Spanish Bureaucracy: A Pleasant Surprise

As everyone who reads this blog knows, life is not perfect – in Spain or otherwise. We learn as we go. I thought I knew it all when we lived in Valencia. I was able to dispense advice (when asked) about all sorts of topics relating to moving to and living in Spain. Where to find the elusive peanut butter and sour cream in a regular grocery store, for example. Things like that. But also how to obtain a driving license or renew an NIE card. I had all the links and most of them are on this blog. But, then we moved from Valencia to Galicia. And all bets were off. Again.

Not to worry. I swiftly learned where to get my sour cream and peanut butter. We learned how to change the address on our driving licenses. And, we learned that when you purchase a car and have it registered in another province that is where you will pay your car tax every year. Surprise! But it’s not a problem. I just took care of it at a local bank for another year. Then our visa renewals came through at the end of September. Something every foreigner in any country celebrates. It was then I realized all the old processes and procedures I had memorized were up for grabs.

I went out to the Ministry of the Interior’s website and swiftly made an appointment for the Comasaría de Policia Nacional in Lugo. It’s not even the same name as the place you go in Valencia. So I wasn’t exactly sure if I got it right. But we waited for our appointments today and made our way 40 minutes to Lugo on this grey rainy morning. I Googled the address and saw that it was, in fact, a police station. And I learned something new. It had 4.3 stars on Google! People actually take time to leave Google reviews for Police stations here. Seriously. I have only recently started caring about Google reviews because of the food truck. It’s like getting a report card every day. A first grader’s nightmare! Reading through the police station reviews gave me confidence that this wouldn’t be anything like the experience we had at the Oficina de Extranjeros (foreigners office) in Valencia. Which was more like the entrance to a rundown military base. Curious now, I looked them up, as well. They have 1.9 stars. They deserved less. But, this new office in Lugo has, mostly, five stars. And one person’s review made me laugh out loud.

This guy wasn’t happy with his police station accommodations, apparently. A criminal who writes Google reviews of his stay in lock up. Only in Spain. Expecting that a free stay should be more uptown than downtown. But since we weren’t planning on sleeping over I figured we were going to be OK.

We arrived early. I had learned from our Valencia experience that arriving early is important. You needed to get in the line that would snake through stanchions outside, in any weather, and you needed to be ready with your docs for the incessantly grouchy uniformed officer calling out names. So the yelling could commence. The last time I had to do this dance I had been just released from the hospital during Covid. Jeff was not allowed to stand with me on that cold January day.

‘If your wife can not stand in line on her own then she should come back another time.’ The officer barked at Jeff when he begged not to leave me standing alone. It had taken months to get that appointment in Covid times. I wasn’t going to miss it no matter how bad I felt. But I ended up back in the hospital for my heart only a few days later. What a jerk.

So I girded my loins for what would surely be a decidedly unpleasant experience today. Especially since I would be doing all the talking this time. Jeff’s español is still in the toddler stage as he talks to Americans all day. The food truck has afforded me a skyrocketing comprehension, if not an ability to spit out Spanish words accurately at rapid fire. That is what this winter is for. Five months of intensive study, each and every day. I am at defcon 5 because of the business. I have to crack this nut.

On the way from the parking lot, a ten minute walk away, we stopped to get a coffee and take a deep breath. I wasn’t sure how long this would take. In Valencia they were always running late. It could be two hours to get our stuff done. Finally, cold, we both reluctantly arose from our chairs.

‘This card isn’t going to renew itself. We might as well start the clock.’ My words weren’t encouraging, but this was not our first NIE renewal rodeo. We knew what we could be in for. How wrong we were!

We were greeted by them opening the door for us at the station. An officer checked off our names and directed us to a warm waiting area. No standing out in the cold for hours. I was confused. ‘This is too nice.’ I whispered to Jeff suspiciously. At precisely Jeff’s appointment time they came to get us. I had my own appointment for 15 minutes later, but they took us at the same time because we are married. Imagine. Like humans. Not like in Valencia where they would separate us – loudly. We sat down nervously. This is where the women working in the office in Valencia would be less than helpful. Jeff’s last time picking up his NIE, they refused to give him his card since his visa type had changed. The woman wouldn’t believe it and he had to refuse to leave the office until she got a supervisor who forced her to give Jeff his card. So we have a history with this stage of the card renewal. And a heavy dose of PTSD.

I handed the guy my papers. Of course, I had documents I didn’t need in my plastic folder, but you never know what one office/bureaucrat will ask that is different than another. You have to be prepared for anything. I had even brought office supplies, including a stapler. He sifted through the pages then handed me back the extras. The police guy cracked jokes and was very nice. It took 20 tries to get my fingerprints printed. As per usual. I swear, I could rob a bank and no one would be able to get a decent print – I am very sure. In the US, the FBI had to do my prints 20 times, too. And my Global Entry for swift pass throughs in passport control and customs in US airports was almost abandoned. The agent said he would try ‘one more time’ but that I had ‘bad fingers’. Today, it was no different. The guy made swift work of my renewal paperwork. I signed. Then I got up so he could do Jeff.

‘California (where I was born was on the NIE card). Then Valencia. Now Galica.’ he said as he waited for Jeff’s paperwork. I didn’t fill in that I have lived in other cities all over the world. ‘You really live in Palas de Rei?’ He had my padron (town hall certificate) which shows I am registered in Palas. People are always surprised we live in such a rural place that is the least exciting location we could possibly choose in Spain. Or even in Galicia. Or, maybe anywhere.

I smiled. ‘Sí’

‘And what do you do there?’ He asked ‘For work?’

I told him what Jeff does and for whom, surprised he was asking me since I am on Jeff’s visa as his familiar. This wasn’t my first indication that nothing in Spain is digitally connected. We’d sent all this paperwork from Jeff’s company in Barcelona to the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid for our visa approval, and yet this police person in Lugo can see none of it. He had to type all my information for my NIE card in, again.

‘No.’ he said. ‘What do YOU do?’ Clearly, he figured I would be bored out of my mind.

I laughed. ‘I run a food truck on the Camino de Santiago.’ I said.

His eyes widened. ‘Really?’ Then he got all his colleagues to come talk to me. ‘What do you sell?’ They asked.

I told them and they seemed excited. ‘I go there often. I will come and have some tostada aguacate.’ Avocado toast.

I wanted to tell him that a couple of his compatriots had recently visited me for some free harrassment – perhaps not on official business but just as a favor to their cousin at the cafe down the road – but I refrained. This entire exchange was in español. I even understood their jokes. I was more than a little proud.

They went back to work as Jeff handed over his paperwork, new photos, and passport. The guy processed them all and told us we could come back the first week in December to pick up our new cards. We know the drill. Leaving the office, we were almost disappointed. We had been ready for the usual rigamarole, but none of it had materialized. Less than 30 minutes – in and out. Score one for Galicia. Next time, I won’t lose sleep over our police appointments for our NIE cards. And it just goes to show you that I don’t know everything about everything. Even Spanish bureaucracy can provide a pleasant surprise.

