Leader of the Pack

When we left the US in 2018, we had to leave our cats, Lucy and Clubber. The best cats, ever. We cried when we said goodbye. When we would visit my parents, Lucy would follow me everywhere. Emilie and I had rescued her from a shelter at six weeks old.

Clubber is a polydactyl cat. She has a thick undercoat, a blunted club-like tail, and huge feet with a total of 26 toes. The breed came to the US on ships from Wales. They are swimmers. And they are the best mousers you will ever encounter. We got Clubber from a strange family who listed her on Craigslist because they thought she was too weird. The Dad threatened to feed her to a neighbor dog. Our beautiful Golden Retriever, Perkins, had died and Lucy wandered our house crying. Jeff was worried about her as Perkins had mothered her from six weeks old. They slept together, cleaned each other.

‘Lucy is depressed. She needs a friend.’

He contacted the family, who lived two hours south of us. We stood in their driveway and they opened the garage door. Clubber ran out and into Jeff’s arms. They took the $100 he was holding and went into the house. My Dad was in a physical rehabilitation center not far away, and he loved cats. So we smuggled her in and he lit up. Clubber is an amazing cat.

She loves water and would shower with me. If I couldn’t find her in the house I just had to turn on the kitchen sink and I could hear her running. Water is her joy and achilles heel.

We didn’t even consider flying the cats here. We flew them from Seattle to Phoenix one Spring and Lucy was never the same. She cried and hid at our house in AZ for two weeks. It felt like twenty+ hours in a crate on multiple flights would break her for good. We drove them from Arizona to my parents house in Portland over the course of three days to reduce the potential trauma. I wasn’t putting her through flying again. I still miss them both.

Not having a cat or a dog for the years we have lived in Spain was difficult for me. Most especially because we have been here alone. No family or friends from back home. Yes, we have made friends here. Lovely friends. But, no furry little creatures with unconditional love to curl up on my lap, or go for a walk.

When we moved to the farm from Valencia, we were greeted by Mr Sir. Or Señor. Our neighbor, Marie Carmen’s cat. He adopted, first Jeff, then me. We cared for him through scrapes. Some serious. Even visiting the vet with him last winter. But after I left for my wintery Camino last March, Jeff never saw him again. And neither has Marie Carmen. But one of her barn cats was pregnant. And in July, Marie Carmen handed me LuLu after I mowed her lawn. LuLu is a combination of Lucy, Clubber and Señor Sir. We are pretty sure she’s his daughter. She has the vocalizations and temperament of Lucy. And will fly through the air when playing, just like Clubber. She sits on the edge of the bath tub when I shower or take a bath.

As I have mentioned before, getting a kitten vaccinated, de-wormed, and spayed here is like an act of god. It was a two and a half month process.

Finally, we got LuLu completed and she is right as rain. A European pet passport means we can take her with us on vacation throughout the Schengen Ha! Mostly, it means if she decides to vacation on her own again, and gets lost, they can identify her and call us. She was going crazy after two months in the house trying to protect her from all the trawling tom-cats in the area. Jeff and I had coated all our furniture in ant-cat scratch plastic panels. But she was starting to find ways around them. Time for her to venture outside, once again.

We love LuLu. But I have also wanted a dog. For years. Living in Valencia was tough. It’s the dog capital of the world. Everyone has a dog there. It was like living outside a candy store and you weren’t allowed inside. But our landlord didn’t allow pets.

We’ve had Galician dogs who visited the food truck on a regular basis. I kept treats for them and they learned to come to the door with sad eyes. But they never stayed. Then, I started looking at rescues online. We prefer to rescue. There are so many dogs that need homes. But I also have to consider that I can’t have a dog of unknown temperament. I need one who is well socialized to strangers. And will fit in well with all the Pilgrims coming and going. Every day.

Then, there is the problem that so many shelters don’t want to respond to a foreigner inquiries. Over the past year this happened so many times. Even after I filled out the questionnaire. So, I did what I always do. I worked my community connections. And by this, I mean I told everyone I met in town that I was looking for a puppy. Including the vet during LuLu’s visits.

