The 101 year-old Man

I know I complain about Spanish Bureaucracy on this blog. A fair bit. But I am also aware that it could be much, much worse. And I know this because I have experienced it myself.

At the tail end of the Civil War in Lebanon – the one that mostly ended in 1992-ish, I was there for the summer. And, as you do, I had a document that needed a stamp. It couldn’t be put off as it was the difference between me getting my Lebanese passport or not. Stamps in Lebanon, at that time, were powerful things. And they were controlled by families and handed down, like royal titles. Essentially, if you had a stamp that was your job. People came and paid you for the stamp. Your job was to ensure that they had the correct documents, etc. Then you affixed your stamp and they gave you money. Simple.

But in the village in Northern Lebanon, where I was staying for the summer, the stamp was controlled by the 101 year-old man. The oldest man in the village. I never knew his actual name. That’s just what we called him. And where were we going to get this stamp? Not the town hall or a municipal building. Nope. We went to his house where he held court in his sitting room. But, of course.

Being an American, we go at things head on. We don’t like to waste our own time. And we don’t like to waste anyone else’s. It’s considered rude in the US. Time is something that is measured in my country. Time is money. Or Time’s a wastin. Something should only take as long as it absolutely must take. And we have University degrees to cut time wasting. We call it Industrial Engineering. How can we make something take less steps, and thus less time? It’s a cornerstone of our culture. But not every culture is like this. And it’s something I need to remember.

Back to the village on that very very hot August day in 1990, I made my way to the home of the 101 year-old man. We were greeted by a crowd of relatives and friends who were having coffee served by the 101 year-old man’s wife, who was herself ancient. That summer in Lebanon, we had less than four hours a day of electricity. Usually in the middle of the night. If the bulb came on you hopped up from a sound sleep, and started ironing, or doing something else that required electricity. People didn’t sit around watching TV all day (there were maybe three channels, anyway) for entertainment, they visited each other. All the time. So walking into a home filled with people was not unusual. We kissed cheeks, heads were bowed in acknowledgment of my village newcomer status. Then we were invited to sit.

I knew I was in for it when more and more plates came out of the kitchen. Nuts, sweets, and cigarettes were passed around. And pots of Turkish coffee began to be drunk, in copious amounts. We were there for seven hours.

‘Seven hours?!?’ You might exclaim. ‘Preposterous!’ But its really not. They all knew we were there for the stamp. But there is a certain way things are done, and it takes time. Politics were hotly debated, at volume. Village gossip. Some matchmaking of someone’s cousin in America or Canada or France. We ran the gamut. As you would expect during all of this, even though my Arabic was pretty good back then, I got antsy. I don’t smoke, but I smoked that day. Out of boredom. The coffee kept me awake. Maspahas are like the fidget spinners of the Middle East. They were spun on fingers and beads were counted. And we drank arak. It’s sort of like Pernod in France. Served with ice and water, it turns a cloudy white in the glass and tastes like gasoline and anise. And it kills anything residing in your body that might be causing you discomfort. Like intestinal parasites. No kidding. After a few hours, I started to whine quietly. You can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take America out of the girl. We were wasting time! I was like a toddler. ‘Why is this taking sooo long? We just need to ask him for the stamp.’ But that is not how it was done.

Finally, we all got up and made to leave. I started to panic. Where was my freaking stamp?!? More cheek kissing and saying our farewells. And then, as if it were an afterthought, and not the only reason I was there in the first place, a sentence was uttered. ‘Forgive me, Amo. I almost forgot. We need to have a stamp on this document for Kelli.’ My document is promptly taken up by one of the male members of the 101 year-old man’s family. It is reviewed and handed to the next male family member. Finally, it makes its way to the 101 year-old man himself. He looks it over. Honestly, he may have been blind. I have no idea. His son whispers in his ear and he looks up at me. ‘You want to be Lebanese, like us?’ I say that I do, and he nods. Satisfied. Then his son goes to the desk and brings him his stamp. He is helped in opening the ink pad and the son aims his hand over where it should be pressed, then with great flourish the stamp is affixed and the deed is done. At that moment, the room breaks out into furious talking and self congratulations, as if any of these people had anything to do with it. And yet, it seems, this is a moment of great import and should be remembered for posterity.

So, after all that, I got my stamp. And I try to remember that day, so long ago, when I want to blow an American gasket over the bureaucracy in Spain. Don’t be so impatient, I tell myself. Things could be so much worse. But they do require more time than I am used to. And there is a lot less tackling of things head-on here, and more cultural niceties that must be respected and adhered to. In the US, we are bulls in china shops by comparison. But this is an opportunity to slow down. Until it’s not.

The other day we were speaking to friends. Jeff was telling them how our electricity has been going out 5 or 6 times a day. We are not always sure why. It makes it difficult for him to work some days. But they had some insight.

‘The electrical lines on your road are notorious. Everyone knows. They were put in 70 years ago and have never been touched again. Imagine. I am surprised you have any electricity, at all.’

We were shocked and said so. ‘How is this possible?’

They shrugged, but then they had an idea. ‘If you want to do something, and be a hero to your neighbors, you will write a letter to the public utility. Tell them you are Americans and you are appalled by how bad the electricity is on your street. And demand they do something about it.’

I frowned. ‘I don’t want to do that. That seems like a bad idea. Throwing the ‘I’m an American’ around.’

She just laughed. ‘You don’t understand. You tell them you moved to Galicia from America, and you want to live here but working is impossible. Like a third world country. In America, no one would stand for this. They will be ashamed that an American is having to put up with such a shoddy electrical line. Believe me, they will come out and string new lines.’

‘No way!’ said Jeff.

‘Yes. You have some power, as Americans. You should use it for good.’

I have whiplash. My eyes are spinning in my head. Suddenly, coming at things head on isn’t such a bad thing? And we can help our neighbors out in the process? She made it sound like a piece of cake, yet I’m still not so sure. We will see. But, no matter what, getting the power company to come out and put in new lines couldn’t be as hard as getting a stamp in a small village in Lebanon from the infamous 101 year-old man.

A Linguistic Mount Everest

Well, I know my Spanish is getting better because I seem to be unaware when I am speaking it, instead of ingles.

A couple of months ago we formed a new Spanish company, in anticipation of opening our business this year. I wanted to be able to kick everything into high gear the first week in January. And it is very good I did.

We will have construction happening on the farm in earnest starting in the next few weeks. And we are heading to Barcelona soon to meet with our food truck manufacturer to finalize everything. And all of that must come out of a business bank account. But I couldn’t open one until I got the certificate for the sociedad (company), certifying it is registered with the Spanish Treasury. And I couldn’t get that until after January 1st because we wanted to activate it in the year we will actually be doing business and have income. And this must be done in front of a notaria. Lots of fun.

