Winter is Coming

I like nesting. And it’s nesting season in Galicia. The days are much colder. Dew marks the grass and the trees in the morning. The golden Spanish light is still here. And for that I am eternally grateful. It makes painting such a joy. We are ready for winter.

But it’s not just painting canvases that is on my list. The entire interior walls of the house need a good cleaning and a nice coat of paint. I started with the backdrop for the book shelves on either side of the new fireplace. A contrasting color. The rest of the house will be dove grey. Exactly the shade of my wedding dress. Book shelves and a wood hopper will be installed next week. So I needed to get cracking if I wanted to paint without craning awkwardly between them. Here is the before and after of the new fireplace. I think it turned out pretty good. What do you think? It heats much, much more efficiently. More heat in the house and less going out the chimney.

I’ve been spackling wall cracks for the past week. Refilling them as they absorb more spackle. Getting ready to paint. My new plaster sander will be here on Saturday. I love tools. I got that from my Dad, who had more tools than anyone in history. He told me he wanted Jeff to have them when he died. But that didn’t happen. Jeff has been buying tools to replace all the ones he gave away or sold when we left the US. It broke his heart. Some were his grandfather’s. Since moving to Palas, and now that we have a barn, we have made it a priority to replenish Jeff’s tools. And mine, too. Yes, I have my own set of tools that I use on a regular basis. I think it’s growing up on the west coast of the US. Our pioneer people came across the country in covered wagons. They needed to be self reliant. And I can’t help going outside and looking up at our new, watertight roof. When I came back in the house yesterday, Jeff laughed. ‘Yup. It’s still there.’

I frowned. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘You went out to look up at the roof, yet again.’

I hate it when he’s right. ‘What? I’m just happy we will be dry this winter.’

‘No. It’s fine.’ He smiled. ‘But you’re the only woman I know who loves a good roof.’

When we first started dating, I inspected the roof on Jeff’s house and insisted we replace it. He had the shingles delivered, then my entire family came over and we all went up and put a new roof on his house in one weekend. I’m pretty sure this cemented his mother’s opinion of me, right out of the gate. Strange. Jeff should have known what he was getting into from the very beginning. He has no excuse now.

I had another two cord load of firewood delivered by my new leña guy, Carlos, and I finished stacking it yesterday. ‘Come out and look at it.’ I told Jeff, after returning to the house and taking off my work gloves. He was impressed. The shed is full. The wood is stacked to dry in a crisscross pattern. Perfect. We are set for two winters. Complete with snowstorms.

When we moved here to Lugo last May from Valencia, summer was just over the horizon. Our coats, boots and sweaters were packed away. But it’s time to get them out. And, Holy Moly, do I have a lot of winter coats. And many in the same color. I should have known. When we still lived in Seattle, I went shopping with my son, Nick, and I spotted a coat. Coats for me are like squirrels to a Golden Retriever.

‘What do you think of this one?’ I asked him, trying it on.

Nick frowned and shook his head, ‘You have 100 coats that look exactly like that one. Including the one you just took off to put this one on.’

I disputed this, but then I looked down and realized I already owned the coat I was trying on. No, wonder I liked it. And he was right, it looked very similar to the one I was already wearing. Ugh! ‘Well, I guess it just confirms my previous purchase.’ I told him, cheerfully.

So it should not have surprised me one bit that when I got all our winter coats out last weekend and discovered that I own roughly 25 (yes, I shipped a bunch from the US, but have bought additional ones in Spain), and most of them could be each other’s twin. Or definitely in the same family. But I remember where I got each of them. The city, and the shop where I was standing at the time I spotted them. It’s the same with sweaters and boots. Some people purchase souvenirs when they travel. I buy coats, boots, sweaters, and throws. And I always get my haircut. It’s a thing.

When Jeff and I got together I would buy him coats all the time. He stopped commenting on how weird it was after the first ten or so. Jeff doesn’t care about the clothes, but the throws drive him crazy! ‘Do we really need ANOTHER blanket?’

But I just ignore him. ‘You’ll thank me when you’re sitting in the living room on a cold winter night.’ I remind him. ‘When the wind is blowing outside.’

But Jeff isn’t convinced. ‘You know we have central heating, right? And we don’t live in North Dakota.’

He doesn’t get it. It’s about storing your nuts for the winter. It’s about making sure your family is warm and dry and fed. This is why we have two refrigerators and a chest freezer in the barn. We could live all winter on what I have stored out there. No, I am not a crazy prepper. I’m just prepared. There is a difference. 😉 Zombie apocalypse? I could feed the Zombies and all the Zombie hunters.

Last summer, I had friends in the US who questioned why we would house Pilgrims and feed them for free.

‘Do you even know me?’ I asked, incredulous. ‘This is my dream come true. Feeding and sheltering people. Making sure they have blankets, food, and are safe and sound. I’ve been training for this my entire life. Have you seen my throw collection? If Pilgrims were willing to wear my sweaters, coats and boots I would be in heaven. They’re doing ME a favor.’

Our daughter, Emilie is coming in a month. Her bed is already made up with seven blankets and 27 pillows. I have sent her our lists for what she can bring over with her, since we are out of so many things. But I told her not to bring a coat. ‘I already bought you one last winter from SuperDry in Valencia. And a scarf and gloves. And I have your snow boots.’ She just laughed because she knows me. ‘I know. I had no way to get that stuff to you, and you couldn’t come here. But I put it in your room. It was warming you from afar.’

You can say I am crazy, or neurotic, or any number of things. And you would probably be spot on. But you can’t ever say, in a million years, that me or my family, or our future Pilgrims, are cold or wet while staying in my home. Because, I guarantee you, I would never allow it to happen. Not on my watch.

The Nature of Shame

They always say that the cover up is usually worse than the crime. And I believe it’s true. As a child, I grew up in a house brimming with shame. Trying to cover up ‘crimes’ that are so common place now as to hardly warrant a mention. But, back then the cover up, the desperate attempt to appear perfect outside the house, nearly destroyed those who lived inside it. Such is the nature of shame.

It’s probably why when I left home I vowed to be myself, 100% of the time. Let your freak flag fly – that was my mantra. And I have largely lived a life based on that. Am I flawed? More than most. Do I care what other people think of me? Not usually. Growing up, I learned that what other people thought of me was none of my business.

But there are people I know, dear people, who don’t have that luxury. One of many of my friends in Seattle is gay. We were having dinner one evening and he said something I will never forget. ‘All gay people are permanently messed up.’

I was surprised to hear him say this. ‘You’re joking.’

‘No, I’m not. It’s true. When you have to live your entire life in hiding. When you’re taught to be ashamed of who you are, it messes you up. You never come back from that.’

I had never heard him talk this way. ‘But now it’s different. You can be Out and Proud. No one cares anymore. You can love who you want and get married.’

But he was having none of it. ‘Sure, it’s different now. But half the country still thinks we should be locked up. And at work, they don’t want too much of it. You still need to keep it on the down low. Don’t rub it in anyone’s face.’

By ‘It’ he meant being gay. In his 50’s, after all the progress, he was still having to hide his true self. Such is the nature of shame.

I hadn’t really thought about shame in a long time. Living abroad, we are largely outside the gossip of daily life here. And I loathe gossip, so that works just fine for me. But I touched it exactly a year ago when I came to look at this farm and I walked the property with the owner’s grown daughter.