Jeff wants a Mastin (mastiff). I didn’t really care. I just wanted a friendly breed (or combination of breeds) who will be my buddy, and like Pilgrims. Strangers. In other words, I’m not looking for security. Just a friend. Then, the other night we got a call from our insurance agent in Melide. She has four dogs and three cats. She’s the one who rescued the hedgehog and asked us to release it on the farm. A kinder soul doesn’t exist. Monica is a foster parent for animals through a shelter in A Coruña. And they have a litter of puppies that just came in. Would I be interested? What?!? Is she crazy? Of course!

Monica made the introduction to the rescue for me. I filled out the questionnaire. Then, we reached out to the foster mom who has all the puppies and we drove up there yesterday to Sada and met them.

A face not just a mother could ❤️

I am happy to introduce you to Fergus! He is our newest addition. A rescued black lab puppy. Or he will be next week. This week he will be vaccinated, chipped, and de-loused. I will pick him up when they call with the green light and his pet passport.

After Jeff and I were approved as his new parents, we drove to the big pet supply store in Marineda City and spent a million dollars on pet supplies so he will feel welcome. Including an anti-anxiety bed which is all the rage now, and keeps dogs that are in transition calm. Jeff is buying him some doggles (dog goggles) so he can go with us on our trike rides. We want to train him to be comfortable going on adventures with us. There are riding trails all over Asturias that we want to explore.

I have four months to train Fergus and socialize him before we open again. Basically, to spend every waking moment with him. Which is just fine with me. And I know LuLu will grow to love him, too. I’ve learned how to add Animal Rescue Mom to my list of How-to’s-in-Spain. And our family feels complete. Ok, maybe not. Marie Carmen just came by. She has a couple more barn kittens that need homes. And, if I’m honest, Fergus will not be our last dog. Like him, it seems I’m a pack animal at heart.

Galician Backroads

Yesterday, we headed into Lugo to collect our new NIE cards. At last. 10 minutes in and out at the policía nacional. No waiting. It would have taken even less time but the guy’s computer was being perezoso – lazy. 🤣 I told him we were unconcerned.

We had a list of things to do in Lugo. After receiving our new cards, we made our way to our bank so they could stop freaking out about us not having new cards. Luckily, in six months we can apply for permanent residency. We have to have lived in Spain legally for five years – can you believe it has been this long?!? And we can’t have been out of the country for more than ten months total during that time. Thanks to Covid, it isn’t even close. We will easily meet the qualifications.

After completing all our errands in Lugo, we decided to head south to the small town of A Rua. It’s about 60kms west of Ponferrada, nestled in the Ourense wine country. And it sits on the very picturesque rio Sil. The drive reminded me of driving over Stevens Pass and down to Leavenworth on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I know people travel to New England to see the Fall colors. They are gorgeous. But this part of Ourense is equally stunning. Perhaps, even more so. The wine leaves turned bright red, and the yellow on this beautiful day were like gold rustling in the wind. I will be fishing on this river. I can guarantee it. Fly-fishing heaven.

We weren’t there for the scenery, per se. But it was an added bonus. We needed to visit the tractor dealership. Surprise! But I wasn’t complaining.

I have a penchant for old farm equipment. Perhaps it sprang from visiting my grandparents on their sheep farm when I was little. We would drive down from Portland to Lacome on a road we called The Rollercoaster Road. It went up and down so rapidly and had covered bridges at the bottom of each very steep dip. My Dad would drive really fast in our old American car, packed with four kids and a black lab. He’d hit the bottom and practically fly through the old wooden covered bridges (ala The Bridges of Madison County) and we would cheer. The dog didn’t like it.

Yesterday, I looked for covered wooden bridges. But apparently they are not a Galician thing. We drove along the river through vineyard after vineyard. Jeff was happy to see whitewater.

‘I could kayak that river. Nothing too difficult. Class 2+ , maybe.’

I was happy to see the spark in Jeff’s eyes. Giving up his kayaks when we moved to Spain was rough for him. He didn’t speak for the entire day after he helped load them up onto the guy’s car and shut the garage door. Perhaps he will start looking for a new boat 🛶 to paddle.