John’s Beautiful Gift

Even this Golden Retriever needs a reminder sometimes. A reminder not to let the little things drag you down. And, lets face it, most of the day to day troubles or frustrations are little things. Thank goodness.

Jeff and I attended the birthday party of a friend in Santiago. And it was quite an affair. One hundred people gathered from across the globe to celebrate the life of a remarkable man. That sounds almost like a eulogy but it really wasn’t. He is healthy and gave his own speech, and it was filled with tears and gratitude. For those gathered and for those people who are in need around the world.

In typical John fashion, he requested that instead of gifts we consider donating to his Raise the Roof campaign through the Irish Jesuits to replace the roof of a Jesuit centre in Aleppo Syria that had been bombed. It provides local medical and community services to those surviving war in Aleppo. Regardless of their religion. Essential to the community. And this is not the first campaign he has waged for people in desperate need around the world. As he thanked all those present for their generosity, he ran down the list of past appeals for worthy causes to help the most desperate. Those impacted by war, famine, disease. Recognizing that those gathered had always rallied and answered his call to help.

John is a Scottish Pilgrim from Glasgow, who has walked more than 50 Caminos, both long and short. And helping those who help Pilgrims is another of his passions. He has given me sage advice. Introduced me to those who can help me navigate. And been a cheerleader and a listening ear when it all seems to go sideways. His ‘we’ll fight the bastards.’ at just the right time made me smile.

Sitting there at the party with my shorn head on a rainy Friday evening in that old convent, I got a healthy dose of much needed perspective. Hair grows back. The policia can bite me. I am healthily at long last. So far, I have found my way through everything. Sure, there are things I can not change. I am an American. I can’t do anything about that. And yes, there are tough days living in a foreign country. (Someday I’ll surprise everyone and get my Spanish citizenship) But nothing I have faced compares to the list of difficulties faced by those John spoke about that night. Nothing. I have blessings I needed to count. And a serious dose of medicinal perspective I needed to swallow.

Looking at John up there speaking, I heard a man who wasn’t there to celebrate himself. He was there to celebrate everyone else. Those closest to him in the room, and those whom he will never meet but whose lives he has touched profoundly. As usually happens whenever I spend time with John, I spent the next 24 hours reflecting. A reminder that when things get bumpy its best not to brood, but to look outside yourself for those who need a helping hand. For it is in the service of others that we find our purpose and ourselves. Thank you, John, for such a wonderful birthday gift.

It’s Personal

I’m officially in hiding. No, not from the authorities. Although if you could see me right now you might think so. Justifiably so.

It’s difficult not to take this personally. It has been four and a half years of living in Spain and in all that time I have enjoyed perhaps six haircuts that could be considered humane. The rest were pure human rights violations. Plain and simple.

I decided last week I would cut my hair shorter. In solidarity with the women of Iran. They are fighting for their lives over something as stupid as showing too much hair. An abomination, according to the Iranian morality police. They are cutting their hair in protest of the death of a 22 year-old Kurdish woman who’s crime was showing her hair. I figured a few inches was the very least I could do as a personal statement. No one else needed to know, except Jeff. So I made an appointment for this morning.

I drove to Lugo. It’s a larger salon. They carry products I like. Jeff has been trimming my hair as I grew it out. I trimmed the bangs. Time for a professional. Before I sat down I had an array of photos to show the stylist. I did not mention why I was cutting it a bit shorter. Letting the photos do the talking.

I sat in the chair as the woman combed out my hair. It is a very loud and busy salon. So I didn’t realize she had turned on the clippers, sans the guard to keep from shaving my head. Then, she shaved a swath of the back of my head. What the actual FUCK?!? I turned around as my hair fell on my shoulders. The clippers were still running.

‘What are you doing?!’

The stylist pointed to the photo. In no way was the person’s hair shaved. Not in any way! This caused a stir amongst the stylists. They came over to survey the damage. A LOT of ‘tut tutting.’ And head shaking. My stylist seemed unmoved by my distress. I looked like I’d been on the wrong end of a dog-fight. I had long hair with a landing strip of it shaved to the skin. So close there was no color in the hair and my skin shown through. I was FUCKING bald!!!

‘What do I do now?!? Somebody tell me what I FUCKING do now?!??

They went away and had a conference. Then one of them came back. ‘I will take over.’

Little good that would do me now. But she cut the rest and tried to make it into something. Sadly, they had to shave the rest of the back or it would have looked even worse. And now the top and front are extreme pixie. Hacked, like I frequent German techno clubs. I look like a war waif.

I left the salon and tried not to cry. The last week has me hating Spain. A country I have loved living in. Sure, at times it’s frustrating. But, so is the US. But after our police and neighbor troubles, this haircut feels like a sign. I called Jeff driving home.

‘I think we need to find a new country.’

He laughed. ‘Why?’

‘Well. When you see me you’ll understand.’

‘It can’t be that bad.’ He assured me.

‘Let’s put it this way. Why don’t we play a game on my way home. You can guess which gulag or prison camp I look like I’ve escaped from.’

He laughed. Then he realized I wasn’t laughing with him. Close to tears.

I pulled through the gate and he came out. When he saw me he gasped and stopped in his tracks. ‘Oh my god! How did they do that to you?’

That made me want to cry harder. After my hair appointment, I had to stop and take photos for my new NIE card. Our appointment with the Policia Nacional is on Monday. This will be the photo on my identity card for two years. TWO FUCKING YEARS!

If I wear a hat I look like a cancer patient. Jeff suggested a hijab, which would be sort of funny except I got my hair cut in solidarity with woman shucking their hijabs!

I am tired of being a foreigner with a bulls-eye on my back. I’m tired of always knowing that I don’t belong. This girl wouldn’t have shaved a local’s head. She would have been fired instantly. Her reputation ruined. But, she did it to me and there will be no consequences. To her. But to me? This one left a scar that will be there long after my hair grows back. This one I’m taking personally.

A Good Visit

Ryan should be landing in Amsterdam in a bit. Making his way back to his own life filled to the brim. It’s hard to believe these past ten days went by so quick.

We went up to Coruña on Thursday. To some iconic sites. He took us to an obscure museum where we learned that the famous Tower of Hercules lighthouse – the oldest working and continuously operating one in the world – started life with the ‘stairs’ or ramp on the outside. The only mechanism to get to the light.

After a wander through the old city. Into convents and churches, both large and small, we sat down for a concert in a small park. Then drove home. Nearly taking out a pack of javalies on the way. Luckily, the car in front of us spotted them first and swerved. Then, 20-30 individuals ran in front of the car. It’s hunting season. There are a lot of javalies to be taken this year.

