Things That Go Bump In The Night

I was awake in the middle of the night last night. I’m not sure why. But it was a good thing, too. Some friends in the US, who also have a house in Galicia, messaged me at midnight from the east coast. No worries. I was not going to sleep any time soon.

In Valencia, we had become used to the noisy night. Horns, parties, yelling teens, or fireworks. In the early morning hours there was always the click click click of suitcases on the tiles of the sidewalk. Hitting every seam 5 centimeters apart. Over and over. And don’t get me started about the entire month of Fallas. Ugh.

It was so noisy in Valencia that the farm in Galicia seemed like a deprivation chamber by comparison. At first. Soon, we could hear the neighbors dogs barking at things in the night. Javalies (wild boars). Deer. And, just each other. We understood that these are the nocturnal noises of farm life. And then, something changed.

We first noticed that something was wailing on the metal wood shed a few months ago. Like they have a sledgehammer, and are trying to take it down after midnight. But in the morning there is no damage. Then, the holes began appearing all over the property. And when I say holes I mean that whomever is digging them are trying to a) dig to China. Or b) they are digging a grave. It’s weird. Javalis do damage. But they don’t dig that deep. And then, it got weird.

A Sixth Sense

We all know animals are more sensitive than we are. They can smell, hear, and see things we can’t. Every day things. Fergus barks and let’s us know Pilgrims are coming when we are out front. Long before we ever see them or hear the click of their poles. And LuLu can see a mouse in the dark and pounce on it. No problem. But inside the house, they both began acting funny.

LuLu started jumping up onto the bookshelf by the fireplace and clawing at the wall. Whining. A sound we had never heard her make. And no matter how many times Jeff took her down she would jump back up. We looked for spiders, or other insects that might be attracting her. We vacuumed the whole area. She still does it. Then, Fergus began his thing.

In the early morning and every evening Fergus goes to another corner and stares with his hair on end. He will growl and whine. Very rarely bark. No matter now many times I reassure him he goes back there. But there is nothing there. Or so I believed.

Clean Up This Mess

Yesterday, our new armoire for the entry way arrived. Before this our coats and shoes were hung on a coat rack. And on shelves below. Which was fine before the arrival of a shoe-loving chew-thief. But now, we needed to be able to shut our shoes and coats safely away.

It was nearly a week late in arriving, but they had phoned the day before to tell me they would be delivering it between 9 and 10am the following morning. So I moved all the coats and shoes. Vacuumed and mopped the area thoroughly so we could put it in place and refill it quickly. Thus, exposing our clothes to Fergus and his shark-like baby teeth as little as possible. I call it ‘mitigating risk.’ Jeff calls it ‘Kelli is just getting extra excited about buying more furniture.’ Either way, the result is the same. So I touched everything that was moved from the coat rack. Every piece. And I put them all into the new armoire. Every coat, shoe, handbag, hat, umbrella. Everything. It’s even large enough to store the vacuum cleaner. Which means my new wine fridge fits perfectly in the space the vacuum used to occupy. Like a puzzle, everything fit together nicely. Except…

This morning I let Fergus out and noticed this stick by the door. I know it wasn’t there yesterday because they had to open the sidelight to get the armoire in the house. I asked Jeff if he had brought the stick in and he didn’t know what I was talking about.

Right about now, you are saying to yourself Kelli, what’s your deal with this stick? But it’s not just a stick. Every person over the age of 65 walks around here holding a stick. Its a thing. And the stick becomes worn around the top where they are held. From the hand of their owner. You see them up close at the drs office, the cafe, the grocery store. Walking the dog. This stick was not fallen from a tree in a recent wind storm. Its well worn at the top and the bottom where it has supported the weight of its owner. This is clearly a person’s well-loved stick from a chestnut tree. It doesn’t belong to either Jeff or myself. And it was not in this house yesterday. Let alone sitting where it is by the door. And then, the weirdest thing of all happened this morning.

We were sitting on the sofa. The dog was asleep for his morning nap. The cat was outside. All of a sudden our vacuum cleaner switched on. Jeff looked at me ‘What the hell is that?’ Like I had any more information than he did. I hopped up and went to check it out. Opening the cabinet, the lights on the vacuum were glowing. No kidding. And it was making the sucking sound. But it wasn’t plugged in. Fergus had followed me and was barking at it and growling. His hair standing on end. Then, he hid behind me, whining like the ferocious protector he is. I reached out and hit the off button and it stopped. The lights went out like normal. Hmm…

And the moral of this story? How should I know? Except I’ll be cleaning my house top to bottom today. To assuage our spectral roommate. As I’ve been talking about hiring a housekeeper/personal assistant, perhaps Must be good with ghosts will be added to the job description. And I think Gaspar (seems like a good name), the friendly Galician ghost, couldn’t agree more.

Digging In The Dirt

Sunny and cold. That’s the best way to describe the last week. Or mostly. A little unexpected spitting rain. The wind is coming down from Siberia rather than Greenland from over the Atlantic.

In France they call this Le Mistral. In Greece they are known as the Meltemi. Creating havoc in the Aegean Sea in summer or winter. We were on a ferry boat from the island of Paros to Mykonos with our kids one summer. The winds were so bad and the seas so highs, we thought the boat would capsize. They shut down the ferry after we docked. Emilie slept through the whole thing in Jeff’s arms. He looked terrified. Nick and I clung to each other and prayed. So this icy wind is no joke. Fergus and LuLu don’t want to spend much time outside without us.

Our farm is flat. The sub-zero wind cuts through you the moment you leave the house. Doing laundry in the barn is a frosty undertaking. But we have chores that need doing and we couldn’t put them off.

With all the record breaking rain we have had over the last four months, our ground is so saturated it can’t take another drop. Pools were gathering on flat land. Time to drain the field. So, Jeff got out the tractor and the furrower. His first time using this attachment. Then, he made some long passes from north to south towards the creek. Water immediately filled the deep furrows and flowed like streams to the creek. The standing water problem is no more. The test holes he dug to monitor water levels show it dropped significantly in the 12 hours after he created the drainage ditches. And it just goes to show you can learn to do anything these days on YouTube.

Jeff got up before the sun came up, like a real farmer, and did it early. Then, he came back to the house to tell me to ‘come look.’ I threw my Wellies on and a heavy coat. Fergus at my heels, we made our way out to the field abd appropriately ooo’d and awww’d at Jeff’s handiwork. And, then I saw them. The worms I need for my organic composter!

Cold as a well digger’s nose, as my Dad used to say, Fergus and I walked along the furrows and collected worms from the freezing water. With bare hands. Then, I deposited them in the compost bin. Everyone knows that the fastest way to good compost is worms.

Our neighbors drove by on the back road. Surely, they asked themselves what the hell that American woman was doing in her pajamas and rubber boots with handfuls of mud and her dog rolling around in it. But, to that I say ‘pishaw!’ I was in my element. As a little girl I loved the mud. I was probably five years old when, one summer I had my friends covered me head to toe with it in the woods near our house. They all followed me home, waiting on the driveway as I rang the doorbell. My mother laughed harder than I have ever seen her laugh when she opened the door. Later, she said she could only see the whites of my eyes and my smile of missing teeth. So, my neighbors here don’t have a clue that it could be so much worse than handfuls of mud and worms in my pajamas.

The Pup

Fergus is getting Big. We needed to tackle some of the mounting problems of a curious four month old puppy, and his maniacal cat nemesis, LuLu. Fergus has chased her from the moment his paws entered out house. At first, she hid. Then, she learned how to antagonize him. And finally, she entered the final stage of grief in losing her spot as the #1 pet in the house. Acceptance. Well, of a fashion.

LuLu has been plotting her revenge, which includes showing Fergus he can chase her out under the hedge to the road, where cars drive rather fast down our tree-lined country lane. And heavy tractors and farm equipment traverse back and forth all day long. Fergus is black as midnight. You can’t see him in the dark. They would hit him before they saw him.

Six months ago we applied to put up a fence around our property and to replace our front gate. A fence. Simple, right? Wrong. The Patrimonio for the Camino De Santiago moves in geologic time. Even for a fence. Jeff doesn’t get mad easily. But when he does I just sit back and watch. He bought all the temporary fence building materias on Saturday, and laid it out.

‘Let them come and tell me I have to take down a fence to keep our dog from getting hit by a car. If they do, it will mean they are actually reviewing our 20 ridiculous applications for this stuff.’

