With the Confidence of a 7 Year Old

There are certain things in my life that make me feel secure. And most of them are a little strange. It all goes back to when I was a little kid.

As a pre-kindergartner, I played outside most of the daylight hours. After I began attending school, I ran home, changed my clothes and went outside. That was in the 70’s. Before elementary school kids had homework. Ancient history. We were not scheduled in after school care. We were latch-key kids. And there were very few adults looking over our shoulder.

I would head right for the nearby woods, or a vacant lot where houses were scheduled to be built. There, we scavenged for boards, sheet rock, and other useful items. Then, we dragged them back to where we planned to construct our fort and we built it, using old nails we found on the ground at the construction site. Or other things we scavenged from the garage at home. Often, we brought our lunch or a snack so we wouldn’t have to go home until it got dark. We had work to do, for god’s sake.

I built more forts as a kid than I can count. I was very busy. Sawing, hammering, architecting, and project managing. I truly believed we, the kids in our neighborhood, could do anything. This translated decades later to my work running an Innovation Lab in Seattle. I had a C-level exec ask me once ‘You really think you guys can do this?’ And I answered with the confidence of a seven year old fort-building construction foreman, with an unlimited supply of scavenged building materials, ‘Of course.’ Duh. And, fyi, we did that thing the exec thought we couldn’t possibly do. 😉

When I met Jeff and he went looking to purchase a truck in our early years of dating, I had one request that made him smile. ‘I don’t care what truck you buy but it needs to be able to haul a full sheet of plywood in the back.’ I’m not sure he’d ever dated anyone who voiced this requirement before. I’m pretty sure that sealed it for him.

We have lived in Spain for over four years now. When we left the US, we landed in Valencia with four suitcases. We had sold everything back in the US. Cars, tools, everything. And that made us both a little twitchy. It wasn’t the house or the cars. It was the tools, and our inability to haul anything. We couldn’t drive and pick up something. Everything was delivered. Some might say that delivery is more convenient. But, for us, having come from pioneer stock, it felt constrained. We lacked self sufficiency.

After moving to the farm, I found a way to get a trailer hitch put on the car. Good thing, too. We are heading to Barcelona this weekend to pick up Bessie, the food truck. But you can’t haul a sheet of plywood in a food truck. Or in an Audi station wagon.

Jeff has tried to purchase trucks since we moved here, but it’s been a huge challenge post-Covid with all the chip shortages. And used trucks are like diamonds now. So we switched to trailers. Looking for used trailers on Wallapop (the Craigslist of Spain), we’ve had people call us back for this ad or that ad. But when they hear we are Americans the price goes up by €300-400. Sure, we could pay that but there is a principle here. Jeff would just say No Thanks. Yet, more and more, everything I want to do, both for the house and the business, requires the ability to haul. <heavy sigh>.

We shop a lot in Lugo. There are many grocery stores and home improvement stores. But the one grocery store we had not been to in Lugo was the Carrefour. It sits far from all the others and there is a ton of construction going on in front of it. But we decided to brave the crazy detour and check it out, finally. Even Google maps warns you as you turn onto the street. ‘Acceso Complexo’, or something like that. No kidding. We laughed.

The Carrefour in Lugo is like the Carrefour at El Saler in Valencia. It’s basically a Fred Meyer or Fry’s in the US. One-stop shopping. And it turns out, there is a store attached to the complex that is like Schucks Auto Supply in the US. I think they changed their name, but it’s basically that. Except they also carry utility trailers and roof boxes. Brand spanking new utility trailers!

I ran my hand along the length of the largest one. Hello, old friend. I didn’t have a measuring tape, but by feel I was pretty sure it would carry a sheet of plywood home from the Bricomart.

‘Can we get her?’ I asked Jeff, like that seven year old in the vacant lot.

We went inside and placed our order. It’s roughly the same price as the jacked-up-price for Americans of one on Wallapop. It comes with a two year guarantee. And they’ll give us €400 off services in their shop. So, oil changes or perhaps new tires. Not a bad deal. And we can pick it up tomorrow.

Today, I stood outside the house surveying my domain. I could rip out that scrubby area and lay down some pavers. Then, we could build a fire pit for warm summer evenings to come. Sitting around it, maybe roasting a marshmallow or two. Grill some veggies. Perhaps some hot dogs or sausages. All because, as of tomorrow, we will be the proud owners of a utility trailer. It might sound crazy, because I have no use for it right now, but my seven year-old self feels a little more secure in the knowledge that if I needed a sheet of plywood I could buy ten of them and bring them home, all on my own.

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

When we moved to Spain more than four years ago, I paid for a container to ship over our most prized possessions. Live and learn, now I would never do that. I would put our most valuable things in storage. Then see if they were still valuable a year later. 80% would not have made the cut.

Part of that container was taken up by our golf clubs. Jeff’s clubs are older now. He doesn’t have the latest golf technology or the fanciest bag. He’s an old school golfer, taught by his step-dad, Andy. And Jeff is crazy good. The guy can drive a ball more than 250 yards straight down the fairway. The first time we played together I knew I was in trouble. The sound the driver made hitting the ball was perfection. Thwack!

As a kid, my Dad would take my brothers golfing. But I was a girl, so I wasn’t included. After begging, he would sometimes let me go along but leave me at the Glendoveer driving range to hit a bucket of balls. So I know how to drive. The cute kid who worked there would give me free balls when my bucket was empty. And he would give me tips. ‘Don’t try to kill it.’ Jeff’s step-dad, Andy, gave me lessons, too, and while I don’t always follow them to a tee – pardon the pun – I do remember his words. ‘Keep your head down and keep your eye on the ball.’ Good advice for life, too.

At most companies Jeff has worked for, he has played golf with the executive team. Usually tee times in the dark on summer mornings. He was on a golf course the morning of 9/11. His clubs were never the latest and greatest, but they were a gift from Andy. Jeff has added to them over the years but he kept the original set. And he still uses them. There were times he was invited to one tournament or another. Usually, as a ringer. He’s a good golfer. Or he was. But, ever since we moved our clubs and golf shoes to Spain in that container, we haven’t played one time. The longest Jeff has ever gone without playing golf since he was a teenager.

