Praying For Rain

I come from pioneer stock. People who crossed the US when there were no roads, or railroads. Long before cars and airplanes, or California was even a state. They carried all they owned in a wagon with wooden wheels, pulled by animals, and they walked. You have to be stubborn, and maybe desperate, to undertake such an adventure. And when they got to where they were going, their homestead, they set down roots and many became farmers. Just like my grandfather.

Farming was almost a compulsion for my grandpa. The one who taught me how to fish. He farmed strawberries and sheep. When I was little, I would help feed the lambs in a pen outside my grandmother’s kitchen door. The lambs whose mothers didn’t survive the birthing process. And when I wrote my first novel there is a character of a sheep farmer who owns a farm just north of Logroño, in honor of my grandfather. And what do farmers worry about more than anything else? The weather, of course. It’s in their DNA.

My parent’s both inherited this gene from their forefathers. When we moved from Los Angeles to Oregon, my mother would write letters back to her favorite aunt and uncle in Southern California. A childless couple, she was their surrogate daughter and once a week they exchanged envelopes. And once a week, they each would cut the weekly weather forecast from the local newspaper and slip it into the weekly correspondence. I know that my mother’s uncle kept every one of the weather slips she ever sent, over a twenty + year period. And she looked forward to receiving theirs.

After I grew up and moved away to other states far from where I was raised, or traveled to the far corners of the world, when I would call home, one of the very first questions would always be shouted from my Dad in the background as my mother spoke to me. ‘What’s the weather like there?’ And then my mother would say it to me, again. ‘Your father wants to know what the weather is like there.’ He kept a world clock next to his chair, but he couldn’t conjure the weather where his children were across the globe.

Sometimes, my mother would call me out of the blue. ‘You know you’re supposed to be getting a big snow storm tomorrow.’ she would say. ‘We just saw it on the news.’

I would often be left speechless by these pronouncements. All of Chicago would have been on high alert. Including those at my office. ‘You know I live here, right?’

‘Well, yes.’ she would tell me. ‘I just wanted to make sure you knew about it.’

Sometimes I would wonder how she thought I was able to successfully operate in the world on a daily basis as an adult. To be fair, she did this for all the The Charlie Brown holiday specials that would play on tv every year, too – until I moved to Spain. Amongst other topics. It wasn’t isolated just to the weather.

So, it’s no wonder I have been worried, about the weather, no less. Sure, it’s been hot. Baking hot, in Spain this year. But I wasn’t as worried about that. I was worried about when the rains finally came. Because Galicia is a rainy place. And I am operating a food truck with no permanent structure over my tables – because it’s not allowed. What would happen when the monsoons started and Pilgrims had nowhere to shelter? Would my business, ironically, dry up when the water began to fall?

We’ve had a few days of rain, but none during my opening hours. Until today. We awoke to a deluge, wind, and thunder. I wondered if opening up was a fool’s errand. Who would stop here in this? But, as with so very many things, I was wrong. Very wrong. As the sun rose, Pilgrims began trudging down the road in their rain ponchos, leaning against the wind and the water. I was in the food truck with the door closed for the first time, against the cold and the rain – in a coat – in August. Jeff opened the gate and put the sign out. Then, I proceeded to have my best day ever.

In the first two hours after opening I had sold out of a ton of stuff, exhausted the waffle batter, run out of cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, and had begun enthusiastically pushing frozen fruit smoothies in a cold downpour.

‘What’s good?’ they would ask.

‘The smoothies. Get a smoothie.’

It turns out, as long as I can keep the umbrellas positioned correctly, the tables dry with a squeegee, and dry towels under pilgrim bums, people will grab a table and not let it go. They sat there in their rain gear, and just kept ordering warm things. Sadly, if they ordered an espresso it was an Americano by the time it got to their table, so much rain had fallen into the cup. But it was awesome!

I am no longer concerned about the autumn, when the weather will turn cold and wet. Apparently, that’s my sweet spot. And I know why. They say those of us who grew up in the Pacific Northwest of the US, all have webbed feet (like ducks – the mascot of our State University). Because it is a very rainy, wet place. Or it used to be. So, landing in Galicia and opening a foot truck in the wettest part of Spain is right in my wheelhouse. I can take a page out of that scene in the movie Forrest Gump, where Lieutenant Dan shouts into the hurricane ‘You call that a storm?! Come and get me!’ Because, from now on, just like my grandfather, I’m praying for rain. And a lot of it.

A Second Act

After returning from my six week Camino in May. And two weeks of a visit from my worst houseguest ever, Covid, I headed out to our greenhouse out back, after a big wind storm. Uh oh.

The greenhouse was destroyed. And the plants inside? Well, let’s just say that Jeff had forgotten to water them while I was away. Two months without water will kill the heartiest of plants. and these were plants I had on the terrace in Valencia.

My lovely pomegranate, olive, and kumquat trees were clearly dead. I was so sad. They were the very first plants I bought 4years before when we first moved to Spain. We couldn’t have a pet in el Compartimento, and my need for caring for live things had to be sated by these plants. When we almost bought that house on the Portugal coast – staying there for two months – the trees were in the car when we crossed the border. So, seeing them completely dried up broke my heart. That pomegranate inspired my painting.

I pulled them out and stuck them behind the house. I would reuse the pots. One day, as I was replanting my window boxes with geraniums, I noticed a bit of green on the pomegranate. Just a few hints of green on the stem. So, I started watering all three trees. Lo and behold, they were not dead. Just sleeping. Waiting for a little love. I still have plenty to give, and that pomegranate surprised me by bearing more blossoms this year than ever before. I will have a bush of pomegranates later this fall. A great reminder than you can’t summarily count out even seemingly hopeless cases. Plants, and people, will often surprise you.

My Second Act…

If we live long enough, and are healthy, we all have the opportunity for second acts. Or, even third or fourth ones. Reinvention is the new black. A mixed fashion metaphor, I know.

A few days ago, I met a lovely Belgian girl. She showed up in the afternoon and ordered…wait for it. A Belgian waffle. She had walked from Le Puy in France. Nearly 1600kms. We got to talking and she spoke about what she learned on the walk. It started when she ended a 9 year relationship and quit her job. At loose ends, she started walking.

