The Pants in the Family

Now that Jeff is back from his travels and envious of my Spring cleaning tactics, he’s gone through his closets and tried on all the shorts, etc. to get ready for the season. Jeff has lost some weight recently and much of his old stuff is too big now. And he’s discovered some old favorites including his kilts.

When we vacationed in Scotland with our kids a decade ago, Jeff got his Scottish on and acquired a kilt. Then, when we got home, he decided a few more might be in the cards. Seeing a guy in a kilt and Doc Maartens in Seattle isn’t that unusual. And since it’s the hiking capital of the US, every outfitter in the Washington (including homegrown REI) carries hiking kilts for guys. Jeff’s embraced it.

So today, from the bedroom I hear laughing. He was in there alone – Hmmm. Eventually he emerges and makes his way into the living room wearing his Mountain Hardware hiking kilt and is typing into his phone smiling.

‘Who are you talking to?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Curt. He said the house next to he and Butch’s on Mykonos is for sale. He thinks we should buy it. You remember – the crazy lady with the cats?’

I think about this for 30 seconds. Yes, Curt and Jeff are friends, but he was mine first.
He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. They spend from March to November on Mykonos every year. Curt was my maid of honor at our wedding. The photos were a little interesting since Jeff is very tall, and Curt is taller still. I looked like a Munchkin from Munchkinland. Curt hosted our wedding at one of his houses on a lake in Washington. He had his rose garden redone for the occasion, and so many people told me afterwards it was one of the loveliest weddings they had ever been to. And that’s down to Curt. He’s family. To our kids he’s ‘Uncle Curt’ and while I think they like visiting us well enough, I’m very sure they’d prefer to go to Mykonos to hang out with him.

‘Why is he texting you about it?’

Jeff looks up from his phone ‘Clearly he knows who wears the pants in this family.’

What?! I’m still a little raw from the contract ‘Ask your husband thing.’ So I point to his kilt.

‘You’re literally standing there in a skirt.’

Then I look down at my painters overall that are huge. I’m in pants with enough fabric to cover us both!

Jeff shrugs and goes back to texting Curt and giving me the lowdown on the woman’s unconventional sales tactics. Not posting it for sale with a realtor or on a website. She just put a piece of paper on the gate and Curt saw it. He said it’s blown away now so the competition for the property shouldn’t be stiff and we could get it for a song. Except we live in Spain. ‘When you buy it’ they promised to keep an eye on it for us – big kiss emojis.

So now we’re looking at perhaps spending some time on Mykonos in the next little while. I wonder if I should reach out to Curt to make the arrangements – as I would normally do. Or if I should let Jeff handle the travel arrangements with his new best friend. Either way, I feel sure one of his kilts is coming with us. Eye roll. Oh well, as usual I’ll have to be the one to do the heavy lifting and wear the actual pants in the family.

The Travel Bug

I was bitten by the travel bug even before I ever traveled on my first train ride. It started by receiving gifts from my Uncle living in Japan for my birthdays. And from my Grandmother who was a ballsy lady who traveled the world on her own in retirement. Neither seemed to be afraid of anything.

Then, when I studied German in high school I had a pen pal who sent me photos and described her life in the city where she lived. I wanted to go there so bad and vowed one day I would. It would have never occurred to me not to take my own children with me on adventures. I wanted them learn to love seeing other places, cultures and people as much as I did. I wanted them to have a passport filled with stamps and a heart filled with memories.

Fast forward, my niece Melody started expressing an interest in seeing the world. So when she traveled to Europe I knew we would meet up. And I just got home from spending a few days with her in Barcelona. We’re similar enough – of course she’s 18 and I’m an ancient 52 – but from the moment I collected her at Terminal 1 at BCN, we never stopped talking. It was like no time had gone by since I had last seen her. And did we have fun!

We walked Barcelona from one side to the other. Indian food, Moroccan food, wine, cheese, ice cream, we ate it all. She declared Spanish coffee and croissants the finest in all the world (Shhh, Emilie thinks so too but don’t tell the French).

We went to Sagrada Familia and saw Gaudi’s epic imagination still being realized over 90 years after his death.

We hiked up to the Teleferic de Monjuic (the funicular that takes you up above Barcelona to the Montjuic Castle).

We enjoyed street music and toured La Boqueria Mercat with the food stalls and colorful creations.

We went to Placa de Espana and admired the views from the Cascadia water falls.

We wandered the old part of the city and hit the Zoo. Yes, we did all this in about 48 hours. And through it all we talked and walked and talked some more. And barely slept. It was like a slumber party for 2.

And we shopped a little. She couldn’t take much more home after packing her suitcase with souvenirs and gifts for those back home. But we did pick up her graduation dress and shoes. And all the stuff she’ll need for Prom next week. Like Emilie, no one will be wearing the same thing at prom this year.

Then Melody expressed an interest in getting a tattoo. To mark her first trip the Europe, but also as an expression of her independence. She’s 18 now – for a whole 2 months. And she’ll be graduating high school in 2 more. She chose a parlour, based on the reviews online, and we went down there. She had already identified the art she wanted. A sprig of lavender – symbolizing peace. She said she remembered how much my Mom would plant it in the garden at her house, so she settled on that.

She was scared to do it but also excited. I was just there for moral support. It was her show. But it looks great and she’ll always remember she got her first tattoo with me on her first visit to Spain. That made me smile.

I dropped Melody off early this morning at the airport – she’s still en route and has definitely caught the family travel bug. My work is done! Then I hopped on a train to Valencia. Jeff met me near the station for lunch. So great to see him after a few weeks. It had taken him 37 hours to get home. His flight from Malaga to Valencia had been cancelled so they put him on a bus for 7 hours, and then promptly lost his luggage. He was smiling big when I saw him standing there, so no worse for wear.

We both had adventures and got to connect with family – Jeff was so happy to see his Mom and Ryan – the best kind of trip. But it’s nice to be home in Benimachlet where we belong. Travel is great, but Dorothy is right clicking her ruby slippers. There really is no place like home. And for me, that will always be where ever Jeff is.

Love is the Little Things

Jeff popped home to Valencia from Germany, for an overnight (about 7 hours total) before heading to the US. We’ve spent so much time together over the last year – more than any other time in our marriage – it felt a bit strange to have him away. But in the past it was usually me traveling for my work. Now I find it’s easier to be the person traveling than the one left at home. I’ve never really experienced that before. Hmm. But like most things, there’s always a silver lining.

Jeff spent last weekend in London with a friend who had never been to Europe. Some of the best trips are when you get to travel with those who haven’t seen what you’ve seen. Its a special kind of joy watching their reaction and wonder. Like experiencing it yourself for the first time. It’s what I always felt when traveling with our kids. Their excitement was contagious. Perhaps that’s why we traveled with them so much. The smiles, until they were teenagers. Oof!