As most golfers know, golf isn’t just a physical game. It’s mental. And Jeff has long arms and the right mind for it. I’ll be walking down the fairway loudly lamenting one of my many terrible shots, while Jeff is cool as a cucumber. Our golf games reflect our personalities.

Who mowed that beautiful lawn? 🤔

But today, the golf drought ended. Jeff has been researching golf clubs to join in the area. In the meantime, we have a big chunk of flat property, so he bought some foam practice balls on Amazon, then walked out to the barn this morning and brought out our clubs. I’m sure Pilgrims walking past the gate had yet to see locals chipping golf balls in their front yard on their Camino. People stopped to watch us. But we are used to being a perpetual curiosity. Even for locals.

It felt good to swing a club again. Jeff can nearly hit a foam ball from our patio over our hedge. He has decided to set up a small course with some plastic rings from our local El Chino. Just for fun. To get the golf mo-jo flowing, again.

Maybe we will offer something golf related to the Pilgrims who stay with us. Hmmm. It’s an idea. One of many. But for now, I just need to keep my head down, and my eye on the ball.

Already Home

No, I didn’t hop on a plane to the Great Northwest of the US. But, lately, it seems to have come to me.

It monsoon rained here for five days straight. And everything has grown by leaps and bounds, as it does in a rainforest. Yesterday, I hopped on the mower and spent a few hours cutting the grass, as Pilgrims walked past the gate by the thousands <no exaggeration>. It’s getting crazy busy here.

Later, I trimmed the 100m of hedge across the front. I hear North American ingles coming from the road, more and more. And notice that most Americans are shy about speaking to locals. They are rarely the first to offer up an Hola! Or a Bon Dia. So I do it for them. I was climbing down the berm running along the ditch in front of our house, dragging the heavy battery powered hedge trimmer with me, when I heard an American voice. She was walking with a woman who spoke fluent español. And I know this because when the American addressed me, after my initial hola! – the Spanish speaker provided the translation. After I told them I understood the American, we switched to ingles.

It turns out, the American is from WA state – Sedro-Wooley near the Canadian border- and we chatted at our gate.

‘Do you love living here?’ She asked, peering in at the house. The freshly mown lawn looked gorgeous, if I do say so myself 😉. ‘Never mind. Don’t answer that. Your smile says it all.’

She is struggling with the thought of going back to the US. The news is grim there. And she is just a couple of days from Santiago. I hear this a lot. People who have walked from St Jean have started mourning the end of their Camino by the time they reach us. All of them say the same thing. ‘I don’t want to go back.’

It was nice to speak to someone from back home. It’s two and a half years since I have been on American soil. After Jeff’s experience with US passport control last month, asking ‘What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?’ It makes me nervous to go back. What do you answer when asked by your own country’s border control why you are visiting your own country? After such a long day of travel from Spain I might be a bit testy. ‘The purpose of my visit to the US, with my US passport? Any damn thing I want.’ 🤬 I used to have Global Entry in the US. So I didn’t even have to talk to these jokers when I came back from an international trip. But now? It’s probably best I don’t go. I told Jeff he should have said he flew there just for a #4 at Taco Time, and because he ran out of beef jerky. Because its kind of true. He took care of both of those things in the first hour after landing.

Today, I decided to walk into Melide. I had some banking to do. Here, you pay your Concello bills at the bank. Car tabs – €73, and annual garbage collection – €38. Bargains, both of them. I’m a pro at these things now. It’s kind of like I know what I’m doing. The first time I had to pay a bill at a bank in Spain was after we bought this house and moved from Valencia to Galicia. The teller was a little frustrated with me and my general cluelessness. After I explained this was my inaugural run for Concello bill paying, she eased off.

‘Good job. You did very well.’ She assured me after my transaction was complete. Like I’m a toddler. Which I sort of am for so many things in Spain.

But this morning I wasn’t going to have any issues. I got this. I walked the 7km into town, with a thousand Pilgrims, then up hill to the bank. Easy peasy. Paid the taxes. Went to my gestor. Then stopped by the contractor to get an update on the solar panels. There will be a meeting tomorrow. Finally, I was ready to walk home.

Before crossing the Roman bridge over rio Furelos, I stopped at a cafe for a coffee and a water. It’s heating up here. Time to hydrate. The place was packed with Pilgrims. And who is sitting next to me at the cafe? A couple from Seattle. Of course. I swear, it’s as though Seattle has emptied out and they’re all in Spain walking past our house.

Today is this couple’s 49th wedding anniversary. A German Pilgrim serenaded them in German. They looked decidedly uncomfortable by the performance and the attention. The husband walked from St Jean. She joined him in Sarria to walk the rest of the way to Santiago. We chatted some. It’s only been a month since I finished my last Camino, and it was nice to hear the stories of someone else’s experience. Waving goodbye, I walked over the bridge and up the hill to home. Nearing O Coto, the path was blocked by a large group. They were laughing and told me, in ingles, that I was going the wrong way. ‘Santiago is that way!’ A man in their group loudly informed me. And where were they from? Seattle.

‘I’m not going to Santiago.’ I smiled. ‘My house is over there.’ Pointing to the other side of the pasture. After I left them it occurred to me that the more folks I meet from Washington State it makes me realize Seattle isn’t ‘back home’ for me anymore.

I continue on, knowing every bump in the pavement as I wave at Lois, our local cafe owner in the village who is wiping his tables. He waves back, ‘Hola! Kelli.’ Then I turn down our street at the Y, walking under the shady canopy of ancient oak trees lining the road. Taking a deep breath, I smile. I’m already home.

There She Blows 🌊!!

What a day! Things can seem so difficult and crazy. Especially when you don’t understand the system of the country where you live. We met with our lawyer today about the tractor debacle. It rained cats and dogs in Santiago this morning, as we made our way to his office. Not the day you want to wear open-toed suede heels. It was sunny at home. Ugh!

At times I feel as though I am swimming in Jello (that’s American name-brand gelatin). And then, suddenly, while sitting in your lawyer’s office, something goes your way.