‘I don’t want to do what I trained for, anymore. I want to discover what inspires me. And do that.’

She talked about the support she had from her Mom to go out and find herself.

‘My Mom is in a gilded cage, she calls it. Making too much money to quit. And yet, she is not happy doing it. Her passion is elsewhere.’

Been there, done that. How wonderful it is her mother isn’t insisting she ‘be practical’ or ‘suck it up’. Her mother is clearly inspiring her.

We had a long conversation – maybe two hours – between customers. She told me her story and she asked about me ending up here. When she left, I didn’t wish her Buen Camino. I sent her off with ‘I hope you discover your passion, and are happy.’🙏 She smiled and said ‘You, too.’

And, of course, that is my focus now. I love what I am doing with the food truck, and our bigger plans. But, it’s my writing that inspires me and sets my heart afire. Its between customers in the afternoons and after I close up that I write. And now, I have another fun little project.

Just The Facts

As a kid, my friends and I used to produce our own newspaper. And, when I was in high school, I was the editor of our school newspaper, and the editor of the yearbook. Traveling the world as an journalist was a dream I had held for a long time. But, when I went to college, my Great Depression-era parents encouraged a more practical approach. I needed to study something where I could make money. A back up plan. But, as it usually does, the back up plan becomes The Plan. Because the money is there. And very soon, the dream is a distant memory. So entrenched in the mists, we can hardly tell it was ever there, at all. But our heart and soul never forgets.

Five years ago, I started writing this blog. And my first novel. Then, I wrote a second novel and I kept writing the blog. Recently, I was asked by an organization called Age in Spain, to write their column for The Euro Weekly News – Spain’s leading English language newspaper.

Age in Spain is a charity who helps English speakers access services and navigate Spanish law and the bureaucracy. Especially, post Brexit. They are staffed with a cadre of volunteers who answer questions, provide emotional support to combat elder loneliness, and help english speakers live independently for longer in Spain. All, so they can lead fuller lives as they, well, get older and age in Spain. A great organization. Age in Spain have a monthly column in the Euro Weekly News and they asked if I could write topical columns in an engaging, or perhaps funny way. And I said ‘Absolutely Not! What? Do you think I am old?!? Ha! Actually, I was honored to be asked and thrilled to write for them.

Now, don’t get too excited. I won’t be scooping CNN on arms dealing on the Med. Or beating the BBC to the next big corruption scandal of the ongoing energy crisis. Or reporting from a humanitarian catastrophe in Africa. All my journalistic dreams as a teenager. But, this column is right in my wheelhouse. I can do hilarious and engaging. Certainly, in regards to living in Spain. And, I get to help a great organization engage with their target audience and get their message out so people get the help they need. Everyone wins!

I may not be a 30 year old blond Belgian beauty, but my second act, ok, maybe my 3rd, is in full swing. Just like my plucky little pomegranate tree, it’s not over quite yet. It seems I can still bear fruit. And, I’m just getting started.

The Baker of El Mujandar – A Call For Beta Readers

As most of you are aware, I’m a writer. Well, a writer and a smoothie-cafe-con-leche-waffle maker, too. But, mainly, I love to write. And I am so grateful that I have all of you to read what I write. I never take that for granted.

Right now, I am finishing up a manuscript and would love to get feedback from readers. Yes, there will be typos and sentences that will leave you saying ‘What is she trying to say?’ Or ‘You could drive a truck through this plot hole!’ Perhaps that happens with the blog, too😉. But, if you might be willing to read through the book and send me feedback – it can just be ‘I hated this book’ – I would be eternally grateful. First, let me tell you a bit about the story of The Baker of El Mujandar.

This story was born when we still lived in Valencia. I read in the local newspaper, Las Provincias, about a village in the Comunidad de Valencia who was desperate for a baker. Anyone who knows Spain knows that a town without a baker is a town without bread. And a town without bread is no town at all. They were offering a full bakery with an apartment above to a qualified candidate, who was willing to move to the town. Needless to say, this story caught my eye, and my imagination.

My story is about a small town in Cordoba, at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Their old baker has died and the mayor, Don Manuel, has advertised for a new one. Like in the news story, this baker will receive a bakery and the apartment above it. But, when the new baker of El Mujandar arrives on the train, as the brass band welcomes him on the platform, it soon becomes clear that he has never baked a cookie, let alone bread, in his life. Yes, he answers to the correct name, but he is not who he says he is, and the mayor’s daughter knows it.

Cast of Characters

Xoan – The Baker of El Mujandar

Diego – Xoan’s son

Esperanza – Xoan’s lawyer

Manolo – Xoan’s best friend

Loli – The mayor of El Mujandar’s daughter

Hector – The butcher of El Mujandar

Father Sebastian – church priest

Doctor Antonio – town doctor

We all have very busy lives. Believe me, I know. So, please, no pressure. But, if you are looking for a read and are willing to be a beta reader, when I wrap things up on this manuscript, I will shoot it off to you. I have already submitted the first 3000 words to a writing competition in the UK, and it has made the first cut as a finalist. Fingers crossed it makes the shortlist. I’ve been wrapping it up in the hammock – ugh – and the the food truck, between customers. Pro tip: Waffle batter on the laptop is not a good look 😳 But, it’s time to finish this thing and see what happens 🤞

Camino Miracles & Pixie Dust

Some days are special days. Days when you meet people who make your world a bit brighter. When you feel like there is pixie dust flitting in the air.

I love meeting people from this blog. And, today, it was a blog bonanza! It’s no wonder. Americans have arrived on the Camino. Today, was packed to the gills with Americans! And amongst the throng were some awesome folks I have met through writing this blog! What a gift.

It’s always interesting meeting people who know more about you – lets face it, every thought in my head – than you know about them. But, its fun to turn the tables and hear their stories. Not just of their Camino, but who they are in their regular life. I got to meet families and their friends today. And whip them up some comfort food.

And they get to see our life. The one they’ve only read about. I was asked ‘Is that the hammock you got caught in?’ Ha! I wanted to say ‘Sure, it looks innocuous enough, but there’s a devil living in there. I’m pretty sure.’ But, I didn’t.