On Friday we started the long trek to Madrid to get Ryan on his flight today. If you remember, they cancelled his flights out of Santiago to Madrid. First, we stopped at the very southern tip of Galicia in A Garda. Its a small town on the border of the rio Miño that separates Portugal and Spain. Ryan wanted to go to Castro de Santa Trega. It’s a Celtic settlement on the top of Monte Trega overlooking the river delta and the Atlantic Ocean. The people inhabited the settlements between 100 BC and 100CE and were from the Celtic Gaul tribes. Believed to be the final holdout in resistance to the Roman invasion of Galicia. But older petroglyphs dating 2000 years prior have also been found here. Much of Galicias iconic Celtic symbols come from excavations of the site over the past nearly 200 years.

We drove down through Portugal, then over to Salamanca. Ryan has been to Spain before, but mostly in the south. He had never been to Salamanca. I love Salamanca. It has the honey colored stone buildings, like Valencia, but without the humidity. A dinner alfresco did wonders after a long drive, then a morning spent wandering through history. Then, it was on to Madrid.

It’s a long bridge weekend for many. The Day of Spain is October 12. So getting a hotel in Madrid proved a challenge. I have never seen it so busy. The streets were packed! We spent a morning in the Reina Sofia. Then headed to the archeological museum north of the Parque de Retiro. Sadly, the museum closed for lunch – no kidding – at 3pm. They kicked us all out. So, we will have to return to see the rest.

It was wonderful to see Ryan. I was so sad to see him go. Driving the 5+ hours home after leaving him in Madrif, Jeff was reminded of the passage of time. Children grow up. They get lives and families of their own. As they should. The great wheel of time turns, and our time is on the downward slope. While theirs is rising. It’s difficult not to be melancholy. But, Ryan will come visit again. And, we will go there. Likely in the Spring. Something wonderful to look forward to.

Spoiling for a Fight

My worst fears were realized the other day. I was busy making waffles when the Policía Nacional arrived in plain clothes. And they stopped Jeff coming out of our house and asked for our food truck documents. Gulp. But we were ready.

It’s strange as we have the Guardia Civil stop all the time on horseback. But these guys were called by a cafe in the village. It seems our success has not gone unnoticed. This was my greatest fear. And the reason we only sell a few things that overlap with them. Soda and water. The rest, including our coffee and milk, are not anywhere near what they serve. But they see the lines and the guy comes down and stands at the gate. Giving me the hairy eyeball.

He left a bad Google review – trying to mask it was him. Complaining my menu – including Belgian waffles – is ‘too American.’ What he doesn’t know is that I talk them up all the time to people who want to eat more traditional Spanish/Galician food. My menu is what I craved on my Camino. It’s not for everyone. But a lot of people love it. And my willingness to bend to special requests. Peanut butter and banana smoothies. Whipped cream and ice cream on waffles ‘just like home’ a guy from Belgium smiled as he handed me his empty plate. Hot peppers on the avocado toast for the Australians. I just want people to smile when they leave.

The police were cordial but want to shut us down after receiving the complaint. But we have all the right papers. We are legal. And they were taken aback that we are not in A Coruña. That’s where their office is. When Jeff said ‘No, Lugo.’ they got flustered. They say they will go to Palas de Rei and tell them we need to shut down. Why?!? We are not sure. Other than the guy down the way complained. And we are too American. Not Spanish. Not Gallegos.

It’s true. We are immigrants. Not fresh off the boat, but not from here. We are still learning, while working to contribute to the community. We pay taxes. A LOT of taxes. And we try our best to do the right things.

I phoned Diego, our contractor helping us. He was shocked!!! ‘You have everything. Did you show them the regulations I printed for you?’ I told him we did. ‘Wait until they give you an official notice.’

So, after hearing nothing about our other approvals, we may not be able to reopen the food truck next year. And it makes me wonder about the future of Spain. Population decline is real here. Especially in rural Spain, and Galicia. How will they attract investment? They will need the money of foreigners like us. Willing to help bring money and their own hard work to these areas. That will mean bringing in changes. New ways of thinking and doing. If this is what is going to happen after significant investment, after jumping through the correct bureaucratic hoops, who will bother?

Today, we are enjoying our final days with Ryan. But a shadow hangs over us with the business. Should we try to continue this non-traditional business on the Camino? Or pack our bag of toys and go home? Right now, I don’t have the answer. It’s been a busy season with bumps all along the way. I need a proper rest before I decide if the fight is worth it.

Ryan is Here!!!🎉🍾🎆

He’s here! We are so Happy! Ryan arrived very, very late Friday. Well, it was minutes from being Saturday. But, no matter. He is here.

He always travels light. His suitcase was filled with things for us, mostly. A new laptop for Jeff. Some computer memory. Mirrors for Jeff’s Catrike, in anticipation of his cycling Camino in March. For me, he brought cold medicine – flu season is coming – and marshmallows for s’mores this winter. Then, Olga sent us candy and cake. We were well-loved when he arrived.

It’s nice to see him. To hear his voice in the house. To make him food. Stupid things. Simple things. I think he is surprised by what we are doing. But he thinks it’s pretty cool, too.

I opened Saturday. He helped me with dishes and taking my signs down after he woke up. Then we walked into Melide for lunch. On Sunday, we drove over the mountains to the El Bierzo conmarca. I love Villafranca del Bierzo. We walked through the town and had coffee there, before having lunch at our favorite restaurant, Moncloa de San Lazaro in Cacabelos. Then, we headed to Ponferrada to the Templar Castle.

I haven’t been to this castle in five years. The last time was with Emilie when we walked through the town on our Camino. I really like this castle as it is very fairytale-like. And Ryan likes history with sword fighting, knights and sieges.

They’ve done much more restoration in the last five years. More of the castle is accessible than before. But, my favorite part are the views from the ramparts.

This castle has amazing acoustics. The church bells, and even an accordion-playing busker turned the castle into a loud speaker.

Today, we head into Santiago de Compostela to see the old city and the Cathedral. And to have lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. But, it doesn’t really matter what we are doing or eating or seeing. We are together after nearly three years. All that matters is that for one more week Ryan is here.

And Then the Dam Breaks

Good News, my friends. It’s a day of good news. First off, our visas have been approved. Our lawyer had to write a couple of chapters about why I had NOT left Spain for six months of my previous two year visa. Not the least of which included a pandemic and long Covid. I was ready to flood them with the foot tall stack of medical tests, hospital admissions, and Dr appointments. But I held it in my back pocket, just in case we had to appeal. But that slice of news is not the only good thing happening.