Last week, I was connected with a lovely couple in Santiago by a good friend who knows literally everyone. He’s like the Swiss Army knife of friends. And he has a network that reaches across continents. A true Renaissance man. I drove to Santiago and we met on Friday for a late afternoon glass of wine, while I peppered these new acquaintances with questions, and tapped into their restaurant expertise – since they run a lovely place in old Santiago. And now, I feel much better after our meeting. All the regulations and possible speed bumps on my way to opening the food truck. No pun intended. Not just because of their knowledge, but because they are both such wonderful people. How lucky I am to know them now.

‘I’m a little nervous.’ I told them. I am a foreigner in Spain, with evolving español, opening a business, with limited knowledge of the system. I am bound to stub my toe. More than once. Perhaps spectacularly. Am I crazy? <don’t answer that>

‘Why? You will do fine.’ They assured me.

They think a food truck with an unusual menu on the Camino is a brilliant idea. Especially the vegetarian part. They are both vegetarian.

And now, <deep breath> drumroll, please… The food truck is done! It’s really built and and ready to be towed home from Barcelona. The text came this morning. I was hoping it would be completed by the bridge holiday over the 17th but the manufacturer has had difficulty with all the global supply chain problems post-Covid. And the haulers strike in Spain in March and April. In the midst of all that, he really did pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Here is a video of it from a week ago. It had just been painted but was waiting for the stainless steel countertops and the external fold down shelving. But it’s done now ✔️ We painted it grey, as the Patrimonio for the Camino De Santiago has just a few colors they allow on the road. Grey, green, black or brown. Yes, it’s a food truck that can be moved, but I didn’t want to tempt their ire with a bright happy yellow. I think grey is the best of these limited choices. The Happiness Cafe branding will happen when it when it gets here. I have named her Bessie, after a great aunt who lived to be 100 yrs old. She was the most positive, optimistic person in our family. She never knew negativity or a person she didn’t like, and I need her positive vibe for this adventurous venture. I feel sure we will become fast friends.

I won’t see Bessie in person for two more weeks. Jeff and I will make the 2000km drive to Barcelona to collect her and install her by the front gate. At long last, we have forward progress. Being open by the end of June is a real possibility – baring other set backs. 🤞🙏 I can feel Aunt Bessie’s positivity already.

Holy Crap!!!

We try to be very mindful of our consumption, and our overall impact on the earth. Eating and buying local, when we can. Using products that are less wasteful or manufactured with unnecessary chemicals. That kind of stuff.

When we moved to the farm, I decided that we should switch from bleached paper products to unbleached. Sure, there is a difference in the texture. But not so much that we can’t handle it. No paper cuts in the sensitive areas😳. And since we are on a septic system, it matters even more. The brown paper breaks down much quicker than the thick bleached stuff. And there are other upsides.

This spring, I have copious amounts of seeds to start. Both of the vegetable/fruit varieties and flowers. The best way to accomplish this en mass is to use those seed start trays from the garden center. But then I saw a nifty little thing on Pinterest showing how one woman used spent toilet paper and paper towel roles in trays, filling them with soil. It worked just great. And the paper breaks down in the soil. Like compost. Seemed like a great idea to me.

I order our brown paper products on Amazon by the gross and store it in the barn. One delivery lasts a year. I know this from experience. And one delivery a year is pretty green. So, I started saving empty rolls of toilet paper and paper towels. Every time one was done, I threw it into a bag in the guest room. Well, to be honest, sometimes it just made it onto the guest room bed. I’d go back later and put it in the growing bag. No problem. But, I soon discovered, there was a problem of which I was unaware.

Jeff started acting weird. Not super weird, just… strange. Asking me if everything was OK. Was I feeling OK? Was I upset about anything? Jeff is not a preemptive asker of these types of questions. His methodology runs more to the philosophy of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t poke the bear.’ Yes, I’m mixing metaphors. He started to change the toilet roll every time. And I started having to fish them out of the bathroom trash.

Time went by, and while I continued to collect the old paper rolls, the bags in the guest room got fuller. Finally, Christmas came. We don’t usually get each other things for Christmas. We haven’t for years. We focused on the kids when they were growing up and we bought ourselves the things we wanted throughout the year. Birthdays and anniversaries were more our thing. Then, this past Christmas Jeff bought me a few things. Hmmm. But there was no box for Jeff under the tree. And he was so relieved. I didn’t get it until he explained.

Jeff and I were both married before. His was not a happy marriage. The Christmas before the February when he left the house one morning, like usual, then got served divorce papers at his office at Microsoft, was not a super joyous occasion. But that Christmas there was a big box under the tree just for him. He thought it contained something he had really been wanting, but when he opened it, it was full of empty toilet paper rolls. His wife, at the time, was so angry that he wasn’t diligent about changing out the bathroom rolls when they were empty, that she began saving them. For more than a year. Then, as his one Christmas present, he was gifted the evidence of his toilet paper crimes. Holy Crap! Talk about playing the long game. I guess she took the Revenge is a dish best served cold thing, to heart.

I had never heard this story before, but this is why Jeff was so tweaked for months before Christmas this past year. When he finally fessed up to what was bothering him, I wanted to laugh, but it wasn’t funny to him. So I explained about Pinterest, cutting up and using the rolls as seed starter containers. I had no nefarious agenda. Just farming. Whew! The look on his face? You wouldn’t believe it. Much to his relief, it turns out our marriage was still humming right along, after all.

We have trays of these little things ready to go. They are now filled with soil and are germinating crops that will feed us. Including lavender, from which I will make natural soap. And, just in time, some calming essential oils for el Jefe. 🧘‍♂️

All the Right Notes

What a ride yesterday turned out to be. In more ways than one.

We took a run into both Santiago and Lugo yesterday. We had a long list and Brickomart and Leroy Merlin are the only solutions. Well, and Amazon, but we try to shop locally and pump our money into the local economy, as much as possible.

The drive home was pure Galicia. In Arzua, we happened upon a band of roving bagpipers. As you do.

And down our own little lane we had to stop for a passel of horse-riding Peregrinos. Yes, you can do the Camino on horseback. I would like to do it sometime. There are mornings I wake up to the sound of hooves on the road. And I can see the riders over the hedge bobbing up and down.