‘I need to tell you something.’ she said as we walked through the pasture. ‘We want to be honest with you.’ This sounded so grave I was more than a little concerned. ‘My mother is divorced.’ She choked it out like she was coughing up poison. It took me by surprise. Not that the woman was divorced. Many of us have tripped over that rock. Sometimes more than once. But it was the daughter’s feelings about this state of affairs, and her shame in having to be the one to tell me. And if this were the only time I had to hear about it, it probably wouldn’t have left such an impression. But when we made the offer our lawyer brought it up, as well. And then, when we went to the bank the first time to see about getting a loan, it came up again.

‘I have called the sellers. And before we proceed, I need to make sure you are aware. The seller is a divorcé.’ She said in a whisper, so the rest of the bank wouldn’t hear.

Jeff looked over his mask at me, then back at the banker. ‘So?’ He didn’t get it.

Our banker responded quietly. ‘I just wanted you to be aware.’

Of course, our loan saga is well documented here on the blog, but then we got to closing and signing at the Notaria. The Notaria sat behind the glass as the bank manager, our loan officer, and Jeff and I sat in front of it. Before he began to read the entire contract outloud to us, shouting behind his mask and the screen, he gravely informed us.

‘Before we begin, I need to know that you understand the seller is divorced.’ He began.

The loan officer turned to us and whispered. ‘Remember. I told you when we met the first time.’

Jeff and I just shook our heads. ‘Yes. We are aware.’ But we still didn’t understand why this was such a big deal.

Then, this week we were having our roof redone. It took them 5 weeks longer than they originally promised, but they did an excellent job. Above and beyond. The house looks new. They pressure washed the entire exterior and the slate patio that surrounds it. We are good to go for winter. After they were finished, one of the guys stuck around to clean everything up. I went out to thank him and he wanted to chat. He speaks pretty good ingles and we didn’t have to wear masks as we were outside and very socially distanced.

‘Finished. It was a mess up there.’ he told me. Which I already knew. ‘The previous owner didn’t maintain the house.’ Again, something I already knew.

‘Well, she is handicapped and living in Coruña. I imagine it was difficult for her.’ I said.

He shook his head. ‘It wasn’t her. It was her husband. He left her 10 years ago. Then he divorced her.’ The next part he whispered. ‘He lives in the village in an apartment with a woman who is not his wife.’

I laughed. But then I realized he was serious. In 2021, after everything, they still care about the fact that this guy is divorced and shacking up with a woman in the village? So I rearranged my face to the appropriate level of seriousness after his surprise at my reaction.

I decided to go another way. ‘Maybe it’s a love story. Perhaps he has loved this woman since they were children and something got in their way. Like Romeo and Juliet. And, as an old man, he decided he wanted to give it one last shot before taking the final dirt nap.’ I was hoping to put some kind of positive spin on it. I don’t really know these people, and even if I did I don’t like gossiping. It’s bad karma.

‘No.’ said the worker, like I was crazy. ‘He’s just a 75 year old scoundrel. And, it’s why the wife had to move to Coruña. To get away from the shame of it.’

So, while she has moved away, clearly the town is on the wife’s team. But, even after ten years, the shame of this has never subsided. For either of them. Note to self – The town has a long memory.

I thought I would put a line in the water and see what I could catch. ‘What do people say about us in town?’ I asked him, putting him on the spot. ‘Do they talk about us?’

He laughed. ‘Oh yes. They talk about you.’

I smiled. ‘That we are the crazy Americans who don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of us?’ I wear my painting overalls and Doc Martens into town. Sometimes my harem pants, Jeff’s old sweatshirt, and my Birks. The same thing I would wear in Seattle, San Francisco or NY, if I was going to the grocery store. Not something normal 50-something women wear in rural Galicia. I know it causes a stir, and I told him so. He agreed that this has been discussed amongst the locals.

‘Where do you shop?’ he asked.

I told him the grocery store we favor.

‘It’s good you shop there. It is the newest one. It just opened this year. Younger people working there, and I heard the manager told them they should welcome everyone and be friendly.’ It made me wonder if The scoundrel and the fallen lady shop there too. But he went back to our reputation in town. ‘What is a ‘dirt nap’ and ‘a rat’s ass’?

I laughed. ‘A dirt nap means dying. And a rat’s ass means I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me. Here, or back in the US.’

He seemed to give this some serious thought. ‘That’s probably good. Don’t worry. I will tell them I met you. And that you are friendly and nice. And that they shouldn’t waste their time.’ Then he laughed. ‘Since you don’t give a rat’s ass anyway.’

I feel sure we were a hot topic at the bar on Friday night. I gave our roofer a couple of new American phrases en ingles to throw around to his friends. And perhaps I have inoculated Jeff and I from the grist mill of town gossip. Yet, somehow I think not. But, I had a bad break up with shame long ago. So, as usual, I have the luxury of not really caring either way.

Wise Pilgrims

Last evening, Jeff and I had the pleasure of having dinner with two lovely people we met because of this blog. Americans, Linda and Brad have been walking the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo for the past few weeks, and they reached out as they neared Melide.

These past six months have been wonderful. Amazing people have been put in our path. And Linda and Brad are now two of our favorites. What positive souls. As we walked up to the restaurant, their smiles lit the place up. Of course, they knew all about Jeff’s tractor adventures, and he was happy to hear he had Brad’s full support as he makes more equipment purchases. ‘I like that guy.’ Jeff said, as we drove home. ‘He gets me.’

Our conversation over dinner took the usual twists and turns you would expect. In many ways, they know us – like all readers of this blog – but we wanted to get to know them. One evening is not enough to cover the very interesting lives of these two. And, of course, eventually we turned towards the Camino. The Primitvo is not a walk in the park. Its been a rough go. And they had walked before on the Frances from St Jean two years ago, before the pandemic.

I love talking with Peregrinos about the lessons of their Camino. Many are unexpected. The discussion turned to our packs, as Linda handed over her sleeping bag. She was looking to shed more weight for the remainder of their trip. It’s a nice bag and I happily accepted it. But she said something profound as we laughed at how much each of us brought along starting our first Caminos. And how little we had when we walked into Santiago.

‘We pack our fears.’ Linda wisely observed. ‘All our ‘what ifs’ and ‘just in cases.’ It’s all based on fear.’

She is so right. And those fears cost us dearly when we are starting out on a long journey. Right when we are least capable. Our bodies are not yet adjusted to the pack. Our legs are not yet as strong as they will become. Our knees are unused to the extra weight. So, it’s ironic that at that very moment is when we decide to pile it all on. Our emotional fears are actually causing us physical pain.

The pack as a metaphor for fear is an interesting one. I know I do this in other areas of my life. At times when I trip over my own feet. When I let my uncertainty get the better of me and I react by running thru the ‘what ifs’ or the ‘might happens’ and I begin to try to hedge my bets. Invariably adding more overhead and more weight to my proverbial pack.

In my previous career of developing software and business solutions, we always tried to remember the KISS rule. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Every time we would design some overly complicated solution, someone on the team would invariably say ‘KISS’. That’s all it took. It was then we realized we were wrapped around the axel. We needed to take a step back and unwind it. Usually, the simplest solution was the best one. Coding for every edge case is a fools errand. Funny, I didn’t remember this when I was packing for my Camino.