Unlike in Valencia, which took us two months to get an appointment to apply for our new NIE cards, in Lugo it will take just two weeks! Living in Galicia has it’s advantages. We should have our new cards just 4 weeks later. So, by American Thanksgiving we can travel, again. With our freshly minted US passports and shiny new Spanish NIE cards. Like gathering our nuts for the winter, we can take a long winter’s nap knowing we are all set.

Hola! Ruby

Our tractor has arrived. No, not the original one, because we got a bit screwed over by the tractor dealership. It is NOT a 40 hp tractor. But it will do the job we need it to do. And, since we signed the contract last January, the tractor we did get now costs more than the one we were supposed to get. So it’s appreciated in value. Sounds crazy, I know, but we are able to get the jobs that need doing around the farm, done. Just in time for Fall weather to set in. And we did just that today. She is not called Lola. Meet Ruby.

Today, I drove and Jeff filled the bucket with branches. We cleared all the branches we cut earlier and those that have been piled behind the barn for a year. Now, I can put my composting scheme into action. And we can turn over the earth to get the garden ready for planting next year.

Chestnut Season

Cleaning up the chestnuts 🌰 from our 70+ chestnut trees just got exponentially easier.

Pilgrims have begun asking about them. Are they edible? Can we buy some? I hand out plastic bags and tell them to have at it! Free, of course. I’m not yet in the chestnut biz. But, I think when the cabins open we could do a fun activity at the end of the season, roasting chestnuts over our fire pit.

And speaking of our fire pit, Jeff used the tractor to pull out some scraggly trees from near our patio. He’s extending the patio and putting in a new fire pit. I can see us now, snuggled up on a cold night with a fire glowing, looking up at the stars. Perhaps some of our Pilgrim desserts will include S’mores. Chocolate, roasted marshmallows and graham crackers. Seems like fun!

And, Finally…

Ryan gets on his flight to Paris later today. We are soooo excited to see him. His partner caught Covid this week, but they have been isolating from each other and he is negative, so he is good to fly. Talk about a last minute heart attack. We don’t want her to be sick. And we want him to be able to fly here without becoming ill. She is nearly recovered today. Seems its all working out.

We have a jam packed ten days planned with Ryan. A fun-filled itinerary of castles, knights templar, and history. Some of his favorite things. Maybe he’ll deign to help me serve some coffee on a morning or two, after sleeping in. Before the adventure for that day. Even without the tractor, or the visas, just knowing Ryan will be here tomorrow would make this one of the best days in a very long time.

Visa Renewals- Navigating Choppy Waters

Ahh. The dreaded Spanish visa renewal. Never fun. It should be simple math. A+B=C. But nothing is ever easy with Spanish immigration.

I have not been out of the Schengen region for nearly three years. So the last stamp on my passport was affixed at Charles de Gaulle airport on 28 December 2019. Since that time I have been granted another visa. No problem. But this time, even though I have no further exit or entry stamps, they didn’t like that last stamp from Paris. Why now?!? Doesn’t matter. They wanted my plane tickets from that trip. Who has airline tickets from three years ago? They are convinced I left the country for more than six months in a calendar year in the past two years. How do you prove you never did something that they are accusing you of doing, for which they have no proof that you actually did, because you didn’t? But that wasn’t our only hold up.

Jeff went to the bank and paid our filing fees. They went from €17 a couple of years ago, to €78. Fine. Jeff paid them for each of us and sent the stamped receipts. But the immigration authorities kicked it back because we should have paid it directly out of our bank account instead of cash. Even though you can’t pay it from a bank account and have to pay it in cash.

Jeff’s was denied for crossing out an incorrect house number, filled in by our lawyer, who told him to cross it out and enter the correct number. But they didn’t deny mine, which looked the exact same, with the house number crossed out.

Our lawyer had to resubmit them three times, with a long explanation about how I never left Spain for six months, then, never left Spain, again. All of this is utter bureaucratic nonsense. But we are not alone.

Since Brexit, there are exponentially more people filing visa applications. So scrutiny of applications and renewals has been turned up to high. I’ve heard horror stories. We’re caught up in that, now. Our visas and visa renewals used to take 24 hours. They take a lot longer now, packed with uncertainty, and require hoops that were not there before. In six months we are eligible for permanent residency. I don’t really want to go through more paperwork, but if it means we only have to do this every five years it will be worth it. I don’t see visa renewals getting easier.

We used to handle renewals on our own, but I wouldn’t recommend that now. Having an advocate is too important. Someone who can help navigate these choppy waters. Because, in the end, we love living here. We have made it our home. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we are not entitled to live here. That we are allowed to by the government of Spain. It has been relatively easy, so far. But this latest visa hiccup makes my goal of getting Spanish citizenship even more top of mind. So that we never have to wonder if this really is home. For good.

I Get The Point

Sometimes the universe tells you its time to take a day off. These days, we are busier and busier. Each day at least one Pilgrim proclaims ‘You need more people to help you.’ And they are right. But we only have five weeks left in the season. Too late to hire now.

Jeff has been working two jobs. Helping me in the mornings by running supplies from the barn, making gallons of sin gluten waffle batter, and running tubs of dishes to the dishwasher. Then he works his real job. Even before I look at my numbers at the end of the day, I generally know how much I have taken in. Each dish bin has a value. Sure, there are days I am surprised. But I can count on a fixed amount, so I can keep track. For the first time in my life dirty dishes are a good thing.

But, I am a bit tired. I will admit it. There are less Pilgrims walking these days, but more are stopping at The Happiness Cafe. Jeff made more signs and posted then up the trail, right next to the other clusters of signs for other cafes and Albergues. And he made me a couple for the berm in front of the house. And all of the ideas are not necessarily ours.

A business consultant from the US stopped by with his buddies. Phil gave us some advice on where and what we might consider to raise awareness. I told them they have to come back quarterly for our board meetings. We are the second cafe Pilgrims come to in A Campanilla. The first one catches the most fish.

Members of my Board

But, the most magical advice came from my little old man, Modesto, who comes and sees me in the afternoons, right before I close. I give him free vino blanco and he helps me with my español. That free vino is the best investment I have ever made. One day, a couple of weeks ago, he left me and walked backwards down the trail. Then, later he returned for more wine and was loaded with good advice.

‘You need different signs. Signs that say you are friendly.’

I frowned. ‘Really? That seems like a strange thing to put on a sign. Aren’t most people in the hospitality business friendly?’

He looked at me like I was crazy. ‘NO! They don’t have to be because they are the only place and they get all the Pilgrims. You need to tell people you are friendly. And you should put that you speak ingles.’

Again, I felt weird about saying that on a sign.

‘Why?! Don’t you speak ingles? Of course you do. Many Pilgrims who speak ingles will come here if you tell them.’