Then, he went to work. He’s right. Maybe our temporary fence behind our hedge, that will interrupt no Pilgrim’s authentic Camino experience, will be a red cape to the bull (s*#t) that is the bureaucracy of the Patrimonio. Can you tell I’m fed up with bureaucracy right about now? This week the Concello denied our food truck a license after they told me (and our contractor, Diego) that a license isn’t necessary for food trucks because they are ‘temporary.’ And why did they deny me? Because the food truck is temporary. <cue the video of me swearing profusely and beating my head against the wall> 🙄

While Jeff was digging post holes with an auger, I was mucking out the former chicken coop. First, with a shovel. Then, with a pressure washer. The previous owners built a series of out buildings surrounded by six foot fences. This particular one is perfect for a dog run for Fergus, with a place he can get out of the weather – it has electricity and water so we can even heat it, if need be. And, it is a 20ft x 60ft outdoor space with two trees for shade. Safe and escape-proof as the fence line is ringed in foot-deep concrete.

Mucking out a chicken coop is messy work in a confined space. By the time Jeff came to see how it was going I was covered head to toe in, well, god only knows what. Fergus, my loyal curious companion was covered in it, too. Jeff shook his head.

‘How can you be this dirty?’

‘You tell me how you would have kept yourself clean pressure washing, even the ceiling, of a 1×2 meter disgusting chicken coop. Then, next time I’ll do that.’

He had no answer. He toddled off. I resumed my work.

We needed to get this taken care of. Since Fergus has arrived we have taken him nearly everywhere with us. Luckily, Spain is a dog friendly country. Fergus can even go to the mall. But, he’s getting bigger now. We need to be able to leave him, and not in his crate. Somewhere he can run around. And besides, we couldn’t take him with us yesterday. Dogs aren’t allowed in movie theaters- even in Spain.

Roll it

I wrote last week about likely needing to go to Madrid to see my brother’s movie. We were making plans. Then, lovely Maria Seco of fame messaged me. She lives in Pontevedra but found a theater in Santiago playing Tar on Sunday in original voice – voce. I immediately bought tickets for us and our friends, Patti and Leigh.

It’s a 40 minute drive into Santiago. We had never been to this mall before. As Canelas. You can see it when you are walking on the Camino Frances, a few kilometers before you reach the Cathedral. It’s big. Finally, I can go to a place with some of my favorite stores without going all the way to A Coruña or Valencia. And, I can get a chai tea latte there. Heaven.

We all met up, got our snacks. They give you so much popcorn and a liter of soda here for next to nothing. Crazy. We wondered how we would eat it all. Jeff and I haven’t been to a movie theater in more than three years. It felt weird, but familiar walking into that nice space. Theaters in Spain are very nice and mostly newer than the US. But, back home we always went to movies at an iPic or similar. Where you sit in fully reclining barco loungers with a blanket. And a waiter serves you from a menu throughout the film. You can order a Manhattan and they bring it to your seat. I ordered VIP seats for our movie experience yesterday, but it was nothing like iPic. Yes. The seats were bigger. With more legroom for tall Jeff. Maybe they have something like iPic in Madrid.

The movie was a slow burn. Very slow. Todd’s signature pacing. I know the music and the sound were characters unto themselves. But it was the silences where I found the tension. And the winter gray scale felt heavy. Like a lead weight on all the characters. There were parts that were Fellini-like. Dark. Otherworldly. But, sometimes whimsical. My friends were speechless coming out. They were blown away by every detail. The set design. And the lighting. But also, the long shots and the tension. We went for lunch afterward, to discuss the film and so much more.

‘It wasn’t a horror film, but there moments I felt her fear.’

Lydia, or Linda as we later learn, is an imposter, a genius running from her past and the worst of her nature. And her sense of unchecked entitlement that disgusts even her. In the end, she find herself completely alone. My two favorite scenes are, first, at the beginning when the tailor in New York is making her custom clothing. Only the best will do for Lydia Tar. But it’s also her armor, like a knight going into battle. The second is when she goes home to the shabby house where she grew up. She climbs the stairs to her old childhood room and we see the boxes in her closet. Precisely labeled with her priorities. Cash, My IRA, etc. Things most children wouldn’t think about. Her mother hasn’t touched a thing since she left home, and shed her ‘Linda’ persona. Then her brother catches her unawares on the stairs and seems less than impressed by her return. ‘Mom said you were coming.’ There is Todd in Lydia. But he’s the writer, and her creator. It couldn’t be any other way.

When we exited the theater, we discovered Maria and her family had driven up from Pontevedra to see it. So kind of them. I think her two lovely daughters were shell shocked. This isn’t your typical film for teenagers. As Jeff said.

‘I would know it was Todd’s movie even if no one had told me beforehand. Watching it was like talking him. You could hear his voice.’

I have friends all over the world messaging me telling me they went to see it. But afterward they had to go for a walk, or a run. Maybe get a drink to process it. My friend, Carolyn, in Atlanta told me she couldn’t stop thinking about it. ‘It’s like no film I’ve ever seen before. It sticks with you.’ I agree. It’s haunting.

There are plenty of Easter eggs in the film. Things I noticed that Todd placed there. Intentionally, of course. The significance of which will go unnoticed by audiences. And I laid there last night, sleepless, mulling it all over in my head. Right at the start, so quick you could be forgiven for missing it, it was the film’s dedication that made me tear up before it even began. For WF. Our Father. Willam Field. As always, he would have been so proud of his son for this film. This achievement. And so am I.

If Mildred Could See Us Now

Growing up, Jeff was very close to his grandparents. Both sets. On his mother’s side his grandparents were 100% Norwegian. It’s why he’s so tall. And his Norwegian grandfather was a fisherman all his life. After coming to Seattle he moved to Ballard and married his Norwegian wife, Mildred. Ballard is like Little Norway. People used to speak Norwegian or Swedish there and had no problem being understood, as there were so many Scandinavian immigrants. In that part of the city they still celebrate Norwegian Independence day every May 17th with a huge parade. People by the thousands line the streets waving Norwegian flags.

His grandfather owned a fishing boat moored in Ballard and made his living on the sea. He would eventually die of retinal cancer from years of staring at the glare off the ocean. As a boy, Jeff spent summers with his grandfather on his boat. It’s why he doesn’t eat fish anymore. He got enough of it as a kid. And lutefisk? The mention of it sends a shiver down his spine.

His Norwegian grandmother, Mildred, was a nurse in Ballard, and a tough cookie. She had to be as her husband was often away chasing schools of fish off the coast of Alaska or California. They lived in a house on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound. She would talk to her husband on his boat on her CB radio at home. waiting for his return.

I have heard tales of Mildred. She was a tough, very smart, savvy woman. Independent. Outspoken. A little rough around the edges. She traveled the world alone after her husband died. Unafraid in her retirement. Jeff is certain she and I would have gotten along like a house on fire. Sadly, she died before we met.

Can I Speak To Your Manager?

When we adopted Fergus he was not housebroken. It was a challenge, at first. We had to watch him like a hawk. And if we didn’t see him sitting by the door he would have accidents. All of which were our fault. We had to work in shifts. It was a little frustrating.

Then, Jeff had an idea. Something his scary-smart Grandma Mildred had done in the 1970’s, and trained her dogs to use. He order a couple of hotel bells off Amazon and set about teaching Fergus to use them when he wants to go out. In the beginning, every time Fergus whined at the door, Jeff would take his paw and ring the bell before opening the door. After a few days, Fergus would ring the bell about 50% of the time. Slowly but surely, he eventually used the bell. We were thrilled. Until today.

Jeff was in his office working. With his head phones on he didn’t hear Fergus ring the bell. I was upstairs and thought Jeff would let him out. Then, the bell rang again. Again, I thought Jeff would open the door. Finally, Fergus began ringing the bell furiously, over and over like a crazy hotel guest on the silly British tv show Fawlty Towers. I ran downstairs shouting for Jeff as he came out of his office.

‘Fergus needs to go out! Haven’t you heard the bell?’

This, as the dog was furiously banging on it by the front door with his paw.

Jeff just laughed as he opened the door and Fergus shot outside. ‘That bell really works!’ He said proudly. ‘If only Grandma Mildred could be here to see it.’

‘It only works if you can hear it.’ I reminded him. ‘I bet even she knew that.’