Today, I’ve thought a lot about Linda’s comment last night. So much of what Jeff and I are doing right now we have never done. Creating this new life from scratch. It is exciting and unnerving, all at once. There are times I wonder if we are crazy. And I am tempted to slow down, or contract. Knowing I’m not seeing the forest for the trees. But then I think of the pack metaphor and I remember what I learned walking for more than a month straight carrying it all on my back. It isn’t about what we cling to. Its about what we let go of that defines us. Being left with just the essentials.

We are blessed to have people like Linda and Brad cross our path. Their enthusiasm for what we are doing has buoyed me. Sometimes its nice to see your life through other people’s eyes. Hear their cheers as you are swimming in the deep end. ‘You’re living the dream!’ Brad told us, enthusiastically. And I realize he is right. We are. It took dinner last night with these two Peregrinos to help me to remember to take a breath and step back, and to let some of those ‘what if’ fears go. Thanks to Linda and Brad, my pack is that much lighter today.

Just Over the Horizon

We are fans of forward motion. It’s my universal truth that forward is better than back. I get itchy when things stagnate. When deadlines are missed and dates push out. Its the former project manager in me. Miss the first date and the flare goes up in my head. Miss another one and the sirens go off. But this week we are making progress. At last.

If you remember, we were having new roofing installed. We got a commitment on the start date back in July, just before August holidays in Spain. They were to start on September 15th. Jeff would be back from taking me to start my Camino. I would come home in October to a beautiful, non-leaking roof. But, because of the knee I was home by September 15th. And the date came and went. Yes, they did install the new fireplace. But then nothing. Silence. I messaged. I called. I WhatsApp’d. Nada.

At this point, my blood pressure began to rise. And by equal measure, my patience began to wane. I started shopping for another roofer. Now, I understand we are new citizens to the area. People know of us, but they don’t know us. Yet. Except the rainy season is upon us. We will not have many more warm, consecutively dry days between now and late Spring of 2022. I knew it was getting critical when Jeff started complaining about the repeated timeline slippage while looking at the weather report. He’s usually the most tranquila of the two of us.

I started meditating 3 times a day and doing deep breathing. No, the day drinking hadn’t started but I was eating antacids like candy. I tried to move on, focusing on other things I could get done. Control what you can. So, on that note, today we met with our new architect and went over our full vision. She seems great! And already she’s earned her fee.

‘Are we going for government subsidies?’ she asked after surveying the property. And to that my answer is a resounding ‘Of course! And this is why we need you.’ She will help us apply for all of them. We are going as Eco friendly as we possibly can and there is government money for that. As well as other stuff. The new EU Covid economic stimulus funds will help, too. I like her already. And, while she will submit the entire project at once, she will emphasize our phased approach so we can get approved much more quickly with phase 1. It’s why I hired her. She grew up in Palas. She knows the drill and all the players involved.

We sat down with her in a cafe and went over how we would like to lay out the phases of the project over the next two years. She is on board and will come up with the plan, and then the drawings she will submit to the concello. She says that the subsidies might slow it down a bit, but typically, once we submit to the concello we will have an answer in 30 days. Then they submit to the Patrimonio of the Camino de Santiago (the organization that protects the Camino in Galicia) I am fine with a small delay, if we can get some government funds to partner on the project. Lesson numero uno, folks – this is why you pay your taxes in Spain!

I love that she looked up regulations right there and answered my questions in real-time. It seems our property is perfect for what we want to do. Camping is in our first phase. I have heard ten times a day that you can’t allow camping on the Camino. That Albergues are not allowed to offer this. But because our property is 1/3 Urban, and the other 2/3 are Rural, we can. Each campsite must be 5 meters by 5 meters on rural land, which we have plenty of. No wonder most Albergues on the Camino are not allowed to accommodate camping. They simply do not have the required space, and the land isn’t zoned Rural. After meeting long-hauler Peregrinos who camped on the Camino last summer, camping will always be free at the Happy Camper!

My ongoing mantra of Always pay for good advice is already paying off, as well. I guess Googling stuff or asking questions of random people on Facebook isn’t the way to get accurate zoning and planning information on the Camino. Who knew? But now, our Peregrino campers will enjoy a free night in tents near the lavender crop. A fragrant, tranquill sleep on their journey. I like knowing that.

Divina will also help us with understanding the tourist regulations and specific requirements for the Camino laid down by the Xunta de Galicia, as they relate to our design. They are many and they are complicated. I now have the 36 page document.

When we returned from our meeting with the architect, an October miracle occurred. Our roofers were here with a large lift bucket, suited up, pressure washing and getting everything ready. I kid you not, when they saw me they took me aside and told me ‘Your roof leaks. You might have noticed humidity in the house.’ Is this guy for real? ‘Si.’ I told me. But I wanted to scream, with fists shaking. ‘Duh. That’s why you’re here!! Weeks late.’ But I held my tongue. They’re on site. Ready to take care of it. I went inside, head shaking, chewing glass.

But I need to be grateful. This is all really happening. I’m almost afraid to say it, but the dam has broken. It feels like we have talked about it all for so long that I’m tired of talking. It’s time to get it done. We will soon be water tight in the house. And for our café/albergue, luckily, I think we hired the right person in Divina to help guide us through the process. Sure, we are just at the starting line, but I am beginning to see over the horizon a bit. Welcoming Pilgrims in 2022 is going to happen. With a little patience, and a lot of deep breathing, we will get it across the finish line.

One Thing at a Time

Lists. My bane and my savior. These days, it seems the list never gets shorter. Even as I check things off, new items are added to the bottom.

I have found a local architect to work with on this project that is our business. ✅ She is young, grew up in Palas, and is eager. Her website touts her Green Eco bonafides. And her commitment to unconventional, but cutting edge practices to protect the environment. I love it! A Green Camino is our goal. And I like giving our business to a young woman just starting out. We all need a leg up at the beginning. And lets face it, showers/bathrooms and cabins are not skyscrapers in Manhattan. But that means I need to put together a deck before our meeting on Wednesday morning – complete with photos, a mission statement, project goals, and overall plan by phase. I’ll resist animation. I just added ‘build deck for the architect’ to the list.

There are other things on there, too. My firewood guy, the one from the summer, is busy with his more established customers. I get it. We are not yet established in the neighborhood. He doesn’t know us well. We could be those fly-by-night Americans. Here today, gone back to NYC tomorrow. But I need more wood to last the winter.

And we are desperate for the services of a couple of barn cats. After having the Concello guys take all that stuff out of the barn, we discovered we have a mice problem. Luckily, Mr Sir was visiting at that moment. Attracted by all the goings on over here. He quickly pounced and made quick work of one of them. But where there is one mouse, there are 100. And Mr Sir is not around enough to do the job alone.

We also need a dog. Well, a puppy, really. We have larger animals camping out near my lavender crop. A pack or a herd, who are sleeping in the tall grass in the meadow where the summer butterflies used flutter. I don’t know if it’s javalies or wolves, but they are big. It’s hunting season here. Shotguns are a common sound. Yesterday, we saw a guy walking through the field with two hunting dogs, noses to the ground. He was carrying a shotgun. I think a large mastiff or Great Pyrenees puppy should do it. Not to maim, just to keep the pack at bay. I want a puppy so we can socialize it with Pilgrims walking by. It will be a cafe/Albergue dog, after all.