Everyone commented on people stopping to take photos of the house. ‘You’ve written about it. But people actually stop and take pictures’. It’s true. Jeff and I laugh. We are in thousands of peoples Camino photos, not because we are super models. It’s because of the house and the setting. Even we don’t understand it.

Then, we had one young woman who stopped by. Jasmine is the daughter of friends of friends in Seattle. She is a teacher now, in Malaysia. Yesterday, she messaged me on our Happiness Cafe FB page from Palas de Rei and told me she would be coming today. She had breakfast and before she left she handed me €5.

‘You have a special place here. Use that to help someone who needs it. Pay for someone’s meal or something.’

I love this idea. A friend of ours in Santiago, who happens to be a priest, suggested this to me last year.

‘If someone tips you big, you can pass it on to another Pilgrim who is in need.’ A lovely idea.

We help a lot of people with free water, even though it’s not free to us right now. Sometimes, I give people a break if they come up short when paying. I learned that from my Mom in their grocery store. It was in a poor area. She did it all the time, especially with kids.

I was crazy busy today up until the Pilgrims dwindled to a trickle at 2pm. I had closed up, when suddenly, there were four people at the gate. They looked worse for wear. It was unbearably hot. I walked out to see how I could help.

‘We are hungry and nothing is open. But we are out of cash. Do you have any water?’ They held up water bottles.

‘Where are you headed.’ I asked.

‘Melide.’

An hour and a half away in this heat. I let them in the gate and filled their water bottles with bottled water. Then, handed out protein bars and Aquarius water.

‘Oh my God. You are so nice.’ These young people exclaimed.

‘No.’ I told them. ‘It’s not me. A pilgrim named, Jasmine, paid for your Aquarius water and protein bars. Earlier today. She gave me the money and told me to help someone who needs it. You guys need help. Jasmine helped you. Now, you should pass it on and help someone else. I think she would like that.’

They left through the gate, abuzz about how incredible this experience was. It made me smile. A Camino Miracle, bought to you by Jasmine, covered in a little bit of pixie dust.

The Hammock Giveth & Taketh Away

Recently, I decided we needed more hammocks. Who doesn’t? I mean, we have a hundred trees. And, what goes with trees and Pilgrims? Hammocks!

I’m a big fan of the hammock. We had a big one in Seattle under the covered deck overlooking the pool. I could lay on it in the shade and watch the kids swim from there. Jeff strung up a camping hammock for the kids and they would beg to sleep in it on warm summer nights. And I had one in the Espacio Creativo in Valencia. Just in case I became tired while painting. 🤣

The hammock was one of the first things I put up when we moved to the farm, and I have used it quite a bit on lazy summer days. But, it’s more of a banana style hammock. It encloses you like a pea pod. I prefer the big, wide canvas hammock. Or, a wide rope hammock.

People who come here, like to rest and relax. And where is better on a warm breezy day than a hammock, under the shade of a leafy chestnut tree? Nowhere. So, I bought two new hammocks and Jeff strung them up. Then, he went to take a nap in the house.

I got into the hammock, just fine. But, soon I discovered that the sun had changed position and drifted directly into my field of vision. I needed to be on the other side. I haven’t laid in a big wide hammock in a very long time. So, I forgot the tricky bit. Aka the balancing required when entering and exiting a hammock.

I got turned sideways but then the hammock tilted. I scramble to restore equilibrium. Don’t ask me how, but soon, I had been turned upside down, yet, still entangled in the hammock. Honestly, it all happened so fast, but yet in slow motion, it defied the laws of physics. A turtle on my back, I was officially stuck! Like a cartoon character. As though caught in full body Chinese handcuffs, or quicksand, the more I tried to free myself, the more entangled I became. It wasn’t not a little humiliating. What could I do?

‘Help! Help!’

But Jeff was asleep. I heard LuLu kitty meowing loudly at the window in the living room, herself distraught at my distress. But, even if she was outside, she lacks the required opposable thumbs with which to free me.

‘Help! Help!’ I cried. Praying it was loud enough to awaken Jeff, but not loud enough to summon Marie Carmen, next door. I can just hear the conversation between our neighbors if Marie Carmen could see me in this state.

<uproarious laughter> ‘…and then I heard a cry coming from their house. I ran over there and she had gotten herself tangled in her own hammock! You should have seen her. Like a fish in a net!’ More laughter. ‘Americana idiota!’ <eye roll>

‘Help! Help!’

Finally, I hear the front door open. Soon, I am looking up into Jeff’s face. He is laughing. ‘How did you manage this?’ He asks me. Not in a mocking way, yet. He actually wanted to know. Like, the math involved.

‘Don’t ask me that! If I knew, do you think I would have done it?! Just get me outta here.’

‘Let me take a picture, first.’ he reached for his phone. Big mistake.

I gave him my Darth Vader death stare. ‘You know eventually I will get out of here.’

He put the phone way, then unwound me and restored both me and the hammock to our natural states. I was not happy it had taken him so long to respond to my plight, and said so.

‘Well, I was sleeping. I thought it was a dream. Then, I realized that it was you, and the cat, crying for help.’

But I was having none of it. ‘Just help me get back in it, and bring me my cellphone, just incase it happens again.’

Jeff looked at me incredulous. ‘Do you really think you could do that whole thing, again?’

Heavy sigh. I didn’t need to answer his question because we both know the truth. Somehow, some way, I could do it again, just like the first time. Without even trying.

The Escape Hatch

I like security blanket. And hedging my bets against what ifs. It’s how I am wired. Escape hatches. Look for the escape hatches.

My family used to laugh at me when we went anywhere. My kids and Jeff. I can enter a crowded market in Istanbul or Hong Kong and find the fastest, most efficient way through, while shopping on the way. They just gotta keep up. My back is always to the wall of any table, in any restaurant. And, I will have already mentally measured the window height before we sit down. I like to know where the exits are. This might include the kitchen.

That’s weird you’re saying right about now. But, I like to think of it as prepared.

A few weeks ago, we sent our passports to the US Embassy in Madrid. They were coming up for renewal in March of next year. We have to renew our Spanish visas soon, and the combination of the visa renewal and the passports expiring put us in a bit of a pinch. So, if you remember, we sent them off. It has made me nervous that, after paying for tracking and signature required, the the tracking has not worked. They went into a black hole.