We arrived early to A Rua. The shop wouldn’t open for another hour. So we decided to explore a bit. A Rua is on the Camino Invierno – The Winter Way. It’s an alternative from Ponferrada to Santiago. The crowds walking from Sarria can be brutal in summer. Three thousand + people a day. Hence my business. But the Invierno is a nice alternative. And yesterday’s visit made me want to walk it. Such incredible scenery. September/October would be the perfect time for the weather and to see the leaves begin to change. But it’s also The Crush. And this region would be in the thick of the grape crush at that time of year. The smell would be ambrosia. I remember it well from living in No Cal wine country.

As a side trip for Pilgrims with a little extra time – The Ruta do Viño Valdeorras runs through this area. The wine trail! I love it! Jeff and I were talking on the way home. Perhaps we can rent a large passenger van and gather some friends together. Start in Cacabelos and Villafranca del Bierzo. Jeff doesn’t drink wine so he would drive. And we could eat and taste our way from there. Then, up the rio Sil valley to Ourense, where there are two Michelin starred two-star restaurants. A fun weekend of good food, good wine, and good friends. Something to plan.

Finally, we went back and met the tractor people. They were very nice. My Spanish comprehension is getting really good. I interpreted for Jeff and he was very grateful afterwards.

‘You did really well. I was surprised how well. I couldn’t have gotten through that without you.’

‘It’s the food truck.’ I told him. ‘Sometimes I don’t want to assume you don’t understand things so I don’t try to translate, because now things seem so much easier for me.’

Although, the Pilgrims aren’t speaking tractores to me, my ability to hear rapid-fire español is now finely tuned. And, without a mask, I can understand what they are saying. I’m also less shy about asking for clarity. Another thing I have noticed about myself now is that I listen more broadly. That is to say, I don’t try to hear every word and translate it in my head. Which can be a recipe for falling behind in a conversation. I don’t know how else to describe it. If I am unsure I understand, I will say it back, either the same way or in my own español. They will either confirm my understanding, or restate, or clarify more simply. Even Jeff is less intimated now that I can help with communication.

It was strange. When the tractor people asked where we were from and we told them Palas de Rei, they looked at us funny. Then, after an hour the salesman warmed up. They told us they know the people who sold us our tractor. Ironically, our tractor came from these guys. He smiled when he showed us the even smaller one the scammer tried to get us to take, before we got a lawyer. ‘You didn’t want this one.’

Then he pointed to the one we got – which was still smaller than the 40hp the guy sold us. Apparently, the one we ended up with had to be purchased from this place in A Rua – as the dealer near our house didn’t have it and had quoted us the wrong price. We had a contract. He couldn’t afford to buy the 40hp tractor for what he had committed to. And instead of coming clean about it he tried to dodge and weave and deflect. A little honesty and communication would have done wonders.

So, the tractor guy in A Rua had heard about us. The crazy difficult Americans with an Abogado- lawyer. But, by the end, he was very happy to meet us. He told us what he could get and what he couldn’t. Some things available in the US are not sold in Spain. Never mind. We appreciated him being upfront. And he will get all of our future tractor related custom.

We left and drove towards Ponferrada. Through craggy mountains and looong tunnels. Before it got dark by Villafranca and hitting the A6, west towards Pedrafita do Cebreiro and home. But before I sign off today, I will leave you with this little video of driving in a village in rural Spain. Jeff barely bats an eye anymore on these small, narrow roads. For context, all of these are two way streets. Even the village cat knows that.

NOTE: I’m shortly starting a Galician Backroads series for cool, little known places – like A Rua – throughout Galicia for those who have asked me at the food truck for recommendations. ‘I’m almost done with my Camino. I have 3/4/5 days until my flight home. What should I do/see?’ Hopefully, this will help folks develop an itinerary that works for them. All suggestions welcome. Stay Tuned.

Grateful Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving 🦃🍁🍽 to all the Americans in the crowd! A day to sit, eat, watch sports, and finally, to remember that we all have something- often many things – to be grateful for.