But Jeff was unconcerned. ‘Apparently, Fergus just wanted to speak to the manager.’

His Way

Yesterday, the Academy Award nominations were announced. And among them is my brother, Todd’s, latest movie – Tar, starring Cate Blanchett. I haven’t seen it yet because I couldn’t find a theater in original voice – voce – Spain.

I only learned about the awards because my insurance agent in Melide messaged me to tell me my brother was nominated. Or really to ask me if this was his movie. She was excited. And then, I was too. I haven’t followed the entertainment awards season this year. I’ve been too busy.

This was not his first full length feature film. There have been two others, both in the oughts. They were nominated for eight Oscars combined. In the Bedroom (2002) and Little Children (2006). Kate Winslet won Best Actress for Little Children. Both films are dark family tragedies, but masterfully woven tales of perfect shiny families. And then Todd spends the next two plus hours dismantling the myth of it, and characters brick by brick. One small brutal moment after another. And by the end of each film he has taken the heroes and the anti-heroes and moved them so close together that the movie goer isn’t quite sure which one is the villain. His signature sleight of hand.

Todd is a master storyteller. And a gifted artist. His embrace of dark cinematic and cultural themes is where he shines. Reveling in the audience’s discomfort as they recognize themselves onscreen, and then wriggle uncomfortably in their seats as the glossy exteriors of the characters they identified with at the start of the film slowly falls away.

As The Story Goes

My mother always said that Todd never forgave me for being born. The little prince lost his throne. While that might be true, what he didn’t realize is that I never coveted his throne. I’m no princess. In truth, I had no interest in living in a castle. I wanted to live in a treehouse outside the walls. Inventing things. Building things in the land of the misfit toys. Climbing my trees and dreaming of a world far from the kingdom where we were born. I wanted to be Peter Pan. As a result of this early misunderstanding of intentions, we got off on the wrong foot. But our roles in the family hardened long ago. Anything different would require a greater time commitment than either of us has.

I haven’t seen my brother since right before our Dad died. Shortly before Covid struck. We were both at our parent’s house and we knew the end was in sight. Lucky for me, Todd had packed his invisible controller with wires connected to my last nerve. And an array of my least favorite buttons that only he knows how to push. On this particular day he was hitting them with an emotional sledge hammer. I was dressed in my favorite oversized overalls. A rag-a-muffin, as my Mom used to call me. But, he used a different nickname from when we were kids.

‘How’s it going, Hobo Kelly?’

It shouldn’t have bothered me so much. But it did. On that day, I could only take so much ‘kidding’. So, I pulled out my childhood nickname for him ‘Motherfucker!’ Oops! I said the inside word out loud. In front of my parents. It was so shocking in that setting he laughed. And suddenly, we were wrestling on my parents old wool couch. No, it wasn’t a good look. I’m not proud of it. When you find yourself in your 50’s wrestling with your sibling as your 80 year old mother shouts at you both to ‘Knock it off!’, you should probably take a beat. Perhaps a moment of introspection is called for. But the upside is that it just proved he was still my brother. The same annoying guy. Nothing had changed that.

Going His Own Way

When Little Children premiered in Seattle we were living there. Todd invited Jeff and I to come to the screening. We sat down and Jeff asked where Todd was. I pointed to the projection room up above.

‘He’ll be up there.’

Todd had worked as a projectionist at a third run movie theater on Portland’s east side when we were in high school. You could see a matinee for next to nothing because the movies they showed were at least six months old. I went to that theater for a date with a boy in high school to see Friday the 13th in 3D. A horror film perfect for high school dates. I thought nothing of it. The next day the boy found me at my locker in the hall.

‘Your brother just told me I should watch where I put my hands or I’ll regret it. I don’t think we should go out again.’

Unbeknownst to me, my brother had been on our date with us. From the projection room. I smiled. Not because the boy wouldn’t be taking me out again. But because Todd had confirmed something I had long suspected. He cared about me. That priceless piece of knowledge was worth losing a high school boyfriend.

Roll The Credits

I imagine since one of the central characters of Tar is the film’s music with big orchestrations, Todd will, again, be fanatical about how it sounds wherever it plays. Every inch the perfectionist.

It’s been 16 years since the release of his last full length movie. And it speaks to something I have long admired about him. Todd never gives up. He may slow down, or speed up. Sometimes he will have to crawl across broken glass. But, like most artists, paintings are not painted in acrylics or oils. Books are not written in ink. And movies are not celluloid. Words and pictures are laid down in blood, sweat, and tears. And he’s shed more than his share.

My insurance agent called again. She found a theater in Madrid that has Tar in original voice – aka Ingles. Even the name is evocative. A hot boiling mass that eats the light. Monica has volunteered to take care of Fergus and LuLu for us.

‘You must go see it, Kelli.’

She’s right, of course. Perhaps it’s time for Jeff and I to hop on the high speed train and go to Madrid for an overnight. Buy some popcorn and sit down to experience Todd’s latest, hard fought masterpiece. It, and he, deserves our effort.

But, either way, one thing is for sure. In the wee hours of Central European Time on the morning of 13 March, as they call Todd’s name to the stage in Los Angeles for one of the Oscars he’s nominated for this year, and as he grips that gold statue, if he listens closely through the applause and whistles in the room, he just might hear it. His little rag-a-muffin sister, 7000 miles away on a farm in rural Galicia will be jumping up and down, hugging Jeff and shouting at the screen louder than anyone. ‘Well done, Motherfucker! You did it your way. I’m so happy for you!’

Cut To The Farm

The next time I see my brother I’ll probably be finishing up with a customer in the food truck. I’ll look up and he’ll be standing at the gate with his hands in his pockets. Looking like its nothing that he’s here.

‘What are you doing here?’ I’ll ask, frowning.

He’ll smile a lopsided smile and chuckle. Rub his chin. ‘The taxi dropped me off in that little village up the road. When I asked after where you live every hand in the bar pointed this direction. By the way, I don’t think your competition likes you.’

Telling me nothing I didn’t already know.

‘No.’ I’ll say. ‘I mean Here.’ Pointing to the ground.

‘I was in Madrid.’ He’ll respond, unfazed. ‘I had meetings with Penelope and Javier.’ Looking around distracted. ‘Maybe a new project.’ As if Madrid is just down the road near Palas de Rei.

I’ll wait until finally he’ll shake himself out of his musings. And he’ll smile. ‘And I could use a coffee.’

<fade to black>

<roll the credits>

The Shapes of Good Fortune

In the summer of 1994 things were bad in South Korea. Protests broke out on a weekly basis. The US has some massive military bases in Seoul. A ticker ran on the tv – AFKN (Armed Forces Korea Network) – warning Americans of the unrest. Advising them to register with the American Embassy in Seoul. Then, it was made even worse when an American fighter jet crashed on the wrong side of the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) in North Korea. And the pilot was captured. You could cut the tension with a knife.

As it happened that it was the summer I had to spend four months in Seoul. The embassy was developing evacuation plans to get all Americans civilians out if the country, if the situation warranted. Having been to worse places. I wasn’t afraid. Walking through streets where children have automatic weapons or rocket launchers. Now that will chill your blood on the hottest day. When you know bad things are going to happen. This situation in Seoul seemed more like a war of words and saber rattling. But wars have been started for less. And in the country where I was standing that had happened just decades before.

That summer, I was camped in the Intercontinental hotel near the Olympic stadium. Not far from the Gangnam area made so famous a few decades later by Psy. And across the river from Itaewon, the infamous shopping area where designer clothes, shoes and handbags that mysteriously fell off of trucks leaving factories were sold for pennies on the dollar. And where I learned about the good fortune to always sell to your first customer of the day. Even if it means taking a hit to your profit margin.

One Saturday, a colleague and I decided to head into the main shopping district in downtown Seoul. To the Hyundai department store to buy some shoes. At that time I wasn’t yet aware that a 5’6’’ American with a Size 9 (40 EU) foot would have a better chance of finding a polar bear in Seoul than shoes that would fit me. The experience of me attempting to try on shoes at a Korean department store is an hilarious story for another time. But looking for shoes that day put us very close to one of the largest Buddhist temples in Seoul. We had both been wanting to see it so we walked there after our unsuccessful shoe shopping.

The streets of downtown Seoul, a vast city of nearly 10 million people, was almost deserted. It was weird. Like the calm before a storm. We both remarked on it. I wondered if we had missed a bulletin for protests, or something even more ominous. The only people out on the sidewalks were street vendors selling these flower bucket things I had never seen before.