Notaries control all contracts in Spain. You do almost nothing without a notary, and twenty seven forms of ID. Everyone seems to have a personal notaria. When we have performed transactions in the past that required a notaria, and they ask who our notaria is, and we give them a blank stare, people are confused. You should have a notaria, with whom you develop a lifelong relationship. Abogados are lawyers who will advise you on the law. They will argue in court on your behalf. But even they have notarias for contracts.

This morning, we were at the accountants offices and he asked me a bunch of questions about invoicing, etc. My accounting español is coming along. He was speaking Spanish and I was interpreting out loud for Jeff. The woman in the office who usually performs this function for us told me that soon I will not need her. We can only hope.

‘Now, I have heard you have already started building.’ He told us.

Jeff and I looked at each other, confused. We are still getting permits, etc. Building has not yet begun, and I asked him how he knew what we were doing.

‘I know the guys at xyz construction. I thought you had started before the sociedad was activated’

Jeff laughed. This is life in a very small town in Spain. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Do not put a foot wrong. There are things you will never come back from. Just ask The Scoundrel. We already knew this. But it was a good reminder.

‘No.’ I told him. ‘We have been waiting to pull the trigger until after January 1st. As you advised’

‘Vale.’

If you remember, I had been dancing the banking tango with a banker in Melide. And he won the first couple of rounds. Even for a new personal account, in anticipation of our new business account. It was a mess. But today we got the certificate for our new sociedad. And our accountant made a call on our behalf – to a different bank. We were instructed to go to the branch straight away. Which we did.

This banker was very nice, and did not require the reams of paper and documents that would have been required at the other bank, just our NIE cards. Our Accountant’s phone call had greased the skids. We just have to prove where the $$ comes from. They are very serious about this. Not a problem. But she spoke no ingles.

I whipped out Google Voice translation and started my questions by speaking into the microphone. I was a few sentences in when I realized the woman is staring at me with a funny look. Jeff taps me and breaks my train of thought.

‘What?’ I told him, frustrated. ‘Now I have to start over.’

‘No you don’t. You were already speaking Spanish into Google translate. Just say it to her like you just did to Google.’

I looked at my phone. Google was translating Español to Español. I realized in that moment that I actually knew what to say. So much of my issue with speaking Spanish is confidence. Trusting that I really do know it, then having the guts to just say it. Speaking in Spanish into Google translate was something I had done without thinking.

I felt foolish for a moment. But also, triumphant! I have had nightmares of standing in the food truck and being frozen, unable to communicate with my customers. Waking in a cold sweat. But now, I think it will all be OK. Yes, I have many more linguistic mountains to climb. But I just summited one of them, and the view from up here is just fine.

A Little Help For Our Friends On The Camino

Update: We spoke to Conchi and Fran last evening. They appreciate everyone’s generosity. What they really want, more than money, is to have everyone come to the restaurant when you are visiting the area, or walking the Camino. Stop in, order their wonderful dishes, and say hi! You won’t be disappointed by the food when you do!

___________________________________

After my post about our friends, Conchi and Fran, and their restaurant on the Camino, so many of you sent me messages of support for them. Asking how you could help. It made me smile. What a wonderful community we have on this blog.

As a reminder, Casa Alongos is a small, family run restaurant in Melide, Galicia right on the Camino Frances. Conchi and Fran were the first people to welcome us to this community with open arms. They have helped us through plumbing disasters, recommending invaluable resources to help us get through our first months in a house with spotty electrical and sometimes no water. And fed us, even after the kitchen was closed. Salt of the earth, kinder, more giving people you will never meet. And they just need a break. Something to go their way after the past two years.

After all the questions about offering help, I didn’t want to do anything until I checked with Conchi and got her OK. She gave me the green light a few days ago, but no one needs me in the middle of this. The funds should go directly to them. So I have set up a GoFundMe for them and include the link here. I’ve donated to fundraisers via GoFundMe but I’ve never set one of these up before, so I hope I did it right.

As a Pilgrim community, I know we are changed by the experience of walking to Santiago. No matter which route, or where we start. And it’s often people we meet along the way who help soften our edges and transform us. Conchi and Fran have been part of the Camino story for so many. 🙏Thank you to everyone here who reached out and offered to help such good people.

Buen Camino

Manipulador de Alimentos

First, they said on social media that getting your driving license in Spain was impossible for Americans. And I believed them, for awhile. Then I thought ‘There are millions of Spaniards who drive. And they aren’t all significantly more intelligent than me.’ So I started Googling, begging, and digging into it. And guess what? It turns out you can get your Spanish driving license as an American.

Was it difficult? Well, it wasn’t easy. More jumping through hoops. Forms and stamps. Fotos in the kiosk in the subway in Valencia, by the gross. Learning driving a stick shift en español. But eventually, I figured it out. And I was very proud of myself the day they handed me that ‘L’ to put on my car. Those of you who have followed this blog remember that saga. And it was a saga. Jeff went through it, too. Right before we were hit with COVID. But he just had to follow my instructions, and the bread crumbs I had so clearly laid out for him. Well, OK. Really, he just had to comply when I dragged him all over Valencia from one oficina to the next to submit forms, pay fees, and take tests. But, in the end, he was very glad he did.

Now that I am looking to open a food truck this spring on the Camino Frances, I have even more to figure out. So I went to the Ayuntamiento (town hall) for the Concello de Palas de Rei, and I brought them some cookies and a list of questions. They were lovely, even without the cookies, and they answered everything. According to the Concello, because I have a food truck, and not a fixed building, I don’t need to obtain a license from them to do business. And technically, this is true. But it is not the entire story.

I was speaking to our contractor, Diego. We were going over the permitting process and what we will need to do. He asked about the food truck and I told him I had gone to Palas to ask my questions. He squinted like he was in pain.

‘You went and spoke to them in person?’

I said I had.

‘It might be true that you don’t need a business license because your food truck could be taken anywhere. That seems reasonable. But you will need other things. I am not exactly sure what they all are but there will be other licenses.’ Then he had a suggestion. ‘Miguel and I have a friend in Arzua who has a food truck on the Camino. Let me call them and ask what you will need. But I think you must take a food safety course. I think it is, maybe, 50 or 100 hours of training or something like that. It might be difficult for you in Spanish.’

Holy moly! Fifty to one hundred hours of training on food safety? What?!? I just celebrated being able to speak to Vodafone Spanish customer service on the phone, in Spanish. Weeks in a classroom learning food safety in español? And then pass an exam? There is no way. Jeff and I walked into Melide yesterday and this was a hot topic of conversation over the 14 km round trip. I had no idea how I was going to solve it.