I went with him to the airport this morning on the Metro. He had already packed his next suitcase before he left for London, so it was just a shower and then off to hop on another plane. He goes armed with a list of to-do’s. Since it’s tax season he has some things to get to our accountant and so much other administrative stuff. And he’ll get to see his Mom and Ryan. But one thing that is different than before is the shopping list. Perhaps I’m evolving.

Before we moved here we stocked up on all the things we thought we needed. Things we were worried we wouldn’t have been able to get here. Slowly but surely we have swapped out US stuff for Spanish stuff. Moisturizer, mascara, medicine. Our medicine cabinets look very different this year, so I had to wrack my brain to come up with things he would need to bring back in his suitcase. I guess we’re like snakes, shedding our skins for new ones.

It doesn’t mean Jeff hasn’t gone prepared. He is staying with my good friend Courtney and he’s been shipping stuff to her house for months. A new wet suit for paddling made for someone who is extra tall. You can’t get that here at the local Decathalon. And a host of other things for someone who is more Norway (giant) than Spain (not). But I was pretty proud of myself that what I asked for could fit into the pocket of a backpack.

I’m getting in a lot of writing time, and painting. So that’s my silver lining. Hopefully I can keep that up when he gets home.

But there is also the downside of him being away. Every morning Jeff makes me my coffee. Often I wake up to the smell of it brewing. It’s a new thing since we moved here. But he makes it just the way I like it. With cardamon in the brew and then a little sprinkle on top. It took him a few months to perfect it and now it’s the only coffee I like to drink. But I don’t know how to make it like he does so my days don’t start quite so perfectly without him.

My attempt at Cafe con Leche ala El Jefe

When I was on the Camino and in Spain for two months in 2017, Jeff missed my foot. Apparently he subconsciously checks in with me at night and taps his foot to mine in his sleep. When he couldn’t find it he would wake himself up. Hopefully he can sleep on this next bit of his trip.

Oh well – it’s a finite time frame, we will both survive. And it proves the old adage ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’. And I’m here to tell you that it truly does.

My Daughter’s Mother

Part of what is hard about living in Spain, so far away from family, is that when they are sick or injured you can do nothing to comfort them or ease their pain. I haven’t felt this helpless since we moved here.

Yesterday, I woke up to pictures on my phone of Emilie’s ankle, and a wall of messages telling me about how she injured it in her basketball game the night before. It looks terrible. It’s huge, purple and angry and she’s on the other side of the world wanting comfort. She’s a star athlete so she’s frustrated that it’s clearly a season ending injury. Tennis and the long jump (yes, she does two sports at a time in the spring season) are now out of the question. She will be in a boot for a couple of months, I’m very sure.

So I spent my day on messenger talking her through it all and speaking to her on the phone intermittently. She’s a tough cookie – she always has been. And she’ll be fine. But it’s one of those Mom Moments that makes me wish I was there, and it wasn’t someone from the school shepherding her to the hospital.

But then she told me that they had taken her back to the school without having determined if her ankle is broken and given her a treatment plan. What?! I had never heard of this and we’ve been to an ER with all the kids for one sports injury or another. Xrays, MRI’s, CT scans, emergency surgery. We’ve been through it all. So I called the school and spoke to them.

Emilie’s school is in the deep, deep South of the US. They ‘Tawk reeal sloow’. Not because they’re stupid but that’s just their cultural linguistic heritage. But it also means that when I call them it takes them forever to get down to the point and my cell phone bills are enormous. Bottom line, they said that this is ‘normal’ for the local ER they take kids to. And they would just wait for the results to be called to them – maybe by Monday. That seemed outrageous to me to release a patient with a clear sign of serious injury without a diagnosis or a treatment plan.

‘Well, we have her laying down and we’re giving her the ‘Mama treatment’. They assured me. I was not assured.

When I got off the phone Jeff looked at my face and said ‘Uh Oh’.

I told him what they had said. ‘Mama Treatment?’

‘I don’t know what kind of mama’s these people had, but mine would never have stood for leaving an ER with no answers. And this mama isn’t going to stand for it either.’

So I looked on Google maps and found the closest ER to the school and I called them up, explaining the situation. I’m 5000 miles away and my poor daughter was seen there with a clearly seriously injured ankle. Yada Yada.

Well, the first two people I spoke to, after 10 minutes of failing to get to the point, finally told me they couldn’t help me ‘Due to all those laws about patient privacy and such’. The upside of these long conversations is that I did get a kickass peach cobbler recipe and we’re now invited to a 4th of July bbq with ‘the best sweet tea in the South’. And I was able to calibrate my speech cadence and local nomenclature. It would come in handy.

So I called again. This time I asked for radiology. They were the ones who ran the tests in the first place. I had learned from my other two conversations not to go at it head on. You sort of sneak up on it, so as not to scare your prey. I told my same story but in a more round about, subtle way. I threw in some local colloquialisms like ‘Til the cows come home’ , ‘A hill of beans’ and ‘If I had my druthers.’ I was gonna try to work in ‘That dog don’t hunt’ but that takes some Olympic-level southern tawk, and I’m an amateur. I told them I was in Spain and couldn’t sign that crazy form to get information about my own child’s health in a crisis such as this. I said ‘One parent to another, I’m sure y’all can understand.’ It was a shot in the dark but Scarlet O’Hara had nothing on me. In the end, the person said they really wanted to. Really, really wanted to but they couldn’t help me or they’d lose their job.

When I hung up Jeff was smiling. ‘What?’ I asked him.

‘That’s quite the accent you’re sportin” He laughed.

‘Well you know how I get when I talk to someone from there. I lose all the ‘g’s’ at the end of all those words. And one syllable becomes 4.’

‘Oh, I know. I figured if you came to bed in a hoop skirt, the transformation would have been complete.’

I was frustrated. ‘Well clearly it didn’t work. I almost had it too. They wanted to tell me but I didn’t get it across the finish line.’

Just then, my phone rang. It was the area code for that town. I picked up and a frantic person told me – with no Southern hemming and hawing – that they were in the parking lot on their personal cell phone. They understood my plight as a mother and they gave me the information I needed – including the results and the treatment plan.

‘You don’t know me and we never spoke’ they said.

‘I couldn’t pick you out of a crowd in the Walmart parking lot’. I promised. Then they hung up.

I called the school. Because I’m her parent and the medical results hadn’t reached the school via pony express yet, I get to dictate what they do for her. So I read out the instruction I had been given by deep throat in the ER parking lot and told them to follow them to the letter. They agreed of course. No body wants to get sued.