We got to the temple compound and decided to check out the shop. It wasn’t a gift shop, per se. More a place where items were sold to facilitate the followers of Buddhism in their practice. We were looking at the unfamiliar items when we were approached by a man who spoke very good english. It turned out he was an English professor at a university in Seoul. And he offered to show us the temple.

It was truly one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have ever seen. Simple but intricate. Hand carved and hand painted in bright colors for centuries, over 1300 years, it was ringed with panels depicting the life of the Buddha. The professor gave us the history of the temple. And he spoke in detail about the carved panels, the life of Buddha, and what it means to followers of Buddhist teachings. Then, he offered to take us inside to pray. I immediately declined. I was never a very good Lutheran. I didn’t imagine embarrassing myself in a Buddhist temple would go any better. But the professor assured me I would be fine. ‘Just do what I do ‘. So Amy and I followed him inside.

This temple was filled with people in small groups, on their knees on the woven grass floor, touching their foreheads to the floor while facing an alter that lined one whole wall. The alter was made of dark mahogany wood polished to a high shine that rose in steps, and contained carved statues on each level. There was a young bald monk sweeping and cleaning it with a straw broom.

I did what the professor did and bowed, then kneeled, then touched my forehead to the mat. Then, I did it again. Then, again. Three times. Then, we sat and meditated and prayed for a bit. When I opened my eyes the young monk was up on the alter staring at me. He smiled, then came down and sat with us. Hai Yung’s face was open and welcoming. And he had striking blue eyes, much like my own, which he pointed out, smiling even bigger. The professor interpreted for us and when the young monk heard I was from California he became very excited. He wanted to know if I knew Mel Gibson as he was a big fan of the Lethal Weapon franchise. Seriously. You would rarely heard have heard me laugh so hard at the irony of sitting in this serene place discussing Lethal Weapon with a monk.

After a bit of a cultural exchange, Hai Yung arose and proceeded to herd the other temple patrons out the door we came in at the back of the temple. I made to leave with them but the monk directed us to remain after he locked the door. Then, he led us to the other side of the temple and opened these massive wooden doors. I didn’t realize it but it had gotten dark when we were inside. We followed Hai Yung outside to where a series of steep stone steps led down into the center of the temple complex. But from this vantage point at the top we could see out across Seoul. And what greeted us was something I had never imagined in my wildest dreams.

For as far as the eye could see tens of thousands of people where coming towards us carrying lanterns. Like a sea of light flowing in one direction. And a huge white elephant was being carried on a dais. Another, further back, had an enormous gold Buddha lit from below. The monk said something while smiling and pointing.

‘Today is the Buddha’s birthday.’ The professor interpreted.

I stood there, speechless as a group of monks led the massive procession of over 100,000 people our way. As they approached the stairs the old monk climbed before all the others, carrying a lotus blossom lantern. He was surprisingly nimble, and when he reached the top he smiled and handed me his lantern. I smiled back and took it from him as I heard a collective ‘Aww.’

The professor leaned over and said ‘You have been given the lantern on Buddhas birthday. You will have good fortune for the rest of your life,’.

Hai Yung nodded.

‘Just in time.’ I smiled at the old monk ‘Thank you.’

At that moment, woman ran up and tried to steal the lamp from me but I held fast. Its not every day one is honored with a lifetime of good fortune by the head monk at a Buddhist temple on Buddha’s birthday. After all. But a swarm of monks coming up the steps engulfed us, and she let go.

Good Fortune Takes Many Forms

I hadn’t thought of that time in Korea, or receiving the lantern of good fortune from the monk, in a very long time. Perhaps it was the Lunar New Year on Sunday. And all the images of stunning post-Covid celebrations all over Asia. But, perhaps it was for another reason.

Yesterday, I drove into Santiago to help a friend who is moving. It was also the three year anniversary of my Dad’s death. I had intended to stop into one of the churches before heading home to light a candle for him. Santiago is riddled with churches – big and small. The candle would be lit, not at the big cathedral, but a smaller tiny church I discovered recently. It suits me a bit better.

I don’t really understand why, but driving into the city had me crying most of the way. I’m always taken by surprise by these emotions concerning my Dad. He wasn’t anyone’s candidate for Father of the Year. And I’ve been working with a professional over the past two years to help me process it all. It hasn’t been easy. Like a dental appointment every week where you can smell the burning of the drill. But Simon has helped to turn trauma on it’s head. And it’s made all the difference.

I am who I am, in ways big and small, because of my Dad. Because he was a bully I learned to stand up to bullies and defend those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Because he showed no empathy when I was growing up, I developed bags full of it myself. I can spot a hurting person a mile away. Like looking in a mirror.

When Jeff and I got together he told me that as I am falling asleep I say similar phrases over and over. None of which I would remember. ‘I hurt’ or ‘I’m sad’. Weird. Recently, I learned from Simon that these are very useful coping strategies that I somehow instinctively developed as a child. There was no one in the house to comfort me. I learned to speak out loud, in the simple words of a child, how I was feeling. Using my voice. Comforting myself. And it saved me.

But, I also learned good things from my Dad, too. A job worth doing is worth doing well. And my work ethic. My Dad was honest to a fault. He never tried to pretend he was perfect for the neighbors. He was himself. Like it, or not. And if you dropped a $100 on the sidewalk he would give it back. I learned honesty from my Dad. To live without pretense. And I am the writer I am because of it. He used to read this blog. ‘You write it like you see it.’ He told me proudly, chuckling the summer before he died. ‘You’re a good writer. You write the truth.’

It would be too simplistic to look back over my life and see it, and people, in black and white. Good or bad. It’s more nuanced than that. I think it’s more important to Look for the Lesson. What does this person; this experience, have to teach me?

Driving home from Santiago last evening in the dark, i realized I had been so caught up with my friends I hadn’t lit the candle. So I stopped at the church in Melide, but it was deserted and when I pushed, the door was shut tight. In that moment, I thought of the monk and his lantern of Good Fortune, lighting the way in the dark on that street with all those people decades ago. And I finally understood I have had an abundance if it. Both before he gifted it to me and afterwards. Good fortune isn’t about winning the lottery. It’s about seeing the light in every time of darkness, and choosing to follow it. I realized, standing outside that locked church door, that I didn’t need to light a candle for that. And I smiled through my tears, sending up a message to heaven ‘I Love you, Papa.’ Before nestling into my coat against the cold and heading for home.

Don’t Blow Away! 💨

Today, is an awful weather day, by most people’s estimate. So much wind and rain, it woke us both up in the middle of the night. LuLu was snuggled between us. Afraid of the storm and taking comfort in our warmth and the magic of a deep down comforter.

The pup and the cat hesitated greatly before agreeing to go out in the morning. Fergus had slept ten hours in his crate, after putting himself to bed while we watched a movie. He needed to go out. LuLu usually waits for her breakfast, then runs off for a few hours of patrolling and frolicking. Not so today, as the movie rain and wind have not let up.

I heard her cry to get in, and laughed when I saw her head peek up through the glass. She promptly ran in and had the last laugh as she made a beeline for the white chair and climbed in to get comfortable with her wet muddy paws. Luckily, my new carpet and upholstery shampooer was just delivered from Amazon. So no permanent harm done.

I had to head into Melide first thing this morning to meet with our gestoria – accountant.. The ditches on the side of the N-547 were overflowing, and the streets of our little hill town sported inches of standing water. The rio Furelos is over it’s banks as I crossed the bridge. My umbrella was pummeled. Greetings from neighbors were greatly abbreviated as we all hung onto the only thing between us and blowing away in the storm.

Making my way home, I saw pilgrims bent against the wind, pelted by the rain. Heads down. After New Years the numbers are increasing. It’s a terrible day to walk. But they will be grateful for a hot shower, and a warm bed tonight. I was happy to pull into our driveway. Jeff had spent the dry Sunday yesterday spreading leftover gravel onto the muddy spots with the tractor. We will need four more gigantic bags of gravel delivered by Toñio to cover the rest. But the bit he spread kept the mud off my feet and me from standing in an inch of water when I disembarked from the car.