Part of my long term goal is getting my Spanish citizenship. Passing the Spanish history and society exam will not be difficult for me. I have taken Spanish history classes in Spain, read many books, and have learned a great deal about how the government operates here. With bit of study, I should be fine. But I must get my language skills to above A2 to pass the language requirement. Since we have to be residents for 10 years, I have plenty of time to become proficient in both of these areas en español. Suddenly, the Spanish food safety course seems a lot harder than the citizenship exam.

I’ve taken a food safety course before in the US. When I was 16 years old and wanted an afterschool job. I had to go to a place in the dodgy part of town, to a building with peeling paint, and sit through an all day class on a Saturday. At the conclusion of the course, we all took the exam. Even at 16, it felt a bit like overkill. And the building itself seemed ironically unsanitary. Now I miss that building, and the course en inlges.

Deep breath. Every day I do at least one thing, big or small, that will get me closer to my current top three goals. Writing and doing book things, of course. But the first priority, right this minute, is opening my food truck. Diego will get back to me next week with a schedule as to when the bathroom construction can begin. My food truck manufacturer in Barcelona has some outstanding questions to answer after my email to him from last week. And today, I decided I would spend some time researching this devilish exam and where the hell I am even going to sit for the course in the middle of Covid. But knowledge is power. Even if it’s not good news.

Google, Google, Google. I learned all about the Certificado Manipulador de Alimentos (the certificate to manipulate food aka a food handler card) and why it is important. Apparently, pre-Covid, all the municipalities administered their own food safety classes and exams. But, in the midst of Covid, most of this is done online. So I went out to the Consello website. I figure they must have an online course. But it appears they do not. Yet now, there are plenty of other online companies who have sprung up to fill the void. And, surprise! I found one and it turns out 100 or even 50 hours of study is not required. You must pass an exam of 10 questions, then they will issue you the certificate digitally. I found this interesting, because we met some American people here running an Albergue and the guy showed us a large volume for food safety. And it was all in Spanish.

I decided I would roll the dice. What is the worst that could happen? I fail a food safety exam and have to take it again? The shame of it. So, before studying for one minute I took the test online. To gauge my current knowledge. I did not agree with all the answers, but over the years I have learned that a test isn’t always a measure of the truth or even the course material. It’s more about how you take the test. What are they looking for? That is all that matters. Just like the written driving theory test in Spain. And guess what? I scored 100%. I am now a proud card carrying member of the Spanish food service community. My parents would be so proud. First, a Spanish driving license. Now a certified carnet as a Manipulador de Alimentos. It’s in my wallet along with my Permiso de Conduccion. Not only am I legal to tow my new food truck on my newly certified tow hitch. But I can stop anywhere along the way, cook food and serve it! If the Guardia Civil swings by our gate and asks me for my documents I will proudly point to the Certificado that will be framed in the food truck. ‘You know I paid a cool €20 for that.’ 😉

All this sounds ridiculous. But when you live a foreign country where you are slowly learning the lingo, and have a goal with no idea how to go about tackling all the bureaucratic hoops you must jump through to achieve it, when you figure out just one of them it’s like a miracle. The sun just broke through the clouds on this stormy, blustery day here in Galicia. At least figuratively. And I’m very sure I will sleep just that much better tonight. But the real moral of this story is that we should never be deterred by the opinions and limitations of others. I have a Sargadelos talisman I keep in my wallet that purports to ward off negative energy and the fears of others. And it’s good to know, so far, it seems to be working.

Bureaucratic Constipation

There are times when everything seems difficult. When you have multiple balls in the air and none of them are coming down. Ugh. My historical fear and loathing of Spanish bureaucracy is well documented here. It truly is an art form. Yes, it’s head-shaking. But there moments when I think ‘Damn, they just performed some death defying high-wire administrivia there. 🤔Respect.’

Since moving here, I have had to learn to slow down. Getting angry is pointless. Emotion should never enter into the equation. What’s called for is relentlessness. That dogged determination, and a commitment to never giving up. It has served me well in this life. I’ve had people at government buildings in Spain cave when they see me. Because they quickly learn I will out paperwork them. And I will continue to turn up. Forever. They just want me to leave. I’m not rude or mean. I’m just a rash that will never go away until the ointment that is a piece of paper with an official government stamp soothes it.

There are friends who have returned from trying to perform one operation or another at the ayuntamiento, or similar government agency, and are frustrated. ‘They turned me away. I’ll never get this done.’ My answer is aways the same. ‘So you pitched a tent and waited them out, right? You gotta go back. During your appointment, if they hand you more forms, you don’t leave. You bring a trolley of office supplies with you, including tape, paper clips and a stapler. Always a black and a blue pen. Don’t tell me you don’t possess these basic supplies for tackling Spanish bureaucracy head on. And a fat plastic folder. It can be filled with old phone bills or flyers from Correos. But if they think you’ve come equipped with documents, they are more likely to lower the bar of what they will randomly ask for to try to trip you up and make you go away. It’s like a game of cat and mouse. And it’s all theater. Never blink.’

Lately, I’ve had a list of bureaucratic nonsense that needed to be tackled. And like a top athlete, it requires some training, and some psychology. You do your research. But, also, you need to time your first strike in a way that will be most beneficial to you. Check their schedule. Most offices, both governmental and private, close for lunch between 1-3:30. Never be the last appointment before lunch. They want you gone and you’ll be dismissed no matter what you need to get done. Don’t be the first appointment of the day, either. They might be running late, their kids were cranky. A host of reasons. And the first appointment after lunch is a nonstarter, as well. They are in a food coma, late returning, or irritated to be back at their desk. The best time is 11am or 4pm. Not hungry and not in a hurry to rush off anywhere. Speaking of hungry, eat and hydrate before hand. You’ll last longer. And stretch before you go inside. Will others stare at you? Yes. But who cares. It will invariably be a very long wait and you’ll need all the physical stamina you can muster.

I’ve had people try to push me off. Like the guy at the Vodafone store today who refused to assist, while advising me that Vodafone wasn’t going to help me with a billing issue, then told me to go to the Diputación and denounce the cellphone company. ‘Write a very long letter explaining everything. Submit it to the government. It’s the only way Vodafone will do anything for you.’ At that point, I pointed to his bright red shirt with Vodafone emblazoned upon it. ‘You know you work for them, right?’ To be fair, American mobile phone company ‘customer service’ is no better.

But, in general, I find most people in Galicia want to help you. And often here, help comes from unexpected people. After Vodafone, we went into the Diputación de Lugo. It’s an old grey stone building inside the Roman wall in the old city, with the remnants of the Mercado do Nadal (Christmas market) out front. We entered and spoke to the guards.