Not having a valid passport makes me twitchy. Well, technically, our old passports are still valid, but they were in that envelope we sent to Madrid. You can have more than one US passport at a time. Especially, if you travel a lot. Eventually, you run out of pages and need another one before the others expire. They don’t care.

I like having a passport easily accessible. But, for weeks, we have been in Spain without passports. It just felt weird. Checking into hotels, as foreigners, they always ask for our passports. Sure, we have our Spanish issued NIE cards (National Identification para Extranjeros) and we used those at the hotel reception, but the question just reminded me that we had no US government issued ID marking us a US citizens. Flying without a net.

If we had needed to leave the country, except within the Schengen countries, we couldn’t. Even flying back to the US. Nope. My mind worked through potential scenarios. How, if required, might we get to the US, in an emergency? What embassy we would go to from here, in which country, and what documents we would have to bring with us? Lisbon would be my preferred. Drivable and not so many US citizens living in Portugal that there would be a potential bottleneck getting an appointment for a one-time emergency temporary passport.

But, alas, none of this is necessary. A courier service just pulled up to the gate. No, it was not Correos using the pre-paid envelopes I enclosed before handing them to the 900 yr old postal lady in Melide. This was a van with a bit more security. I had to give a blood sample and show several forms of ID, my Kindergarten graduation certificate, to prove who I was. Because, well, the dude was holding my passports. Then, I signed for, and was ceremoniously handed the package with security envelopes inside. Each containing one document. And a separate one with my prepaid envelopes, which they failed to use. Ha! A little mocking, don’t you think?

Our new passports are the ‘Next-Generation version’. Sounds kind of Stat Trek-y. They started issuing them in foreign embassies in 2021. I don’t know about the roll out back in the US. They’re thick, like books. They have a carbon fiber data page. And a holographic strip surrounding your head. There are other new security features, too. We like to have the big passports (50 pages) so we don’t run out of visa space. Not that I have gone anywhere in more than 2 1/2 yrs. But, again, who knows what the next ten years holds. I like to be prepared. One thing I wish they didn’t do is change our passport numbers. I had the old ones memorized, for both of us. 🙄 You’d be surprised how many times you need to enter a passport number when living in another country. Government business forms, the bank, social security. In Spanish bureaucracy, this is going to take some getting used to.

But, we are now good to go for ten more years. Just one less thing. I’ll sleep better tonight knowing my escape hatch is in the house. But this whole passport thing as taught me one important lesson that I will not soon forget. That 900 yr old lady in the Correos office in Melide? Hello Kitty stamps or no, she’s still got it. 😉

A Brush With The Law

When I was a child, my Dad worked two jobs. On top of his normal job, on weekends, he worked as a policeman for the county where we lived. I hated it. It just made my friends more afraid of him. Our next door neighbor was a motorcycle policeman for the city, as well. The guy also worked undercover infiltrating The Hells Angels. A motorcycle gang. So, growing up, being around police was a normal occurrence for me.

My first encounter with police officers I didn’t actually know, was at age 18 driving home from university for the weekend. A policeman pulled me over. After he wrote up the ticket for making a lefthand turn on an orange 😉 light, he chastised me a bit.

‘You should know that is the most dangerous intersection in this city.’

‘I know.’ I told him sheepishly ‘My Dad was a cop.’

The policeman asked who my Dad was. When I told him, he got more angry with me than committing the violation. ‘Why didn’t you tell me before I wrote the ticket.’ As he ripped it up. ‘Now, it’s more paperwork.’

In Spain, these days I only speak to Guardia Civil on horseback. But my first encounter with them was when they stopped to help me when I was driving back from Lugo to buy the farm and I had a heart incident. They were so kind, held my hand, and called an ambulance. I love these guys.

And Speaking of Medical Thingsw…

This morning, we were late for Jeff’s annual physical. He hates this day and was dragging his feet like a toddler. So, we were running a bit behind. I was driving. When we came around a corner, I was waved to the side of the road by my friends in the Guardia Civil. Apparently, I had been clocked speeding by a remote traffic camera/radar. There is one 100 meter stretch on the N547 that goes from 90kph to 60. Then back up to 90. I was going 76.

The police were lovely and spoke very slowly so I would understand. It took all of five minutes from the stop, to getting the citation. No points off my license, but it’s a €100 fine. I get a 50% discount if I pay it before the 22nd of August.

Immediately, after Jeff’s Dr appointment I went to the Caxiabank to pay the ticket. You can pay traffic tickets at this bank, only. Or the post office. I didn’t bother with trying to get the 900 yr old lady at the local Correos office to wrap her head around me paying for my moving violation. Since we haven’t received our passports yet – nor a notice they were delivered to the US embassy in Madrid – I am pretty sure she would have just covered my traffic ticket in Hello Kitty stamps until she was dizzy, and never recorded my payment with the DGT. Being a fugitive from justice in Spain is not on my bucket list.

So I went to the bank. But they stop taking payments for taxes, fees, or traffic tickets at 11am. They stay open until this afternoon, but 11am is the cutoff. Why? We don’t know. So I have to go back tomorrow. And with cash only. At a bank. Seriously.

This is only the second time I have run afoul of Johnny Law in a foreign country. Although, I live here in Spain, so the foreign part is debatable. I collected a parking ticket once in Edinburgh, Scotland. The ticket was so beautiful I was seriously considering pulling a Robert the Bruce and going on the lam, when I received a wee reminder in the post back home in the US. And they required I send back the original ticket with payment. That was punishment enough.

But, this speeding ticket is not my fault. I know this because we were discussing Spanish driving licenses and the points system with friends over dinner on Friday night. They hold powerful sway with the Almighty, and it wasn’t my speeding, but the conversation that resulted in my brush with the law. Thank the Good Lord we weren’t talking about pregnancy or I would be in a world of hurt right about now. Next time, I will insist the conversation sticks strictly to winning the lottery, discovering the fountain of youth, or a huge book deal. Hmmm. On second thought, they’re both Scottish. A double whammy. Maybe this is Scottish karma for paying that Edinburgh parking ticket so late, after all. 😉

Balance

We won’t have well water working on Wednesday, but our coffee provider is putting in a machine to which we can add bottled water. So, it looks like Wednesday morning we will be open for a limited menu and will offer bottled water.