Yes, this is rough weather but, in our estimation, this is some of our favorite weather. And it’s about to get worse – or so we hope. Tonight the temperature will drop to freezing. And this rain blowing up from the Azores will begin coming from Greenland. And it will bring snow ❄️. Glorious snow!!Time to head up to the closet in the guest room and pull out my snow boots! Or even Emilie’s. Her’s are in there, too, for some reason. And, I can wear my Canada Goose expedition jacket. Maybe make a snowman ☃️!

Tomorrow should be in eye opener for our two pets who have never seen snow. In more ways than one. Their morning ablutions will be icy. And they will get to see their parents go a little crazy with a snowball fight. We just have to be careful where we make our snow angels. And avoid the yellow snow😉

A Clean Slate

Years ago, they discovered I had a food allergy to chicken eggs. Weirdly, after I had Covid in March of 2020 it doesn’t seem to affect me like it did before. But, back then it was not good. Rashes and stomach issues. My lips would swell. To help me, Jeff got the kids ducklings for Easter. Then, he built a pen near our house in the mountains, to house them. Our Golden Retriever, Mr Perkins, was very interested in the ducks, too. Jeff did all this so that I would have a ready supply of duck eggs – which were very difficult to come by where we lived at that time. Until we found a duck guy on a mountain top an hour away, and Jeff would drive to buy me eggs from this guy twice a month.

Our ducks got bigger, quick! and I was excited that in just a few months I would finally have the eggs I needed. That May, Jeff took me away for a weekend up to Victoria on beautiful Vancouver Island. My parents came to take care of the kids, and Jeff gave my Mom strict instructions.

‘Do no let Perkins out of the house, except on a leash, if you can’t watch him. Perkins will head straight for the duck pen.’

When we got home on Sunday evening, Jeff walked up to feed the ducks. There was a large hole under the fence where they were housed. Perkins was sitting next to the hole, proudly wagging his tail. The ducks were gone. How were we going to explain this to the kids, whose Easter ducks were nowhere to be found? We did what all parents do and we lied. They flew away to find their family. I mean, what did we know? They were gone.

June arrived. Jeff was mowing the tall grass in the meadow and I was making lunch in the kitchen, when suddenly the sliding door opened. Jeff entered smelling awful.

‘I found the ducks.’ He said, matter-of-factly. Then, he went straight upstairs to take a shower.

I heard the shower going, and later, Jeff heading out to the garage. It was about that time that there was pawing at the slider. I opened the door and Perkins ran inside. And with him came the stench of the century. It was so bad, it stung the eyes and the throat. I thought my eyelashes would fall out! And it spread quickly throughout the house, like nuclear fallout. The kids came out of their rooms down the hall.

‘What’s that smell?!’ They asked, covering their mouths.

‘It’s Perkins! You have to help me catch him!’

We chased the dog all over the house. Fanning out, but he thought it was a game and evaded all our attempts. Finally, he made a break for the stairs. We followed. Upstairs was Jeff’s office and our master bedroom and master bath. The master bath in that house was the size of our entire upstairs in our house here on the farm. Perkins went into the bathroom and I promptly shut the door.

‘Go downstairs and open all the windows and doors.’ I told the kids. They happily ran off, away from the stench factory. Then, I took off my shirt and covered my nose and mouth, then opened the door.

Perkins was inside, wagging his tail, completely oblivious as to why we were chasing him but happy for the game. Seemingly unaware of the rank stench of Eau de Duck he was carrying with him. He came towards me and another cloud of toxicity hit me through the t-shirt I had over my face. The bathroom had a wall of windows looking down over the pool – a poor design for privacy – and I headed for those, opening all of them. My mind reeled. Getting an emergency appointment with the groomer was not going to be possible on a busy Saturday. And besides, if I loaded the dog up in the SUV, the smell would permanently embed itself into every soft surface. My options were narrowing. It was time for drastic measures.

I turned on the shower and stepped inside. Perkins happily came when called and I grabbed his collar and brought him inside with me. Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands like water. Those were our two preferred dog breeds. And Perkins loved water, too. He would swim with the kids all summer. Requiring little invitation to jump into the pool. I had no dog shampoo in our shower, so that day Perkins got my $40 a bottle salon shampoo. When I finished with that I thought What the hell , in for a penny… and used some nice smelling conditioner on him, as well. Perkins was reveling in the attention and his impromptu spa treatment, when Jeff came in.

‘You’re showering with the dog?!’

I was in no mood for his critique. ‘I had no choice. You can still smell it. He ran all over the house after rolling in dead duck when you ran over them with the lawn mower and stirred it up. The kids and I trapped him in here. Anyway, you’re already clean. You should go. I’ll clean this up.’

After Perkins bath, and twenty wet towels, I blow dried him like the groomer – it turned out he loved a blow dryer – then let him out. Standing up, I surveyed the extent of the bathroom carnage as I caught the first glimpse of myself in the mirror. No wonder Jeff was taken aback. I was stood there in wet Converse tennis shoes, soaking wet jeans, just my bra, with dripping wet hair and mascara running down my face. I looked like The Joker in Batman. Or a Superhero Ha! All I could do was I laugh. Utterly ridiculous. But the job was done. I threw all the we towels into the laundry room. Finally, it was my turn to shower myself clean from the remainder of the ducks.

After that, every time I would take a shower, if the bedroom door was left open, Perkins would find me and sit and watch me. Sometimes he would bark and wag his tail. Let me in. I want a bath, too! Worn down by his whining, I did something I never thought I would do. I bought flea and tick shampoo and once a month I would let him in with me and I would give him a warm shower. No more fancy dog grooming appointments in Bellevue. I did his monthly shampoo and blowout. And he loved every minute of it. At first, Jeff thought it was strange, but then he would be waiting outside the shower with a towel to corral him, and after I showered myself of dog hair, I would fire up the blow dryer. Perkins was always happiest on those days. He died of stomach cancer in Spring of 2014. Even now, I miss him and think of him all the time.

Puppy Stank

Today is the one month-iversay of bringing home our new little pup. I can’t believe it’s only been a month. Puppies are A LOT of work. And I’m twenty years older. But, I know it’s good for me. Fergus keeps me on my toes. Even when I’m begging for a nap!

After the first week, Fergus had that puppy stank. Jeff and I agreed he needed to experience his first bath. And when I say that Jeff and I agreed I mean Jeff suggested I give him his first bath. So, I took Fergus upstairs to the big bathtub and commenced his cleaning with his newly acquired organic hypoallergenic coconut oil puppy shampoo. Only the best for our young prince. Luckily, like Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands, Labradors like water, too. And Fergus likes water. Perhaps we need to put in a pool. By the end, after multiple full body shakes, I was covered in water and so was the entire bathroom. Jeff took him from me in a bath sheet so that I could mop up, then have a shower of my own. We needed a new solution.

The next week I decided to go Full Perkins.

‘You’re going bring him in the shower with you?’ Jeff asked.

‘It worked before. And it’s less of a mess. Besides, after giving him a bath I have to shower myself, anyway.’

So, I turned on the shower, popped Sir Fergus into the tub – he’s grown three times bigger in a month – and hopped in after him. He gets all the attention up front. Then Jeff takes him away to dry him, wiggling like a piglet, while I get my shower. No wet bathroom to mop up. And a lot less wet towels. But, something strange happened as I was shampooing Fergus that first morning. I started to tear up. I had just gotten off the phone with the Patrimonio in Santiago. It’s odd, but last time I showered with a dog it was with Perkins. Back when I knew what I was doing, sort of. Back when I didn’t know anything about a Patrimonio for the Camino de Santiago. Probably, before I knew what the Camino de Santiago was. When I could answer the telephone and not struggle for words to communicate what I needed. Or to answer their questions. That’s always when I get the most flustered. It feels like an exam, every time. Perhaps you’re saying to yourself right about now, She was showering with her dog years ago in the US and she thinks she knew what she was doing back then?! But in that moment, I thought back to when I took the ease of things for granted. Even when I had to chase down a whiley Golden Retriever covered in duck guts.

Jeff frowned, concerned as I handed him our new little bundle of joy. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.

I nodded. Then, stood under the water remembering simpler times, wishing my Spanish was better and things were easier, and missing good old Perkins. Oddly, this soup of emotions was triggered by showering with Fergus. Is it strange? Probably. Would our neighbors think the Americana had lost her mind? For sure. But, after our visit from the Swingers of Melide, I figure the town is already talking about us. So, showering with my dog is tame by comparison. And, after living on the farm for nearly two years, I’m pretty sure they’d expect nothing less.