In the US, when you purchase property they automatically transfer all your taxes, title, etc. when the purchase and sale agreement is signed at the title company upon closing. Here? None of that happens. You just have to know who you are supposed to file additional paperwork with, like the Concello or the Hacienda or the Diputación de <enter province name here>. And how did I learn all this? By not doing it and having the sellers contact me to ask me why I didn’t do it. For every single document, individually, as they received the notices. So, yeah. But now I have a checklist of all the people you reach out to after you purchase property and/or move provinces in Spain. It’s not a small list. And today, after eight months, I had one final paper to file.

Back to the guards at the Diputación in Lugo, I stood in the vestibule and struggled through with my ever evolving español. My vocab is coming along nicely so we got there in the end. One of the wonderful guards nodded, then left and went to the counter and got everything I needed, forms, etc. and he stood outside in the freezing covid-free wind and instructed me on how to fill out the paperwork, and the number to call to get an appointment to file it. With Covid, it is understandable that we need an appointment. What I found remarkable is that a security guard would go out of his way to help me sort out something I would have never been able to sort out on my own. Security guards in the US have not historically shown me this kind of courtesy.

I skipped the Vodafone guy’s suggestion to file a denunciation of his own company while I was there. It felt like that should be the very last resort. There had to be a better way. So on the way home I decided to roll the dice as Jeff drove. My español is coming along. I called the Vodafone customer service line and spoke to them en español. I know, right? I explained how I cancelled service in September, yet they keep billing me. And I need it sorted out. It took nearly an hour. They had to go back through call logs and more. But we finally got it and unwound the convoluted scenario that got me in this situation. I explained that I had been advised to denounce Vodafone while in Lugo today, but had decided to try yet one more phone call and test my language skills. The very nice woman thanked me for not doing that and she took care of it. Pride. I felt it. I’m not ashamed to say it.

Now, I just need to slow down, take a breath, and remember that if I think something should take a week it will take three or four. One hour will quickly become three. And seven phone calls are de riguere. It’s like the conversion from imperial measurements to metric. There is a rule-of-thumb calculation there somewhere. But today, I didn’t even need to whip out my Spanish bureaucracy office supply trolley. So that’s progress. And just like that, I’m back in compliance with the authorities, and it seems that suddenly all my paperwork is flowing again. Deep breath….and exhale.

First Foot Forward

Just a few days into the New Year. We spent the weekend easing into it.

Saturday felt like a little walk on the Way was required. This time we left home and wandered back towards Palas de Rei.

From the stream you can tell we’ve had a bit of rain lately. This little creek was a trickle last summer. Nearly dry. But not these days.

Yesterday we headed into Santiago to attend a church service, listening to our Scottish friends, John and Stephen playing and singing. The church was quite full, and we were surprised before the service when John broke out a into stirring rendition of America the Beautiful in our honor on the church organ. Being the only Americans in the congregation, I am pretty sure no one else noticed what the song was.

Then we joined them for lunch. This little restaurant is lovely and the staff are wonderful. We enjoyed the tasting menu. My favorite course was the wild boar. This former stable will be a wonderful place to sit in the courtyard under the grape arbor enjoying a little vino rosado on a hot summer day.

And we learned about New Year traditions in Scotland. Apparently, two days are not enough for the Scots. They celebrate for three days – so we were able to participate right under the wire. Hogmanay is what we call New Years Eve. And after the bells finish tolling at midnight, Scottish people rush to their neighbors to gift them with three things. It’s called first-footing and brings good luck for the year to the household. These gifts include shortbread, whiskey, and a lump of coal. Ensuring a sweet, joyous and warm year ahead. And John and Stephen gifted us with these three things to bless our new ventures on the farm this year. Apparently, John has an excellent track record of bestowing and predicting luck. He sees great things for us in 2022. We will cross our fingers. 🤞

The truth is we are already lucky. But I don’t think there can be luck in the absence of gratitude. And we are so grateful for everything in our life these days. Of course, people like John and Stephen are a blessing. But so are the incredible highs and the deep lows of the last year. Because, I believe it’s in between these two where the joy resides. And our lives are filled with joy these days. But Jeff and I will gladly take the Scottish Hogmanay insurance policy, nonetheless. 😉 We can all use a wee bit of extra luck.

Holding Out for the Remarkable

On a weirdly warm New Years Eve, where it was 22 C on the farm (72 in America) we stuck close to home. It’s been months since I could hang three loads of laundry on the line and have it quickly dry in a warm wind. Who would think it was possible in December in Galicia?

The last sunset of 2021

Marie Carmen had invited us to her house for dinner, but we were having lunch when we were surprised at her knocking on the door. They have a Covid positive in the immediate family. New Years Eve dinner was cancelled. I was devastated when I heard. Not about the dinner. But a positive, with her husband being so ill? I had seen her just once this last week, in her driveway when I gave her cookies. We were masked and never closer than the hand-off. Either way, its not Marie Carmen who is positive. She insisted on bringing food to us for dinner. She had already started cooking the meat when they found out. She marched through the gate, knocked on the door masked up, then left it. Steamed clams, slow roasted meat, and potatoes from her garden. And it was delicious.

So we had dinner provided by Marie Carmen. Conchi and Fran swung by and left us grapes and a bottle of champagne on the porch. They decided not to risk anything on New Years. Yes, we are all vaccinated with three jabs, but in Melide everyone now knows a current positive. There is fear here. I didn’t even get a chance to ask her about allowing the Pilgrim Community to help out their struggling business. Next week I will go to the restaurant for a chat.

We rang in the New Year without much fanfare. This year I didn’t bake the traditional coin cake. And we didn’t set off fireworks like we would have in the US or Valencia. I made a couple of my own special blend of hot toddies and we watched on TV as those in timezones before us celebrated. We didn’t even open the doors at midnight to let the old year out and the new year in.

The last normal New Years Day sunrise at la Playa de Malvarosa in Valencia on January 1st – 2020. Before the world changed

For me, New Years is a significant moment. A time of reflection. Of gathering strength for what is to come. For making wishes and writing down plans. Creating a roadmap to follow and lighting a candle with a prayer. The past two years have been filled with curveballs. Roadmaps and wishes have required flexibility and patience. So this year I am keeping it fluid. What we have planned will be filled with roadblocks and the unexpected. U-turns and sharp left turns. It’s unforeseen-ness is totally foreseeable. And I am determined that these last few years will cast no shadow on the one ahead.

This year I pledge to keep my eye on the goal, but be flexible in my methods. And our quiet, unconventional celebration of New Years this year reflects that. Old traditions were retired. Old patterns and old thinking are out of fashion. We are blazing a new trail on a road we have never traveled before. It requires a new mindset and new tools to be successful.

Sunrise of the year on the farm – New Years Day 2022

I really do believe that 2022 will be a brighter, more hopeful year for the world. And for us on the farm. And I’m excited to see what comes of it. The fun of doing something you’ve never done before, is in doing something you’ve never done before. Remarkable possibilities are endless. We’ve already been gifted with so many remarkable people in our lives. At my heart I’m an optimist. I’ll hold out for the small, but remarkable, every single time.