Since I will be back with my nose to the grindstone, I need to get in a few more fun activities that will have to take a back seat for the next few months. So, yesterday we hit Market Day in Melide.

I love Market Day. In Valencia, each neighborhood had a market day. But, in Melide, it’s big and is a bit more tailored to the wants and needs of the town.

There is a big iron monger tent. A couple of plant nurseries. And gobs and gobs of clothes. In larger cities, you wouldn’t see so many clothing and shoe vendors. There are many more choices of real shops selling these things. But in a small town, this is not the case. I like the Moroccan clothing tents, with their brightly colored flowing dresses and robes. Heaven on a hot day.

We enjoyed people watching in the shade of the plane trees.

Cut Me Some Slack

The other activity I want to spend some time learning is slack lining. This is something I have wanted to try for years, but you can’t really slack line in an apartment in the city. Jeff bought me a slack line for my birthday and he attached it between two trees. We have spent the last couple of days learning that we are older and more out of shape than we would prefer to be. You can’t fool yourself doing this. And that slack lining is harder, much harder, than it first appears. Kind of like paddle boarding in the Mediterranean. Note to self: get out my paddle board from the barn.

One essential component of learning to slack line is the ability to laugh at yourself over and over. I have this in abundance so it works well for me. And to jump away from the snap back when you fall. I have been reading that the key to longevity is balance. And the key to balance is keeping your core strong. Slack lining helps with both.

I started out about two inches above the ground and am now up to over a foot. And I have learned that in slack lining, as in life, you need to keep your eyes fixed squarely on a dot on the horizon to stay upright. If you stay focused, you might wobble, but you will get there, however slowly. And watching YouTube videos helps, too.😉

Today, Jeff is making me some balsa wood fish. I can practice my fly casting with some velcro flies. So, I have that to look forward to tomorrow. And, perhaps, driving a few buckets of golf balls. Marie Carmen should be over here any time, peppering me with questions that invariably mean something like ‘What the hell are you Americans up to, now?!’ So she can inform the other neighbors who have given us strange, questioning looks as they pass by. She is the neighborhood ambassador to the local American consulate -aka our farm. I’m pretty sure, with a bit of coaxing, I can get her up on the slack line. If just out of pride.

Yesterday, we were out there messing about. A bold Pilgrim from London came through the closed gate. They don’t do that unless they really need something. It was hot, but he had seen the sign on the bench for water for dogs and horses. Humans seemed a logical progression, I guess. And, he saw us out on the line. He wondered if he could refill his water bottle. I explained our predicament with the well, but ran to the kitchen, and handed him a large bottle of water. Then offered a rest in the shade while he cooled down and rehydrated. He chose to lay in our hammock for awhile. Took a nap.

Despite all my varied interests, I will be very happy to start up the business, again, in a couple of days. The English Pilgrim reminded me yesterday of what I love more than recreating. Being there to help people when they need it. That, along with everything else, strikes just the right balance.

Worth the Wait

This year, my Birthday celebration needed to wait a couple of days. Jeff took yesterday off work and we spent the day doing things that make me happy. What a wonderful day.

Our first stop was to pick up earrings at the local jewelers. Jeff has a good relationship with José, whose family runs a lovely shop in town near the round about. He has all our important dates in his diary and reminds Jeff to pop in to look at gifts for me. 😉 I wonder who gave him those dates, a list of things I might like, and Jeff’s WhatsApp🤔

Getting Lost

A small bag with a small box in hand, we headed north up to Curtis toward A Coruña. A bit further on, nestled in the countryside lay something that is an unusual guilty pleasure of mine. A labyrinth. The Laberinto of Breogan. Opening earlier this year, it has quickly become a popular destination for families. Especially, in summer.

There were less than 50 other people there on a Friday, under mostly overcast skies. We paid the €5 admission fee, received our waypoint tracker, then entered with a ‘good luck’. The hedges forming the walls are cedar. The smell is heavenly as you walk the path.

One of my favorite parts reveals itself in the middle, where a labyrinth for children is begun growing. There are benches for parents to rest while their kids run through child height hedges, just for them.

We partnered up, organically, with a large Spanish family, to both locate all the markers on the sheet they give you at the beginning, and to find our way through. This included a lot of my broken español, their high school inglés, and even more. We all felt silly but were having a ball doing it.

If you are considering spending an hour at the Laberinto de Breogan in Vilarmayor in Coruña, I would recommend going on a weekday. They try to space out the groups who enter. To give you the best experience. A week day will provide the best experience without waiting. They will be open until late October. And, there are other things to see in the area filled with natural beauty and ancient history.

Next Stop

Since we were under a half hour from the seaside town of Sada, where there is a very large showroom for Sargadelos, we swung by to check out this famous Galician pottery in it’s entirety. Sargadelos is ceramics as art and function. Most homes in Galicia, and even further afield in Spain, have Sargadelos. They can take the shape of talismans, warding off bad luck, or encouraging good luck. Or ceramic statues or curios. And, finally, as ceramic serving pieces and tableware. All of which will be painted with Celtic symbols recognizable anywhere in the world.

I bought some coffee cups and saucers, and a few serving pieces. I would like to be able to host a dinner on my newly crafted table one of these days. This should ensure, when I am ready, I’ll be ready.

And Finally

We headed to Santiago for dinner with friends. There are people you meet in life who instantly warm your heart. People who you could spend an hour with, or days, and never tire of their company. Last night, my birthday dinner was no exception. And what did they bring me? A Sargadelos! He is a musician on the Way. Playing a hurdy-gurdy. It’s a hand cranked street organ. I’ve spent the past hour learning all about them online. And our guy is a Camino busker! The perfect gift from two wonderful musicians. 🙏

We said goodnight past midnight, and spent the night in a hotel in Santiago, awoken by singing outside our window on a perfect sunny morning. Finally, a coffee and a wander through antique market tables on the way to the car this head home. The perfect end to wonderful birthday.

Where The Joy Was Hiding

I see key dates in my life as opportunities to stop and reflect. A wedding anniversary. New Years. My birthday. And this year, on the eve of the start of my 57th year, is no different.