Getting kittens and dogs is more difficult here than in the US. Wallapop does allow them to be listed. The shelters have big, fully grown dogs and cats. So I did what I always do with unsolvable problems. I walked over to Marie Carmen’s house with a large bag of chestnuts. And I told her my tale of woe.

That was Friday afternoon. On Saturday she was in the driveway with her firewood guy, Carlos, and a full trailer of firewood pulled by his tractor. He now owns our woodshed after inspecting it. Marie Carmen spotted a dead rabbit in there and quickly dispatched it, This after I squealed at the sight of a headless Easter Bunny. The woman is my hero. She just shook her head. In my next life I want to come back as tough and no nonsense as Marie Carmen.

She’s also working on getting me two kittens. I think she is happy to facilitate us getting our own cats. Relinquishing Mr Sir back to her. But he will always be our first pet in Galicia. MC also says she may have a line on a puppy. ‘Tranquila, Kelli.’ Ugh. It’s like she knows everyone else I’ve ever met in Spain. I ask you, when am I not patient? 😉

Finally, yesterday we met up with some Americans who have taken over an existing Albergue in the village of Vilacha. About two kilometers on the other side of the bridge from Portomarin. The Powells gave us a tour. It had been unoccupied for a few years before they bought it. Its a cool, very old stone building, that used to house animals on the ground floor and the family above. They have done a huge amount of work on it during Covid, and just opened to Pilgrims on September 1st. An American Pilgrim from Texas we met recently had stopped in to their place for a drink while passing through Vilacha, and she heard their story. She made the introduction for us. Ray and Dominique have learned a ton, and we will benefit from their experience. Rules, regulations, vendors, and workmen (I say men because they’re all men). It was nice to chat over coffee on a Sunday morning. They close up for the season at the end of this month and head back to the US until spring. Just as our real work begins.

I know we are making progress. All items on the list are not the same. Build showers and buy toilet paper are not equally weighted. And yet, I know we will get there on checking them both off. Building forward momentum, one thing at a time.

Tractor Porn

These days, we are all about the farm equipment. Yes, we live on a farm. But I’m pretty sure that this has less to do with farming than it is due to ‘Boys and toys.’

I know all about different types of tractors now. Including orchard tractors. They actually have those. Perfect for grapes and fruit growing. Over breakfast today Jeff showed me one on his iPad.

‘’Look at this thing. It has tracks on the back. For growing on a slope. And it comes in white.’ His favorite color for large farm machinery and Audi R8’s.

‘But our land is perfectly flat.’ I reminded Jeff.

‘You’re missing the point.’ He chided. Then he returned to reciting all the features of this low rider machine.

The other night, I woke up around 2am. Rolling over, I quickly realized Jeff was not in the bed. Looking towards the door, I saw blue-ish flashing lights and the murmur of voices. Who was he talking to?

I got up and groggily made my way out into the hall. The voices got louder. His office door was not entirely shut. I quietly opened it and found him sitting in front of the computer watching a video.

Here is where wives the world over discover their husband has a penchant for something they were unaware of. Perhaps something they wouldn’t want their neighbors or their mother to know about. It might even involve equipment of some kind. I inched closer to the screen, having left my glasses on the night stand I was struggling to focus as the guy was pushing something from behind. Suddenly, Jeff detected my presence,

‘Oh! You startled me.’ He said.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked, eyes narrowed.

He slid his office chair over. ‘Come watch this. It’s pretty cool.’ He reversed the video back to the start. I braced myself. But it wasn’t porn. At least not that kind. It was a guy with a light weight walk-behind tractor demonstrating how vertical tiling protects top soil and allows for better drainage. Seriously. At 2am. It was Tractor Porn. Sorry, Joan. That’s what your son is into now. 😳

I’m not saying I don’t like tractors. I do. They are a very real part of the traffic jams at the round about in Melide. I love getting stuck behind them on the way into town. It slows me down. I remember being in Hawaii, or in The San Juan Islands of Washington State. Living where we live now is like living on an island. They call it ‘island time’. You slow down because you really have nowhere to be. There is no rush. And the big tractors that pass our gate are driven by farmers who always wave. Somehow, tractors beget waving. Something cars and trucks do not.

I had to go to the Dr yesterday in Palas, and Jeff tagged along to stop off at Toñio’s. It’s this back door, sort of secret hardware store with no sign. The guy, Toñio, is awesome. No matter who he is helping, when he sees Jeff he stops everything. ‘Jeffrey!’. Neither speaks each other’s language but it doesn’t stop them for a moment. Jeff loves Toñio and Toñio loves Jeff. And he delivers heavy things to our house for free. Near Toñio’s shop, a new store has just popped up. And in the window they have that walk behind tractor thing that Jeff was watching on YouTube at 2am. The 740, in blue.

‘Stop the car!’ Jeff shouted.

I immediately pulled over and he hopped out. Pressing his nose to the glass, Jeff had the look of a kid outside a candy store. Then he turned to encourage me out of the car. I complied – eyes rolling.

‘That’s it.’ He said poking the glass. ‘Isn’t she a beauty? And we can get all the attachments for it, for the stuff you want to do. There’s even a wood chipper.’

My ears perked up.

‘Can I get it?’ He asked. Like we were at a toy store and he was holding up a yellow Tonka truck. I smiled and nodded. But the gate was down and they were closed. We will have to go back next week.

Jeff is slowly dragging me into the dark den of Tractor Porn. I want to say I’m going kicking and screaming, but that’s simply not true. Because, if I’m honest with myself, he had me at wood chipper. And, sadly, he knows it.

She’s a Stubborn One

Stubborn. I have been called this since the moment of my birth. By the Dr who delivered me. I didn’t make delivery easy, and every time he tried to flip me over I flipped back at the last moment, thwarting his efforts. ‘You have the most stubborn baby I have ever delivered.’ he told my Mom. How do I know this? Because my parents told me this story every time I demonstrated stubborn behavior when I was growing up. So, pretty much every day. Apparently, my siblings slid out like they were coated with butter. No trouble at all. But this was back when doctors smoked cigarettes while delivering babies, so there you go. My parents were not wealthy, and had a chicken ranch in Southern California when I was born. Ten thousand chickens. So they paid the doctor in eggs. It would turn out I am very allergic to chicken eggs. The irony of this isn’t lost upon me. For the record, my brother, Todd, is similar in temperament to me, so it wasn’t the birthing origin story that determined stubbornness. Perhaps they didn’t mind it in him so much since he’s a boy.

However, while others saw this trait as a negative I wore it like a badge of honor. I do not give up. EVER. Sometimes I can be waylaid. Sometimes I will have to find a different route to meet my goal. But if I can see a dot on the horizon I will get there. Come hell or high water. And nothing anyone does or says will stop me. My Dad would just shake his head, even when I was an adult. ‘Stubborn as hell.’ he’d mutter, under his breath.

My Mother used to say ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’ But I thought ‘No. If you want something done, ask a person who won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.’ I don’t enjoy the word ‘No.’ Or ‘Impossible.’ For me, those words are like a red cape in a bullring. I’ll raise an eyebrow. You’ll want to get out of the way unless you like getting tossed to the side. My answer will always be ‘Watch me.’ To avoid being told No or Impossible, I prefer the ‘It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission’ approach. More so because I don’t really want to hear all the reasons something can’t be done. I figure that’s just someone else’s lack of imagination. Because, if I can dream it up it must be possible, somehow.