The final gem was my phone ringing at 2:30 this morning. The health coordinator at the school had finally gotten the results – hours after my covert medical records operation had born fruit. She related everything I already knew and told me they were going to do exactly as I dictated to them hours earlier.

So after little sleep, I’m happy Emilie is getting the care and treatment she needs. But I still wish I was there to take care of her. I’d make her up some peach cobbler from that new recipe and maybe a little sweet tea. That’d fix her up but good.

Ugh. Now I need to go out and speak to some Spanish people so I can’t stop tawkin’ like this.

Northern Ireland

We are spending our last week in Ireland in Derry or Londonderry. Depending upon your political point of view. More on that in another post. So it was the moment to see the Giant’s Causeway.

This basalt rock phenomenon occurs on the Northern coast of Ireland. If you require a little courage before your visit you can stop in Bushmill for a wee dram before you get to the truly majestic scenery a couple miles down the road. I say ‘miles’ because here in Northern Ireland its miles not kilometers. There was no sign when we crossed from Ireland to the UK/Northern Ireland welcoming us to a new country, except the one telling us that now we were calculating speed signs in miles. But our car only had kilometers. So we were doing backwards calculations to figure out how not to speed or go too slow.

In Ireland there are speed signs every 10 meters – even the farmers driveway doubling as an Irish expressway. In Northern Ireland they tell you the speed once at the border with a hearty ‘Good Luck guessing it on the rest of these god-forsaken roads.’

We made our way to the Giant’s Causeway over hill and dale, but it was worth it. From Derry it’s an hour drive. I’d tell you the distance but it doesn’t matter. Distance here means nothing. Its time that matters. 28 kilometers can take you an hour as Google routes you through the parking lot of a welding workshop, only to find the one lane track you were on previously picks up on the other side. You think I’m kidding. Sadly, not. Jeff checked to see if there was a setting to stop this nonsense, but if we turned it off in the app we would never be able to leave the country.

The GC is part of The National Trust of the UK. The Trust was set up in the late 19th century to save historically significant buildings and locales. They do good work and The Giants Causeway is head and shoulders their biggest draw every year. Heading for 3/4 of a million visitors annually. After seeing this area there is no mystery as to why.

It’s set up well with minimal impact to the environment. The visitors center is tasteful and not an ‘Exit Thru the Giftshop’ type of experience. If you’re a member of The National Trust its free. For a family that’s about 100£ per year. A bargin when planning on seeing other culturally significant places throughout the UK.

We did the self guided tour with the head sets, but could have waited the 40 minutes for the guided tour that is also included in the ticket. It was awe inspiring.

The place was created by lava flows, chemical weathering, and time. The hexagonal rocks and pillars are otherworldly.

The walk down to see them is stunning.

The Irish legend goes something like this. There was a giant called Finn. He created Ireland and he was pissed at a Scottish giant who wanted to threaten his land. So he threw the hexagonal stones into the sea to scare his foe, who used them as a bridge or causeway to run across the sea from Scotland to fight Finn. Well, Finn saw him coming and was shocked by his size. He knew he was outmatched so he ran home to his wife, and cried like a baby.

She knew just what to do and wrapped Finn up, swaddling him like a baby and put him in bed. The other giant found his way to their cottage and asked the wife where her husband was so they could fight. She told him Finn was out. But he searched the cottage anyway and heard ‘the baby’ crying – it was Finn afraid to death. But the other giant thought ‘If this is the baby, then his father must be huge!’. So he ran back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway with his footsteps. There are similar basalt pillars on the Scottish side today to prove the story.

In fact, about 60k yrs ago, lava flowed and formed these pillars. It took 40k yrs for the pillars to interlock. Hexagons are some of the strongest and most frequently occurring shapes in nature. Think honeycombs and tortoise shells.

We walked up to the Giant’s Pipe Organ, said to be heard once a year at 6am on Christmas morn. Then headed up top, via nearly one million stairs straight up, to make our way back. Hoping not to drive to Derry in the dark. The views continued to amaze the whole way. You could easily spend an entire day there.

Well worth a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site. And a strong recommendation on the Bushmills. The town is adorable – you might consider staying there for a night. More importantly, you might need a break from driving out there from Derry. But this is wild Ireland at its most raw and beautiful. Not to be missed.

It’s a Mixed Bag

We’ve been up since 2:30 am. When you move to another country – 9 time zones ahead of where your US cell phone number’s area code happens to be – any old reminders for a dentist, veterinarian or prescriptions is going to come to your phone at a time that is based on that old time zone. And not to your new one. UGH!

And in this case, it was for a prescription at Walgreens in Puyallup, WA. We’ve never lived there. I’ve never filled a prescription there. Why they would call me to pick up a prescription from there? I have no idea. But since the area code was from the US we are immediately awake!  Jeff’s Mom is in that same area code. So we picked up the phone. But it was just meds and not even our meds. We both had so much adrenaline running through us we stayed up and Jeff made coffee.

I had turned up the ringer because I had been doing banking yesterday and forgot to turn it down. That’s the only reason I still have cell svs in the US. Banking. Otherwise, I’d just use my Spanish mobile and WhatsApp, like every other civilized human and nation on the planet. US banks don’t support WhatsApp.

So we were up early. Too early. And I had needed a good nights sleep. It has been a busy week seeing friends before the holidays. They’re going away and we’re going away. Baking. And then our landlord came last night with some workers to do some maintenance. This is very unusual in Valencia. Landlords here are notoriously terrible. You pay – they take your money – and pretend you don’t exist. It’s part of why I rented the apartment I rented.

He’s lovely and showed up with his adorable little daughter and I gave them the cookies I had made for them. That’s when I found out we had created a stir in the building – and not a particularly good one. His daughter was thrilled with the cookies and ate them happily in the living room. But he had gotten calls about us giving out cookies to our neighbors. This was some sort of cultural divide that we had traversed and it wasn’t received well. Apparently, you don’t give out cookies to people on holidays.

He tried to explain it to us by using a funeral comparison. Even though Christmas is sort of a birth thing –  he said he had noticed on Netflix that Americans share cookies at the holidays. But in Spain, when people die they just go to the church and then home. He knew in the US that people gather and eat things together when someone dies. So ‘it’s different here’. I know he was being earnest and wanted me to understand. But while I still didn’t get the funeral reference, I understood that next year I will not be making cookies for my neighbors.

Except for the lady across the hall, who was so happy she wrote us a card in Valenciano. It’s in cursive writing and, in Europe, cursive writing is different than what they taught us in the US and we’ve struggled to decipher it. So Jeff is going to take it to his final Beginner’s Computer class before the holiday break and ask for some assistance. I know it was positive because she put a smiley face after signing it.