It turns out that my elderly best friend, and newly appointed Chairman of my Board, Modesto, is spot on. Jeff made the signs. He put them up, my business tripled, then quadrupled overnight. To say I was unprepared for the onslaught doesn’t cover it. I have been working more and more hours, and days in a row. People message me on my day off or afternoons, asking why we are closed and if they can just get one spinach smoothie and a gluten-free waffle. They think they’re the only one doing this but there they’d be wrong. Sometimes, I trudge out there and do it. If I’m not having an afternoon nap during my siesta.

Yesterday, I had a full house and people lined up. Suddenly, I sliced open my finger. It wasn’t quite as bad as Dan Akroyd playing Julia Child on SNL, in the 1970’s, but there was blood. A lot of blood. Before I swooned, as one of my Pilgrim saviors put it, I grabbed on to the counter and went down slow. Two other pilgrims from Bellevue, Washington were there, of course. Because a day without Pilgrims from the Seattle area is not a day, at all. First aid kits were produced. Ice in a towel. I was laying down on the ground with my hand in the air, when suddenly a new face was looming over me as I lay prone with three woman in attendance working their magic, including deep breathing, herbal essential oils, and reiki. What!?! Remember- it is The Camino. 😳

‘Hello, Kelli.’ Came a smooth Australian drawl.

Wait, I thought, I know that voice, if not the face. It was Dan Mullins! Yes, that Dan Mullins who has the podcast in Australia that we did last Spring. The one who has brought Pilgrims from around the world to our doorstep. Multiple times a day someone tells me they heard me on Dan’s podcast.

‘Hello, Dan. Of course you’re here as I am laying on the ground in a crowd,’ I told him from my reclined, bloodied position. ‘Nice to see you in person.’ And it was. He is such a good guy.

One of my ladies in waiting was having none if it. She ordered Dan to enter the food truck and immediately start making coffees for those waiting.

He laughed ‘I suppose I could do that.’

But, luckily for Dan, Jeff was already in there trying to quell the masses, explaining that the person who knew how to make avocado toast or waffles was on the ground bleeding. Still, he took some money and handed out beers.

And all this just goes to show you that wise old men know everything. And when the universe wants you to take a day off you should listen. Because, no matter what, it will get it’s point across one way or the other. And sometimes that point is at the end of a knife.

A White Heart

Decades ago, I met my ex-mother-in-law, Claire. She is, to this day, one of the toughest, most resilient people I have ever encountered.

Claire, born in 1939 in Haifa in what was then British controlled Palestine, was not happy about me marrying her son. It was clear she hoped for a better match than this chatty free-wheeling unedited American girl. In other words, her worst nightmare.

To say that Claire was intimidating doesn’t cover it. She was a force of nature. And she spoke several languages, which included English. But, there was a time when she refused to speak to me. Claire is a big reason I studied Arabic so hard.

There were good reasons she was so tough. It tends to happen to you when you are born in a country occupied by an outsider – the British. Claire was Catholic, a minority in her country even without an occupier. Religion is how political parties in the Middle East are organized. When the British created countries, then gave away the land of the people as they departed their colonies, Claire’s family fled to Lebanon as refugees. And that is where she went to HS. Where she married and had her sons. And where war would find her, yet again, hiding with her two boys under the kitchen table as the bombs blew up her neighbors. So, even in my 20’s I never begrudged her her tough exterior. She developed it to survive.

At first, the only time she would have anything to do with me was in the kitchen. If her precious son was going to be married to this silly girl, Claire would ensure the girl knew how to cook properly to feed him decent food. And by decent I mean Lebanese food. Somehow, even at that young age I knew this was my key to cracking her armor. So I cooked, and I cooked. And I learned a lot from Claire. Not just how to make amazing food that I still crave today. But other things. Soft skills. How to operate culturally in the Middle East. How far I could go without offending. And, she helped me learn Arabic – with some swearing thrown in. Claire smoked, so I smoked with her over pots of Turkish coffee as we waited for something to come out of the oven.

A year went by, then one day something happened. Someone said something about me to her. Something derogatory. A person visiting for coffee. Claire tore that woman apart and pretty much ended the conversation. I was shocked. Afterwards, we were standing in the kitchen and I asked her about it. Her response surprised me.

‘You are my family. She thought she could disrespect you because you are not like us. She learned she was wrong.’

I teared up, but she reached up and patted my face. ‘You have a white heart, Kelli. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.’

No one has ever used that term to describe me, before or since. Until the other day.

I was helping Pilgrims one afternoon. It was a very hot day. A priest in full cassock came through the gate. He was from Poland, carrying a back pack and sporting sandals. He had walked a very long way. And he needed water.

I grabbed a couple of cold waters and refused his offer of payment. He smiled and reached into an inner pocket from where he produced a card with a photograph and a small piece of fabric in it.

‘You have a white heart.’

I took the card and instantly thought of Claire. But I had no idea what I was looking at. It was in Polish. When I looked up, the priest was gone. I put the card with the other things Pilgrims have given me. But, over the past few days I have returned to it between customers, over and over. I am not sure why. Then, today, I had two American couples. They swung by for a couple of drinks.

They were really fun, and before they left they gave me a shell so I could put it up in the food truck to remember them. I promised I would, then showed them some of the things other pilgrims have left for me. The man picked up the card the priest had given me.

‘Where did you get this?’ He asked, amazed.

I told him the story of the Polish priest.

‘Do you know who this is?’

‘No.’ I told him. ‘It’s an old photo and looks like a piece of fabric is imbedded in the card.’

He called to his friends. ‘This is a relic of Father Kolbe. A piece of his robe. He was the priest who stood up to the Nazis when they invaded Poland. He saved 2,000 Jews in Poland from the Nazis. Then, he sacrificed himself by taking the place of a Jew in line to the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Are you sure you have never heard of him?’

I shook my head. ‘I’m not Catholic. I’m not really religious .’

‘He’s Catholic.’ Said the woman next to him poking his arm. ‘He’s a deacon in the church.’

The man nodded. ‘Don’t ever lose that.’ He told me. Then, they left.

I am not sure why that card has moved me as it has, even before I knew the story of the selfless priest. And I don’t know why Claire’s was the face that flashed into my head when he gave it to me. But I do know that white hearts come in many shapes and sizes, even filled with imperfections, from near and far. And I know this because I meet them every single day.

Through the Looking Glass

A not so fun fact. After living here in Spain for more than four and a half years you’d think I would have heard it all. Jumped through nearly every hoop. But there you’d be wrong.

This year is the year of renewals. We checked our US passports off our list. Then, we just need to get our residence visas renewed. It’s an odd cadence for us. We started out on a non-lucrativo visa. Then, the Barcelona office of the company Jeff is working for sponsored our visa during the pandemic. So it threw off our renewals by six months.

Technically, we are entitled to apply for permanent residence in March of 2023, having resided legally in Spain for five years by that time. But this switch to a highly skilled worker visa, and the timing of the two year visa renewal, leaves us six months short. No problem. We will do another two year renewal. Then, we will apply for permanent residency status. It will be good for five years. Deep breath.