Every year I learn something new. Something big. A new block upon which to stand, to take another step to reach the next plateau. So I can learn the next thing. Do I always love the lesson? No. Are there years I take a step backwards? That’s subjective. There is nothing wrong with re-learning. As long as I don’t get stuck there. And, so far, my re-learning years have been just a brief stop on the way forward, toward other things.

This week ends my 56th year. Tomorrow I can say I am 56. That sounds like a lot, but it went by in a flash. There were difficult years. Very, very difficult years, when I wondered if I would make it through. When getting out of bed and putting my feet on the floor took all the energy I possessed. Those years taught me the most. Then, there were years I learned things the hard way. Tripping over my own shoe laces. My own worst enemy. Yet, some others when things came a little easier. But lessons are lessons.

When I walked the Camino in 2017, it had been ten years since I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue. It’s when your body doesn’t produce cortisol in the way it should. You can’t live without it. This comes about after a life filled with so much stress your adrenal glands stop functioning. My Dr told me that we developed adrenal glands to help early humans run from sabor tooth tigers. ‘Something tells me you’ve had to run from far too many sabor tooth tigers in your life.’ He was a world renowned specialist, and would have me come for appointments where his nurse would put me in a warm, calm room. Just to sleep and rest for more than an hour before he would see me. I never wanted to leave after those appointments. Such a calm, soothing place.

His greatest advice to me is something I will never forget. One day, he asked me ‘Kelli. What brings you joy?’

I remember looking at him dumbfounded. No one had ever broached the subject of joy before. Certainly, not a medical Dr with degrees from Harvard on the wall. What brings me joy? I didn’t have time for joy. I had to work as hard as I could, to earn as much as I could, to support my family’s joy. Music lessons, vacations, select sports fees, extra curricular school travel for my kids. The latest and greatest of everything. And to support the hobbies and aspirations of my husband. I didn’t have the luxury of joy, myself. My joy would only be found in their joy. What was this man even talking about? And besides, I wouldn’t even know where to find my own joy. At that point, I couldn’t conjure the feeling of personal happiness in my mind. Let alone my heart. The Dr saw my confusion at such a simple question.

‘The only way you will truly heal is to figure out what brings you joy. Then do that, no matter what.’

Yes, he pumped me full of iv’s and gave me a ton of prescriptions for the pharmacy. But the best prescription was that nugget of wisdom.

It took me a long time to take his advice. A decade more. It wasn’t as though I lived a joyless life during that entire time. I celebrated my children’s triumphs. My husband’s never-ending search for adventure. It’s just that I wasn’t living a life filled with my joy. Where would I find it? Where does the Universe keep the supply of joy and happiness locked up? And who doles it out to those deemed worthy? How do you qualify?

And then, I walked the Camino in the summer of 2017, after a difficult stretch that previous year. And, for the first time I felt sustained, personal joy. Not born of the joys of family or friends. My joy. It was a revelation.

It Starts With Gratitude

Fifteen years after my wise Dr’s advice, there is another lesson that stands out amongst all the others. The lesson of gratitude. Always, gratitude. I read somewhere that no matter what is happening, act as if you had chosen it. It’s the only way to eliminate suffering. And to neutralize negative energy. Transforming the energy of that thing to propel you forward to your goal.

I have been tested repeatedly in the past twelve months. Things that have not gone as I have initially wished. Challenging moments. Sometimes sadness. But then, stepping back, I can see how those things led to other things. Things for which I am truly grateful. The disappointments had to happen to lead me to where I ultimately wanted to be. Mentally, physically, emotionally. The answers were never out there. They were only found when I looked inward.

But even more than this. Every day I find that gratitude begets gratitude. It multiplies exponentially. On the most uneventful day, when I have nothing to be grateful for. <read that again, slowly> And on a day packed to the gills, when I have everything to be grateful for. And yet, each day I spend time, usually as the sun sets over the golden fields next door, counting up the blessings.

And Ends With Gratitude

Things that used to upset me, or bring me to anger, no longer do. I can’t be angry and grateful at the same time. There was a time, in the not too distant past, that this water thing would have had me furious. Especially since they are struggling to get all required parts for the water system to get us up and running again. I would have called and texted. Using the old squeaky wheel gets the grease methodology. But today, I can see how this time has been an opportunity to step back and reconfigure some things. When we open again we will be even better prepared.

Jeff and I were sitting on a bench the other evening. The benches near the Torre de Hercules in A Coruña are imbedded in the hillside and reclined. You’re almost laying down looking out to sea, or up at the stars.

‘Sometimes, I wonder how we live here. It’s weird that everything sort of conspired to have us sitting in this spot, at this moment. Even a wild fire. Looking out over an ocean. Feeling the wind.’

Jeff just laughed. He knows how I get. But some days, I do pinch myself. Overwhelmingly grateful, I am moved to tears.

I think, perhaps, if I’d had to rename the food truck I would have called it The Grateful Pilgrim. Because, as I have learned over the last few tears, I mean years, there is no happiness, no joy, without an abundance of gratitude. For all of it, the very good and the very bad. That’s where the joy was hiding, all along. And, because of that, something tells me that my 57th year will be filled with more joy than ever before. I can’t wait.

Out For A Spin

We decided to celebrate the Día de Galicia and St. James Day with a little ride on the recumbent trikes.

Jeff is a stronger rider than I. But he waited for me at the tops of hills. And let me go in front on the downhills.

He’s considering a trike Camino next Spring. Route, tbd. And these rides are helping him determine what he will need to tweak, retool, or acquire to make the ride possible and comfortable.

People in the villages along the way, are a little more used to us. But the Pilgrims walking? Not so much.

We saw our Brazilian friend, Adrienne, on the way walking her dogs. On the ride home we stopped at their restaurant for a beverage. They own Parillada Ribeira Sacra – a much loved by locals, barbecue place right on the Camino about two kilometers from our house towards Melide. Not fancy but great food. I adore her. Never thought I would be lucky enough to meet someone more unedited than me. She makes Jeff roar with laughter. Adrienne is a gift. Kind hearted, forever smiling, and unapologetically, authentically herself. My kind of girl. And she wants a girls day out on the trikes soon.