But the balls were a hit at El Horno. There were hugs and coffee. At El Chino? The guy shut off his Spanish completely and was speaking full on Chinese. Walked in a circle, speaking so quickly, waving at the bag of cookies and finally took it like it was on fire. Then he handed me some wine and waved us out. I’m not sure if I should ever go back. I’m thinking a ‘Secret Santa’ or ‘White Elephant gift’ holiday party would cause so much trauma and mayhem here that they’d need days to recover. It’s Just COOKIES, people! I didn’t hand out uranium!

Today, I was determined to get back into the Christmas spirit so we went down to the big square where they have the tree and the ice rink. I love ice rinks and make sure I skate at the out door ice rink in any city I’m in at the holidays. It’s a must do. 

But it’s 65 degrees here. I went to buy my ticket (Jeff knows his limits and watched from the sideline). It’s cheap. 8 euros for 45 minutes of ice time, including skates. Amazing. But they also charged me 2 euro for gloves as ‘mandatory’. It’s 65 out. I could have been in shorts. But I paid and went up to the melted ice to slog through the one inch lake that was sitting on top of a bumpy rink. It took me two minutes to figure out that this wasn’t going to work but I stayed out there for another 15. It’s Christmas, damn it!

We had lunch and walked home. A little disappointed – if I’m honest. I’m really hoping that when we get to Ireland we’ll feel a bit more like Christmas. Maybe it’s the cookie thing, combined with the waking up in the middle of the night, but I’ve slid out of the spirit of the season. Tomorrow our bags will be packed so we can head to cooler climes. And to a place where at least I know the traditions and how not to step on cultural toes. Jeff, Em and I all have Irish DNA running in our veins. We’re spending nearly 3 weeks in a land where they like to celebrate with food (and drink). Whether its a funeral or Christmas. I bet if I handed a random stranger some cookies there, they wouldn’t be a stranger for long.

Oh well. I’ll get over it. It is what it is. But it did make me a little sad to think that our gesture of goodwill required people to pick up the phone and call our landlord. Like we’re errant children. Maybe next year we’ll head out of town a little earlier in December. Norway or the like. Jeff’s family is mostly Scandinavian. And I know they like cookies so we’d fit right in. And I would skip bringing my US cell phone, too.

Cookies – Numero Dos

We have our landlord and workmen coming today. So I needed to get up and get the Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls dipped. I couldn’t do it yesterday because I had other cookies on racks cooling, and my kitchen – being of the Barbie Doll House variety – counter space is at a premium.

Finally found a double boiler

Holy Moly! I forgot how much work it is to make these things. Kind of like childbirth. They’re no ordinary cookie. Mix up, dollop, put in oven and wait. I wish. These require finesse and patience. Something I have in short supply. I must apologize to my Mother here. I started out ok. But then I got tired – like a 5 year old. You’ll see in the photos they’re not quite up to the Candy Field standard. The uniformity is ok, but the chocolate pooling – to be avoided at all cost – is rampant. Seemingly done with abandoned.

Messy Chocolate Peanut Butter balls ala Kelli

But I figure they’re a representation of me. I spent the first 7 or 8 years of my life covered in mud. This is no exaggeration. The neighbors would tell you the same. My Mother could not keep me clean or sticks from my hair. So these balls might look a little wonky, and perhaps imperfect on the outside. But on the inside they’re sweet and they taste just as good as the perfect ones (with a little extra chocolate from the pooling – Bonus!).

Just Getting Started – This is not all of them

But as I was dipping, I was thinking back to Christmas’ past. From the time I was little until the 2000’s, my Mother made everyone in the family pajamas (jammies) for Christmas. We would open these on Christmas eve and sleep in them that night. And it did make for good photos the next day. My parents didn’t have a lot of money back then. My Mom made all my clothes growing up so they didn’t seem that special in those days.

But as I got older, I looked forward to those jammies. Mom would ask me to measure myself – in whatever city I was living in – and send them to her. Jammies would arrive with my Chocolate Peanut Butter balls before Christmas, like clockwork. I could count on it.

One year, my brother was filming a movie in London. He had to relocate his family during shooting and my Mom sent her usual balls and jammies (yes, I heard it) to them in the UK. Only that year she picked up a new fan. Tom Cruise and his family liked the balls, and the blue and white checked jammies. They wanted some too – as the story goes. Measurements were sent and my Mom whipped up jammies in my old bedroom and sent them off.

They were so sufficiently bespoke, that having a grocery store owner from Portland make ‘artisanal Christmas jammies’ said ‘Hollywood Cool’ that year. It’s been a secret all this time – but since it’s more than 20 years ago, I figure the statute of limitations has run out on it. And it’s not her only brush with fame.

My son, Nick, slept in nothing but grandma’s jammies from the moment he was born until he was 7 or 8. And then, just like that, she shut the spigot. No more jammies. I was aghast! How could this happen? I wanted to know.

‘There’s too damn many of you!’ my Dad explained in his own inimitable way.

And it was true. There were too damn many of us. Back then I was sure she had chemical help doing all the stuff she did. The woman still makes me tired and she’s nearly 80 now. But with 4 kids, spouses or significant others, many grand children and multiple great grand children, my Mother was tired and her hands weren’t holding up working the flannel. She had started to make them in the summer to keep up with demand. It had become too much. I wanted to blame Tom Cruise, as I do for all my other shortcomings in life #iblametomcruise but even I knew it was the fact that all of us kept procreating – so I tried to negotiate.

‘What if you just made jammies for the ‘Originals” I begged. ‘I mean – the rest of these people weren’t there in the beginning. The parents can buy store bought ones for the grand kids, etc. But the ‘Originals’. We deserve those jammies.’ 

But she was having none of it. The guilt would have killed her. She always tries to make everything so dammed equal. Ugh! So I’ve had no homemade jammies since then. But she did make one last white flannel nightgown – at my 97 year old grandmother’s request – right before she passed away a few years ago. I think it made us all feel good knowing grandma was wrapped up in the love my Mom put into that nightgown for eternity – we all knew that feeling our whole lives.

Now that Jeff is learning to sew – he has no idea that soon, very soon I’ll be hitting him with the ‘I don’t really want anything store bought this year. All you have to do is make me a pair of jammies for Christmas.’ I’ll look innocent but the truth is, when I bought him that sewing machine all those years ago, I anticipated this very scenario. Necessity is the mother of invention and when you lose one supplier – it justs requires a little patience – then Wamo!  The lesson here is ‘Always play the long game’ even if it takes more than a decade. Jammies are right around the corner for me – I can feel it. Eat your heart out, Mr. Cruise.

Fa La La La La…

Chopping nuts with my Great Grandmother’s nut chopper. Listening to the greats – Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra – singing the Christmas songs from my childhood about Santa, drummer boys, and SNOW!! Flour and powdered sugar everywhere, and cookies on every surface. It must be Christmas!