A New Tribe

Moving to a foreign country takes courage. No matter the circumstances that brings you there. Everything is different. And, as Jeff told me so many times, every time we walked out the door of our apartment in Valencia, ‘Everything is hard.’

Learning how to shop in a grocery store. What simple things are called. Learning that you don’t know what you don’t know. How to ask for, and how to get what you need. And, it can feel isolating.

When we moved to Spain nearly five years ago I had Developing a community on my list. People I cared about and those who cared about me. Friends I could count on. And I did have a community in Valencia. People I still love. But then, we moved away. We had to start over. No, not wondering how to purchase Carpet Fresh – psst… it’s not called that in Spain. But to develop a community of our own. Again.

Living so far outside a city on the farm has proved challenging. We are not in the mix. The hive of city activity. And, I miss that. Especially in winter. We have met so many great people in our area around home, but, lets face it, we are and will always be outsiders. Strangers.

When the food truck is open I get to hang out with interesting people all day long. People from all over the world transforming their lives, one step at a time. But, most of them I will never see again. Its a fun and inspiring community, but a transient one. I needed friends. And then, we met John.

John is the connective tissue of Santiago. And Santiago is just 45 minutes from our house. When the new A-54 goes in next year, it will be closer to a half hour. He has been such an amazing friend and supporter. And the Grand Poobah of the social scene. Not to mention an all around good soul. And it’s because of John that we met Leigh. And then Patti. Amongst many, many others. Leigh is a fellow Washingtonian. And Patti is a San Franciscan/East Coast transplant. And, now, I am happy to say I have found my tribe of women in Galicia.

Leigh and Patti produce the Good Morning Santiago YouTube series. And Leigh hosts the Camino Cafe podcast. You can check them out here

I love Leigh’s interview with John Brierley – The author of so many Camino books and, dare I say, father of the modern day pilgrimage. On the Camino I see more Pilgrims carrying his books than any other. An inspiring man who encompasses the true spirit of the Camino.

A Collaboration

Back in Seattle, I had a group with friends who met monthly for dinner. We called ourselves PWBP – People With Big Personalities. Sometimes we allowed a special guest to join us. But, usually it was just us, because, well, we knew we were A LOT, for most people. At these dinners we could laugh as loud as we wanted. Drink as much wine. Sing, dance, tell jokes. Be ourselves. All without worry of judgement or any outside disapproval from those who found us to be ‘too much. We only ate at sympathetic restaurants. ’ Quite liberating. I have missed them.

So, yesterday, I drove into Santiago. I had proposed a collaboration with Leigh. I write. She does video. What if we worked together on a project? So many people ask me for advice on what to do after walking their Camino. ‘I’ll be in Santiago in three days. I have X number to days until my flight home. What do you think I should do?’

Before the season starts, Leigh and I are going to visit some of the lesser known, really cool places in Galicia. She will shoot her show, and I’ll write my blog, with a bit more detail on the background and history. As you all know, that’s my jam. We will start next week with Monforte de Lemos.

I can’t tell you how happy I was after lunch. Energized by a new collaboration with these wonderful women. A new project. And a new tribe – The Lunch Ladies. Just what I needed🙏

A Zen Labrador

Having a puppy, like having a baby, places you firmly in the here and now. You can be nowhere else when it’s 5am and its time to go outside in your robe and slippers. When afterwards they fall asleep on you, again, and you don’t dare move for the next two hours, even to reach for your phone. A sleeping puppy is a happy pet parent. I remember now why I started drinking coffee when my son was born.

Unconditional love is the most remarkable kind. Like with a baby, how can you love something so much that robs you of your sleep, produces so much unpredictable poo, and sucks up every waking moment of your time? But you do. And every day you greet their wiggly little body, squirming and wagging, so glad you came back again, with such joy.

Fergus is being socialized, as much as I dare, until his third vaccination dose in three weeks time. Then, he can interact with other dogs. Especially, Camino dogs. Not the dogs of our neighbors, but dogs on the trail. Stranger’s dogs when we are on walks. Around here, we find people don’t care for their dogs the same way as in larger cities in Spain, or the US. Unless they are hunting dogs, farmers don’t seems to take their dogs to the vet. It’s more of a free-range deal. Hence, why it is so important our animals are protected.

I took Fergus to the vet today, for yet another treatment. He is thoroughly dewormed. Ask me how I know. 😳 And the vet gave me even more stuff for LuLu. Due to the fact that our dog and cat will come into contact with so many strangers they will need to be treated monthly for fleas, ticks, and worms. The vet said that ticks in Galicia have exploded in the last few years. She told me I don’t want a tick bite. I understand. Again, ask me how I know after the Great Camino Tick Bite of 2021.

Of course, I have done a ton of reading about how to socialize a dog. Before, I thought it was mostly about other people and dogs. Providing new experiences that help the dog gain confidence. But I have learned it goes much farther than that. Its more Zen than I realized.

The goal in life is inner peace. Not because everyone and everything around you is going perfectly. Quite the opposite. It’s that you can remain calm no matter what storm is raging around you. Shutting out the drama. That is true peace. Inoculating Fergus to outside, intrusive stimulation, no matter what is happening around him, Fergus will not startle. The startle reflex in a dog can spark aggression. Aggression in dogs, as in people, is usually triggered out of fear.

To facilitate this, we have to provide loud varied, strange noises when he is a puppy, to stimulate the reflex. Then, immediately provide comfort and treats. So Fergus learns to calm himself. So he can bypass the reflex and not lunge at perceived threats. Screaming children, barking dogs, a car backfiring, and on and on. So far, it seems to be working. The first time I took him into the tiny burg of Melide, Fergus freaked out. Our new stretch of the A-54 Autovia (Freeway) isn’t finished yet. The end of 2023 – so they say. So big semi trucks plow through the town all day carrying livestock, fuel, milk, and heavy equipment. The loud noises would intimidate anyone so small. But, today, Fergus was in the center of town, greeting the cluster of taxi drivers in the main square as trucks drove past, and he didn’t flinch for a second. I was impressed. My clicker is working. When he is distracted, I click. The sound refocuses him to the task and calms him down.

And Jeff is helping, as well. He’s been putting up some new cabinets in the kitchen. And yesterday, he hung the new custom blinds I ordered. It is looking better and is more functional. Our kitchen is an oven in the summer. Situated on the west side of the house, it gets the afternoon and evening sun. Our sunsets are very late in the summer. And with three kitchen windows, it can be unbearable in there in July and August. But, now, it will be cooler. And no one can see us in the kitchen at night from the gate. No more fishbowl.

Jeff was working all day in there. Drilling and pounding. And, generally, making an unholy racket. These days, getting any kind of remodeling done here is like winning the lottery. There are so few people to do the work. No amount of money will fix this problem. There are no available people in the trades. When I was growing up, you wanted to marry a Dr or a lawyer. Then, eventually in Seattle, it became a software engineer. But, now, I think you want to fall in love with a plumber or an electrician. Maybe, even a construction worker. Someone who can do things around your house. Put in a new bathroom.

I am lucky. Jeff is a software engineer. But he also took A LOT of shop classes in HS. Something considered thoroughly unsexy 40 years ago. I don’t even think high schools offer those classes in the US anymore. Budget cuts. But, as a result, Jeff can build things. Fix things. A renaissance man. Sadly, living in Spain, tiling isn’t one of his fortes. Or I would have two new bathrooms and new tile in the kitchen. Here, they tile everything. To the ceiling. When we moved to Spain I remarked upon it.

‘It’s got so much tile. Do they expect you to have to hose it out? What could they possibly be doing in here, other than cooking? Murdering someone?’

But, it’s actually very fire safe. And, easy to clean, if you like the tile. So there is that. And required if you are opening an Albergue/Food truck 😉. But, updating it right now is nearly impossible because tilers here are like diamonds. Hard to find one available. So our bathrooms are still VERY blue. We look like we are deathly ill in the bathroom mirror, between the tile and the fluorescent lights. Ick. Patience, Kelli. <heavy sigh>

Our kitchen tile is white-ish. But, the old cabinets are like plastic faded denim jeans. Seriously. Ick. So, Jeff, while he isn’t working his real job, will be fitting a new kitchen over the next several months – with the caveat that the old, as I call it, murder-tile, stays. I need to keep Diego and company focused on the cabins and bathrooms. The money makers. I can’t distract them over new tile for the kitchen.