A Good Contractor and Tractor Wine

Our contractor, Diego, came this week. He has taken over designing our vision for our business. He’s so excited about it, it’s wonderful to see. Late yesterday, Diego called me out of the blue.

‘I was just thinking, Kelli. Do you mind if I stop by?’

He and Miguel pulled up fifteen minutes later. They marched around and showed me sketches.

‘And here, we can group small cabins. To facilitate community amongst the pilgrims. A place for them to gather and not just stay in their tents or cabins. On the Camino, people like to meet others. Make friends.’

The man gets it. He would have seen me smiling if we weren’t masked up. ‘Yes!! You have read our minds.’ I told him.

Miguel is the technical one. He sizes everything up and green lights my musings. Or just shakes his head. 🙄 But, this time, he too was enthusiastic. Taking measurements and photos. Then, this usually quiet man talked animatedly in rapid español. Diego translated for a bit before I told him I understood what Miguel was saying. Then I started my own translation. ‘You’ll tell me if I got it wrong.’ My construction Spanish is coming along. I pretty much nailed it.

Diego laughed. ‘You are studying, Kelli.’

‘Every day.’ I told him. ‘I have to run a business here. And it’s coming up fast.’

‘It’s good. But I will miss it when you only speak Spanish to me. My english has gotten much better since you arrived.’

I went inside after they left and showed Jeff. ‘This is perfect. They’re permanently on the Christmas cookie list.’

I had put his cookies in the back of Diego’s car. He messaged me when they got back to the office. The cookies were a big hit. They asked for the secret family recipes. Now I have to try to recreate them – not just by feel.

We delivered our other cookies packages today, all around town. Including to the ayuntamiento of Palas de Rei. And we were gifted with things from our new friends. Including, of all things, tractor wine. Hmmm. I wonder if it has earthy notes. Here’s hoping the finish doesn’t plow down the throat 😉.

Moving to another country, especially to a rural area where you have no other countrymen, can be isolating. Language matters. You have to put yourself out there and be able to communicate. When we can finally remove our masks it will make things easier. Communication will take on more dimensions than just words. But our tractor guy made it easier today. He took off his mask when Jeff handed over the cookies. And he gave us a big, weathered smile in a sea of wrinkles. Priceless. That’s all we needed. Luckily, some things just transcend words.

Jab Jab in the Sixth Wave

So we got the third Jab on Monday. It was fine. I felt a little under the weather. Jeff more so. But we are back to normal, and feeling invincible! Not.

The news here is saying a bout of Omicron, combined with three vaccine doses might have ‘super-immunity’ effects. But like everything else, they really have no data, and no idea yet. Omicron was going to ravage us all. Even the vaccinated. But now, while terribly virulent, it seems that we have less people in the hospitals or ICU’s than we did last summer. And most of those going into hospital are coming out. They are not dying at anywhere near the rate of those poor people in 2020 or early 2021. The vaccines are holding back the tide of serious illness in Spain. Good news.

But people are still suffering, and not just from contracting the virus. My restauranteur friend, Conchi, is at the end of her rope. There have been few restrictions on dining during this wave. But the Pilgrims are gone until next Spring, and all her reservations for Christmas and New Years were cancelled. Sadly, she had already bought all the food for a packed house. Many people who live in the cities, but have homes in Melide, decided not to travel to spend the holidays here.

‘I think this is it.’ She told us, throwing her hands in the air with tears in her eyes. ‘All this food and no one to serve it to. No one to pay. We have exhausted our reserves,’.

She asked us to stop by on New Year’s Eve. ‘It will be just us three’ waving to the expanse of the restaurant. ‘We can wear masks and you can eat twelve grapes at midnight. For luck.’ Then she laughed at the irony of her words. But she needs all the luck she can get.

It was tough to see her so distraught. But people are afraid. We never stopped wearing our masks outdoors here. No mandates were required in a population of people mostly over 50. You could always tell who was not from here, like Pilgrims. They were the only maskless on the street. Restrictions from the government are not necessary here in rural Galicia. People self regulate. The streets are deserted, except the farmacias and the grocery stores. No one can rock a home confinement like the Spaniards. Even self-initiated.

Our town square had some decorations. And Correos had a mailbox for Papa Noel. Yet it all felt a bit halfhearted this year.

But it is still the holiday season in Spain. We are right in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas. All the way to January 6th – Dia de Los Reyes. Three Kings Day. Kids in Spain have not been able to visit Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar. In the US we would call them The Three Wise Men.

At Christmas 2019 you could go to the mall and visit the Three Kings. In Spain, they are more popular than Santa Claus. They get their own huge parades on the night of January 5th. In Valencia, they came by boat on the Mediterranean. Then they were paraded through the streets in the procession of all processions. It was truly incredible. The big red mailbox is where children who hand their letters to helpers below the three kings see them deposited. Here are pics I took from the last one held pre-pandemia in Valencia.

Then the Kings are received by the Ayuntamiento (town hall) to bless the children. The kids go home and put their shoes out. Upon waking on January 6th, they discover their favorite King has brought their hearts desire and filled their shoes with candy and presents. It’s really fun.

Last year the Three Kings were brought into the Ayuntamiento on an open air double decker bus so the kids could stand on their balconies to wave at them. Then go inside to watch their arrival on local tv. But word quickly spread and 10,000 people filled the square in front of the Ayuntamiento to watch the kings arrive. It became a chaotic Covid super spreader event.

We are trying to keep the holiday spirit alive here on the farm. I got ambitious and spent an entire day baking. All the family recipes, except I lost them all in the move, so I had to mix them from memory. Jeff sampled a few 😉 and says I nailed it. ‘These are even better than before.’ Perhaps its because last year he got no Christmas cookies. I was in the hospital. Christmas 2020 was a tasteless meal with him sleeping on a cot in my room.

But this year, I decided to share and we are delivering cookies to neighbors and friends. We offended our neighbors in Valencia with our cookies that first Christmas after we moved to Spain. They didn’t know us and wondered what our agenda was giving them cookies. But somehow, I don’t think that will be the case here. Marie Carmen received her cookie package with a big smile. To all the people who have been so kind to us since we moved to Galicia. A Huge Thank You. You’ll never know the difference you have made in our lives.

I think we can deliver the cookies masked up and safe. There is no way to change what is happening right now. People are hurting. But in this town they are our people. Perhaps, right about now, something small and homemade, from the heart, is just the right medicine. ❤️

Making Your Own Sunshine

On life’s stormiest days, sometimes you have to make your own sunshine. But even in the pouring rain, sometimes the sunshine finds you.