Mom’s recipes and GG’s nut chopper

Finding some of the ingredients have been a bit of a challenge. You can always tell how many recipes here might use certain things based on the size of the package. Finding powdered sugar at the local Mercadona was very difficult. Finally, I found it in these small bottles and the instructions show that it’s mostly just shaken on Santiago cake or the like. In the US, we buy powdered sugar by nothing smaller than a pound. Usually, I would buy it at Costco in 3 pound bags. When I took 3 pounds worth to the check out the woman actually stopped and looked at me before shaking her head and scanning the many small containers. She didn’t even bother trying to find out what it was for. I could almost hear her thinking ‘No wonder American’s are so fat.’

Powdered sugar in Spain. 

Here, powdered sugar comes in 300 gram containers. I have had to buy a food scale here to measure things. It’s a pretty common thing to use a food scale here. 

Baking the cookie recipes that have been made in my family for generations at Christmas is not optional. I’d be letting down the Field Family side if I attempted to get out of it. Jeff wouldn’t have cared, but I would know. So my traversing the length of Valencia, multiple times, for ingredients and supplies has been met with a ‘We need to go where now?’.

But he’s come along to carry the 10+ pounds of things I needed for the best cookies on the planet from the Taste of American store. As I said, I had already found my powdered sugar and then the guy at Taste of America just threw in 3 pounds of American powdered sugar for FREE. At that point I didn’t need it – now I have too much.

‘Why would he do that?’ I asked Jeff, who was schlepping it all home.

‘Are you kidding me?’ He said genuinely surprised, I was surprised. ‘You bought a carpet knife yesterday at El Chino and the guy gave you a free beer. It’s you. You get free stuff without asking.’

He’s right – I do. But I don’t need anymore powdered sugar- and we don’t need more random beers.

So I’m set. Now that I have all the ingredients I can bake the three mandatory cookies for the holiday season. Raspberry thumbprint cookies (Scottish shortbread with sesame seeds and jam), Russian tea cookies with pecans. And finally, the pis de resistance – the Chocolate Peanut Butter balls. People my Mom hasn’t really spoken to for decades – except a letter at Christmas time – know that staying in touch gets you chocolate peanut butter balls at Christmas.

Raspberry Thumbprint cookies – shortbread.

At our house, my Mom had an assembly line. My Dad is a perfectionist so he rolled and my Mom dipped them each in chocolate. We transferred and swapped out cookie sheets so they could keep going. Every surface in the kitchen and dining room would be covered in wax paper so that, night after night, they could do the balls and she could ship them all over the country before Christmas. 

Our kids ask for them every year and last week, my Mom shipped the balls out via FedEx. I can’t supply them to my family in the US from Spain, but will be sharing them with our neighbors and friends here. They don’t know what they’re in for. Eating them is like heaven. But making them with my kids was always the best. Ours were never as pretty as my parents but they tasted just as good. I don’t get to experience it with my kids anymore, but the smell of the ingredients coming together takes me back.

We’re heading out to spend the holidays with Emilie in Ireland. But, before we go, I’m glad I got to experience a little bit of tradition again this year. And to share it with our neighbors who have been so nice to us. Our coffee lady at El Horno on the corner. the people on our floor at home. Wonder what the guy at El Chino will do when I walk up to the counter and give him his box of cookies. It’s not a Cerveza Navidad, but after he eats these cookies, I’ll be getting a free 6 pack with my next purchase. I’m pretty sure about that.

Tonight, our house smells heavenly. It couldn’t feel more like home. It just goes to show you that the Christmas spirit isn’t in stuff we buy. Its in traditions, and family and friends. The most important ingredients of all.

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Jeff has a rich inner life. One I’m not always privy to. Periodically, he gives me glimpses into it. More now than in the beginning. Usually, it will start with ‘I’ve been thinking…’ or ‘I’ve been doing some research…’. And it means that he’s been thinking about, and finding ways to solve, whatever it is – for a long time. It will be only in that moment, that I’ll be clued in. I’ve always been supportive of whatever he wanted to do, and these days he clues me in earlier in his process than he used to.

When he wanted to learn to sew, back in the US, I bought him a sewing machine for Christmas and signed him up for classes at the sewing center in Issaquah. The gaggle of old ladies there were suspicious of him at first, but then he became their mascot or substitute grandson – who liked to sew. They were in heaven.

As seen at our usual Sunday Lunch spot in Valencia – The Black Turtle. Pretty much sums up our life philosophy

So, what happened this weekend shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, but it did. 

I was sitting on our new sofa taking practice test after practice test for my theory exam first thing on Monday morning. Jeff got up and came back in carrying his shoes and a backpack full of stuff. Clearly, he was getting ready to go somewhere, I asked him what was up.

‘I’m going to my class.’ he said – as though I had any idea what he was talking about.

Huh? ‘You’re taking a class?’ I had no clue what and where that would be and when he might have considered this.

‘I signed up for a beginners programming class via MeetUps’ and he kept putting on his shoes.

A beginners programming class? He’s made a career as a software engineer. He can whip up an application or optimize a data base in any language you choose. He’ll build you an app for your i device, tout suite. It’s like a brain surgeon taking Life Sciences 101 at a community college. Jeff hasn’t needed a beginner’s programming class, well, since the beginning of his career 25 years ago. It didn’t add up.

‘I don’t get it.’ I said – eyes narrowing.

‘Well, I gotta go, its an hour to get there, or I’ll be late,’ He leaned over and kissed me, grabbed his backpack and left. Like it was no big deal.

The silence in his wake was deafening. He’s not an ‘Affair’ kind of guy, not the least of which, because he’s a terrible liar. And even if he was, I can’t imagine how he could meet someone – we spend a lot of time together. Granted, maybe too much. ‘Do they have Tinder here?’ I wondered. But he had on an old shirt, and he wouldn’t have needed to take supplies in the back pack. Or would he? I don’t know the rules of etiquette on Tinder (this was the actual thread of my thought process). Maybe in Spain they wear special outfits. But I had to study for my test and I needed to focus on that. While still wondering what he was up to.

Later,I went to a play with a friend, before Jeff got back. She’d already bought the tickets and I did want to see Ken Watanabe in ‘The King and I’. Masterful performance. When I came in, he was sitting on the couch, smiling like a Cheshire cat. OK, maybe it was Tinder. 

‘Hey – how was your beginner programming class?’ I asked – using air quotes. I hate air quotes. Waiting to see if he would spin a good yarn. If he did, I’d know. His lips wouldn’t move.

‘Great!’ still smiling.

‘Learn something new, did you?’ I kept it casual but I was suspicious.