Last night, we had a surprise visit from Marie Carmen. Jeff is now taking care of her landscaping on a weekly basis. She lives with her husband, who is wheelchair bound after a massive stroke. So Jeff took the mower and the weed trimmer over this week and cleaned up her yard. He said it was pretty bad and nothing like last year. It’s getting away from her. She needs help.

He told her he will come every week and make sure it stays looking good. She is so grateful she wanted to pay for the gas in the mower but we both said No! So she brought over vegetables and some other things she canned last fall. Totally unnecessary. I had told her about our plans for fencing the property and thought nothing more about it. I was in the shower when she arrived with a guy last night. Just when the Eurovision Grand Final was starting.

Jeff went out and it seems she wants to hook us up with a guy who will fence our property at a good price. ‘So they don’t take advantage of you.’ We have heard of this from others. There is a term for foreigners in Galicia. I don’t remember the word but it’s sort of like Gringo. Its not meant as a compliment. And it means you are not from here and will pay through the nose because of it. Jeff isn’t helping her for some kind of payback. But it’s nice to know Marie Carmen is looking out for us.

Finally, we were able to get back to the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final. For the uninitiated, this is a phenomenon that grips European television for a week each year, and will be filled with the usual controversy. And the selection process in each country lasts even longer and is fraught with even more. Jeff ran out to the barn to get the ice cream out of the freezer in time to hunker down for a very long night, as the hosts this year were the worst in television history. They dragged it out excruciatingly. Well past midnight.

We were in the midst of an electrical storm – a stunning display. But Jeff braved it and ran for the barn. On the way back I heard a yelp. Omg! My worst fear had come true. He had been struck by lightening! So I ran to the door and met a soaking wet Jeff running in, clutching the ice cream to his chest.

‘What happened?’ I asked. Very concerned.

‘Oh my God! Our yard is full of javalies (wild boars). I was coming back from the barn, and was just stepping onto the patio when I heard snorting. Lightening lit up the sky and I realized there was a javalie right in front of me! Maybe five feet away. I yelled because of the lightening and then because a giant scary thing was so close. It freaked out and ran towards the wood shed. Then I looked out across the yard and they are all over the lawn. I couldn’t tell you how many but there are a lot out there!’

We turned on all the floodlights around the house. I’m not sure what we thought this might do. But it made us both feel better. After breathing returned to normal, and with a bowl of ice cream in hand, we sat down to Eurovision 2022.

The winner is determined by the 40 member countries of Europe – wait! Why is Australia in this thing? Aren’t Azerbaijan and Armenia in Asia? – who each have a jury who awards 12 points to a contestant from another country, as they can’t vote for their own. Its a bit like shades of the electoral college in US elections. Seems like a purely popular vote would be a better system. Today, the public can vote but you have to pay to do it. Whatever.

Moving on. I know I’m likely biased. I thought Chanel, our entry from Spain this year, was the most talented. To me, Eurovision should be big performances. ABBA won in 1974. The costumes should be over the top. The production values should be off the charts. Dancing is a prerequisite – or it should be. Jeff was rooting for Moldova. Well, we both loved them and their strange Gangnam-style oompah rap. I would have been pleased if they won. Serbia was so bizarre with their hand washing song, as to be super cool. We loved them, too. I couldn’t believe the UK entry did so well with each of the 40 countries juries. The song and the singer didn’t have that special something required to truly compete in Eurovision. But they just barely edged out Spain for the number 2 spot, anyway.

Finally, the whole thing was won by Ukraine, because the global voting audience put them over the top. Not the most talented, but the most loved in the midst of this crazy war. But, sometimes the unexpected stuff is the best thing, after all.

Camino Friends – GoFundMe Update

As most of you will remember, several months back we opened a GoFundMe for some friends who have a restaurant on the Camino in Melide. Fran and Conchi have struggled, like so many on the Camino, during the pandemic. Confinement, lockdowns, never-ending and ever-changing capacity restrictions and monitoring. Exhausting.

Jeff and I watched as their business dwindled to a trickle and we listened to their fear and frustration. When would this end and could they make it through until it did? So with their permission, we opened the fundraiser-although I screwed it up initially because I have never done one of these things before.

Fast forward, likely you received the email from GoFundMe that I did. It seems that Conchi and Fran, while grateful for everyone’s generosity, never took the money that was raised for them. So, even the €500 we gave is being refunded to our bank account. I have heard from several of you. It seems like all the donations, due to the time limits set by GoFundMe, are being returned.

Why? It’s completely their choice. You can’t force anyone to take the funds raised on their behalf. However, I know they were overwhelmed by the generosity shown by everyone who gave. Strangers who wanted to help strangers.

That is all I know, and now you know it. If you are walking the Camino this year, I would recommend stopping in to Casa Alongos and using the money you pledged to enjoy a delicious farm-to-table meal made to order, with accommodations for any and all personal food restrictions. Gluten-free, vegan, etc.

All mask and capacity restrictions are lifted in Spain and Galicia. Hopefully, this extraordinary Xacabeo year will help restore the fortunes of all the businesses along every route leading to Santiago. For us, most especially, we are hoping it’s the best ever for our proud friends at Casa Alongos.

When the Nonsense Rodeo Comes to Town

So many things. Sometimes you just have to breathe.

It’s the de facto state of being in Spain that things will take, at minimum, three times longer than we are used to in Seattle. Jeff and I adjusted our timelines, and our expectations, from the moment we moved to Valencia. It’s just how it is. And moving to Palas, and living along a Unesco World Heritage Path of Cultural Significance? Multiply that a few more times. <and we breathe, again>

We have submitted this form and that form, and these plans and those plans to the Concello, the Turismo, The Patrimonio. People are sick <i get that>, they are on vacation. They are too busy. Some are nice. Others? Not so nice. It’s the full meal deal. And it is exhausting.

Our Concello in Palas is amazing. We love them. Helpful and reasonable. But dealing with others boggles the mind. Is it really necessary to have a 10 kph speed sign on your own 6 meter long gravel driveway, that only you drive on? If you think I am kidding, you’d be wrong. And six dedicated parking spaces for customers who only ever arrive on foot carrying back packs? But, of course. The list goes on… and on. We can’t even install our new front gate without approval. A gate! Because the type of gate approved will depend on which driveway is purely pedestrian or for cars. But our purely pedestrian gate can still accept deliveries by truck, so there is no purely pedestrian gate. I’m in a Looney Tunes cartoon. To quote that wise sage, Bugs Bunny: Bubity bubity bup! That’s All Folks!