I will admit, it is weird to spend American holidays outside the country. No one here, except the Americans we know, will mark the day. Maybe because of Covid for the past few years, but more and more we skip US holidays and stick to celebrating the Spanish ones.

Yesterday we did a big shop. The place was crawling with people. Jeff laughed.

‘They’re all stocking up for tomorrow’ in reference to American Thanksgiving, ‘and they don’t even know it.’

In the US, the grocery stores are packed the day before Thanksgiving. As though all of us forgot about it until the last minute. I was always right there with them. Even if I had the Thanksgiving meal catered. Piling two shopping carts full at Trader Joes with the help of Emilie and Nick. As though we were Pilgrims filling the larder for a long winter instead of just the four days of the long holiday weekend. Games, sports and tree trimming. Then, Jeff and I would get up at 4am the following morning for Black Friday and buy all our Christmas gifts before breakfast. It was so FUN!!

We would get the big thick local Seattle Times and go through the ads with the kids. They would get excited, too. Then, Jeff would map out a plan so we could shop strategically the following morning. No backtracking. No time wasting. No extra steps. In and out. Like a bank robbery but with more industrial engineering thrown in.

It wasn’t the deals. It was the hunt. The gamification of shopping, before that was a thing. When we entered a store we split up. We each had a list for that store and there would be no overlap. And no talking. We would recap later.

Usually, there was a break to be had halfway through. At the Starbucks at the Crossroads mall. Near the Big Five. We would have stopped there for some replacement basketballs or some other piece of sporting equipment for the kids. Filler gifts. They played A LOT of basketball and soccer. Then we would forge ahead.

Finally, after the Range Rover was filled to the gills and the roof rack could hold no more, we made our way to The Pancake House in Redmond for breakfast. This was where the recap would commence over coffee and our favorite breakfast foods.

‘Did you see that guy in such and such?’

Or

‘Thank goodness I ran. Got the last Nook on the shelf!’ That was the year eReaders were born.

It was our thing. We’d be home before the kids woke up. Jeff would unload the gifts into his shop in the garage. Every year Jeff and I looked forward to this. And every year we went. Sure, we still bought them other things from Nordstrom or REI. New skis or snowboards. Or some glittery UGH (not a typo – I mean this) boots. But we really looked forward to the morning after Thanksgiving, every year.

This Thanksgiving won’t be like those. I know this because we were summoned to the vet to finally get LuLu spayed and chipped today. At long last. It’s only taken two + months. So I took her in. An hour later she was out and going home. Such a weird thing. Months of hoops to jump through to get her spayed. We were turned away at one point last week because they waited so long she went into season, and they would do it until she stopped baying at the moon and climbing the walls. Then, today, a ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ type of surgery experience. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Good thing I put the honey-mustard roasted turkey in the oven before I went. I am not sure I could have gotten up to prep it if I waited. LuLu is in bad shape sitting here with me. Crying and making pigeon noises and shaking. They didn’t send us home with any pain meds or anything. It just seems wrong.

Heading to the vet, it was clear that Galicians don’t know it’s American Thanksgiving. The streets were just another Thursday. But Black Friday is a huge thing here in Spain. Deals and adverts galore! People take the day off work. And Jeff and I will be out in the fray tomorrow. Like moths to a flame. Do we need anything? Not really. Who knows if we will even buy anything. Maybe some new toys or treats for LuLu. But Black Friday morning is our tradition. Silly, yes. But we have each other. The most important thing to be thankful for.

Already in the Holiday Spirit!!☃️🎄🎁🎅

It’s Christmas time! Wait! ✋ Before the haters in the US start the It’s not Christmas until we celebrate Thanksgiving! thing, remember that we don’t have Thanksgiving in Spain. Here, after All Saints Day on November 1st ticks by, Christmas time in Spain is cleared for landing.

I don’t mind this, at all. Festive cakes, cookies and candy start filling the stores. The tables and bins piled high with these in the local shops puts the US to shame. And the bakeries are filled with gorgeous mouthwatering delights. Not that I can eat any of these things but I can take a deep breath and smile as I enter and order a coffee.