One thing we have yet to encounter in the renewal process is that it has completely messed up our banking. On an NL visa, the bank put in our US passports. So, our expiration dates on our NIE cards (visas) had no impact. When we switched to a Highly Skilled Worker visa the bank replaced our passports with NIE cards. And now that we are in the renewals process we hit a snag. Kind of a big one.

Jeff went to the cash machine to pull out some money to pay for the firewood. Not a problem. Then they threw up a message that said since our NIE cards expired the following day they would be freezing our bank accounts in 24 hours. What?!?

Jeff came home freaking out. Good thing the firewood guy doesn’t speak any ingles. He would have learned some new words. Still, I’m pretty sure the tone cuts through any language barrier. What could we do?

How It Works

When your visa comes up for renewal you can initiate the process 60 days before the expiration date. And up to 90 days after. You can stay in Spain during this time. Actually, you can stay until you get a positive or negative result. So it can even go on past 90 days after your visa has technically expired. Because you are waiting or appealing. If you are on a NL visa this will impact virtually nothing, except if you want to switch cell phone providers in Valencia during this period – ask me how I know.

We are not newbies. We know the drill. So Jeff emailed the Barcelona office at his work, weeks and weeks in advance, and reminded them that the visa renewal needed to get underway. They have to initiate it. He heard crickets. Then August holidays happened and the entire office was shuttered. Another deep breath.

The weeks ticked down. Our visas are technically expired on September 13. Yes, we have a 90 day cushion, but why use it up? It should be simple to file. Pay the new higher filing fee. Easy. I’ve done it myself, and I am no genius when it comes to Spanish bureaucracy.

We know we are an anomaly at the Barcelona office. Due to the pandemic, they have never met Jeff in person. So our visa issues are not top of mind. But he kept emailing. Then, the bank message came through. Thank God we had to pay the wood guy or we would never have known. And we would shortly have no access to our money. We couldn’t even transfer money from the US. The bank wouldn’t accept it. How would we pay our bills? My mind raced.

We went to the bank the next morning in Lugo (there is no branch in Melide) and they told us there was nothing they could do. Jeff shook the tree at the office, again, and they have finally filed our renewal. We even have a paper to prove it. Of course, we already had every document they asked for and sent them all immediately. And now, we wait. But that paper means nothing, other than to communicate that we have submitted paperwork.

Last time, after six months of Herculean effort, his visa was approved in 24 hours. This time, it’s been a week. Silence. We hear it might take another month. Apparently, there is a backlog of people applying for Spanish visas post-Covid and post-Brexit.

Jeff and I took out handfuls of cash before our account locked down. So we can eat, and I can pay the electric bill – if it comes to that. Looking at our bank balance now is like visiting the zoo. You can view it. Tap the glass on your phone. Ooh and ahh. Wave even. But you can’t touch any of it. I know this because I decided to try it out at our local el Chino. They denied my debit card. The guy behind the counter gave me a look of pity before I reached into my wallet for a wad of €50 notes, peeling them off and smiling back. ‘I’m not a deadbeat.’ I wanted to say. ‘Just caught in visa renewal NIE card expiration date banking HELL.’ But I didn’t.

The sad truth is that you are no one in Spain with an expired National Identity (NIE) card. So, learn from me, kiddies. When you are exactly 60 days prior to the expiration date on your visa or residency card, don’t wait. Have your documents at the ready. Pay the tax with your Modelo 790 form at the bank (before 11am <eye roll> 🙄) Then, pull the trigger on filing your renewal. You probably know the old saying A fool and his money are soon parted. Truer words were never spoken. You don’t want to be us right now. Waving to our money through glass.

Did You Know?

Our family history with our kids and flights is such that I didn’t want to speak too soon. But our eldest, Ryan, will be boarding a flight to Spain in ten days time. This after British Airways has caused me multiple heart attacks over the past two weeks by cancelling his flights, not once but twice. What?? I was not happy. Ryan was not happy. We both spent multiple hours on the telephone, live chat, and the like, trying to straighten it all out. We thought we were there. Then, they cancelled them, yet again.

It’s been nearly three years since we have seen Ryan. Since that day after Christmas 2019 in Bellevue. Before the world went mad. The pandemic didn’t help. In that time, Ryan earned his PhD. But, there would be no hooding ceremony where we would stand proudly with him in his gown and velvet hood, in his funny, tasseled hat, smiling, like we had earned the diploma ourselves. I think there might have been a Zoom graduation thing, but he didn’t even want to do that. Both he and his partner, Olga, who also earned her PhD, quietly packed up their apartment and moved on to their new jobs on the east coast of the US. Newly minted Drs.

Ryan was always the smartest kid in any classroom growing up. He was small and skinny, with his little round glasses. Jeff is an introvert, but Ryan makes Jeff seem gregarious. When Ryan was little, he and I had a routine. I would be cooking dinner and Ryan would come down into the kitchen. Invariably, he would get a glass of something to drink. If he left right away, he probably had homework. We never had to remind him to do his homework. But, if he stayed in the kitchen I knew he wanted to talk to me about something important. And it would usually take awhile before I would find out what it was. Time to turn down the heat on the pot on the stove, just keep stirring, and wait.

Ryan would begin circling me. Then, he would pepper me with facts. Non-sequiturs. This was the Did you know? phase of our routine.

‘Did you know that most of the stars you can see in the sky aren’t even there anymore? Most of them have been gone for millions of years.’

‘Did you know what it’s called when a lizard releases its tail to get away from danger?’

‘Do you know how long it takes light to travel from the Sun to the earth?’

Stuff like that. I understood my role. Even if I knew the answer to these questions I would say ‘No.’ Inviting him to inform me. Psst…I rarely knew the answer. We didn’t look each other in the eye during these exchanges. That was the point. Ryan was comfortable talking in this setting. That’s all I needed.

The circling would continue as whatever I was cooking was getting more and more done. Sauces became reductions. Chicken overdone. But I didn’t care. I just listened and answered appropriately. Delaying whatever I was doing. He needed to work up to it. Finally, Ryan would get to the point.

‘How old were you when you first had a boyfriend in school?’

Ah! I would try to keep my face blank, knowing that if I smiled it might scare him off. This was a big moment. Don’t blow it, Kelli!

‘Well. I think I was about your age.’ I said. The truth was my first boyfriend was in preschool, but I wouldn’t have said that. This wasn’t about me. He was just looking for reassurance. For many years, this was how we did things , and I missed it when the circling stopped. When he didn’t need my council anymore.