This was the perfect way to celebrate and finish up a long holiday weekend. Feliz Feast of St James.

A Very Good Day

We said Goodbye to Coruña, packed up and went home this morning.

A walk in the dark last night

It smells smoky here in at the farm. Like we are inside a bbq. Smoke got into the house, even before we left. The windows are now flung wide open to air it out. It rained buckets of unforecasted water overnight, and the sky looks much clearer today. And the birds are chirping. Always a good sign.

The Good News: The fire to just south of the house is contained. Sadly, the mayor announced they believe that this fire, like some of the others over the past week in the Concello of Palas, was intentionally set. Can you imagine doing this amongst the nightmare of high temps and all the other fires in Galicia? Putting the firefighters and villagers lives at risk? Unimaginable. Yesterday, the Xunta added another 4000L helicopter to fight the fire in Ramil. And medical crews are helping from a neighboring town. We can see the light at the end of this particular tunnel. I hope they catch the person who is doing this.

Jeff and I are happy to be home. We love Coruña and the sea. Ordering Thai food and poke bowls to the hotel via Glovo. But there is nothing like your own bed.

Fiesta Time

On the way home we had to stop in Melide for prescriptions. It is abuzz with activity for this holiday weekend. The Day of Galicia is on Monday, July 25th. The Apostle St. James birthday. The patron saint of Galicia, whose bones are in a crypt in the Cathedral in Santiago. And the reason for all the roads leading to that ancient town tucked so far from anywhere else in Spain, or the world. The populous will pull out all the stops throughout Galicia with carnival rides, music in the square, and processions by the score. In other words, a fiesta in Spain. 😉

We wound through a bulging crowd of Pilgrims, and a population that has doubled since July 1st. Everyone is back for the summer. Teenagers everywhere. The ratio of night clubs to people in Melide is legendary here in northern Galicia. Maybe 1:500 inhabitants. Young or old. And they are all open post-Covid. Let the party begin!

Dropping a Line

Walking back from the farmacia to the car, Jeff spotted an obscure little store. I have walked by it many times and never noticed it before. We decided to take a detour inside. Just for a minute. And what is this random place? A fishing and tackle shop! 😮

I have loved fishing since I was a very little girl. My grandparents had a house at the Oregon coast. From the age of four or five, I learned from my grandfather how to fish for trout in the rivers and streams that feed into the Pacific Ocean. For steelhead. How to catch crawdads, too. And cook them up. I always had the touch. I was a patient fisherman. It was the only time I was ever completely quiet as a little girl, after learning the importance of silence in fishing a stream.

On our honeymoon, Jeff and I went salmon fishing in Alaska. It was just me and a bunch of dudes. I don’t want to blow my own horn but I, personally, caught the limit for the boat. They were all from Los Angeles. I gave them the fish I caught. We lived in Seattle. I could get more.

I became interested in fly fishing a decade ago and took a fly fishing course. We started fly fishing on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie river near our house in the mountains east of Seattle, every Sunday morning. Even Emilie caught the fishing bug one summer. I admired her style. She would fish in a dress.

When we moved to Valencia, our fishing gear was in that shipping container on the boat that crossed the Atlantic. But, when it arrived, there was just one problem. I couldn’t figure out how to get a fishing license. We would walk down the beach watching people fish in the Med, but no matter how many fishing shops I went to, no one would help me get a license. Sometimes, I would just sit on the sand and watch those guys fish. Pretending it was my pole. They probably thought ‘Who is this weird woman in the bikini stalking us?’ I could find a way to get a driving license, but a fishing license? Nope.

Last time I was in the US, I optimistically bought new waders at Orvis in Bellevue. Hoping it might change my luck. But it didn’t. Until today.

We went in the tackle shop in Melide and looked through their gear. Jeff knew I was so excited touching a new dry top, and some felt-bottomed boots. My dream of fly fishing in Scotland flashed through my mind. A fly fishing trip we were slated to take when Jeff had his near fatal motorcycle crash back in September of 2015. We never made it to Scotland the following week. But, standing in that shop today, it all seemed possible, again.

The guy was finishing up with another customer. Then I stepped forward and, in sad español, explained that we live here and are desperate to get fishing licenses. I waited for him to tell me ‘impossible’, as I had been told so many times before. But, this time my least favorite word in Spanish was no where to be found. He asked for our NIE cards. Then our current address. It will cost €25, and we can fish in Galicia, Asturias, and Castillo y Leon. And the licenses will be ready to pick up at 5pm today. I just got the text confirmation :

LICENCIAS DE CAZA/PESCA- Su licencia tipo pesca-IP con número XXXXX ha sido pagada correctamente y es válida desde hoy para el ejercicio de la pesca

HUNTING/FISHING LICENSES- Your fishing-IP type license with XXXXX number has been paid correctly and is valid from today for the exercise of fishing

Just like that! Holy Moly! I almost cried.

I had a Native American shaman who told me once that, personally, my biggest lesson in this life is learning patience. And, funnily enough, I have moved to a foreign country that tries my patience almost daily. Not because Spain is worse than the US. It’s usually because I don’t understand how to do what I need to do. Or to get what I need to get. Or even how to ask the right questions in the right way. But then, there are days I break through something. Something that might seem insignificant to anyone else. I mean, a fishing license? Really? 🙄 But when it happens, it means much more to me than achieving it in the US ever did. Just because it was so hard for me to figure out.

I can close my eyes right now. And almost feel the cold water of the stream outside my waders. Bugs flying around. A grey, overcast fall day. The thrill of a tug on my line. Memories of similar days, all those years ago, come flooding back. The troubles of the past two weeks melt away. Today, is a very good day.

Good Morning, Coruña

Spent the night in Coruña and woke up to this beautiful sunrise. We are heading back to check on the house in a bit.

Last evening, we enjoyed a walk around the park at the end of the northern most peninsula of A Coruña. Our hotel is located here, as well as the Tower of Hercules – the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Built by the Romans in the 2nd century, it continues to function today. And the marine headlands upon which it sits are filled with walking paths and sculptures.

It’s about an hour walking, round trip from our hotel, with a lot of stops for taking in views and art.