It’s been a wild weather week. Dark and gloomy. Just the way Jeff likes it. You feel no guilt staying inside with a fire in the grate. I’ve been painting a lot lately and I notice I have been channeling the theme of light in the darkness. Perhaps its the season.

Anyone who knows me knows I love books. They transported me to adventures all through childhood. And inspired the life I live today. I owe much of who I am to the words of others. The worlds they painted in my mind, shining a light towards possibility.

Giving up all my books when I left the US nearly four years ago was gut-wrenching. And, while I have made it a priority to buy English language fiction when I see it in Spain, and to fill suitcases with it when visiting an English speaking country, I am nowhere near to having the collection I had amassed over the first 50 years of my life. So I figure if you can’t readily buy books, at least you can paint them.

Since the sun isn’t shining you can’t see the gold shimmering on the bindings. As though from a window in a library. This is Jeff’s favorite part. But it will be framed and hung in the stairway. The walls on the turret get sun for several hours a day and it will sparkle.

The next one is not yet finished, but Jeff’s love of astrophotography and time lapse views of the night sky inspired me. How the light of stars streaks across the expanse of space. Again, light in the darkness. The other colors went down first. Gold, green, blue and grey. Before laying the black, indigo and purple on top. Then removing paint to reveal the light of stars. It will be hung in a sunny place, too. Shimmering on a summer day.

I’ve started another painting. A bit cliché, really. But the last full moon was on a clear night. The light was so intense it had me standing at the window transfixed. I didn’t have to take photos to remember what it looked like. What it felt like standing there. Nowhere close to completed, we will see where it leads.

But before I could get painting today, I needed to head back to Palas. There were more tractors on the roads than cars. This is not hyperbole. Two tractors for every car. Slurry tanks by the dozen. And some ancient machines. I’m pretty sure that when you purchase a tractor here you will have it forever. Your grandchildren will be driving it. I was pleased to see many ladies behind the wheel of these vintage contraptions.

The farmacia in Palas is the friendliest place on earth. Due to Omincron our little community has 19 postitives. That’s a lot for such a small village. The pharmacists came out and served customers lined up on the street in the rain. Lovely, caring people who run the farmacia on the main street in a building that is probably 300 years old if it’s a day. A father and a daughter who are at the heart of our community.

Then I walked up the street to the little Correos. There was my friend behind the counter. She was assisting another customer. In the meanwhile, as I waited, the Correos mochila service (Pilgrim bag transfer service) arrived with a van full of backpacks and luggage. We have noticed the number of Peregrinos has picked up this week. The previous customer had finished up and the woman there asked for the mochila guy’s help. The software is still giving her fits. He got out my box and helped her manually print out something I could sign. Then I paid the fee in cash. I think the lady was happy to see the back of me.

I made my way home in the rain where Jeff eagerly awaited the box. And what was inside?

A lovely card. A bounty of beef jerky and red licorice for Jeff. Coffee and a coffee press for me. And some Slap Ya Mama cajun seasoning. Do I sense some potato fixin’s later? I think I do.

While I love making my own sunshine on a cloudy day, I think the sunshine generated by good friends, both old and new, is even better. And, in this case, a lot more tasty. 😋 The true spice of life.

Notorious

The winds are blowing so hard they blew me all the way into Lugo to get the jab. Ok, I went a day early. But more on that later.

On the way to Lugo I stopped at the Correos office in Palas de Rei. We have a package that was sent to us all the way from Maine, USA. We got the notice on the 23rd but didn’t get to the post office before Christmas. Easy peasy. It’s a small post office and I arrived as winds made walking up the hill an extra chore. Only one person ahead of me.

The post office here must require the counter staff to have a masters degree in Administrative bureaucracy. And an IT department that hates all of them. I’m pretty sure when they designed the postal system, the software architects and engineers kicked back with their feet up laughing hysterically.

‘Let’s see how many screens we can make them jump through. There will be bonuses for low response times and endless loops. Let’s make the Enter key only register every forth press. And the engineer with the most obscure error handling gets another week of August holidays. And I just had a stroke of genius! Let’s do a non-emergency software upgrade, and some regular server maintenance in the middle of the Christmas holidays. And we won’t test it before we deploy! Feliz Navidad!’

The poor woman behind the counter typed so much I was pretty sure she was writing a book and it had nothing to do with me. Then she began scanning all the packages and letters in the small office as I stood in front of her. One by one. There was a stack of notices from the Agencia de Tributaria (the tax man – gulp). But no luck. Finally, she got up and went out to the van parked on the street and began rummaging through the contents. She emerged with two boxes. One of which was ours.

Then she came back around the counter, more typing, and then her eyes got big behind her fogged up cat-eye glasses. She turned the box over multiple times. So much that I could finally read the sender – now I know who it’s from – and the customs declaration form. She told me how much duty I would need to cough up. I handed her a €20 note. More typing, then she picked up the phone. Who she would be calling about this box, I really had no idea. The conversation was a long one. I turned around and found the entire population of Palas de Rei standing behind me giving me the hairy eyeball. I shrugged. What could I do?

The phone conversation continued. The woman on my end was sort of freaking out. I wondered what was in this box. What scary things could come from the state of Maine? It’s like the Canada of states in the US. Only nice people are allowed to live there. She took photos of each side of the package, including the barcode the US postal service uses to sell you the box at the mail store.

The phone was replaced in the cradle. She took off her fogged up glasses and delivered the news.

‘Do you have other things to do in Palas?’

I told her I did not. I needed to head to Lugo to the HULA for the vacunacion. She bit her lip.

‘It’s the system. It isn’t working. I can’t do anything.’ She was visibly sweating.

‘It’s ok.’ I told her. ‘You can give me the box’ it was within my reach, ‘keep the money and process it when the system comes up.’ She had taken photos of it.

But I was dreaming. This was never going to happen, and have now been instructed to come back tomorrow. I felt kind of bad leaving her there. She was going to have to deliver the same bad news to the throngs of angry townspeople behind me. And here, people have actual pitchforks. It’s not just a metaphor.

So I hopped into the car and we drove to the HULA. I decided to risk the potential wrath of the staff there, so I don’t have to make another trip into the city to get the jab tomorrow. It’s a long drive and I had a previously scheduled Dr appointment today, anyway. Jeff was getting his jab today, too. And I have discovered a flaw in their summoning system.

Once they send you the sms message summoning you for the jab, and your appointment time, you can use that QR code forever. It doesn’t expire and it is not connected to your appointment time. The third sms message contains the exact same QR code from the last two summons I received. The line monitor only checks if you have your QR code, not the appointment time. So I got in line, and showed my QR code. Jeff tried to stay away from me and pretended we were not together. He hates such risky endeavors. ‘Just drive back.’ But I was less than 24 hours early. And it was one less trip pumping carbon into the atmosphere. I was saving the environment, for God’s sake. 😉

In less than 5 minutes I had scanned my barcode, the guy pulled up my record, I was jabbed, and on my way. No problema. Jeff came out at the same time from a separate cubicle. I swear, he looked like we had just robbed a bank.