This did not endear me to my parents as a child. And, surprise! It didn’t always endear me to my employers. But I was a necessary evil. I was good at what I did. Inventing stuff. Problem solving the toughest problems. I had an exec who once told me ‘You’re too smart for your own good.’ Yet that was right after he gave me a bunch of money to solve a really big problem. So I didn’t care. I decided to take it as a compliment.

When we moved to Spain, we went for it. It didn’t seem that difficult to gather the requisite documents, make a bunch of plane reservations and appointments. To liquidate everything we owned. Jeff just stood back and let me do my thing. He knows me better than anyone. It wasn’t until after we moved here that we read on many forums about how hard it is and ‘nearly impossible’ to move to Spain from the US. And that some people had been trying for 5 years. I couldn’t imagine what trying meant. I believe Yoda, of Star Wars fame, was correct. ‘There is no try. There is only do, or do not.’

So now we are in Galicia and ready to get this show on the road for setting ourselves up for welcoming Pilgrims next year. Time is awasting. And I need to kick it up a notch. As per usual, I have consulted no forums or Googled How hard is it to open a business on the Camino Frances? I just went into town and started doing some research with locals. And our accountant in Melide has been a big help. If not a bit surprised at how I like to drive deadlines and all my never ending questions. But I notice he has learned to manage me over time. Normally, I do not enjoy being managed, but he is the expert on all things financial in Galicia and Spain. So I acquiesce, mostly, to his advice and expertise. Although, there are times I still push him a bit. When I think I didn’t get the answer I want due to a language barrier.

And it’s all paying off. Drumroll, por favor! We are proud owners of a newly minted Spanish company. It’s got an American name so I was guaranteed that I would get my first choice. I am so excited! Suddenly, all my sketches for how we are going to lay this thing out can begin to come to fruition. I’ll admit, our contractor is a little afraid of me. Not because I am rude or mean to him. But because I reach out to him every day and ask when this thing can get going. Or when that drawing will be completed. ‘Where are we at?’ WhatsApp isn’t his friend because he can’t really say he was too busy to take my call. I just message him and wait for the blue check marks.

Jeff and I are doing the demo ourselves on some of the out buildings. We had some Pilgrims friends to stay over the last few days and we put them to work pulling out old cabinets for the new Pilgrim laundry room and kitchenette. During this activity I saw an official looking truck marked with Concello de Palas de Rei picking up some old cabinets my neighbor, Marie Carmen, had put outside her gate. I had seen them on the way to the trash the night before. Hmmm. I hurried out the gates and flagged them down as they were driving away. I asked what they were doing and it seems that Palas has a free service to pick up your old stuff. Who knew? We had to pay someone to come get things in the US. Or to recycle old washers, and the like. So I invited them in to our gate to look at all our stuff in the barn. They looked at each other like ‘Who is this lunatic?’ but they marched after me. I have no shame. We have a bunch of stuff. Several trucks worth, all piled in the barn. From all our demoing. Along with a ton of things from the previous owners. It was becoming a problem and we have searched for a way to solve it, but to no avail. I don’t know where a landfill might be around here. Yet, we had the solution very nearly dropped on our doorstep. During the survey we muddled through with our español and the men came back with larger vehicles and took it all away! Like magic.

So we are just that much further along on our road to our Happiness Cafe and complimentary Pilgrim campground in 2022. Not too bad for one week. We are new business owners, and the juggernaut that was blocking some of our projects in the barn has been solved. I just need to figure out how I can expedite the building of the new showers and bathrooms with a new septic system. Our Contractor is not going to like me. But things work out. I guess stubbornness isn’t such a bad thing, after all. 😉

Swimming in Goodness

What a lovely Sunday. Unexpected. I find that the best things usually are. This one had us back in Santiago with new friends and it couldn’t have been more wonderful.

Santiago has a lot of churches and chapels. I was not aware of them all – mainly focused on the Cathedral in the square. This experience has me looking at unsuspecting buildings in a whole new light. We attended Mass at Igrexa de Santo Agostiño – Xesuitas. It’s a Jesuit church and college, with boarding for students preparing for university. They come in from the surrounding areas on Sunday night and go home on Fridays. In summer, when school is out, the Jesuits operate an Albergue for Pilgrims in their dormitories. A quiet, cool peaceful place to end your Camino. Away from the area around the square. And if you are so inclined to donate during a visit, they do good works.

Our new friend, John Rafferty, had invited us to attend the service. He plays the organ and his good friend, Stephen, sings at their services on a regular basis. It was a lovely service. I understood some of what the priest was saying, so we are making progress on the español front.

The church and cloisters were built in the 15th century. And they are impressive, if unusual. Not the typical gothic architecture I would expect. More geometric in design. But still with niches of saints and scenes from the crucifixión of Christ. John invited me to the confessional. But I told him no one has that kind of time😉. We’d be there for a week.

After the mass, John walked us through a part of the old city I had never been in. Where the campus of the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela is located. Started 526 years ago. No kidding. The ‘new campus’ is on the other side of the Parque de Alameda. It’s considered new but is still 200 years old. The last remaining gate of the old wall that surrounded the city is still here. Back through the ages, each Pilgrimage route to Santiago entered the city through a different gate in the old wall.

On our walk we made our way to a wonderful place for lunch – Restaurate San Clemtente. Over an excellent meal with even more new friends, we learned that our Scottish host is an author, on top of other many other things. And we were gifted with two books. The first It’s About Time by Johnnie Walker aka John Rafferty. It’s his story of being led to, and the lessons of walking, the Camino. Reading it, his story is so close to my own. Corporate burnout. Material burnout. The usual distractions no longer worked. And the story of others who felt the pull toward pilgrimage and to take the first step on The Way. This book is a must read (or reread) if you are planning your Camino. Or if you need inspiration after testing your rain gear while standing in the shower. 😉 And Martin Sheen, the acclaimed actor of the movie The Way, writes the Conclusion. All proceeds go to charities that support Pilgrims and Pilgrim organizations.

The second book is a gorgeous photo essay of the Camino by talented photographer, Angelika Schneider and with words by John Rafferty, titled The Beauty of The Camino. Over lunch she explained how she put it together. A labor of hard work and love. It’s stunning and crafted in a foldout that, afterwards, we all commented it feels like a Pilgrims passport in photos. I love how it captures the small, quiet moments of the Camino. Those that are indelibly imprinted upon you.

This is not an infommercial, but check out the website if you’d like to view more of the images and to order your own. Here. Again, all proceeds go to Pilgrims charities.

After an hours long meal, we were stuffed as we waddled out of the restaurant. Thoroughly sated and with new, unforgettable friends. The best kind of Sunday lunch. You can say what you want. Call it coincidence, but I think not. A wise man recently told me that ‘goodness attracts goodness’ and I believe he is right. And somehow, for whatever reason, these days I feel we are swimming in it.

Finding Their Way

It’s a monumental weekend. Many of those Peregrinos who started with us in St Jean Pied de Port on September 6th are walking in to Santiago today. And Jeff is among them.

This morning at 15km.

The past two weekends he has walked with our friends. First, for a few days over O Cebreiro. Then from near Arzua to Santiago. I’m glad he got to hang with them. He says saw others we knew, too.