‘As a matter of fact, I did. I met some new people and I’m going back next week.’

Next week? Another beginning programming class? This was too much.

‘Like what? What did you learn?’ I was starting to form some hazy pictures in my mind. A matador costume and a bull mask. This would not end well.

‘Spanish.’ he said proudly. 

Again – huh? We had taken that disastrous Spanish immersion class when we first got here. He had declined the offer to go with me to my tutor, and the classes I took in the summer. But his Spanish was getting better – I had noticed it in Brazil, and since we’ve been back, he’s using what he has when we go anywhere. No longer afraid to stumble to communicate.

‘I don’t get it.’ The bull ring not yet fading from my mind.

‘Well, I’ve struggled to learn Spanish – in a regular language class. So I’m picking up some here and there. But then I thought – I know a lot of programming languages. So if I went to a beginner programming class, I would learn Spanish in the context of languages I’m already fluent in. And there’s context – something we didn’t have in that class we took.’

Huh? Red cape gone – mind blown! Of course he’s doing this. He’s been trying to solve the problem of learning Spanish in a way that makes sense to him, ever since the Spring. And this is what he’s landed on. It’s very Jeff.

‘What did they say when you introduced yourself.’ I wished I had been there.

‘They were a little confused why I was there. Everyone else said they were changing careers or learning to code for fun. I said I was there to learn Spanish and they seemed surprised. But I explained my theory, and I think they got it after halfway through the hour and a half class, all in Spanish, the instructor turned to me and asked if I understood what was going on. And I told him what they were talking about. He seemed pretty surprised that it was working.’

‘Afterwards, I talked to a few people and I offered to help tutor them for free, if they would help me with my Spanish. Kind of like an intercambio for geeks. At first, I think the instructor thought I was trying to move in on his students and poach them. But I told him that wasn’t what I needed. I just want to learn Spanish in my own way.’

I wanted to laugh, but it was such a perfect solution. And it was his solution. Kind of genius, really.

When we got married, Jeff was very firm on adding a pledge that we would always ‘surprise and delight’ each other. It was the only real thing he insisted on. And, after knowing him for nearly 20 years, I’m happy to report, he’s kept up his end of the bargain.

Happy Gratitude Day!

I’ve said it before. I don’t love Thanksgiving, for a host of reasons. But I’ll admit, it does feel weird to be walking around and it’s just another day in Valencia. It’s also weird that the ‘Black Friday’ signs are every where here. In Brazil the signs said ‘Black Day’, but its the same thing. Most retailers had a sale that has lasted all week. No ‘Destructor de Puertas’ here at 4 am on the Friday after Thanksgiving. There is no way the Spanish would get up early for that nonsense.

But in honor of the holiday I did cook a roast chicken and vegetables – we don’t like turkey. And I passed on my family recipe for Scalloped Potatoes to our oldest child. He’s clearly cooking up a feast in Boulder with his girlfriend and their cat. I was happy that someone in the next generation asked for the recipe.

While the chicken was in the oven, we ventured out and enjoyed a beverage and waited for it to cook. And we did our usual ‘What are we grateful for this year?’, that we always do. And with this being our first Thanksgiving in Valencia – a new country and a new city – we have plenty to be grateful for. So here goes:

I’m grateful we live here this year. Last year, it was still just beyond our reach. This year, we’re here, we’re settled. We’re home.

I’m grateful for all the people I’ve met who are part of my life now. Both in person and virtually. They’ve enhanced it in ways they can’t imagine, and I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I’ve needed to this year without them.

I’m grateful for letting go. Sometimes in life we let things build up. Old hurts or old baggage. Sometimes it takes us longer than we’d like to leave that stuff behind. No amount of compensation can speed up the process or grease the skids. I guess it takes as long as it takes. But I’m grateful I am making progress in that direction.

I’m grateful for old Friends. People we’ve known for years who are still in our lives. People who, no matter the miles, are still those we can count on. Who accept us for who we are – foibles, warts and all – and who know we will be there no matter what. And who will be there for us. There is comfort in that.

And, I’m grateful for Family. Both the one I grew up with, and Jeff and the kids; the one we made together. Families aren’t perfect. They can drive us crazy! But in the end, they’re ours and no one else knows us quite like they do.  But they love us anyway, and we love them.

My wish for you – all who read this blog – is that you know I’m grateful for you. Your suggestions and help has been invaluable over the last year. I hope you’re spending this day with people who make your life better. And that the next year brings many more blessings than the last. Happy Gratitude Day!

The Boob Tube

I’m not sure the genesis of the American expression ‘Boob Tube’ but my Dad used to call the TV that, mockingly when we were kids. Television in our house growing up, wasn’t something that was on most of the time, unless it was the news. And then it was usually news about the Vietnam war or Watergate. I spent most of my childhood up in a tree or building a fort. And I read A LOT of books.

But I grew up knowing who Walter Kronkite was. Or Frank Reynolds or Mike Wallace. If we watched sitcoms it was upstairs, when we got a second TV, with the sound low so my Dad couldn’t hear it. And music? Music wasn’t played in our house because my Dad was hard of hearing. I remember my best friend, Karen Taylor, next door talking about The Scorpions and I had no idea who they were – but I never told her that. She went to concerts I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to and she played actual records and had cassette tapes. Something I never owned.

It wasn’t until I could drive that I listened to the radio and got caught up. But my 1967 Dodge Dart – a hand-me-down car from my much older sister – had only AM radio. So I wasn’t listening to anything that could have been considered cutting edge. And cable TV? We didn’t have that. My parent’s didn’t get cable until we had all left the house, and when they did I am sure it was to watch more news and documentaries. Probably why I was one of the only kids in school who enjoyed the film strips and listened in history class.

As a result, I learned to love all things pop culture after 1984. As a freshman in college I dove into MTV, WHAM!!, Boy George, and anything and everything having to do with alternative music and film. I went to live shows and saw some of the greats! And TV and movies? Well, I became an aficionado. Finally, after a childhood of never knowing what my friends were talking about, I was right in the mix.

So moving to Spain has been interesting. Getting cable TV here isn’t really worth it because most of it’s in Spanish and, let’s face it, my Spanish is just crap. We do get digital TV over the air and when we change the SAP on some channels we can get content in original language. The good news is that we have no pharmaceutical commercials here. So I don’t have to wonder if I need Advantix or Wonderdrugulous. And if something else might be right for me that I’ll have to discuss with my Dr after learning that it will cause me permanent liver damage or turn me temporarily orange or result in ‘permanent death’. Whatever that is.

Our TV in Valencia comes almost exclusively from YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime. And we watch the news on the internet and use Chromecast – I guess my parent’s infused me with a love of information. We have HBO and Showtime and a lot of other Amazon channels that allow me to still see all my favorite shows, while enjoying additional content. I can’t miss Billions or Game of Thrones. But sometimes we watch shows we would never have back home, just because they’re available. CBS Sunday Morning is one of these.