‘Did they say anything to you?’ He asked in a whisper.

‘No. I watched what came up on the screen. The guy’s job is to give me the jab. He’s not an appointment monitor. Besides, they actually want us all inoculated against this thing. It’s fine.’

And since we were in Lugo and they sent me the message that my updated car title is in at the Lugo ITV, I decided a little detour was in order. I popped into the oficina and the lady immediately motioned me forward. I went to get out my NIE card and fish the car registration out of my bag – as instructed by the message I received – but the woman just got up and waved her hand. Then she went to the big filing cabinet behind her and fished through files, finally pulling out a file containing a thick plastic folder. (Recording all my failures at performing the plethora of procedures of the ITV in Lugo, I am very sure) She removed a bunch of papers, had me sign stuff and handed me an officially stamped and signed updated car title that says our trailer hitch is now officially on the title as part of our vehicle.

I held up my NIE card in case she wanted to check who I was but she laughed ‘We know who you are.’

OK…and that’s a good thing, right?

Jeff just laughed when I told him. ‘You are becoming notorious. Even in Galicia.’

I frowned ‘I think that’s a bit of a strong word. I prefer ‘well known’. And anyway, everyone makes mistakes. And mine are all of the non-malicious variety.’

‘Yes.’ He smiled ‘and people are learning they should put out the At Lunch sign on their counters when they see you pull up.’

We will spend the rest of today hoping that the third jab isn’t as bad as the second. And after such a busy morning, The Notorious KFD is going to make herself a soothing cup of tea.

Merry Christmas, All 🎄🥂

We awoke to the sunrise and blue-ish skies today. None of the fierce storm they predicted any where in sight.

Yesterday I had to go into Santiago to a long awaited appointment with a specialist. 4 pm on Christmas eve. We wouldn’t have been out and about if I didn’t need to see this Doc. It’s an appointment I had already delayed from when Emilie was supposed to be here. I couldn’t put it off any longer. Where the Dr office is located it seemed like all the residents must have been vanished. Not a person on the street. Jeff was with me and he remarked on how deserted it was. Not even a child outside on a balcony. Or a dog barking. Nothing. Coming back through Arzua and Melide after dark was the same. Normally, even in pandemic times the streets are teeming on a holiday. I think everyone is spooked.

I had wanted to go to the church in Melide for Christmas eve services but decided it was best to give it a miss. Lighting a candle at home, while less festive, works too.

And we are celebrating here on the farm. Jeff and I don’t usually exchange gifts at Christmas. We always focused on our kids and making Christmas magical for them. Although, one year Jeff did surprise me with a new car with a big red bow on the hood. But it seems Santa didn’t forget me this year. I awoke this morning to a couple of gifts under our tree.

As we turn the page from 2021 to 2022, we are starting to prep for our new food truck, etc. I’ve been purchasing some things as I get ready to test out recipes for The Happiness Café. Jeff must have been channeling this in his Christmas shopping. Nothing says Christmas like a meat cleaver.

And he ordered me a map of all routes of the Camino as they converge across Northern Spain. I love it.

‘We can frame it and I’ll put an arrow showing where we are. You can put it up on the food truck.’ Jeff told me.

Very thoughtful. And today I will use my new knife for our non-traditional Christmas Chinese stir-fry, paired with some Spanish cava (sparkling wine). I have a new cast iron wok and all the ingredients for a healthy Christmas meal. The cleaver will come in very handy.

We’ve already been out to spread some Christmas cheer with the neighborhood horses. Special apples on Christmas morning had them running to the fence at full gallop. I think they appreciated my new Christmas pajamas. 🎅

We hope you are all enjoying a lovely, safe, warm Holiday wherever you are. May the spirit of the season infuse us all with more kindness and compassion to carry us through the next year. Towards ourselves and others. The world needs it more than ever. And so do we. Merry Christmas, everyone. Peace ☮️

We Will Make It Through This

The past 48 hours has been a bit of a ride. But it seems to have subsided.

It started for Jeff two days ago and came on like a freight train. In just a few hours he went from perfectly fine to sick as a dog, shivering and yet burning up. He ran a high fever all night Tuesday night. I was very concerned, staying up all night with him pumping paracetamol into him and checking his O2 level. It held at 92-93 for most of the night. By the morning his temp had gone down. And mine had started rising. I was about 12 hours behind him. I braced myself after flashing back to March and April of 2020. I never, ever want to go through that again. I don’t think either of our bodies could take it. I wondered if we should try to get a test but there are only tests available in Lugo or Santiago and neither of us were up for driving.

We switched places. Jeff did for me all day what I had done for him the night before. But sleeping is the best medicine and when I woke up today at noon I was a new person. Weird.

This was nothing like Covid before. And I read in the paper that the actual flu is making a strong come back. This seemed like a 24 hour flu. It hits you hard, then departs. We are both feeling much better. So much so that we went for a walk this afternoon. Two days ago that was unthinkable. I wanted to go because a storm is coming. We likely won’t leave the house for a few days.

It was sunny for some of it. I took some photos. Very friendly socially distanced hunters and their happy dogs in the neighborhood. I had a good pet and lots of licking of my hands.

Hunting for javalies

Here is someone who didn’t like their boots. They are covered in sloppy glue keeping the soles on. Perhaps they learned that putting your wet boots in an industrial dryer in a town on the Camino isn’t a good idea. The glue keeping the sole to the upper doesn’t like dryer heat.

And finally, a little break to watch two sets of twins. Baby lambs. One set born last week. The other just this morning. We waited and watched. The second lamb wasn’t getting up. The farmer and his wife were out watching too. Not intervening because if they did, it is possible the mother would reject the lamb. The baby finally got up and found her mama. All is well.

Jeff and I have much to be grateful for this Christmas. Not the least of which is our health. And our ability to fight off whatever that bug was. We are warm and dry on the farm with Señor Sir. The three of us are on the mend. I know it seems dark in the world right now. Contagion is raging. And political uncertainty abounds. But we just passed the winter solstice. The darkest moment of our year in the Northern Hemisphere. And I like to believe that it will only get brighter from here – both literally and figuratively. Watching those little lambs today are a symbol of hope to me. We are like the littlest one. Our legs might be wobbly and it will require all our strength to stand. But we will do it. And we can greet this new year knowing that with perseverance we will make it through. And thrive.

