we decided to do the intensive, instead. Our study materials were mailed to us about two weeks ahead of time, and we studied every day for hours prior to the class, which was scheduled on a Friday through Sunday–9 am to 4 pm. Before the course, we made note cards and drilled each other on the regions of the world that produced Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet/Merlot, Syrah/Grenache, and sparkling wines. We had to know things like the following: wine classification systems for France, Italy, Spain, and Germany; how climate affects different grape varieties; the three ways to make sweet wines; labeling hierarchies for Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, and German Rieslings; correct temperatures for serving white, red, sweet, and sparkling wines; how to write tasting notes on countless varieties of French, Italian, Spanish, and German wines; Port and Sherry production methods; processes for making whisky, tequila, rum, and much more. I really thought my head was going to explode!
Let me just say this, the memory of a 40–something person is much different than that of a 20–something person. I thought remembering information for my graduate level neuroanatomy course kicked my butt. I almost cried trying to remember the eight major grape varieties and the regions in the world where they grew. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I studied more for my WSET Level 2 than I did for my neuro class. Anyway, it was worth it. Leading up to the exam, we were all given practice tests to assess how we were doing. Farmguy and I consistently scored well and felt fairly confident about the final test. On the day of our exam, we all came back from lunch and entered a room that had been prepared as if we were taking the SAT: Our seats were staggered, we were given number 2 pencils and identification numbers, the instructions were read aloud reminding us to put all papers away and not to talk, and the exams and answers sheets were passed out to everyone. Then, we had to carefully fill-in all those annoying bubbles corresponding to our names and numbers, remembering not to begin the exam until the instructor indicated it was time. At precisely 2 pm, we opened our test booklets and began the exam which was made up of 50 multiple choice questions.
Although the instructor had given us tips on answering the questions by using a process of elimination if we got stuck, I hoped I wouldn’t need to do this, especially since I felt prepared. I started reading the first question, and when I didn’t immediately know the answer, I read the second, third, fourth, and fifth questions—and then I started to panic. These WSET people were clever and tricky, and it was quickly becoming clear that this exam would not be straight-forward…at all. After I re-covered from my internal mini-melt down and got my heartbeat steady again, I continued through the exam, placing stars by the questions I would return to at the end. After the first few minutes, I settled into a rhythm and was doing fine…that is until Riverdance started up in the classroom below ours. You see, the wine school is located in a building full of dance classes, and what had been silent for most of the weekend now sounded like a full blown Irish jig on steroids—the foot stomping was deafening. Now, for some people, this isn’t a big deal. But, for me, it was the equivalent of sitting next to a jet getting ready to take off. I require silence for major concentration, especially for recalling information I just crammed into my 40-something brain just days earlier.
Even though I drilled my fingers into my ears, I still couldn’t concentrate with the unrelenting and vibrating sound coming through the floor. I could feel my face getting hot as I read and re-read the same question–over and over. It was difficult, but over the next hour I continued making my way through the questions. Out of my peripheral vision, I could see other folks getting up to pass in their exams—anxiety draped me like a wet blanket. I still had eight questions left. I was so frustrated. At this point, I just wanted to put my pencil down, hand in the exam, and dissolve into a puddle of tears. But, I didn’t. I knew the math for passing with distinction–and that meant I could only miss seven questions. At this point, I knew there were already a few I couldn’t be completely sure that I had answered correctly. I went back, focused as much as possible, and completed the exam. To say I was distraught afterwards would be an understatement, but I had done my best and that was all I could do. Now, I just had to wait six weeks to see if I passed. A little over a month later, Farmguy and I were informed that we had both passed with distinction. We were elated! And, I’m happy to say we’re starting our WSET Level 3 soon. It’s a ten week course beginning in February, and we’re really excited!
Besides working on my WSET Level 3 over the next several months, I’m also taking a painting class weekly. I’ve really enjoyed painting and learning more about the concepts and techniques related to creating beautiful art. Over the past year, I’ve painted occasionally; however, this year I’ve decided to be more disciplined about it. So, I transformed the guest bedroom into a studio which is more conducive to painting regularly, especially since I don’t have to set up my easel and paints each time I want to use them. This way, I’m much more motivated to paint every day.
Here’s the thing: It’s never too late.
It’s never too late to learn, try something new, have an adventure, follow your dreams, embrace your passions, do good, inspire others, enjoy life—and, it’s never too late to climb the garden wall …and bloom!
“Bloom,” 6 x 6 acrylic on canvas
by Tonya R. Hengerer
With that in mind, I’ve decided to share my art and wine adventures through a new feature on my blog called, Art and The Vine. This new addition will highlight a favorite artist, a museum exhibit, or a piece of artwork (maybe even some of mine) as well as anything and everything wine related. I’m really looking forward to this journey, and I hope you will join me! Many thanks for reading this long and rambling post, and as always, a heartfelt thank you for following my blog. 🙂 xoxo