It’s a huge weekend in Spain. The bridge holiday for Spain’s National Day on September 12. The country will be embroiled in a big party for four days. And Santiago is packed with locals, out-of-towners on holiday, and Pilgrims walking into the city from near and much farther away. For those walking in over the next four days it will feel like the city is throwing a party just for them. Bands are everywhere and Spanish music fills the air.

We have reached greater than 150,000 Pilgrims in Santiago in 2021. Something that seemed impossible at the beginning of the year. Last year, at exactly this time, Jeff and I drove up from Portugal and walked one day from Palas to Melide. We spotted what would be our house with the sign still on the gate. Then headed onward to lunch at our friend’s restaurant. Conchi told us we were the first Americans she had seen all year. What a difference a year makes.

It’s not the 350,000 Pilgrims of 2019. Jeff and I were counted among them that year. A lifetime ago. But it demonstrates recovery is coming. And more and more this Fall they are from outside Europe. The other day we were eating in Melide. Half of the restaurant was speaking ingles. Jeff commented on how odd it felt to hear it thrown around so liberally. Unheard of back in May.

The contagion rate is so low due to vaccines (9 per 100,000) that we, in Galicia, are at the new normal. Albergues can open at 75% capacity, if asking for the Covid certificate, just like in France. So bed shortages are a thing of the past. And restaurants are recovering too. Life is truly returning to normal, with a lightness and joy in the air.

The Xunta de Galicia has done an amazing job reactivating all routes running through the province. With coordination from private and public agencies and the hospitality industry. The Guardia Civil has been instrumental in seeing to the safety of all Pilgrims along the Way. Serving more than 3,000 people in mobile offices stationed throughout.

I sat in a cafe this morning waiting for them to arrive. There is a hoard of other pilgrims standing around waiting for their Camino friends to come in. Necks craned. Checking phones. When I suddenly heard my name shouted out. An American we met just last week was arriving too. It truly is a small world. I was glad I was here to greet her. No one should walk into Santiago without being welcomed after such a long journey.

Katrina is in the house.

For me, today is a celebration of friendship and remarkable achievements. Very real physical hardships overcome. And of perseverance, when moving forward seemed impossible. I know our friends, Chris and Amy, faced them all and didn’t blink. Truly inspiring. After all they have been through in the past month I will use their example when I begin again next Spring.

Plaza de Obradoiro. It will just get crazier as the day goes on.
The piper welcoming Pilgrims home. The sound always make me teary 🥲

Congratulations Chris, Amy, James, Katrina and all the others making their way into the Square – no matter how far you walked to get here. Everyone walks their own Way in this life. No one’s journey, King nor pauper, is greater than another’s. Each is a celebration of finding our way back to ourselves. Then home.

Never Say Never

First, let me apologize. Hell froze over and I finally created a Facebook account. And I’m pretty sure this simple action broke Facebook.

It could feel my anxiety about doing it and it shut itself down. Even Facebook was like ‘Are you really sure you want to do this, Kelli? I mean, do you live on the moon? Have you read the news? We are doing really bad things. You already know this and that’s why you deleted your last account. Come on, girlfriend.’

But the ladies in of the Melide Rural Women’s Association are worth it. I’m already in contact with their leader via FB messenger and she couldn’t be nicer. I admitted my español is substandard and laughable. But Yoga can be done in any language. I know this because I did it in Valencia the week we moved there. Aspirar. Exhalar.

But this little glitch in the matrix yesterday meant we couldn’t talk to anyone. And WhatsApp is the only messaging system anyone uses in Spain. It was a quiet day.

And it got me thinking during the hours of solitude. We use the internet for everything. YouTube has taught me more than I learned in college. And ebooks in my Nook and Kindle are lifesavers. But what if there is some sort of EMP (electromagnetic pulse), like from our sun? You know, that thing that warms our planet and does a bunch of other stuff that makes life on earth viable. If that occurred, all electronics would be fried. No more ebooks. No more YouTube. Really, no more cars. But what I really care about is access to information.

We have just recently moved to this farm. We don’t know how to do tons of what we need to know how to do. I am constantly Googling and Binging to look stuff up. Just so I can understand whats involved in planting potatoes in a bag and how to harvest them. How to start composting. And how to fix my compost pile when I screw up composting. It’s a thing. Believe me.

What would I do if the information spicket was turned off? Freak out – that’s what. Then invent stuff. Probably. But then I was thinking there is a solution. Books! Actual books.

Remember those? You know, from kindergarten. Or if you’re like me – the 1980’s. When we used paper and pens. And did long division by hand. We had big text books. Or a set of encyclopedias at home. Shelved alphabetically. The good old days.

No, I’m not advocating going back there entirely. But my love of physical books is well documented. Next time we go back to the US I want to buy some books on basic farming stuff. Soil rejuvenation. How to repair a water pump. Things like that. Those things don’t really change. Owning books for simple, yet invaluable skills that will always be important to have.

You might say That’s never going to happen, Kelli. Get a grip. And to that I say ‘Did you just live through the zombie apocalypse of Covid? Never going to happen? Don’t say that.’

So if you come to our house next year, and want to bring us a gift, go cheap and practical with a How-To book. At our house you will see full book shelves. And, if you’re so inclined, you can snuggle up in front of the fire with a book on the joys of animal husbandry. Cause you can truly never say never again.

Storms Don’t Last Forever

Last night a storm blew in to Palas de Rei. A storm of storms. It shook the house and windows rattled. I was up all night listening to it howl as rain came down in buckets. And speaking of buckets, I got up and made sure nothing required a bucket. It was coming down that hard. The knee did not appreciate the violent change in the barometric pressure. It gave me fits as the storm raged on.

Looking outside today, there is no more fruit in the trees. No more chestnut tribbles to fall. The 100 km per hour sustained winds made light work of it over the course of the night. Now the real nut gathering can begin.

Our storms here on the farm come up through a valley to the south. Off the Atlantic Ocean not far away. You can see them coming out the kitchen windows. This is the first of many big storms, I am very sure. Between today and next May we will have to batten down the hatches.

Now I understand why houses here are made of stone and brick. Finding lumber is not easy. If houses were made of wood, like they are in the US, we wouldn’t survive. The weather here requires something forged in the fires of the earth to withstand the constant onslaught of the forces Mother Nature throws at this region. And houses here are hundreds of years old. So far, they’re winning the battle, if not the war.

Luckily, our new fireplace kept me warm. It is fully functional just in time. Even in the bedroom upstairs. Fireplaces are built differently here than they are in the US. Unlike in America, here the chimney is on the inside of the house. Ours runs up into our bedroom and then out the roof. This type of construction means that the heat from the fire below heats the bricks in the chimney running through our bedroom. And it heats the upstairs. Like a radiator. If you have a fire in the fireplace, you can place your hand on the chimney and it will be warm and toasty.

My only complaint is that the firewood doesn’t bring itself into the house. I had to go out in that deluge, fighting the wind and rain to get more wood from the shed. A better solution of proactive-stacking in a hopper on the front porch is going to rapidly come to fruition. This was our method in Snoqualmie. It saved us in a snowstorm when we were housebound for a week in three feet of snow. We live and learn. And then we remember.