It’s kind of like a sedative. Jane Pauley’s voice is melodious and comforting. The stories are like pablum and the content is mostly ‘old news’ in the age of my Google news feed and other apps on my phone. We laugh because they do a weekly calendar which so clearly gives their target audience away. This week they talked about Monday being the start of annual open enrollment for Medicare. And Friday being ‘National Osteoporosis Day’. So we’re the youngsters in the audience. But we can’t look away from it.

Today, I was watching the one from last Sunday. Again, mostly stuff I had seen before on Twitter, like 2 weeks ago. Mindless entertainment. But suddenly I heard the name of a town I haven’t heard on the news in 35 years. The town where I went to HS. There was the coffee shop where I have coffee with my Mom and my niece when I visit them. And it made me smile and tear up a bit.

I’ve always believed that kindness is the most noble of aspirations. In this time of upheaval, a little more kindness is sorely needed and most welcome. So today I thought I would share a little kindness with you all, by way of this heartwarming story from the place I called home while growing up. A place that is not the coolest town in the world (bet The Scorpions still don’t know where it is), and where life runs a whole lot slower. But where, for the right reasons, they’ll scare up a Batmobile and the high school band will still march down the street to celebrate one of their own. Enjoy!

The Adult Table

There comes a point in life when the only miles stones are the birthdays that end in zero. Having past the big ones of learning to drive, turning 21 or graduating from high school, my miles stones turned to others. My children’s first words or first steps. First days of school and finally graduating from high school. Emilie is the last one to do that and it’s coming up fast.

As a child, and the youngest of 4 kids, sitting at the adult table for family holidays was a big one for me. I had to wait until one of my older sibling left the house to get that privilege, and prove I knew how to put my napkin on my lap and keep my elbows off the table. And then when my eldest brother brought his family back home, while I was still in high school, I ended up back there with my nephews. By that point I didn’t mind. I had learned that they were infinitely more interesting than the adults.

So coming to visit my childhood home held no new milestones, just old memories. A boy I grew up with, and went to kindergarten with, is living back in his Dad’s old house down the street. He’s gutting it and and it’s gorgeous. Yesterday, as I was taking a chainsaw to my Mom’s back garden, he popped down with his granddaughter and chatted for awhile.

And then it happened. My Mom and our next door neighbor, Mrs. Taylor, invited me to sit with them on the front porch in the evening and watch the neighborhood go by. I say ‘Mrs. Taylor’ because she will always be that to me. My siblings started calling her by her first name decades ago, but it seems wrong to me somehow.

My Mom made a phone call and then she came out in the living room and asked me if I would like to sit with them. She explained the rules as we went out to commence our sitting.

‘Regina gets the good chair. I always make sure.’ Letting me know that while I’m an invited special guest to this party of two, I’m not quite a member of this club yet.

Mrs. Taylor came over and we hugged. It was so good to see her and sitting there the years peeled away. I heard about grandchildren and great grandchildren. And then my Mom started telling stories about relatives I never heard of who were hobbyist wooden castanet makers in the 1950’s. Such random stuff she had us laughing until my belly hurt.

Sitting here at the Portland airport waiting to join Jeff in Seattle for our final week in the US this Fall, I’m smiling. I’ve always been a person who embraced change, even sought it out. There’s a never-ending list of new things to see, do and learn in the world. Always new mountains to climb. But these past couple of weeks has been nice. Heading out into the unknown is exciting, but sometimes, just sometimes, taking a moment to touch where you come from is important too. And I think I’m happy I’m still not quite a permanent member at the adult table.


How Far I’ve Fallen

I have been visiting at my Parent’s house in Portland for a week now. I’ve eaten more in the last week than I usually do in a month. My Mom’s favorite phrase ‘Are you hungry? Wound you like xyz?’ rolls off her tongue like the those mythical Greek Sirens who tempted ancient sailors to wreck their boats on the rocks in the Cyclades. Except it’s my thighs that are being wrecked and, like Agamemnon, I can’t seem to resist.

I am very sure I’ll be unrecognizable to Jeff when we meet up at SeaTac airport late Friday night. It won’t be my body he won’t recognize. Even my Mother can’t fatten me up that quickly – no matter how hard she tries. No – it will be my brain that has dropped several IQ points in such a short span and it’s not hard to see how that happened.

Game Shows. I have been sitting in their living room watching their TV schedule. And it is THEIR schedule. ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ is on at 9. It’s ‘Redemption Week’ on ‘Deal’ – as insiders call it – so they’ve invited all the ex-Zonkers (what are those again?) back to redeem themselves and try to win the cash and prizes that alluded them the last time they were on.

‘The Price is Right’ comes on at 10 with the never ending ‘Come on Down!’. Afterwards we get showered and dressed so we can eat some more and go to the grocery store for more food. We come home and eat lunch. Then I take a nap from my carbohydrate induced food coma. When I wake up, I have a ‘snack’ before dinner.

Dinner will be served before ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ come on. They’re ‘Wheel Watchers’ so there will be codes to input and secret puzzles that allow us at home to feel like we’re in the game filmed in Studio City, California.

Every day, before you know it, you’ve spent the entire day eating and watching people select one of three doors or various sized boxes. Or guessing the price of Tylenol or a car, and incessantly jumping up and down. Then we eat some more and watch more guessing and jumping. Then it’s time to go to bed.

My Mother ran her own successful business for nearly 4 decades. So she’s no dummy. But that doesn’t make her immune from shenanigans. Wheel of Fortune is on a half hour earlier where my uncle (her brother) lives in another state. Every night he writes down the answers and calls my Mom and gives them to her before Wheel comes on here. I just found this out after several days of her shouting them out after only one letter has been revealed. I think my Dad believes menopause and osteoporosis makes you smarter – and louder. I think it just make you more wily. If they call me in Spain and tell me my Mom is running a gang of bank robbers, or a Speakeasy, I would believe it now.

‘Let’s Make a Deal’ is my least favorite game show. It requires no skill at all. There is nothing to figure out. No rules. Just smiling people taking more time to pick the envelope or curtain #2 than they took to choose their spouse, who is in the audience dressed as a Super Hero in adult Underoos. After a few days I asked my Mom how they can watch such a ridiculous show with people dressing up and making fools of themselves for nothing – usually.

‘I love it!’ Her eyes twinkling. ‘Until they decide to get really silly. Then it’s just stupid’ she says with a serious tone only a true game show aficionado could pull off.