Today, our wonderful contractor, Diego, came to give me the latest lowdown on the the good, the bad, and the ugly. I thought my Covid headache was gone. Sadly, it made a reappearance. He is working so hard on our behalf. He wants to bang his head on the table.

‘It’s terrible news, Kelli. In a place where the main tourist attraction is The Camino, there are no distinctions for permission for Pilgrim camping and cabins. It’s crazy.’

But I reassured him. ‘It’s not terrible. Its just costing us time.’ Always the optimist, ‘What can we do while the Bureaucratic Nonsense Rodeo is still in town?’ I’m not walking another 40 day Camino to save my sanity while I try to open a business for Pilgrims walking the Camino.

Solar panel installation. That’s something we can do with minimal permission. The Concello is happy to have us installing renewable energy sources. It will be positioned more than 100 meters from the Camino. In that section of our property where the Patrimonio and the Turismo have no say.

The company has sized it. The system is Canadian. Built to withstand more extreme weather conditions. And we are putting it in an already fenced enclosure. To keep javalis from damaging the array. Just in time too, as we are being visited by javalis nightly these past few days.

Installing solar is very inexpensive in Spain, the Xunta will give us a grant to cover a significant portion of the cost, and we will save about €50,000 over the next five years – both from a personal, and a business perspective. Our dream of a Green Camino is possible. And we are closer to living off the grid. We would like the farm to be self sustaining.

And my food truck is just a couple of weeks away from being finished. The completion is held up by the stainless steel countertops. 🤞 They should be delivered by next week.

Things are moving forward. Never as quickly as I would like. I had hoped to have the food truck open by June 1st. Now, it’s looking more like July 1st. But I need to play the long game here. Focus on what is going well. Next winter, we will have a fire for beauty, rather than warmth. Our other home remodeling projects can now be built on a foundation of solar power. And so can all the solutions for power and water for the business. And our impact on the environment will be far less than ever before. Likely, there will be days sending power back to the grid. Doing our part.

It’s not so much The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, as it is The Eye roll, The Deep Breath, and The Heavy Sigh. We will get there in the end. But, at 10 km per hour on a gravel driveway, it just might take a little longer than we thought 😉.

Almost Normal

Yesterday, Jeff arrived safe and sound from his US adventures. A whirlwind trip, to be sure.

The motorcycle is sold and residing in it’s new home in Oregon. The buyer wants to ride her up to Alaska. Luckily, the bike knows the way. Jeff was sad to see her go but he never gets to ride in the US, anymore. Time to pursue other interests. Then Jeff did a little shopping – a few suitcases full.

Jeff is very tall with size 13 shoes. That’s a 50 in Europe, depending on the shoe brand. Finding clothes and shoes in Spain is impossible for him. It’s been a long two and a half years. If he had known he would be stuck without shoes or jeans he would have stocked up in December of 2019. But crystal balls were in short supply back then. None of us knew. He is well stocked now. I’ve never seen so many pairs of socks, underwear, shirts. He shopped til he dropped.

Coming back to Spain they gave him no trouble, but flying to the US, the border patrol didn’t like the fact that he hadn’t been back to the US in two and a half years. When Jeff explained that a) He lives in Spain, and b) Well, pandemic, the guy was none too pleased. ‘Isn’t America good enough for you?’ Then promptly marked Jeff’s customs form for cavity search. Fun! Jeff was pulled out of every security line for swabbing and searching in every US airport. He has no idea why.

I picked Jeff up at the airport in Santiago last evening. I even got gussied up to perform this task. Putting on real clothes for the first time in more than a week. It turns out, living on popsicles for ten days means my clothes are significantly roomier. My jeans without lycra slid right on. I laughed, remembering that line from The Devil Wears Prada. ‘I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.’ Talk about doing it the hard way. I don’t recommend it.

Luckily, it was warm, so driving him home with masks and the windows rolled down was not unpleasant. He was tired, of course, but glad to be home in Spain. A Washington kid, born and bred, he wouldn’t live in the Northwest again.

‘Beef jerky is so expensive now! And the traffic…’

It seems beef jerky inflation will keep him from moving back to the US. And a $13 pint of beer. But he misses his Mom, a lot. Jeff is happy to come back to sun, warmth and tractor traffic after twelve days spent in gridlock and rain. But he got to hang out with his best friend since childhood. And to spend time with his Mom, after so much uncertainty. He will brave the cost of beef jerky for those two people, any day of the week.

We spent last night in the house, masked up. I didn’t want to risk infecting him. And slept in separate rooms with the doors closed. I woke up this morning, grabbed a Covid test and sat outside on the patio in the sun to perform it. I am no fan of these things. Drumroll, please! I’m negative, at last. Adios masks in the house!

Jeff is already out on the lawnmower in his new Carhartt overalls this morning, making the front yard look like we aren’t squatters. I’m almost back to normal. It’s just a bad head cold now. Things are definitely looking up.

Personal Bellwether

We all have things that make us, well, Us. Sometimes it’s big, personality defining traits. But for me, I passed a milestone today. And it’s the insignificance of it that makes it so significant.

I’m pretty sure Covid has spit the bit and run off to find a more hospitable host. Sure, I am still testing positive, but things are getting better, after a few days of backsliding where nausea was my constant companion. The taste has finally returned, but the smell has yet to make a reappearance. It will. I awoke at 8 am today. That’s a first in the past several days that have seen me sleeping 14 or 16 hour days. I would have about three hours, from noon to 3pm, of feeling almost human. Then things would go south until bedtime. Just trying to keep the room from spinning.

Today, my desire for feeling human is greater than the desire to live curled into a ball. And there are two key indicators telling me I am rapidly returning to normal.

The first was an email that got the juices flowing. Usually, I unsubscribe to marketing emails, or they go directly to a folder I bin. But one got through the net. The weather is warm here – 26 today. And the lawn needs a good mowing. Covered as it is in those little daisies. I am not up to firing up the riding lawnmower and taking care of it. But it does make me dream of days spent in the hammock. Dinners alfresco. And that rogue email tempting me was for outdoor dining furniture. Timely.