Ryan is brilliant, but also kind and honest. To a fault. I think he finds deception to be illogical and mean. He wouldn’t know how to be manipulative. It’s not in his nature. When Jeff and I had to make up our wills in Spain and determine power of attorney and our living wills, we named Ryan as the person who will make all medical decisions for us if we become incapacitated. And his partner, Olga, is the back up. Between the two of them, I am very sure if there are life and death decisions to be made, they will model it out logically. But with a compassion algorithm, as well.

Ryan and his partner have just purchased their first house where they live in Maryland.They have a dog and a cat he adores, and he works at a physics lab doing important things I can’t begin to wrap my head around. Solving the big problems. We speak often, and sometimes he even asks for our advice. But now, it’s about things for the house. Does this rug match with this chair? What I call soft problems. He handles the big stuff all on his own.

Because of the flight rebooking and airline shuffling, we can’t get Ryan all the way to Santiago on Delta Airlines, or their partners. So Jeff will drive 500 kms to Madrid to pick him up. I’ll stay home and open the food truck as Jeff heads out at 5:30 am to start the 8+ hour round trip journey to collect him. The drive home will give these two introverts time to catch up without me filling in the inevitable silence with which they are both so comfortable. LuLu kitty and I will close up at 2pm, then wait patiently for the sound of the gate opening so we can run out to greet him. I’ll hug him much too tight, after which he will pull away, pushing his wire-framed glasses back up his nose while smiling that lopsided smile. Just the same as when he was little. Jeff will carry his bag into the house and I’ll start cooking some of his favorites for dinner. Maybe, Ryan will come into the kitchen to get a glass of water after such a long drive, and it’s then I’ll hold my breath to see if he stays for a nice catch up, or heads upstairs to rest. But, even if he does stay, there will be no circling in the kitchen on the farm. The big house with the big kitchen island in the US is long gone. And, I have to remind myself that he’s 30 years old now, with a partner and a life of his own, so he doesn’t need me to tell him what to do. But, I kind of hope that for just these ten days he will let us have a few moments when we can pretend he still needs us. Because, after these three years, we sure need him. More than ever.

Mending a Broken Heart

For the past few weeks we have been surrounded by stories of Lost & Found. It’s as though we have been attracting it.

Two weeks ago, a Mexican Pilgrim stopped and bought a bottle of water from me. It was a quick interaction but I remember thinking he looked like a bumblebee in his rain jacket. Later, I found a wallet stuffed with cash. Inside was his California driving license, passport, and credit cards. If we didn’t find a way to return it, he would – as we say in the US – be up a river without a paddle. Stranded in Spain with no ID and no money. We floundered for a bit over what to do or how to find him. He had quite a head start. We tapped into the Camino FB grapevine. Finally, I hopped in the car, drove ahead of him and waited on the trail before he popped up. He never knew he had lost it and was shocked to see the crazy lady from the Happiness Cafe Food Truck standing there in her apron waving, while holding up his wallet.

Then, there was a guy who lost a ring containing the ashes of his 10 year old daughter. He was sure he lost it on our stretch before O Coto. Jeff and I went out to look for it on a dusky evening as the sun went down. We looked in drains and ditches, and asked the other cafes if it had been turned in. But, to no avail. I heard the other day he got it back in Santiago. Someone had found it.

A couple of days ago, we had a mother and son from the US. They had found a diamond ring on the trail. A group of women who had arrived before them knew of the honeymooners who were walking the Camino, and she had lost her engagement ring. They all saw it returned to her with much relief. Teamwork!

We know the heartbreak of losing something you love. I couldn’t bring myself to write about it at the time, but three weeks ago we lost LuLu kitten. She liked to hang out at the tables with Pilgrims. One girl was very taken with her.

‘I love your cat. I want to take her home.’ She told me. Immediately after that, LuLu was gone.

LuLu is more dog than cat. She followed us everywhere and would come if you called her. She would talk to us if she was hungry. And she was happiest sleeping on our laps. To say that I loved that little kitten doesn’t cover it. I was heartbroken. She never wandered from the farm.

For weeks, we walked the Camino looking for her. Heading off the trail and calling out to her. Listening for her usual answer when she heard her name and our voices. Sure we heard it. Then, nothing. Silence. I didn’t tell Marie Carmen when she would drop by to deliver vegetables. LuLu is the kitten of Marie Carmen’s cat. She would always pet her when she brought me things from her garden. It would break her heart.

I had a hard time sleeping those first few days after she disappeared. Wondering where she was and if she was scared without us. Or if she had been hurt or run over by a car. She didn’t know to be afraid as she had never been away from the farm.

As I opened up in the mornings, Jeff walked towards Melide, calling out for her. One time, he walked through a farmer’s field sure he had seen her. Surprising the farmer and the Pilgrims, but he didn’t care.

‘It looked just like her.’ But it was a much bigger cat when he got closer.

We had resigned ourselves to the fact that the Pilgrim had taken her. And I consoled myself that the girl would take care of her and love her as much as we did. But, as the weather has turned cooler my thoughts returned to LuLu. Would she be OK in this terrible storm? What about when it dips into the single digits overnight. If the girl didn’t have her anymore – cats are a tough Camino companion – would she find a warm dry place? Or have enough food? We had stopped talking about her but Jeff knew it was hard for me to lose her. I couldn’t put her toys or her food bowl away. Not yet.

Today, I was making a smoothie for an Irish Pilgrim. We were chatting for a bit and Jeff was standing nearby. He doesn’t usually lurk by the food truck. He was wearing a grey plaid shirt so it took a moment for it to register that in his arms was LuLu!!! I squealed and jumped out of the door in front of a full house of Pilgrims eating. It’s not called the Happiness Cafe for nothing! Little LuLu kitten was purring like a bumblebee.

‘I went out to feed the horses some carrots and a big cement truck was coming down the road extra slow as Pilgrim parted. And running down the middle of the road in front of it was LuLu. She ran right into my arms.’ He was smiling from ear to ear.

She’s a little worse for wear. Very skinny. She hasn’t grown a bit since she’s been gone. Jeff brought her food bowl out and she ate it in a flash. Then sat on my lap hiccuping. But then, more Pilgrims came demanding smoothies so she lounged near the food truck door. Never letting us out of her sight.

I can’t imagine the adventures she has had in the past three weeks. But I should have known she would eventually make it home. All those other lost items were returned to those for whom they are priceless. So, we were due for a little Camino miracle ourselves for our priceless LuLu. And we got it. Mending our broken hearts in the bargain.

The Spice of Life

We’ve been busy on the farm, and with the food truck. We were in town enjoying a beverage today. Of course, there was an impromptu band. As per usual in Spain. This for San Caralampia. I have no idea what that is but the town was filled with red scarf-clad people.

We were sitting in a cafe enjoying a beverage when I saw my firewood drive by. No kidding. At that moment, we knew what our afternoon would entail.

The first load has been delivered, and Jeff and I went home to find the pile by the shed. We spent a good two hours stacking wood this afternoon. The next load comes on Wednesday in the midst of a lightning storm. Yay!!.