Today, I will be putting up our Christmas tree. In the US, we used to put up our tree on Thanksgiving. Not being a big football watching family, it helped fill the time as the turkey was in the oven. And, hey, I would be grateful for that tree, too. The last decade we had a fake tree, after The Great Christmas Tree Boondoggle of 2008. That year Jeff, Emilie and her friend, MacKenzie, went out, selected and chopped down a tree in our forest. Jeff dragged it into our house – I am still unsure how he got it through our double front doors and through the foyer – into the very large living room with very high vaulted ceilings. The tree didn’t fit – an understatement. The top scraped the ceiling and we had to have it repainted in January. Little MacKenzie pulled on my sleeve ‘Um. Kelli. I think it might be too big.’ I laughed out loud. ‘You think?’ It was so wide we had to move all the furniture to a weird angle in the corner for the next six weeks. But Emilie was so proud of the tree we kept it. Jeff lashed it to the bannister upstairs with climbing ropes. To make it cat-proof. Not that it would have moved, it was so wedged against the ceiling. We had to cut off large branches at the bottom to get presents under it. It took a few days for it to heat up and wake up the bees in the beehive nestled in the branches. Yup! It was an interesting Christmas season that year. Hence the fake (I prefer environmentally, less lethal) Christmas trees henceforth.

But nothing gets one in the Christmas spirit quite like a Christmas movie. There are some classics, for sure. Jeff and I decided it was time to search through our streaming services and fire one up. But first, we needed to slip into our warm flannel jammies and make some hot chocolate with a little Bailey’s, some Gran Marnier and a splash or three of Jamison’s. Then, we snuggled up in front of the fire and discovered one of the best Christmas movies – EVER.

Exclusively on Apple+, Spirited is the new Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds Christmas movie. A shined up modern-day Dickensian tale from the perspective of the ghosts. Hilarious from the first moment. In the style of a great broadway show – which it will undoubtedly be. Singing, amazing dance numbers. A Pull-at-your-heartstrings story, of course. And two comedy geniuses doing what they do best.

‘But, Kelli. I don’t have Appletv.’ You are saying right about now. ‘The only person I know who does is that mean old lady next door.’

Well, all I have to say to that is Start Baking! Venture over to her house with those Christmas cookies and a thermos of adult hot chocolate- see recipe above – and inquire as to her health. Then ask for her expertise on her Appletv. ‘Might I see it?’ Hold up the hot chocolate and request a couple of mugs. Or, better yet, have brought your own. Then plop yourself on her sofa and fire up Spirited. You’ll be very glad you did. She’ll be glad you did. It will be just like that scene with the old man in Home Alone. He wasn’t so bad when you got to know him. You might discover she’s not so bad, either. And, let’s face it, what could be more Christmas movie-ish than that?!

So – even with it being before Thanksgiving in the US – I will cross that dreaded line to be the first person this year to wish you and yours a Very Merry Christmas 🎄🎁 and Happy Holiday Season. May all your wishes come true. With a prayer for peace and healing on earth, and goodwill towards all. 🙏 In the wise words of Tiny Tim – God Bless Us, Every One.

Everything Old is New, Again

This week is like a monsoon at our house. It is raining so hard that bringing the cat 30 meters from the barn to the house left Jeff soaked through his jacket. My knight in shining armor didn’t want me out in that. The news here calls it an ‘atmospheric river’. I call it the rain train.

Being from the NW corner of the US, we were prepared for the next few months. Grey skies and rain. Tomorrow it will be in the single digits during the day and night. Jeff has kept the fire stoked as I am bundled on the sofa drinking copias amounts of hot tea and bottles of water. But I had done my winter weather prep months ago.

A Blast From the Past

When we were preparing to move to Spain in late 2017, we had to dispose of most of our household items. This is more difficult than it would seem. No matter how hard you try, friends and family don’t always want your old stuff. Even for free!

That Thanksgiving, Ryan and his partner, Olga, and their cat, Lapa, drove down from the University of Colorado at Boulder to spend the holiday with us in Arizona. And we were thrilled to see them, of course. But we were even more excited because we could fill their car to the brim and send them home with things they didn’t have, and those we needed to swiftly dispose of. We knew Ryan would appreciate it all.

