What Floats my Boat

The weather in Valencia has been more Fall than Summer so it’s time to get back to creative pursuits. El Espacio Creativo has sat sin uso since June. Of course, we haven’t been idle all summer but I’ve missed using this space for what it was intended when I found it back in March.

Before we left on our adventure to Germany, I put the canvas drop over this painting. I wasn’t sure if it was done. It needed to ruminate in my brain for awhile. Did it need to be more than it already was?

So when I came back into town in August, I went down to the space, turned on the lights, kicked out all the giant cockroaches from the warehouse (yes, Valencia has epic cockroaches that drive cars!), and I pondered what I might do. But I couldn’t make myself DO anything more to it.

When I started painting I kept envisioning the phrase ‘As above, is below.’ And I think I’m happy with the symmetry and the negative space. So today, I’ve decided it’s done.

Above as Below

I did another one before I left. I wasn’t sure what it was but I’ve asked those who have visited the space, when they ask me what it is. ‘I don’t know. What do you think it is?’. Funny, this is a question that makes everyone very uncomfortable. I can see they don’t want to be ‘wrong’. Even after I assure them ‘There is no wrong. I don’t know either.’

What do you see?

For me, this exposes so much about how we block ourselves creatively. I’m not pointing fingers – I’ve done it myself a million times. But we are our own harshest critics before we even start. I knew someone in my work who once told me they didn’t like to do the work, they just wanted to critique other people’s work. ‘That’s my sweet spot.’ they told me. I would have laughed if they weren’t so serious about it. And it made me feel sad. I couldn’t imagine not doing the work. That’s where the fun is. Where the risk meets the magic that happens.

When I was working, I brought in an artist as a team building exercise, who had us all paint a self portrait that we would hang in the Innovation Lab. It was interesting to watch as people either thrived in the exercise or found it excruciating. I heard several ‘I’m not an artist.’ or ‘I’m no good at painting.’ I assured them that I’m not Picasso myself. There would be no judgement or a grade at the end. It was just supposed to be fun, and to give us insight into ourselves.

This is how I approach my painting here. I just paint and it helps me get out of myself. When I put on my giant paint-covered overalls, I lose track of time and all the stress dissolves. Experimenting, and finding some of it is simply terrible. But I just laugh and move on. Some things work and others don’t. Testing new techniques. But I have learned to let the failures go, and to take what does work and move forward. Like in life.

The good news is, when I’m not happy with how things turn out on one canvas, I can paint over it. Or just evolve the image. This one started as a simple splatter experiment and over time it looked to me like pigeon droppings. So I wasn’t going to leave it like that. Then I watched some YouTube videos on some interesting techniques on light and depth. Now it’s a wave as it crashes.

This last one is a work in progress. When I did the center section of “Above as Below’ I liked the color and I had left over paint. I hate to waste paint so I just threw it on these canvases and came back to it later.

What is it? I’m not 100% sure. At first, I was just experimenting with some explicit shapes, and I want to try a wash on it at some point, but this is what it looks like now. Since school was starting in Valencia I thought I might call it ‘First Day of School’ but it’s evolved – so maybe not.

Anyway. You can see I’m no pro. My style might be best described as ‘Brute Force’ rather than ‘Tour de Force’. But hopefully, my willingness to show my paintings will help other people realize it doesn’t matter. Go out and try something new. You’ll fail aplenty – believe me – whatever that means. But who cares. Then you get to join us creatives who write books or poetry or music; paint, sew, sing… Whatever makes you hum or whistle when you get out of bed in the morning. And that’s pretty much all I want in this life, too.

Carbon Footprint

We have not owned a car now for more than 18 months. When we moved here to Valencia getting my driving license was a very high priority. I mean, we’re Americans. You can take the Americans out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the Americans. Well, it turns out you actually can.

Sure, we had Jeff’s motorcycle shipped over. And we used it here and there for a few adventures. But the bike mostly sat unused. We walk everywhere and we use public transport or ride share services. We haven’t really needed a car. But that hasn’t stopped me from looking. It’s just been hard to justify while living in Valencia. If we need to go outside the city we take a train – usually. And on a very rare occasion, when where we want to go can’t be reached by train and then a taxi, we can rent a car for almost nothing. We don’t pay car insurance unless it’s for a rental.