Today, I will enjoy the popping and crackling of wood. My summer bundles of dried rosemary and dried lavender are proving to be excellent fire starters. And they smell great too. The house is scented like a high end spa today. Just the thing to sooth the nerves after being awake all night in the storm. The sun is peeking out between dark ominous clouds. I may just let Mr. Sir (the cat who isn’t our cat) into the house for the first time. I don’t imagine his night was much better than mine.

Jeff said the wind kept him up last night in the Albergue where he was staying. He’s already at the top of O Cebreiro, making good time walking towards home. Hopefully the rest of his walk today to Triacastela will be dry.

But storms don’t last forever. Today, my forecast calls for a 100% chance of a nap, with periods of light reading in front of a fire, covered with my favorite throw. Now all I need is a dog, a wee bit of Scottish whiskey, and a perfect fall Sunday will be complete.

Just A Little Prayer

My Dr delivered the most unwanted, and yet not unexpected, news. My knee will not be heading back to Puenta la Reina to resume it’s Camino this year.

It’s not that in my heart I didn’t already know this. But I preferred living in la la land with the fantasy that included images of me heading out across the Meseta on a crisp late fall morning. Perhaps the end of October. No longer bothered by the heat. Hands snug in my neoprene gloves as they grasped the poles. It appears it is not to be.

But that doesn’t mean Jeff can’t go have a bit of fun. Today, before sun up, we drove an hour and a half to Cacabelos (just this side of Ponferrada) and met up with some Camino friends from Orisson from less than a month ago. If you remember, Chris was the guy with all that camera equipment who continued to Roncesvalles on that first 30+ degree day and nearly gave up the ghost at Roncesveaux Pass. He shipped it all to our house from somewhere near Logroño, and we will meet him in Santiago when he is done so he can take it with him on his next post-Camino adventure to Morocco later this month. But right now he’s made it all the way over Cruz de Ferro and is nearly in the home stretch.

Dropping Jeff off as the sun rose was harder than I thought. He’s a big boy. I’m not worried about him. It’s that these are folks I should be walking with right now. Its a reminder that I would be in Cacabelos after tackling the previous 600+ kilometers. Healthy and strong. Ready to take on the last climb to O Cebreiro.

I waved them all ‘Buen Camino’, then got back in the car to make my way home. But then I realized I am in no hurry. Rushing back to ??? So I turned the car to the right over the old stone bridge. Then drove on past the Municipal Monastery Albergue where Emilie and I stayed. On the road to Villafranca del Bierzo.

Its a stunning little town perched high above the river. Single-lane old stone bridges crisscross under the medieval castle with the fairytale turrets. Driving across them took a little courage with potential oncoming traffic around blind corners. Weaving through the very narrow, mostly deserted warren of streets brought back memories. So I stopped in a square and bought myself a coffee. They were filming a movie in front of an old church so I enjoyed watching the action. But I didn’t recognize anyone in it.

Moving on, after my descafeinado con leche I hopped on the A6 pointed over the mountains and toward home. There is a detour heading west on the A6 that forces you off the Autovía and through a small village, before allowing you to rejoin the motorway. At the village I saw a sign for O Cebreiro and Triacastela. Jeff will be there in two days. So I made a sharp left and took a very long detour home.

Its not as steep a climb as it is on the backside of that mountain. On foot. The car did it in less than 10 minutes. Soon I was turning into the historic village at the top.

I parked my car and went into the church. To say a few prayers and to light candles for my family and for Jeff’s journey. I placed a very large red candle on the old wooden rack, to add my own little light while praying for peace in the world. Its was pouring rain and the vestibule of the church was clogged with Pilgrims struggling into rain gear.

Driving out of the village, I took the long way down to Triacastela, through Samos and eventually, Sarria. At Triacastela, I realized that when Emilie and I walked it we accidentally did a variant, which added many kilometers to our trek to Sarria. Funny, it took driving it in a car to see that.

The town of Sarria is the demarcation point for me. It means I could pretty much walk home from there.

Crossing over the Portomarin bridge was a shock. There is almost no water in the river. It looks nothing like it did in May. The electricity and energy crisis here has had the electric companies draining all the reservoirs to unprecedented lows. I have read about it, but seeing it first hand? Devastating.

More old villages are visible from before the reservoir and dams were built. But the first thing I thought was that it’s fall. Time for salmon to spawn. Atlantic salmon spawn in the streams and tributaries of this river. Where are all the fish? Because there is zero water. It’s heartbreaking. Human beings- what are we doing to our planet?

I’m home now. It’s monsoon raining outside. Jeff and our friends will be getting very wet today. He texted me and they are on the way to Las Herrerias after stopping in Villafranca del Bierzo, just like I did for my coffee. My contribution to their trek today was booking them beds. We do what we can.

I am sitting in front of our new fireplace, nice and cozy. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather be out in it. Walking with everyone else in the pouring rain. The knee will heal and the time will come. Because in that church at O Cebreiro I lit a candle for that too. So along with all the others I offered up, I know in my heart that little prayer will come true.

The Luxury of the Mundane

Here is a quick health update in Galicia for those friends I know currently walking the Camino a bit shy of O Cebreiro, and those planning to leave for Spain soon. Or with a view to early 2022.

First off, Galicia has reached a 94% vaccination rate for all those over the age of 12. That’s the group currently authorized to receive the vaccine. They are saying that of the remaining 6%, a third are outright refusing to get it (so just 2%). Another third are actually on the books but living abroad (most received the jab in their country of residence). And a third are completely unreachable with current data, so they don’t know where they are.

As a result of the high rate of vaccination here, restrictions are lifting. Already we are not required to wear masks outside, if distance can be maintained. Hospitality is opening up to full capacity, if safety measures are followed. This should take pressure off business owners and provide comfort for tourists planning trips up here.

Many fall festivals and upcoming holiday markets should be able to operate somewhat normally as we head towards the end of the year. Who knows? Perhaps we will see Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior – The Three Kings – at a real parade on January 6th. A procession! I never thought I would miss the marching bands and processions.

Pfizer has submitted the results of their study for kids 5-11 years old to the European Medicine Agency. Galician children participated in this effort. It’s been dubbed successful and, if approved for children, may mean that masks are no longer mandatory as soon as December, according to the Minister of Health. Basically, life could return to normal starting 2022. It hardly seems possible.

And on to Camino Health, if you remember, back in August I posted a photo of a Red Cross worker who was cycling the Camino from Palas de Rei to Melide each day. Patrolling the route in his red vest, and equipped with a portable defibrillator and first aide kit. Well, turns out this was a pilot program run by the Red Cross just on the Frances between Sarria and Santiago. In the two months of the pilot, the riders assisted 1200 peregrinos who needed health assistance. Outstanding.

As a result, this program will receive funding and next summer it will expand to more routes, with the goal of full coverage in the future. Very exciting for next year as the Camino returns to normal volumes.

In other news, after being stuck in apartments during our strict lockdowns in Spain last year, Gallegos are moving outside the cities to find single family homes with land as their first residence. Looking to commute to their jobs in the city. But there is a shortage. Rural family homes are in high demand here and prices are skyrocketing. Glad we bought when we did. And Galicia is not the only Spanish Community experiencing this. They say the trend is being pushed along by the swift pace of climate change, as well. People are hedging their bets that more impacts like Covid are coming and they want space. Makes sense to us. We did the same. Perhaps it will help revitalize rural Spain and some communities that were slowly fading away. Wouldn’t that be remarkable? Children growing up outside a city with their hands in the soil. Learning to grow their own food.