I have been laying in bed looking out the window – when awake. Listening to the birds chirping. Spring is in full bloom. It’s time to prepare my own nest for warmer weather. And a 50% off patio sale was just what the Dr ordered. Bada bing, bada boom! It’s on it’s way.

This inspired me to head out to the barn to collect a sling chair, get my favorite cushions out of the storage box and sit in the sun. A cold glass of French rose would be lovely, but I will save that for when I am feeling a bit better. Vitamin D is my best friend right now, and sitting there in the warmth, I looked down and realized I have not had nail polish on these toes in more than two years. Two years?!? What? No mani’s or pedi’s. Nothing. One of the most Me things to do.

So I treated myself, before the next wave of nap-time struck, and got out my lovely palette of Sephora nail color that I bought myself for Christmas in Salamanca, and I painted my toes Candy Apple 🍎 Red. Is it a perfect pedicure? Far from it. But the places where the red slopped onto my skin with an unsteady hand will rub off the little piggies in a day. Hey! I remember you guys! I am left gazing down at toes that will look like they belong on my feet when I recline in the hammock.

After all that activity, I’m back in bed. Ready to rest. But I lay here realizing that right now its not how much I feel up to doing today, its about the desire to do it. Mentally swapping out the winter clothes for spring and summer in my closets. Inventorying my sandals. Dreaming of my red Ferragamo straw wedges. Maybe a bit of warm weather shopping in Santiago is in my immediate future. Lingering over a long lunch outside. Freshening up the hair color. I’m ready to return to the land of the living. And if today is any indication, after a negative test in the next few days 🤞I’m closer than ever to being Me again.

Good Timing But No Flavor

My taste is gone. No, not my impeccable sense of style. 😉 My actual taste for food. But not in the usual Covid way.

Last time, everything tasted like I had a mouth full of copper pennies. This time, it’s the front of my tongue that can taste nothing. The back still has some weird sensations but I am not entirely sure it’s really taste, in the normal sense. And I can’t smell anything. Not one thing.

All this as my other symptoms have gotten markedly better. The waves still come, but they are less intense and further apart. So the troughs are longer in duration. And long troughs mean periods without dizziness. And that means I can take a shower without being afraid of falling in the bath. Heaven! I am clean. I always feel better after a hot shower.

Before I figured out I can’t taste anything, being clean and refreshed, I went out to the barn to re supply my kitchen popsicle stash. The lilac tree is blooming. I stopped to smell a blossom. First, one. Then another. Nothing. I wondered if these were scentless lilacs. Maybe it’s a Galician hybrid. I have never heard of that before.

Popsicles replenished, I opened one up, and…nothing. It tasted like ice. Odd. I know how these are supposed to taste. Like Welches grape juice. (I think only Americans will understand what this is) It’s all I’ve eaten in four days. Now that the intense nausea has passed, with no taste or smell, food seems pointless. This is Covid’s cruel joke. I can think of foods with flavor. A nice spicy curry. Greek chicken and rice with garlic cucumber yoghurt sauce. Spicy tuna roll. Wasabi. A burrito from the taqueria on 17th and Valencia in the Mission District in San Francisco. I actually had a dream about that American football-sized burrito last night. Perhaps it was my body giving me one last glorious sensory experience before cutting me off entirely. I can taste none of those things now.

But, I am on the other side of this thing. Every day I will get better and better, just waiting to test negative to get out of 10 day symptomatic quarantine jail, early. My lung checks with my Dr are just a precaution, I feel sure. Nothing indicates otherwise, in my book. And, hopefully, the taste and smell will return very soon. Although Jeff’s sense of smell never returned to normal post Covid.

I think being so healthy after walking the Camino made it the perfect time for me to get Covid, again. If there is a perfect time. When I was in the best shape to fight it off. If there is a silver lining here, I am opening a food truck on the Camino in the busiest year on record. With a pandemic still in the offing. People from all over the world will show up at our gate dragging the virus with them. Likely, having it now will provide some immunity throughout this season. I had to look hard, but I think that’s the upside of this. It doesn’t taste so sweet (or anything like that glorious San Francisco burrito) right now, but it will, eventually, I’m very sure.

They’ll Do the Worrying for You

In the beginning of the pandemic it was a lot of make-it-up-as-we-go. Spain was reeling. Not enough tests. No tracking and tracing infrastructure. If you got sick, really sick, in Spain you called an ambulance or your family took you to emergency, or you died. Not so anymore.

I’ve been sick this time with Covid in ever increasing waves. Just when I think I am better it crashes again. I can feel it coming on. I was texting Jeff yesterday but I had to sign off, ‘I need to go. Its coming.’ Yesterday in a trough, I vacuumed the living room rug. Only to have to lay down afterwards for three hours.

Since Saturday, I have been largely living off popsicles and water. On the way back to the car from buying Covid tests at the farmacia on Saturday, I stopped at the Dia supermercado in Melide and bought four boxes of popsicles. Saturday seems like a week ago. Clearly ill, the woman behind the register insisted I use a card. She didn’t want to touch the €20 note I held out. When I arrived home I took three boxes of popsicles to the freezer in the barn. And deposited the contents of the remaining box in the freezer in the house. But they are gone now. So I was going to go out to the barn to replenish, but first had to sit down on the sofa for a rest. Then I thought ‘Screw it, I don’t need popsicles that bad’ and laid down on the sofa with a throw to sleep for a few hours. All this before making the long journey back up to bed to sleep, yet again.

This morning at 5am I thought I was much better. I even told Jeff in the US. It was only 8pm yesterday there. But by 10am, the next wave had hit. I was sicker than before, so I drove myself to Palas to my Dra. I love Dra Jennifer. She is awesome. She said it was good I came. A fever for more than two days needs attention. Gobs of meds later and a daily treatment check-in plan, since I am alone, I am home and ready to get better. The farmacia in Palas cleared out upon my utterance of ‘Tengo Covid.’ No other patrons were allowed in. The other, older farmacists left to the back. A young woman attended me and gave me all the instructions on the seven prescriptions I have. It all cost a whopping €20.