But it’s more than that. This summer has been the hottest on record, all over the planet. The Amazon is on fire and the glaciers around the globe are melting at an alarming rate. As humans, we should be very afraid of what is going on. Jeff and I were just talking about our trip to the Arctic Circle on his motorcycle in Alaska, over coffee this morning. The Boreal forests, and the permafrost holding up the Alaska oil pipeline as we rode up the treacherous Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks. Well, this year that permafrost is melted, and the tundra and those pine trees are on fire. Unprecedented.

I’ve been holding off on buying a car because I wanted to ensure that we were as responsible as possible. Sure, I looked at our old standby Audi. My little TT. But Audi doesn’t have a good alternative fuel and I just can’t pull the trigger – I wouldn’t feel good driving it. But the real question surrounding purchasing a car was if we really needed one. Now that we’re looking to move – mostly permanently – to Galicia, it’s not really a choice. The answer being ‘Yes’; the second questions is more about how we might go fully electric and the viability of being able to get across the the country.

Luckily for us the EU, and Spain in particular, is ramping up their charging networks and stations on major highways by the end of 2019. Iberdrola is leading the way and soon they will complete a network with a station no more than every 100km. We’ll be able to criss-cross the country on electric power. So going fully electric is getting more viable.

Electric Charging Stations in Spain

But what about charging at home? There are no facilities to charge a car in our garage here in Valencia. So a plug-in electric/hybrd or, my preference, a fully electric car isn’t possible while we live in our flat in Benimachlet. But looking at the future, I can’t imagine purchasing a solely petrol powered car. Pumping the same old carbon into the air – like we did with all our SUV’s in the US. In this day and age it seems irresponsible to inflict that on our friends and neighbors when we have so many alternatives. And they’re wildly affordable in Europe – unless we go Tesla or the like.

But what about the rest of our carbon footprint and plastic waste? Now we’re looking at other things in our lives that are large contributors to carbon emissions. I’ve cut nearly all the beef from our diet. Jeff used to eat A LOT of beef and pork. We’re shifting to chicken and more sustainably raised protein/meats. And it’s healthier anyway.

Then we started looking even more closely at the small stuff. When you buy vegetables in a supermarket here, you put on a plastic glove to pick up the apple, potato, whatever and place it in a plastic bag. So the waste adds up. When I go to buy cheese at the cheese monger – he wraps it in paper and seals it before putting it in a plastic bag. But then I found these and they’re only one of a dozen alternatives:

Reusable produce bags

We are bound and determined to avoid buying things that are made with plastics. Sure it means we’ll be taking our grocery trolley to the store more often because plastic packaging is lighter than glass. But we’re willing to make the switch, whenever it’s possible, to make that choice.

We’re not perfect eco-warriors, but we’re doing what we can, when we can. So it seems I’ll wait until we are set on where we’ll be living up in Galicia and then we’ll make our decisions on a car. But in the meantime, it feels really good to know that in the last 18 months, we’ve significantly, and consciously, reduced our overall carbon footprint. Now we just need to find a way to get back to family in the US with the least emissions possible. Covered wagon – here we come!! At least our luggage would get there when we do.

Nuts for the Winter

The last several days it’s been raining cats and dogs. Movie rain. The wind has been whipping and while it’s still in the 70’s it feels like Fall. We’ve been mostly staying around the house and the space. The only thing we’re missing is a fireplace to make it seem like September.

But the weather didn’t stop us from heading down to Mercat Central. I’ve gone back to strictly adhering to my allergy diet regimen. Jeff thinks that my ‘fudging’ and saying ‘It’s fine, I’ll eat it’ when we’re out with friends or traveling has been causing havoc with my health. I want to say he’s wrong, but I know he’s not.

So we braved the wind and rain and headed down the the Central Market. The building is enough to make you just want to pop in and look up at the ceiling. But its the stalls that will have you lingering. We take everyone who visits Valencia there. And in high season it’s packed with tourists, so we make sure in summer we go very early in the morning to get what we need. It wasn’t a problem today.

The halls were relatively quiet and it allowed us to go up and down the aisles and to inquire at the multitude of cheese mongers if any had Mantequilla de Cabra – Goat butter. I’m not supposed to eat cows milk and back in Seattle it was easy to get goat butter imported from Canada at our local PCC market. But thus far I hadn’t had any luck finding it here.

Over and over I inquired, and over and over I got the head shake and a ‘No‘. Finally, I asked a nice young guy at a lovely counter that seemed to carry everything cheese ‘Necisito mantequilla de cabra.’ And he said ‘Si’. He seemed surprised that I was surprised, and he reached down and took it out of the refrigerator. Then he cut me off large hunk and boxed it up. And the cost is about half of what I used to pay for Canadian goat butter in the US. It tastes like heaven.