Jeff has always been a video game person. I am not. But from the time he was in high school he has purchased every game system that has come to market. And he and the family would play them. At Christmas, Jeff made sure that every year there was a new system under the tree from Santa. Complete with games. Sometimes, he had to go to great lengths to acquire them. Crossing his fingers that some girl who worked at a Walmart in Atlanta would actually pull it off the shelf on Black Friday morning and send it to him. The last one anywhere in the US. Ryan’s face that year was priceless. Santa out did himself.

The only ones I ever played were the dancing games like Dance Dance Revolution- psst…I was absolutely awful. And Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and Wii Fit. I lost ten pounds playing Wii Fit. And I endured hours of family humiliation with my guitar and drum playing. And singing. Uff! My children were brutal critics, for sure.

That last US Thanksgiving, as we loaded Ryan’s VW Bug – a classic college students car – with a tv and all those video game systems and games, I teared up. This surprised Jeff. But those were good memories. It made it real. We were going. Leaving everything, and everyone, behind. We had to let go of things and people. Jeff even gave Ryan his Atari from 40 years ago. It’s probably worth a zillion $$ on Ebay now, but I know he still has it.

When we landed in Spain Jeff began his re-acquisitions of new gaming systems on European electricity. Our old game systems wouldn’t have worked here, anyway. I understood his need to do this. Part of his comfort zone. And he played these online with friends in the US during pandemic lockdown. It helped him get through it emotionally. I don’t play any of these because I know myself. I’m rubbish at video games. Particularly because you have to care. I don’t. I can’t. But then, it changed.

The Old is New

We were recently reminiscing about sitting in our home theater room when the kids were younger, crushing Rock Band and laughing hysterically. Those were fun times. Especially on gloomy winter days. Where we lived in Washington state got a lot of snow. You needed entertainment when you got snowed in for five days.

‘They don’t make game systems like the Wii anymore.’ Observed Jeff. ‘ so many first person shooter games now. It’s too bad. We used to have a lot of fun with that when the kids were younger.’

But he forgot. This is Spain. In Spain, all new electronics arrive ages after the US. And people in Spain don’t discard stuff like we do in the US. They keep it. This country isn’t as much of a disposable society as we are used to. And, they trade things in for new stuff. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

So, for Jeff’s birthday I found a place in Lugo that sells new and used game systems and games. And I went there to browse. They marked me right away as a fish out of water. A crazy like a fox fish out of water, more like. 😉 A mixed metaphor. Never mind. And what did they have? The entire Wii system universe. Ok, not the Rock Band or Guitar Hero instruments, but everything else. I bought the lot of it for a whole €90, as the guy looked at me funny. Something tells me I’m not his usual gaming customer. And because this is the EU, they have to guarantee a fifteen year-old gaming system for two years. Crazy. I left my details with him, in case they ever get the instruments.

So, we are set for the winter. All the Rain Trains to come. Kickin’ it old school. I’ll be fit. Or, at least Wii Fit. And we can while away the dark hours ski jumping, doing yoga, and the like. Dancing to the hits from 2008. And grudge matching Wii tennis and bowling. All while smiling, remembering happy times from the past, and making new memories for the future.

A Cure For The Sofa Saga

I know that the first step is admitting you have a problem. OK. I admitted it years ago. But that didn’t help much. No, it’s not a problem with alcohol or drugs. It’s a problem with…well, sofas. Bear with me. I am a sofa person. Well, a sweater, shoes, coats, and sofa person. You don’t want to know how many sweaters, shoes, and coats I own. But sofas are also a problem. And it didn’t end when we moved to Spain.

People online talk about moving to Spain and perhaps shipping some items. Fine. I did this. Boxes of shoes and clothes. Some kitchen stuff I wish I hadn’t. Family heirlooms and momentos. But, unlike most people, I shipped a couch. What I didn’t think about at the time is that I would need something to sit on while I waited for my sofa to sail the high seas, slowly, ever so slowly, making its way to me in Valencia. There are a few early adopters of this blog who remember The Great Sofa Saga of 2018. And it was a saga.