Volcano coverage from La Palma in the Canary Islands may have knocked Covid off front page news. But truly it’s because contagion here is bottoming out, and its less and less of a concern on a daily basis. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we can turn our attention to other things. Like the price of electricity. As we used to. The every day things that loomed so large pre-pandemic can be our first concern again. As life returns to normal in Galicia, grumbling in cafes to our friends now seems like a luxury in which we can all gratefully afford to indulge. Who knew just 18 months ago that the mundane would be so luxurious.

There Are No Strangers

When you move to a foreign country (one that isn’t the one where you were born and brought up) you are forced out of your comfort zone in a huge way. Well, in every way, really. Discomfort is your friend and your enemy. It can force you to connect. Or it can force you to retract.

Sure, you can do the typical expat thing and find your tribe. Other people in a similar circumstance who speak your language, if not the exact same cultural references. And that’s OK. But it also forces you to talk to people you don’t know. To take risks you wouldn’t otherwise. To put yourself out there with the very real possibility of appearing foolish or stupid. For the record, I continue to be both of those things.

When I think of my life in the US, certainty was paramount. We hedged our bets constantly looking to eliminate uncertainty at all costs. But when we moved to Spain uncertainty was a constant companion. And appearing foolish was an hourly occurrence.

But after living in Valencia for over three years, we had our circle and our comfort zone. Our neighbors and our neighborhood knew us. We felt a part of the community and while they may have all still viewed us as foreigners, it was all we knew. Because, at the time, it was the only home we had. But it could still be isolating. The language barrier and sometimes the cultural subtleties escaped us. I’m sure we made enormous errors and perhaps offended Valencians unintentionally due to our lack of understanding. But we were blissfully ignorant.

Now that we live in Palas – really Melide, we are back to being outside our comfort zone. Yet again, we have had to learn to navigate. But we are better equipped now. And more people in our area of Galicia speak some ingles so we can muddle through. But one thing I have noticed since we moved to Spain is my willingness to speak to random strangers has gone up 1000%. Which is odd because there is often a language barrier. But I do it anyway. And I have never had anyone turn me away or get impatient with me. If they can’t help me they will find someone who can.

Recently, I had to go to the Vodafone store. Well, really it’s a reseller of their service. Melide isn’t big enough to have their own Vodafone store. Vodafone keeps charging me for service that should have been cancelled 5 months ago. After being hung up on over a hundred times on their English speaking line, I decided to go to the store and ask for help. The woman there, who was going to make no money off helping me, readily did so. She didn’t even hesitate and spent an hour on the phone getting it taken care of.

And I help strangers all the time, too. The other day I was coming home from Lugo and I passed a few Pilgrims on our road. One woman was sweating profusely and bent funny. Looking like I did outside Uterga that hot day coming down from Alto de Perdon. She was clearly struggling beyond the normal struggle. I stopped and asked if she needed help. The three women were obviously sisters and spoke only Spanish but we muddled through. They said she would be OK. It was only a kilometer until Melide. When I explained to them it is over seven kilometers with the bridge detour into the town center, their eyes got big. They told me which Albergue they were staying at and I said that was even further on the way out of the other side of town to Arzua. I knew that because it was the Albergue where Emilie and I stayed all those years ago. I, again, offered to drive the older lady there. The two other sisters discussed it and then put their struggling sister in my car. We had a nice chat on the way to dropping her off. And I felt better knowing she was going to be able to rest and rehydrate while her sisters made their way on foot.

I was happy to help. But I have noticed that this is more of a regular occurance now, yet it’s not something I would have done back in the US. There, I would never have approached strangers and preemptively asked if I could help them. I might have viewed it was none of my business, or didn’t want to intrude. Overstepping. But here, there is a sense of collective community that I never felt back home. Culturally, Spanish people seem to have more of a connection to each other. A sense of social responsibility that permeates their daily interactions. A stranger offering assistance isn’t weird. It’s just life. And it’s become our life now, too.

Today, I was in Melide. Jeff was getting his haircut and I was trying to pay my car tax for the year at the bank. You can only do this operation between 8 and 11am. Why? I don’t know. But it was this way in Valencia, too. I forgot that, so I was turned away at the bank. I will have to go back again tomorrow. But when I got out on the street I saw a woman wearing a mask of the Arizona state flag. For some reason I pointed at her and said ‘Hola Arizona’.

She laughed, asking me how I knew she was from Arizona, and I pointed to her mask. Then she laughed again, and asked where I had been walking from. I told her my car in the municipal parking lot. ‘I live here.’

She was surprised we would move all the way from the US to small town in very rural Spain. She told me she would live in Spain but it’s ‘too hilly’. I told her she could live in Valencia. It’s like Phoenix. Flat as a pancake. She was trying to find something she needed and asked if I could help her figure it out. Of course, I knew just the store and took her there, introducing her to the owner in my sad español. Then I left her with a hearty ‘Buen Camino.’

When I meet people here from the US, it makes me miss the ease of communication. The cultural shorthand that requires no effort. My American slang comes out, like riding a bike. You never forget. But once the interaction is over, it’s as if I got a small shot to last me until the next American. But it’s not America that I miss. What I have now is something I never had there. A sense of community. A feeling that we are all pulling together, connected and responsible for each other’s well being. For me, it has transcended language and culture. And I find, these days I value this above all else.

A Little of This and That

We are under construction- or demolition more like. Trapped upstairs as they jackhammer our old fireplace and pitch it into a truck parked on the lawn.

Very traditional Galician country fireplace

This was the photo from the real estate listing. So that stuff isn’t ours. Nor the IKEA light fixture. But you can see this gigantic fireplace dominates the entire room, yet it’s amazing at heating both the entire downstairs and the upstairs. I’d like a little less brick, stone and copper.

Our new fireplace will be sleek modern white stucco and have built-in book shelves on either side. My dream house would be bookshelves on every wall. The walls will be a dove grey and the new floor will be polished concrete, but they won’t do the floor until next year as it requires us to move out for four months to add underfloor heating. And I can’t make myself do that right now.

This winter Jeff is constructing an office in the barn. He’s going to add a room for us so we have a warm space while they do the flooring.

They are putting on the new roof starting tomorrow, and the black rain gutters. This will match nicely with the black framed windows. Eventually, I want French shutters but I haven’t found the perfect ones yet so they will have to wait.

They’re moving our well pump into the laundry out building, and replacing it. Just in time, too. It started going out the moment I got home last week. Water issues always happen whenever we return from a trip. I swear. Even in Valencia.

So we are living in a construction zone for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we did an interview with Leigh Brennan, who runs the YouTube channel The Camino Cafe. It’s geared towards the pilgrim and all things Camino related. She just posted it. If you want to check it out you can do so here. We had fun talking with her a few weeks ago. Reminiscing about my Camino in 2017 and talking about moving to Spain and living on the Frances. If you have any appreciation for the production value, you can thank Jeff. As per usual his attitude is ‘If you’re gonna do it…’ One slight correction. I misspoke and showed my age. I had my cafe logo designed in The Czech Republic, not Czechoslovakia (which no longer exists). Sorry about that. 😉

Anyway, time for ear defenders and some Paracetamol to combat the headache from the jackhammering. Jeff’s conference calls should be very interesting today. 😳