Fun and Games

Like last year, this Christmas will just be the two of us. No travel to exotic locales. No trip back to the US to see family and friends. But one thing is very different this year. We are on the farm, instead of our apartment in Valencia. So having a post-Christmas dinner virus-free ramble down the Camino to facilitate digestion will be in the cards.

And speaking of cards. We will wile away Christmas day watching our favorite holiday movies, and playing games. And not just two person games. I like to play four hand Uno with just two people. It makes it more fun. A rousing session of full contact Jenga seems particularly Christmasy this year. And then there are the video games.

I have never been into video games. Even as a child. My parents owned a grocery store when I was a kid. And like most grocery stores in the US in the 1970’s and 80’s, there were large console video games that stood near the doors and were always packed with kids after school. Or scary raggedy smoking characters smelling of booze during the day. Back then, home video game consoles were stuff of myth and legend. I never indulged in video games at our parents store, as my brother, Todd, fed quarter after quarter into Space Invaders or Pac Man. Or Frogger. It seemed like a total waste of time and money to me. At least a slot machine gives you odds on winning something. It’s why I have always left Las Vegas a winner. I know when to quit while I’m ahead. A video game would never spit out cash.

So, during that time I played one video game with my brother. PONG. We got it for Christmas with a small portable black and white TV. Todd made a case for keeping it in his room. He thought he got the better of me. I acquiesced, because I didn’t care. I thought it was stupid and boring.

Marrying Jeff meant video games and consoles would be part of my life. He purchased every single one that has been produced since 1997. And every new version. And when we moved to Spain we gave them all to our eldest, Ryan, including the vintage Atari Jeff had from the 80’s. And upon arrival in Spain, we promptly purchased them all back again with the European electrical standard. Yay! I still didn’t care. Jeff played and I sometimes watched. If it was Zelda and he needed advice on making potions and food. I had them memorized. Or how to sooth his horse. But, other than that, I have remained firmly in the ‘video games are boring’ camp. OK. I did do a little Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero on Christmas once. But thats not really video games. It’s singing (horribly <eek>) and dancing <😳 even more horribly>, while my children mocked me unmercifully. But with the Omicron portion of the pandemic raging, I decided to give playing a real video game a go.

Jeff queued up the game. He explained how to use the controller, in minute detail. I held it like the foreign object it is. Pushing buttons and moving joy sticks with my thumb and forefinger. Then Jeff began his tutorial on how I should approach the task before me.

‘Now. This one is tricky. Even if you’re not a beginner. You have to go take out the gun at the end of the canyon. There are guns and lasers everywhere along the way. No place is safe to hide. You’ll probably die a hundred times before you understand how it works. But don’t get discouraged. Every one of us has been there. It took me a long time to get through this canyon. You just have to get the hang of it.’ He warned.

I bit my lip. Tilted the view so I could see a bit further. I had just learned how to do that and felt pretty proud. Jeff urged me forward. I looked down at the controller, then up at the screen. I thought, ‘Screw it. I have no idea what I am doing.’ So instead of shooting at the guns I just ran straight down the canyon and took out the gun at the end. Then I turned to Jeff.

‘What do I do now?’ I asked him.

His mouth was hanging open, but he recovered. ‘Uh. I guess you can do it that way. But you were supposed to take out the guns and lasers on the way.’

‘I guess.’ I said ‘But the goal was to get the big gun at the end. Right? You told me that, so I did.’

He looked disconcerted. ‘OK. So a bit of beginners luck. Let’s move on to the next bit. This one has patrols. You have to avoid being seen while you make your way to the end and blow up the fuel tanks. If they see you, they’ll kill you and you have to start over. If you see them, you have to kill them first.’

I moved forward with trepidation. I watched for the pattern of how they patrolled the area laden with shipping containers. Then I employed my already tried and true method. I ran. In short order, I had blown up the fuel depot and killed all the guards. ‘What do I do now?’

Jeff sat there for a moment. Then he laughed.

‘Are you enjoying this?’ He asked.

‘I guess.’ I told him. ‘It’s just a bunch of tasks. You have a list of things you need to get done. Its like life. You can over think it. Freak yourself out. Or you can focus on the goal and get it done. The guards and the lasers and guns are just a distraction. What’s the saying ‘You don’t have to throw a rock at every dog that barks’? Basically, video games are a metaphor for life.’ I considered this for a moment. ‘Huh. Who knew?’

Jeff just sat there staring at me like I had lost my mind. I’m pretty sure I just ruined playing Halo or Fortnite for him. Forever. But, after all these years, I kind of get it now. Maybe life is just Fun and Games, after all.

Ping!!

We have been summoned. Jeff got his text first thing this morning. I got mine an hour later. We will be getting the jab for the third dose on December 27th and 28th at the HULA in Lugo. Here, they don’t call it ‘a third dose’. Just a refuerzo. Reinforcement.

Galicia – all of Spain, really – has begun administering the two shot protocol to children 5-11 years old. This will be completed by the end of January. They could have done it much sooner but there weren’t enough vaccines for this group available. Batches covering this age range are being delivered every three weeks. The next batch comes January 3rd.

The news is filled with photos and testimonials of parents and their children. Kids smiling behind masks, holding up their bracelets proudly showing they have received the first dose. Beloved mascotas from local cartoon shows are costumed and in lines handing out free books (a very Galician thing to do) and stickers. It’s a festive atmosphere. Music plays. Children exiting the building overwhelmingly say they feel safer now. And their parents are relieved. They say they were scared but it didn’t hurt one bit. ‘We all talked about it in class today. But there was nothing to be afraid of.’

It was so wonderful to see those kids entering the vaccidromes. Just one step closer to protecting everyone. And Jeff and I were so excited to get our texts summoning us to the HULA. After us, they will begin boosting the 40-49 year olds. It was frustrating at the time, but I think Spain and Portugal’s approach to vaccines has been smart. By age group. Tell people they have to wait for it and it just activates their reptilian brain. We all crave what we don’t have. It’s why these two countries have the highest vaccination rates in the world. When the ping! comes you’re fairly salivating to get your shot. Jeff held up his phone, smiling.

‘Look what just came through.’

I was a week behind him in getting vaccinated in June. So I was surprised to get the summons just an hour after his. We will have to make two trips in to Lugo over two days after Christmas. But no worries. I would walk there if I had to.

Sadly, we will miss our Christmas dinner plans with friends in Santiago on the 25th. We just can’t risk it with Omicron. For them or for us. If only we had gotten the jab a few weeks ago. But there will be other Christmases. And with the children being called in Spain, a brighter future is just around the corner. Perhaps one where Covid will be just another cold or flu. Now, that will be a fiesta to end all fiestas. A real reason to celebrate. But entering the new year having gotten the jab is the only Christmas present I really care about this season. The perfect fit and I promise not to exchange it for something else. Jeff and I will be topped up with immunity. A little bit safer until the next round.