When I was in my 20’s, in my very first studio apartment in Pacific Heights in San Francisco, I would get paid, then buy food for two weeks. After I put my shopping away, I would open all the cupboards and the fridge and survey my bounty. I knew I was set for two weeks, at least. That’s how I feel about a full shed filled with firewood. No matter what, we will be warm this winter.

After our stacking I noticed something hanging from the gate. Strange. I went out and lifted the small package and a note.

This was tied together with red ribbon and a €20 note. Then I read the postcard.

Yesterday, the last Pilgrim of the day needed some help locating her accommodations. She had used a service that pre-booked her into a room each night from Sarria to Santiago. Very common. She had walked to us from Palas de Rei – having left quite late in the morning. It’s about a two hour walk, walking at her own pace. But, she was confused as to where her next lodging was located and asked for my help. We both assumed Melide. I unwound her folded pages and, between us, we determined that the tour company had screwed up and booked her in two places in Palas de Rei. Two nights in a row. So she needed to go back the way she had come. Crazy.

But, surprisingly, she was not rattled. ‘I guess I will call a taxi.’ She said.

I told her I was nearly done for the day and if she could wait a bit I would be happy to drive her. It was a bit difficult to locate and off the beaten path. She set down her pack and helped me take down the signs and close up. Then I loaded her up and drove her back to Palas de Rei and dropped her off at her hotel. We waved goodbye. Not a big deal.

So I was surprised by the package left on the gate with the lovely note, as she obviously walked by for the second time in two days. Included was a €20 note for the jar and a container of Old Bay seasoning with the recipe in Spanish. She must have asked the hotel to print it out for her. I have never heard of this seasoning before. Must be an east coast of the US thing as her postcard was from Maryland. But I was touched nonetheless. Her note will sit on the desk in my office. A reminder this winter of why we are living here on the Camino.

Our jar is filling up. Todd’s Kindness jar is approaching €100 since I set it out just two weeks ago. Today, another woman gave me €20 for two cokes and told me to keep the rest. €16 went in the jar. These past few years, watching the news, my faith in humanity has been shaken. Extremism abounds, and I fear for the planet. But I meet people every day who let me know that there are more good people than bad in this world. More kind and caring individuals who we will never see in the news. People like this Pilgrim, who literally, seasons the world with their inherent goodness. And with enough of them, I think we might just be OK.

Small Threads and A Few Coins in a Jar

Today, something happened that reminded me that there are no coincidences. That we are connected, all of us, inextricably.

It’s easy in life to imagine our experience is unlike anyone else’s. We hear each other’s stories and we tell ours. And they can seem unrelated. But there will be glue, somewhere, that ties them together like the threads of a cosmic tapestry, of which we are all part.

As I have said often on this blog, I like listening to other people’s stories more than my own. There is a person who has read this blog for a very long time. She often comments on my random musings. And sometimes we exchange private messages. She is warm hearted, unwaveringly supportive, and generous. After I posted about a Pilgrim giving me a few euros to pass on to a needy Pilgrim, she reached out. She wanted to do something similar. Not from herself, but in the name of a friend of hers whose funeral from which she had just returned. And she told me his story.

Her friend, Todd, was an extraordinary person who lived a life helping others. He worked with those incarcerated in the US. And he was dedicated beyond the 8-5 of his daily work life. Helping these men while in prison and after, at times going beyond his brief to help them rebuild their lives. One such recipient of his care and his work spoke at his funeral, reiterating what Todd had meant to his life. Seemingly everything. Crediting Todd with his 25 years of remaining out of jail, and for helping him build a life filled with a wife, children and a home.

Hearing this story moved me to tears. And my blog reading friend wanted to send me some money via Venmo in Todd’s name to pass on to Pilgrims who might come up short. I was touched but, sadly, as I don’t live in the US I can’t set up a Venmo account, and I let her know. But, I had another idea.

Every day, I have Pilgrims come up to the food truck who have no money. They are walking the Camino and relying on the kindness of strangers as they make their way to Santiago. I give away coffee and sandwiches, a lot. These are some of my favorite Pilgrims. Humble people. And this friend from the blog wanted to help these Pilgrims, as well, but to no avail. So, in honor of her compassionate, kind friend, Todd, I set up a Todd’s Kindness Jar. Each day, the tips from Pilgrims will go into the the jar. And for those who can not pay, I will reach into the jar and cover their meal.

Today was filled with American Pilgrims. My last customer of the day was an American woman. We got to talking. She had just stopped because I spoke to her at the gate in my American ingles. ‘Hello’ stopped her in her tracks. Coming in the gate, she bought a very American iced tea – handing me €3.75 – much more than the price of iced tea. I smiled and thanked her, putting the two euros into the till. Then I told her I would put the remainder in Todd’s Kindness Jar. Jenny looked surprised.

‘Is that your husband’s name?’ She asked.

‘No’ I told her. Then I explained about Todd and his memory celebrated by my blog friend. About his work with those incarcerated. Her eyes got wide.

‘My father was incarcerated in San Quentin prison on a life sentence.’ She said. Then, she went on to tell me the story.

Her father had been born in Russian controlled post-war Germany. He lost his family as a toddler, was starved and abused as a German child, under the guise of Russian revenge for a war that decimated Russia.

Her father eventually made it to Canada where he met her mother, married, and had she and her brother. And the family eventually moved to California. Something triggered him one day. She never knew what, and he killed her entire family when she was just six years old. She was the only survivor, and hospitalized for a year, recovering. All while her father was sentenced to life in prison.

This lovely woman told me she had dedicated her life to studying mental health, focusing now on elder mental health in honor of her grandmother who was killed with her mother and brother. She has taught psychology at some of the top universities in the US. But what she found helped her the most was learning gratitude from her adoptive mother- a friend of her mother – after she was released from the hospital.

‘I found a way through it. Through lingering cognitive impairment. But I learned to be grateful for the life I have. And I learned how to forgive.’

Jenny has traveled to Poland – the town where her father was born is not in Germany now – looking for the seeds of what happened to her family. But she met dead end after dead end. Yet she is now at peace and is walking the Camino for her 60th Birthday.

When Jenny turned to go I hugged her and thanked her for sharing her story with me.

‘I didn’t plan on it. But when you told me about Todd working at the prison it just flowed out.’ She said, before smiling and waving goodbye.

Neither Todd nor my blog friend know of Jenny. But, today, because of them she told her story to me and it touched me deeply. How such a horrific trauma was transformed into gratitude in the heart of a beautiful soul. And it reinforced my belief that the threads of each of us weave around and through each other in ways we can’t possibly imagine. Today those threads from across the globe crossed each other on a small farm in rural Galicia. From thousands of miles away. Because of a kind man named Todd and a few coins in a glass jar.