So, Jeff is in our kitchen making ungodly noises. And Fergus is flinching. And I am providing moral support, reassurance and treats. Slowly, over the course of the day, our little pup flinches and whines less and less. Even when the grinding becomes a nerve-splitting screech as I try to cover both our ears. And, finally, he naps through it all. It seems, Fergus, the Zen Buddhist Labrador monk, is well on his way to inner peace. And teaching me a little something about it all along the way.

The Big Three (Kings, that is)

Happy Three Kings, everyone! Epiphany in the religious calendar.

January 5th, yesterday, the three wise men arrived in Spain. In the US, we track Santa via NORAD. In Spain, the kings arrive via mutile means. Camel, donkey, boats. Depending upon where you are.

Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar are the biggest trio in the Spanish Christmas season. Much bigger than Santa Claus. This day, I would argue, is bigger than Christmas itself. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, this is known as Orthodox Christmas.

The Letters

The letters children write to their favorite wise man (king) is the whole thing. And they flock to malls to deliver them in person.

Something tells me this guy isn’t one of the Big Three

Last evening, Jeff and I drove into Lugo to go to Leroy Merlin (Lowe’s of Spain). In the mall attached we found the nearly empty thrones. We must have just missed them😉. Unless they left a man behind. But this guy didn’t look like any of the Kings.

Roscones de Reyes

The kings cake or donut, is everywhere. You can even find it gluten-free in the freezer section at your local grocery store. Bakery windows are filled with them. And, they are piled high in the grocery stores.

Sometimes it has fruit. Other times it doesn’t. It can have toys in it, as well. We saw that in Valencia.

I love seeing the faces of the children as they scramble for the candy at the parades. And to see all the amazing costumes and acrobats. Valencia’s Three Kings Parade was an epic more than three hour cavalcade or sights and sounds. I look into the faces of the parents, passing along beloved traditions. And I remember the joy of doing that myself. Taking such pleasure in the wonder in your child’s eyes. Seeing the world as they see it. The magic 🪄 If just for a moment.

This is the first year since the start of Covid that the parades welcoming the kings has been held. We didn’t go into town to see them. Jeff was working until seven last night, and there is no way we would have found parking in Lugo or Santiago in time, going that late. Next year we will go, as it will be a Saturday. We will plan our parade strategy with chairs, blankets, and some adult hot chocolate. Perhaps make a plan with friends. And, once again, like children, enjoy the wonder that is the arrival of the Three Kings in Spain.

A House Filled With Love 💕

In Spring of 2003 I suffered a miscarriage. It was bad. I spent two days in the hospital. At the age of 36, there would be no more children. Yes, over the following three years we would become foster parents. But it wasn’t until Emilie arrived at our door in summer of 2006 that our family felt complete.

When I was still in the hospital, my boss at the time, Tara, sent me a planter with a small rubber tree at the center. Before this, I didn’t believe in giving people plants. A plant is a living thing, requiring care. It’s a responsibility that should be taken on willingly. Not foisted upon you, as ‘a gift.’ It wasn’t lost upon me that my tough boss had sent me a rubber plant. As if to say ‘You’re allowed to bend. But you’re not allowed to break.’ After all, I had a four year old at home who needed me.

So, we took the planter home. And, as the rubber plant grew into a rubber tree I replanted it, again and again. It grew like a weed. Too much water, it grew. Too little water? Meh. It grew. For sixteen years it thrived. Moving with us to four different houses across two states. But when we moved to Spain I had to let it go. Just one of the million little cracks in my heart as we made the decision to start a new life here.

Traveling Light

For the first two years we lived in Valencia we traveled A LOT. All over Spain. All over Europe. To South America. And back and forth to the US. We didn’t have plants or pets. We could pick up and head to the airport, or train station, or hop on Jeff’s motorcycle, on a moments notice. But, then Covid hit.

After I got out of the hospital I struggled with breathing. For a long time. Valencia is not known for it’s pristine air quality. The dust from the Sahara desert forms a brown haze. Blood rains and mud rains coat everything with sticky mud. It would come in through our windows. Breathing there was often unhealthy. Even for healthy people. Jeff immediately bought high-end air filters for every room to help me. And when I could walk to our local el Chino (Chinese variety store) we made the short journey to look through their shelves of pots and plants to add indoor plants to our air quality strategy. And that is when I spotted a rubber plant. The cousin of the one I had for years. The one that helped me heal all those years ago. Jeff bought it and we brought it home. When we moved to Galicia it went in the car with me. And it loves it’s spot. I just repotted it yesterday. Again.

Since we have lived on the farm, more plants have been added. A snake plant is great for filtering the air inside. Jeff recently bought me a sad looking ginseng bonsai after I spotted it in a store. It’s a raggedy little thing, but I love an under dog. We will do just fine together.

Something To Love

When LuLu arrived in June, it was another adjustment for us. You can leave plants with an automatic feeder for weeks. But a cat can’t be left for more than one night. Somehow, that transition from plants to a furry ball curled up in my lap wasn’t so hard. Not that I had a choice. Marie Carmen handed her to me without notice. And Jeff took 30 seconds to bond with her. She was staying. And we weren’t done yet.

The photos of rescue puppies arrived in early December. But a dog is an even bigger commitment. And a puppy pushes that commitment off the scale. I spend hours a day with this little ball of fur. Walking, chasing, and training him. He can now sit, stay, lay down, and leave a treat until invited to eat. All on command. We run through it several times a day until his focus is exhausted. And he taught himself to fetch, usually bringing the ball back to me so I’ll throw it again, and again, out in the field. I can’t believe it’s only been three weeks since he arrived. I love this puppy so much. I’m convinced he’s adding years to my life.

Fergus slept with us for the first two weeks. But he now happily sleeps in his crate through the night. His den. Dogs need boundaries. So do we. The baby gate for the stairs arrived yesterday. He’s learning his place in the house and the family. And, like a toddler, he gets crazy before he needs a nap. Then, passes out wherever he is. Usually by my side or at my feet.

Jeff and I can almost watch him grow. First, he got very long. Then, he woke up one day and his legs had grown over night. We can see the fully grown dog he will be on a few months.

We still love to travel. Now that Covid is under control, we can get back out there and will have weekends all year to explore. Maybe a full week, here and there. Of course, next fall after we close for the season, we have a list of places we want to see. Further away. I’ll fly to visit Ryan and Olga in DC, and to see some friends in NYC. Luckily, there are a number of accredited cat hotels and dog boarding facilities in Galicia. So travel is still in our future. But, in between, its wonderful to be in a house slowly filling with things I can love and care for. Some of whom, even the plants, clearly love me back.

Its Been A Real Shit Show

For New Years this year we had planned on heading to Norway. Jeff is Norwegian on his Mom’s side. He has wanted to spend a snowy Norwegian Yuletide in an ice hotel since I have known him. But then, Fergus.


A new puppy wouldn’t do well in a boarding facility. When he entered our lives in early December, all our plans immediately changed. Plane tickets were cancelled. Ice hotel reservations refunded. After a lovely Christmas with friends, we would stay close to home to ring in the New Year.

Fergus is doing well on his training. As his proud papa announced yesterday, ‘He’s a really smart dog.’

Fergus has entered to the chewing, mouthy stage. Luckily, we have 4000 toys to give him a smorgasbord of options instead of my Micheal Kors high heel Urban Hikers. And the potty training is getting better every day. The new baby gate to block his path up the stairs will arrive tomorrow. And he now whines at the front door when he needs to go out – 50% of the time. We watch him like a hawk. Sniffing the ground a little too much? Time for a walk.

Wait, What?

New Years Eve was nothing so special this year. I made a charcuterie with some local cheeses and chorizos. Ready for when Jeff came in from the barn. He’s slowly remodeling our kitchen. Starting with some smaller solutions for electro domésticos and our garbage and recycling. And for dog and cat food, now that we are a family of four. I’ll post pics when phase .5 is done. It will serve as a template for the rest of the kitchen.

Jeff was walking back from the barn with a cabinet when a car was at the gate. He thought it was Amazon. Our orders are delivered by taxi, Correos (the post office), other delivery services, and rando people in their personal cars. Usually, they honk if the gate is closed. But it turned out not to be Amazon. A couple got out of the car. Jeff walked them back to the house, then called for me.