Really? UNTIL they get ‘really silly’? I just watched a grown man dressed as a lumberjack, with a toy ax, battle a woman dressed as an angel for a free trip to Las Vegas! The show shoots in Los Angeles. They could just drive to Vegas by lunchtime if they left now.

But I have the lingo down. ‘Showcase Showdown’ and ‘Daily Double’ are part of my lexicon now. But there’s only so much room in my brain. I can’t seem to remember my Spanish mobile number by heart anymore and had to look it up. So I’ll have to leave here before my brain turns completely to mush. I think it will be just in time too. Cause I’m starting to schedule my feedings and remaining errands around The Big Deal of the Day. Ugh. I gotta get this monkey off my back.

You know I’m 52

I am 52 years old. After several days at my parent’s house I feel the need to state it out loud. In fact, I’ve already told other people this since I’ve been here. I know it sounds strange but it’s necessary.

In Valencia, or when I’ve lived in any other city, I never felt the need to announce my age to virtual strangers. It’s not because I look older or younger than I am. It’s because other people just assumed I was an adult that could chew gum and tie my own shoes. Or find my own way home. But when I come back to Portland, to the city and the house where I grew up, it’s essential. As a reminder, even to me.

We were checking out at the bike shop the other day and my phone rang. It was my Mother wondering where I was – we had been gone from the house for 2 hours. We spoke and I hung up and turned back to the person who was helping us. She had heard my end of the conversation.

‘I’m 52.’ I told her with a smile.

She laughed. ‘Yeah, I’m 54. My Mom still calls me and wonders where I am. She lives in San Francisco.’

We finished our business and went back to pick up my parents for lunch. They were graciously taking us out for good barbecue – something we can’t get in Spain. I drove because my Mom has cataracts. She drives when I’m not here but that seems to be irrelevant, because from the back seat she told me what to do the entire time.

Now, I’m not talking directions here. It was as if I was 15, just learning to drive and she was ensuring I didn’t hit anything and actually stopped at red lights.

‘Now, you’ll want to slow down here and look to your left because traffic can come from there. Then you’ll want to look over your right shoulder because they’ll be merging traffic. Make sure you’re getting over but not too far over and increase your speed.’

Jeff was sitting next to her in the back. I could see his face in the rear view mirror and he was laughing so hard, knowing what I was thinking, he couldn’t look at me in mirror as his face turned bright red. My jaw was hanging open. Incredulous.

‘I’ve been driving for awhile now – you know. I got this.’ I told her.

‘Oh I know, but this area can be tricky.’ she told me seriously.

We got the restaurant and sat down. I tried not to say anything and Jeff kept his eyes glued to the menu. I looked over and my Mom was reading her menu when I noticed that her glasses were missing one of the lenses. I pointed it out to her.

‘Well, no wonder. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t see.’ she told me.

I sighed. Now I couldn’t be upset. Now I was more worried than frustrated. How she’s driving with her vision the way it is baffles me. It’s so bad she didn’t know she was missing a lens. I think she was telling me what to do and how to get there from memory.

But being here and being babied (cause I am the youngest in my family) has it’s upside. Before I arrived she had called me for special requests and stocked all my favorite comfort foods from childhood. Green jello and pears – always the go to when I was sick as a kid. She made spare ribs and her famous coleslaw. I say famous because it’s in the Nordstrom Family Cookbook sold in their cafe’s around the country under ‘Field Family Coleslaw.’ When I presented her with a copy of it for Christmas one year she was pretty happy. I made sure she got the attribution. This morning I snuck down and ate it at 4am. It’s just that good.

And she’s cooking up bacon and maple sausage every morning and I’m eating like a gluttonous king. An extra 5lbs will be heading back to Valencia with me I am very sure. So perhaps being 52 this week isn’t so important. Maybe it’s more about taking all the concern and care on board and cherishing it. Because I know it won’t be here forever. Someday I’ll wish my Mom was there to tell me how to drive her car and worry that I’m not home. And when that day comes I’ll whip up a batch of her coleslaw and say a little prayer. Grateful that even at my age, she still worried about me.



A Special Treat

We are continuing to checking things off our lists. This trip was really all business and we’ve been making a plan for months now. All those little things that we would buy in the US, and Oregon more specifically (no tax), that we can’t easily get back home in Valencia.

Jeff had ordered some recumbent bike parts but when we went to the store to pay for them and pick them up, the store was closed and they didn’t answer their phones. Booo! So we needed a plan B and fast. Luckily, we’re in the recumbent bike/trike capital of the world. We found a place in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood of Portland and headed down there to see what they had. Bonanza!

Recumbent pdx – is amazing and they have trikes that made even me think of converting to reclining cycling. The store was packed, literally, to the ceiling with trikes of every stripe. Jeff was hopeful. And the shop dogs were friendly too. But the real gem of the store is Janet, one of the owners. She was incredibly helpful right out of the gate, found what we needed, and then took us down to the basement and showed us all their stock and work shop.

Janet and her husband are transplants from Evanston (near Chicago) 7 years ago. They’re semi-retired and this is their hobby and passion. Take your pick. But what is even weirder is that Janet is from San Francisco originally and after comparing notes on where we’d lived there, found out we have mutual friends from my days at Nordstrom Corporate in Seattle. It really is a small world.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. Once she found out we were visiting from Spain and had a very limited time to gather all the parts and pieces Jeff required, she was all over us to take a ride.

‘These trikes are just sitting here. Lets go for a ride.’

We hadn’t even considered that when walking into the shop. But Jeff had spotted some trikes he had always wanted to try out. ‘Why not?’. But I had never ridden a trike so Janet gave me a little tutorial, picked out some helmets and we were off. We rode down through the neighborhoods of my childhood. I hadn’t been in Ladd’s Addition in 30 years and it was still as lovely as ever. The trees and the rose garden traffic circles were still in bloom. Only in Portland would you see the homeless people who camp in the rose gardens doing yoga.

We rode down to the new Tillicum Bridge that opened 3 years ago for cyclists, foot traffic, and some mass transit. No cars allowed. And the bike trails to get there and back are equipped with their own bike lanes completed with green signal triggers for cyclists. I’d never seen that before. We had a blast! And I learned why Jeff loves his recumbent trike so much. Its zippy and maneuverable and a great workout! And it’s soooo fun.

The views didn’t disappoint and it was great to see how the neighborhood there has changed, but also stayed the same. Janet was a wonderful tour guide but our time was limited. We went back to the shop up a long hill that was surprisingly easy to climb. She got us checked out. We spent ALOT of money but left smiling. The best kind of shopping.

I was almost sad to say goodbye. Meeting people unexpectedly that instantly become friends is like that. And so are the best experiences. The gems that fall, out of the blue, into your lap. It’s what makes waking up and greeting the day so fun. Always so many possibilities.