Now that I’m home, please lord, let the phone stop wringing to check on my condition by the national health service. To instruct me on the protocols and my obligations by law to only leave my house to perform urgent health functions for the ten days after I have tested positive, quarantined household family members, and kept close contacts informed. I just told a guy who called from Pontevedra that I have no household family members during this. He sounded horrified.

‘You are alone?’ I said that I am. ‘But you don’t sound well.’

‘Well, I do have Covid.’ I reminded him. Since that’s why we were speaking in the first place.

This is so against anything normal in Spain. No one here is alone from birth. Its unbelievable. I think that got my box checked on my records to keep checking on me. My phone rings again with another person telling me the same things. Usually it takes two calls. The first in Spanish. Then they realize my healthcare lingo is ingles and someone calls back, again. I’m not saying it’s not nice to talk to someone. But I need to sleep. I’m afraid not to answer or I’ll have a masked up Guardia Civil pounding at my door making sure I haven’t kicked the bucket.

In the midst of all this hullabaloo, my food truck guy in Barcelona sends me pictures while I’m in the Dra office, of my almost completed food truck. And has just a few more questions. It seems I have a bright spot on the horizon to look forward to. Our contractor, Diego, is recovered from his dance with Covid and is continuing his work. He assured me today that they are moving forward. All this calls for a celebratory popsicle. Where are the champagne flavored ones when you need one? Now there’s a business idea. Great for summer weddings or baby showers or christenings. But wait! The kitchen freezer is still bare. On second thought, I don’t need a popsicles that bad, right now. Perhaps after a little nap.

Anyway, if you get Covid in Spain now, they got you covered. You don’t have to worry about yourself because the national health service will do all the worrying for you. Knowing this, I feel better already.

Unusual Fruit

Growing up, my Mom had a passel of kids to drag behind her to the grocery store. I don’t imagine it was a picnic. And the best way to wrangle kids is to give them something to focus on.

Back in the 70’s you could send your children off alone for a whole day and not worry that they might never be seen again. Now they call it ‘free range parenting.’ Back then it was just how things were. My Dad smoked in the car with the windows rolled up. We never wore the seatbelts in the car, either. The wild west. My Mom would send us off in the grocery store with the instructions ‘Go pick out a piece of fruit. Just one. Each. And take your time’ She was buying herself 10 minutes of semi-solitude. So, off we would run. My siblings would select an apple, or a pear. I would choose a watermelon or a pineapple. Technically, it met the criteria and I never understood why anyone would choose something small, when bigger options were readily available. Go big or go home has always been my life philosophy.

With my children, I continued this same tradition, but with a twist. Instead of sending them to pick out an apple or a pear, I launched ‘unusual fruit’ night. Together, we would choose something we were unfamiliar with, and we would buy one. That night, after dinner, this would be the desert. Buddha’s hands, dragon fruit, chirimoya, etc. We ate them all. Or tasted them, anyway. The kids loved it, especially Ryan.

So when I went to El Corte Ingles on my way home from Santiago on Wednesday, I went to their better-than-most-grocery-store-fruit-sections-in-Spain, and decided that it was time for some unusual fruit. It’s not like they had fruit I had never seen before. But I bought some things I haven’t eaten since the US.

On Thursday night I peeled the chirimoyas, and enjoyed it thoroughly. But in the middle of the night I started feeling unwell. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten the unusual fruit.

On Friday morning, I thought maybe I was just having some withdrawals from walking 20kms every day so I decided to go for a walk. Four kilometers out, then four kilometers back. (5 miles for the Americans in the audience). Easy. By the time I got home I needed a nap, and slept all afternoon. And Friday night was a rough one. This was not from unusual fruit.

Saturday morning I crawled to the car in my pajamas and drove to get a couple of Covid tests. I was sure it was just a bad cold. The pharmacist clearly wished she didn’t have to be anywhere near me. I think the pajamas didn’t help, with my raspy voice, and my swollen bloodshot eyes over my mask. In the short time I was out of the house I had become even sicker, sweating and shaking, so driving home was a challenge. Our road was covered in Pilgrims. It was like a video game trying not to hit them with watery, blurry vision. Perhaps I should have rolled the window down and shouted ‘Covid!!!’ And watched them scatter.

Long story short, the test, which is supposed to take 15 minutes to register, took less than two minutes to tell me I have Covid, again. And very soon I would wish for the good old days when I only felt as sick as I did standing in the farmacia. I called the Spanish health number in Madrid to report my infection. Which was an interesting exercise given my strangely long, and incomprehensible name. I kept saying, ‘Can’t I give you my NIE? You could look it up.’ But no. She made me spell it a hundred times. I get it. Spanish doesn’t have so many silent letters. I was exhausted by the time I hung up. I want to fill out the comments card with If someone has Covid, saying their name, health number, and rural address, then spelling the same over and over is counterproductive. They need to rest. Just ask for the NIE.

I’m having a flashback. Fever, my skin on fire. It hurts to breathe or move. A blinding headache. Where have I seen this movie before? Oh yeah. I remember. It hurts to have a blanket on my skin, like all my nerves are electrified, but am so cold I need four duvets. I lay here and moan to myself. But I’m not scared, like you’d think I would be after the horror of the first time. Banking on what they told me. I am triple vaccinated. I have a much lower chance of ending up in the hospital with serious complications.

Jeff has been in the US for all this. He will return next Sunday. I will test again before he gets here. If its still positive, I’ll stay away and remain masked up in the house, isolated. I know if Jeff had been home now he would have gotten it, again, too. Before I knew I was infected. And I would never have wanted this for him. So far, he is healthy in the US, so I know I got infected after Monday morning, the last time I saw him setting out from Arzua. I thought I was careful. Still wearing masks in public indoor spaces, and crowds, although not required in Spain. And I did not give it to my Canadian friends on Tuesday in Santiago. Not yet infectious, apparently. Even with hugs in the square. After pinging them in Madrid, they have had two negative tests. Relieved. Not a nice way to end an epic adventure.

The good thing is that I just spent most of the previous six weeks alone, taking care of myself without too much help. I can get through this alone, too. Although the positive self talk is out. I have no voice now.