I came out onto the front porch and recognized the guy. He has dreadlocks, the only person in our small town sporting those. And they are bright red. He introduced himself and ‘his woman.’ A curious turn of phrase that gave me a shiver. Jeff remembered giving him a ride from the grocery store once. I must have blocked it out.

She spoke some ingles. He did not , but we muddled through. They had heard about our food truck. And are opening a business themselves. We chatted a bit about our plans, walking around the property. Luckily, it wasn’t raining so we kept it outside. They don’t know many people in the area and said they had heard about ‘the Americans.’ All fine. They asked for our WhatsApp so we could share learnings. Again, fine. When, they asked what we were doing for New Years, I beat Jeff to the punch.

‘We are going to our neighbors.’ I said quickly.

Jeff looked at me curiously but said nothing. Marie Carmen is in a very low place this year. She is not hosting New Years Eve like last year. But if I had to sit on her front porch to avoid telling this lie I would do it. I told them we needed to be getting ready and made our excuses to move them along and out the gate. Jeff walked them to their car. Sometimes you just have a feeling about people. Something isn’t 100% clicking. You aren’t sure why but, then..

Not an hour later the first message came in. It informed me that this couple had come to our house for sex. Not business learnings. They are swingers and not very picky as to how we might line up – in the who-is-on-which-team department. And, since we are Americans, and everyone knows Americans are pretty open people, and they got ‘good vibes‘ off us, they figured we would be into getting down to it with them. To say I laughed out loud when the first text came in doesn’t cover it. Jeff paused the movie we were watching and waited for me to catch my breath.

‘That has to be a funny joke.’ He said.

‘Oh it is.’ I told him. ‘And, you’re included.’ Then, I read him the message. As I was doing so, a few more messages came in. With lots of emoji’s. I’ve never used the eggplant emoji before. And now I know why.

‘Do people in Melide think we are swingers?’ I asked. Incredulous. Thinking – is it my painting overalls?

I should have charged tickets to view the look on Jeff’s face. It was priceless. Then he laughed harder than I have seen him laugh in a very long time.

I wrote back, politely declining the offer of random sex with strangers. For both of us. I wanted to say that if I was going to take the bold step of swinging in small town Galicia – they wouldn’t be my first choice. But I refrained.

And Jeff’s take, after the laughter subsided?

‘Why does this kind of crap always happen to us?’

After decades, he thinks I can answer that?! It will be my next question for the Oracle at Delphi.

What’s That Sound?

It’s been raining here like God turned on the shower, then went on Christmas vacation. The farm is flat, so no worries of mudslides. But so much water has fallen that the ground is saturated. Our farm was a lake yesterday. And where it wasn’t, it was squishing walking out with Fergus. We have a stream at the back of the property. It was over it’s banks. You couldn’t tell where the edge was as the field was under water. And then, the problems started.

Jeff was showering when he heard the bubbling in the toilet. Not something you really want to hear. What is it with water problems? In summer we had no water. Now? Too much.

He got dressed and we went to check the septic system. The ground water won’t allow the septic tank to drain into the drain field. The ground can’t handle inches of rain day after day. He got out the auger and drilled test holes around the property. To see where the water level is. Near the house it’s two inches from the top. But, get any further out and the three foot hole immediately filled up.

So we have to be judicious with toilet flushing. Luckily we are both showered so we can last. And this week is supposed to be dry and sunny. We will watch the septic levels and see what happens. Our fontanero will be here next week putting in the water treatment plant he was supposed to install in November, and discuss the septic system for the cabins. So this new knowledge will come in handy for the design. There is always an upside.

We are not 48 hours into the new year when its already filled up with odd happenings. At this rate, one wonders what the next 364 days has in store for us. I am just praying that we are getting the shit show out of the way, early on. But who am I kidding?

Good is Just Perfect

This is the time of year I become philosophical. Well, really that happens all year long. But New Years is a particular demarcation point. A moment to look back and review the year rapidly coming to a close. And, also, to set the mission for the year to come. This New Years Eve will be different for me.

In years past I have focused on what I wanted to accomplish. It has always been a looong list. My friend, Stephen, told me at Christmas dinner that I make him tired just thinking of all the things I am doing simultaneously. All of my ideas. Or things I am just considering doing. My personal credo has always been Eleanor Roosevelt’s – Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. I like discussing ideas. But this year things are changing for me in new ways.

Do I want to accomplish a bunch of things in 2023? Of course. But my thoughts about it, and about myself, have evolved this past year. And my long list of goals will be influenced by my revised thinking.

When I ran an innovation lab, we always said Perfection is the enemy of the good. But that never stopped me from striving for perfection. Both personally and professionally. Accomplishing great things has always been the goal. Did I fail? Plenty. But, after spending a great deal of time looking inward over the past year, I realize that personal perfectionism is a trap. A golden cage that steals joy.

This year I am not making my list of goals for the New Year. This year I will focus more on the How and less on the What. And, I am abandoning perfectionism. The enemy of the good. My highest good. And its not just about on what I want to accomplish. Its about how I measure myself and others.

It might surprise you all but, wait for it, I am not perfect. I never have been. So trying to be perfect is an act of futility. And measuring myself against fantastical, unrealistic standards is just crazy making. But its more than that. Striving for perfection robs me of an appreciation for my own humanity. And the humanity in others. Because our humanity comes with making mistakes and learning. That’s the most beautiful part of life. The purpose for living.

This year, at New Years, I am committing to more kindness and compassion. For others and for myself. We are none of us perfect.

No More Black And White Thinking

Everyone knows I loathe bullies. Or people who perpetually intentionally hurt others knowing what they are doing. That’s just evil. A character flaw of the highest order. But most people, and I would put myself in this category, just do the best they can. Sometimes we stumble and fall. Sometimes we are impatient. Even thoughtless in words or deeds. Less, oh so less, than perfect. But, still, we have good hearts. There are just such things as bad days. We’ve all had them. If all of us were held to a standard of perfection we could never wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Stumble, and grumble. Skin our knees. But this is where I struggle. When I stumble I am often my own worst critic. Its much easier for me to extend compassion to others than to myself. Unable to forgive my own foibles. But, I am learning that to be truly compassionate towards others you must first begin with compassion for your self. Learning lessons doesn’t have to be a life sentence. That’s the entire point.

As I stand here making my favorite lasagna and listening to Louis Armstrong sing Because of You, I know 2023 will be my best year yet. I know this because as I navigate the packed life ahead, I am committing to doing so with self-compassion. Perfection, for me, is so 2022. Imperfection is the new black – in fashion parlance. Something that has been missing from my life closet of late. And, it turns out, a good year filled with imperfections is better than perfect.

The Shake Down Cruise

In the dense fog, we drove Jeff to Portomarin this am. And we dropped him off for the start of training for the Camino in April of 2023. On his Catrike. We figured that Portomarin to home, roughly 34+ kms, with a big uphill right outside town, and abundant types of terrain, it would be a good first test. The usual ride to Melide and back doesn’t provide that much information.

Fergus wore his high-vis insulated coat to show his support for Dad’s ride. He was a little unsure of it all. Sniffing and whining as Jeff unloaded gis gear from the car and mounted up. Jeff will begin training with large five litre plastic bottles of water strapped into the trailer and panniers. When he takes the ride in April he will be we be weighted down with a lot of gear.

Fergus and I drove back to Melide to try to get a vet appointment for him. As predicted, they told me to come back next week to make an appointment. No kidding. Getting him fully vaccinated with the second dose is yet another challenge to be overcome in Melide. But that didn’t slow us down.

I found a lavandería that has machines for mascotas – pets. of all sizes, including horses. So we washed his anti-anxiety bed. And while we waited we had a beverage at a local cafe. He is quickly becoming the mayor of Melide. A local celebrity with the unusual dog name. Young and old stop to per him and help me with socializing him to strangers.

After collecting Fergus’ freshly laundered bed from the lavandaria, we made our way home. Barely settling in from our adventures when Jeff walked through the door. Three hours door to door. Portomarin to A Campanilla. That gives him an idea of how many kms per day he can shoot for on the Camino from Roncesvalles. Before his real training has even begun in earnest. Jeff will skip the snowy Pyrenees on the trike Camino in April.

Over the barn at sunset 26 December 2023

Today is the last sunny day of 2022 here. Last night’s sunset was something to behold. It should be another beauty tonight before the next deluge begins. Just in time for Jeff to begin testing out his biking rain gear. Another adventure to look forward to.