As in so many Spanish cities, the entire town was out exercising on this bluff. The temperatures were ten degrees Celsius cooler than at home.

There is a Muslim memorial here in what used to be a Muslim cemetery, for those who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War. The remains were transferred to another cemetery, and this walled garden was dedicated in their memory. It is now overgrown and not well cared for. But still, striking to peek through the gate and imagine what it might have looked like.

The coastline here is more rocky than beach. When looking at property to purchase here in 2019, we were on the opposite side of this bay. Last night, Jeff and I marveled at how much has changed in our lives since then. In everyone’s lives around the world. Hard to believe so much could happen in just 2 1/2 years. But, for me, I am grateful to be here today. Spending time in this beautiful place. Reminded, again, that enjoying the moment is the most important thing. The only thing. Because, in truth, that’s all we really have.

Where There is Smoke

**Updated 12pm**

We woke up to smoke in the house and burning throats. Looking outside, it’s even worse. Pilgrims walking by have their shirts over their mouths.

North of Lugo on the A6. Not so bad up here

The alerts went out. There are two new fires in our municipality of Palas de Rei. One near the Castelo, just down the road, and the other just south of it. We heard reports of ash falling like snow near Sarria yesterday and a lot of village evacuations to Triacastela. People are devastated. They could lose everything.

These latest fires near us happened so fast. We are hoping that evacuation is not in our immediate future. It is supposed to rain early morning tomorrow. Let’s pray the bomberos can keep these fires under control until then.

In the meantime, anyone outside walking needs to take care. If you have an N95 mask, you should wear it outside. And, while it is much cooler today, drink a lot of water. If you don’t have a mask, wet your buff and put it over your mouth. And if you have a previous history of asthma or similar, take a rest day and avoid going outside through the area effected.

This fire season is one of the worst on record in Spain and Portugal. We sit here on the farm and, quite literally, pray for water. At this point, we will take it from the sky or the ground. We aren’t picky. Whatever we can get.

UPDATE: We decided we needed to leave and are packed up and heading to the coast of Coruña. Its thick smoke all the way on the A54 to the A6. Today, we will breath easier and have water for real showers. Praying 🙏for rain 🌧

Right Up My Alley

Neither here, nor there. That is how it feels lately. We have opened, but yet, we are not. And we have no idea when, exactly, that will change. What to do? So I am writing. Starting a new story. It’s what I do when I have gaps in things to do. In this case, it’s gaps in my weeks. Ugh.

But this lull has allowed us to focus on some other things, too. Housekeeping. We have to renew our visas in mid-Sept. Our final time as we are about to become permanent residents. Hard to believe we have been here that long. But our passports expire next March. This is not good timing. Once our visa renewal is filed, which takes 10-14 weeks, best case, from start to getting our new NIE cards, we can not leave the country. This means that Jeff wouldn’t be able to visit his Mom for the rest of the year. Or fly to the US for work. You can’t travel on a passport that has less than 6 months left before it expires. They won’t let you on the plane. So we gathered all the documents, paid the fees online, took new photos, and headed to the Correos office to send them to Madrid. Hopefully, getting the new passports back by end of August. You would think this would be easy. Mailing something to the US Embassy in Madrid. But you would be incorrect.

I swear, every time I mail anything at Correos in Melide they act like they’ve never seen mail before. ‘You want to mail what? Where?’ Jeff went with me. It was a total cluster. It took 45 minutes, after I reached the window as the line snaked out the door, to get two pre-paid envelopes, to write the address on an official Correos envelope, and send it signature required (certified mail). At one point, the Correos woman, who is a nice enough person, licked so many €1 Euro stamps to affix to the outside, you could barely read the address where it is going. And I was a little concerned she might pass out. So who knows if we will be getting our new passports before we have to file for our visa renewal. Or even get our old passports back. I try not to get impatient, but mailing anything here requires a stone tablet and a chisel. Then, a flying dinosaur to send it on it’s way.

On the flip side, our mail lady at our house is the best letter carrier I have ever had in my life. She will do anything for us. If you remember, I watched her hold the ladder for Marie Carmen, who was trimming her fruit trees, while on her delivery rounds. So, perhaps it’s just this particular 900 year old lady, in this particular Correos office, that is a bit off. But I can hardly call her out for being old.

Since we have no water, we have no water. That sounds strange but it helps me remember that whatever I usually use water for will require more effort. And, well, water. Flushing a toilet? Take a bottle of water in with you. Washing fruit? Grab a bottle of water. Our plants are now getting watered with 5L jugs from the grocery story. Luckily, for me, I was invited to use the shower of friends in Santiago, who took pity on a sweaty American, and they invited me to enjoy unlimited warm water in a real bathroom. Not just the joy of Jeff standing over me with a room temperature water jug in the shower. So I made the trek into Santiago to enjoy this glorious occasion, that I have, heretofore, taken for granted my entire life. Never again. I hope they didn’t hear me moaning in the shower as the water hit my hair. Likely, not good guest-showering form. But it felt so good.

On the way into Santiago, I learned my car was nearly out of gas. This caused me to have to detour to find a gas station, which made me a bit late – which I do not like to be. I can only blame Jeff for leaving the car on empty. At the gas station, I was standing in a very long line to pay when I saw the display for cat food. It was then I remembered I needed to get some cat litter for our kitten. So I grabbed a bag on my way to the register. Cat litter here comes in a variety of types of bags. So I wasn’t concerned that it was in plastic. Sadly, I was not wearing my glasses.

After my shower in Santiago, and an amazing lunch in their secret walked oasis of a garden, I made my way back home with my cat litter. It was when I went to change it out that I learned I had not purchased cat litter, but a very large bag of rice. Jeff just laughed. ‘That might work. I mean, we know it’s absorbent. And organic. Or, we could make a bunch of paella. If only we had water.’

So, on top of my next birthday looming large on the horizon at the end of this month, it seems my mental faculties are starting to go, as well. Certainly, my eyesight. If they never get this water running again I know where I am going to apply for my next job. The Correos office in Melide. I’m approaching the right age – only 850. And, even with my terrible español I feel sure I could do the job. Screwing things up, and licking stamp until I’m dizzy? My speciality. These days, that’s right up my alley.