Well, now I was feeling cocky! I had found a needle in a haystack and I was ready to go for broke. Since we were near Colon we headed down to El Corte Ingles and the Supermercado in the basement to check on their Hueveos de Pato supply. Duck eggs. This year, they’ve been thin on the ground, even for summer, and we’ve made regular trips to the El Corte’s in the area to check on their restocking each week we’ve been in town. Usually, no luck.

The Rare huevos de pato

So I wasn’t that hopeful. But I will tell you I need to buy a lottery ticket, because today the shelves were bursting with beautiful, glorious, rare Huevos de Pato. They had 8 half dozen packages. I squealed audibly and we looked around to make sure there weren’t any other people who also saw these avian gems and might rush us. Jeff was ready to by them all, but I felt we should leave one box. For that poor person who was going to come after us and find the cupboard bare. I used to do this when a shipment came in to our local store in Seattle. I would buy all but one – it’s a karma thing.

Jeff didn’t bother to ask me what I was going to do with 42 duck eggs until we got home.

‘Even you can’t eat them all before they go bad.’ he reminded me.

But I rubbed my hands together. ‘I have a plan.’ And I did.

I went down to El Chino and bought large ice cube trays. Then I filled those trays with an egg apiece – keeping some back for immediate enjoyment. I needed different sizes because duck eggs aren’t consistent. Some are very large and some are smaller than a chicken egg. They can be other colors too. Then I put 36 duck eggs in their new nests in the freezer. I’ll bag them up in larger freezer bags once they’re frozen. Then I’ll head back to all the El Corte’s in the area – as I have been doing – and see if I can rustle up one more load before winter hits, to ration over the dark and stormy months. Ducks don’t lay eggs in the winter.

So today was an epic day! Weather and all. And who needs to win the lottery when you are fully stocked with goat butter, and you’ve got a freezer full of duck eggs? Certainly not me! I’m hording my eggs for the winter!

Wrecks to Ruins

When I met Jeff, he was living in a house that I would have considered uninhabitable. I won’t go into details but it was awful and it smelled bad. Someone had died there. He was coming out of a very bad divorce that pretty much took every nickle, of the small piles of nickles, he had left. So even purchasing the worst house in Bellevue Washington took creativity and belt tightening.

It also meant he would become well acquainted, in the middle of the night, with the local Home Depot that was open 24 hours. He replaced all the plumbing in 48 hours one weekend and flooded the basement. He rewired the entire house and put up new wall board. He learned how to install carpet and the importance of a kick plate. And he replaced all the flooring in the bathroom and kitchen. At my encouragement/begging, he bought a book and learned how to put in a deck that was truly gorgeous, over the broken sad patio.

One summer, we had an Amish barn raising with my family to re-roof it after he’d lived there a few years. I won’t call it a ‘Labor of Love’ but he certainly loved the price we got for it when we sold it. He had doubled his money. And we just looked it up on Zillow and the little blue house is selling for a staggering price we could never have imagined.

Now here we sit in Spain, ready to start our house search in Galicia. I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to get what you want up front. Silk purse/sows ear and all that. Don’t get me wrong, I like those fixer upper shows on TV. But I’ve had my fair share of DYI and I think I’m well past it. But Jeff? He shocked me today with some new listings. I had to check to see if he ticked the box in the ‘Haunted House’ search category.

I can almost hear the creepy organ music now!

Sure, I like ancient stone walls. Thick beams that might be from trees felled centuries ago. In theory. But I also like a couple of other things. Like a driveway I could drive a car down without bush-wacking to the front door. And speaking of a front door, I’d like to get into it without peeling back vines, kicking the wood to loosen the tricky church-key lock, and ducking – like a Hobbit. I’d like central heating and to cook my dinner in something other than a cauldron hanging over the open fire in the kitchen. If you think I’m kidding – I just pulled all of this from the last listing he showed me.

He’s told me repeatedly ‘You get to choose this house’, since I chose none of the other dwellings we’ve ever lived in. But I know I’ll feel his hand on my back when he finds the ‘Former Monastery complete with bell tower (🙏 Please sans hunchback)’ or ‘Rustic 19th century grain silo’; both filled with ‘charm and potential’. The definition of which is as follows – Cold and drafty, requiring the owner to live at another location nearby while a bevy of workers replaces, restores, rehangs and recycles their entire house – all at their own leisure e.g. You’ll own your charming house (former Spanish inquisition dungeon) with loads of potential, but you’ll not live in it until 2023.