If you are feeling unwell while walking, don’t be stubborn. You are not being alarmist. Get tested. It’s only €2.40 at any farmacia here. It takes 15 min. If not for yourself, to keep from spreading it around to other people. It’s the right thing to do. And after this, I’ll never look at unusual fruit quite the same way again.

A Little R & R

Time to celebrate by returning to normal life. Embracing the mundane.

I started my transition from Peregrina with a taxi ride from old Santiago to the airport. No, I’m not skipping town for parts unknown. I needed to pick up the car in airport parking at Lavacolla. Jeff flew out and texted me where I could find it. I had the key.

I’m sure I looked interesting getting out of the taxi with my backpack, entering the terminal, then heading down to the parking garage. I mean, what Pilgrim doesn’t leave their car in airport parking while they walk a 40 day Camino? I hear it’s all the rage these days.

It felt weird to drive. It has been awhile. Since I was close enough to downtown Santiago, I decided my celebration would take an unconventional form. A reflection of myself. So I headed to the book section at the gigantic El Corte Ingles department store. You can’t carry real books in a backpack for 800km. And I like real books. So marking this accomplishment with heavy things seems like the right thing to do. And readers make better writers. If you know a good story when you read it, you will know good writing when you write it. And I have a great deal of writing to do after crafting stories in my head over hundreds of hours of walking.

I took my time and bought five of the thickest tomes available. Are they a good read? We shall see. But I liked the weight in the bag. Books in ingles are no more expensive here than in the US. Sometimes they’re cheaper. The difference is that most of those available, with a few exceptions, are by UK or Irish authors. Books I would likely not have read in the US.

This one spoke to me.

Then I treated myself to a poke bowl at Mercado de Boanerges It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Santiago and it’s practically next door to El Corte Ingles. Healthy food. Veggies. Salmon. And a lovely atmosphere with nice staff.

Sated, I made one last swing back through El Corte before heading home, to the Hipercor. It’s the gigantic grocery store inside. And they have a gourmet section. Maybe a thousand different kinds of cheese, fruits and veg, cider and wine. Plus a ton of foreign foods i.e. stuff we miss from living in the US. And good natural foods and produce. It was time for a big shop. Like going to Costco.

On the way to the farm, over hills I had just walked, our contractor reached out. There was no rush getting home. He has Covid and couldn’t make our meeting. So a bit more Tranquila, Kelli will be required. Surprise! But, truly, his health is more important than Construction. I can wait.

Today, I decided I deserve an entire day of doing nothing. Reading, a little writing, and napping. Lounging in my jammies. It turns out, a little more tranquila is just what I needed anyway.

The End of the Camino – Tears and Bear Hugs

I just woke up in Santiago to the bells of the Cathedral ringing across the way. I love the sound of Church bells. There is something comforting about them. Reliable. Like the tides.

Yesterday I awoke before dark to the sound of rain on the skylight in my room. Not a good sign on the final day of my Camino. But by the time I crawled out of bed and packed up, it had passed. And blue sky could be seen through the clouds.

After fortifying myself with some coffee, I set out for the last 20km. The pilgrims joining since Sarria had been mostly Irish people. There is something wonderful about walking amongst them, listening to that sing-songy accent. And they are all happy, smiling faces that resemble my own Irish roots.

This final day it wasn’t so much a party atmosphere as a quiet reflection. It was mostly sunny and warm until Monte de Gozo. That’s a hill overlooking Santiago on the French Way. Santiago is laid out before you, ready to receive the Pilgrim who has come to the end of a very long journey. At last.

It was at that moment the heavens opened up and dumped its fury upon us. Everyone scrambled to shuck their packs and get out rain gear. I had taken my coat off early on, as the heat from walking kept me warm. But with rain pouring down, and just a little over four kilometers to go, I thought I’m not stopping now. It’s just a bit of rain. Other Pilgrims, and locals huddled under umbrellas thought I was crazy, I am sure. But I just kept going down the hill and through the city streets, getting wetter by the minute.

Water pouring down my face, I left everyone behind and finally made my way near the old part of the city. Coming up over the hill where the street narrows and the Cathedral comes into view, I started crying. I had actually made it. All this way. Through all that pain. And heaven was crying right along with me. Walking down that final stretch, strangers wished me Buen Camino. One old man shook my hand. These people see Peregrinos every day, so I am not sure why I sparked their specific interest.

Then I crossed the street to make my way through the warren of streets through the the old town towards the Cathedral. Coming to the portico by the church, the piper was playing his bagpipes. The sound bounces inside the stone structure like an amplifier. You can hear it from far away. Bagpipes always make me emotional, I don’t know why. I walked gingerly down the steps and out into the square where a big group of cyclists was celebrating the end of their trek. And who was there amongst them? Canadians, Darren and Lauly, the first Pilgrims I met on the Camino back near Puenta la Reina almost six weeks ago. Everyone else I knew had already left Santiago, but they were there waiting for me. I cried so hard when I saw their faces I couldn’t even walk towards them. But Lauly did the work for me. She ran across the square with her arms out wide.

Not a beauty crier😂

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they hug. Big bear hugs mean a big heart full of love. A generosity of spirit and a transfer of positive energy from one person to another. I got bear hugs in the square yesterday. I couldn’t imagine a better greeting, nor end to a Camino.

I had no intention of getting the Compostela. This walk was mine alone. Between me and God. She knows why. I didn’t need a certificate for that. But Lauly and Darren talked me into it, and escorted me to the Pilgrim office. There was no waiting. I walked up, got my code, entered my info, then went right to the window. The volunteer was from Ireland, of course. He examined the credentials I received in St Jean in France, so long ago. I have been terrible about getting stamps this time. In 2017, I had two full books by the time I reached Santiago. This time, my one book still had spaces. But stamps aren’t what makes a Camino. Not for me.

I woke up this morning exhausted after a rough night. My body hurts. I have blisters under my blisters. Who knew that was a thing? But I feel lighter today, after carrying a pack for 800km through winter weather and over mountains the entire width of Spain. Darren said it best. ‘When we walked in I thought, ‘Thank God we’re done.’ But now, waiting for you to come in and walking you to the Pilgrims office, I think ‘I could do that again. I already miss it.’ And laying here this morning with bandages on my blisters, with aching feet and a grateful heart, I couldn’t agree with him more.