I had visions of lounging on a terrace overlooking the sea next Spring. While he has visions of ripping up the existing said terrace and relocating it. l’d like to have guests in our guest rooms next summer. While Jeff is set on tearing out all the walls for an ‘open plan concept’. Replacing rooms with a yet to be built, or even designed, guest house at an undisclosed future date. So, I’m choosing this house? Yeah, right!

I watch Jeff peruse these listing with a glazed hypnotic look of a man possessed. He’s seeing the potential and appears to be remembering when his age started with a 3, rather than a 5. While I am struck with more than a little fear in my heart, and the cold knowledge that comes with experience. Its just like child birth – too easy to forget how much it hurt. It’s why I did it only once.

But today he turned it all around on me.

‘Just think. You’d be able to write about it.’ He told me. Trying to speak to my essential nature. The Old the pain will be worth it cause you’ll birth a book trick. I won’t say he didn’t peak my curiosity. I did Google ‘local exorcists’ or if I could easily acquire just a vile of holy water to ward off any lingering beasties.

So we shall see. We’re not heading up there until the first week in November so there is time for a good rethink and for his honeymoon phase of all these ruins to wear off. And I’m counting on that. Because in the end, he knows I can write, but he also knows I’m capable of chasing him with a hammer. There’s history there. And neither of us wants that.

A Backstage Pass to Heaven

Often, it’s in doing something for others that we gain the most for ourselves. In my life, I’ve found this to be the defining theme. Especially when there is nothing to be personally gained in doing it.

Here in Valencia I have this friend. She’s a little older and her body isn’t what it used to be. In general, she’s aware it isn’t going to get faster or stronger. Entirely the opposite. At 68, she’s slower going and she has issues with her knees and hips. So climbing mountains isn’t really in her future.

She moved here from the UK, after living in many other countries over the course of her lifetime. From Bahrain to Holland and the US. But in all that time she had never heard of the Camino de Santiago. And according to her, since moving to Valencia, everyone she meets has walked it in some form or another and they have their Compostella.

Before I went to the US this summer, she came over and wanted to see my ‘Camino stuff’ and I pulled it all out and showed it to her. The credentials with all the stamps. The certificate you get at the end in Santiago. The prayer cards that nuns and others place into your hands, and some of the homemade medals that found their way into my possession from people on roadsides or in random olive groves. Seeing all that stuff again makes me a little emotional and it all comes flooding back. But we have so many other friends here who have also walked the Norte and the Portuguese. And she’s decided she wants to walk the Camino too. But she won’t go alone.

Most of those she knows have other obligations or just don’t have the time. And she’s found another year has ticked by. So, I volunteered. We won’t be starting in St. Jean. We’ll fly to Santiago and take the train to Sarria and start from there. To get the Compostella, starting from Sarria is pretty much the minimum distance on the Frances with 2 stamps per day in the Pilgrim’s passport.

She is eager to do it but she’s nervous too, and her daughter back in the UK told her there is no way she can do it. Which, like anyone, means she’s bound and determined. And I’ve assured her we can go as slow as we need to. I’m not in any hurry and neither is she. We’ll go in October. It will be cooler in Galicia and probably wetter, but I feel sure we’ll make it just fine.

And then I got to thinking. We’ll be heading back to the US for the Holidays. Spending some of the holiday season with my parents. I can’t imagine what gift I could get my Dad at this stage. He will be turning 90 this week and finding a way to celebrate that milestone was hard enough in his condition from so far away. But this chance to help out a friend has presented an opportunity to do something for my Dad.

Last trip to our beach at Manzanita – Oregon Coast

So when I get to Santiago this time the Compostella will have my Dad’s name written on it. He was a Catholic at one point and the powers that be in the Department of Pilgrimages, or some such in the Catholic Church, let you walk for someone else who can’t do it themselves. So, I’ll be walking for you, Dad. And when they do the pilgrim’s blessing at the Cathedral in Santiago, I’ll accept it in your name. I know I’ll feel better having completed it with you in mind. And with the knowledge that, finally, the day you meet St. Peter at the pearly gates you can show him your backstage pass to heaven, and just maybe you’ll think of me and smile when you do it.

So this time I get to help two people. And it is true what they say. That is its own reward.