While we waited for our stuff to arrive I had to purchase a filler couch. We needed something to sit on during that five month wait. It was probably my least favorite couch I have ever owned or sat upon. But, no matter. I only needed it for five months. I could deal. This sofa would eventually end up in the Espacio Creativo, anyway.

When the illustrious day of the American sofa’s arrival finally came, I learned that it was 1/2 inch short of fitting through the front door of el Compartimento. There was not enough pushing that would overcome the shortfall in the width of the door. No matter, we would crane it into the house, as so many people do. But it was 1/4 inch too wide. I called the landlord and asked if we might pay for the removal of the window but he wasn’t keen. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. That sofa had everything going for it. Down-filled cushions. A wide seat. The fabric was dog-proof. The perfect couch for us. But it was not to be. We moved it into our parking space in the garage below, as we had no car and nowhere else to store it. Did this mark us out as strange? Stranger than our neighbors already thought we were? Of course. Finally, some Americans took it. To be fair, they couldn’t get it through their front door, either, and had to have it craned up 10 floors. Quite a spectacle.

So I had to move the filler couch out and purchase a new couch, which I did. This couch became known as the slouch couch. Jeff dubbed it thus during the pandemic when we spent way too much time sitting on the sofa and it didn’t hold up well. Soon, we both avoided it. It looked good but was a back killer. Ugh. So when we moved to Galicia, the slouch couch did not join us. Neither did the filler couch. Wallapop (the Craigslist of Spain) ensured it. And when we got to the farm there was already a sofa, but it was not to my taste. Marie Carmen made quick work of carting it away. Again, heavy sigh. I had no couch.

Let’s take a moment and count. One American sofa moved to Valencia by container ship. Two sofas purchased in Valencia. Another one as gift with purchase of our house in Galicia. And yet, still I had nothing to sit on.

So, I began a search for a sofa in Galicia. Most sofas are made when you order them. You can’t just point to one and have it delivered, unless it’s IKEA or a similar place. I did not want an IKEA couch. We toured many a showroom across the region and found one that allowed me to customize a couch.

‘I want it to have the frame of this one,’ I said, ‘but the back of that one, with the fabric of the other one. And the cushion style of the one over there. But different feet in a different wood and color.’

The shop owner’s eyes spun as he took notes, and three and half months later they delivered the sofa. Well, a sofa. Not really the one I wanted nor custom ordered. I wasn’t trying to be difficult as I sat on my new sofa with my feet not touching the floor and my legs going numb. And, I was pissed-off. They had constructed it with ‘upgrades’. Things I never asked for nor would have wanted in a thousand years. The delivery men tried to convince me this was better. I was having none of it. It looked like a giant upholstered marshmallow. I find sofas in Spain are gigantic. So many apartments are rather small. How they build sofas that take up the entire living space and think this is a good thing is beyond me. If I had people over we would all be sitting or lounging on this giant marshmallow, unable to look at each other.

The owner of the shop came out to the house to see if he could make adjustments. When he walked in the door I could see the surprise on his face. Even he wouldn’t own this thing. He offered to let us keep it until we found another sofa, but I declined. I wanted it gone. But now, we were yet again without places to sit.

I bought some chairs to fill the gap, but we needed a sofa. The search continued and it was starting to become almost comical. But I wasn’t laughing. Finally, in September, I took a day off and Jeff and I went into Santiago to have lunch and pick something up from El Corte Ingles on our way home. We cut through the furniture department, as celestial choirs began to sing. I wondered if it was just musak playing over head, because it was Santiago, but no. Just then, a beam from heaven shone upon The Sofa. The one I have been searching for lo these many years. Well, more than four years, anyway. After five misfires, there she was. I almost cried.

I sat down and petted her. Then I looked up at Jeff and smiled. He just shook his head, but got out his wallet. Anything to stop this ongoing Sofa Saga. We were told it would be here by December 24th. But, as El Corte Ingles is known for, they surprised and delighted us today and delivered it nearly six weeks early. And it’s perfect. Just the right dove-gray color. I like a grey-scale, and then pops of color in the soft furnishings like pillows, rugs, draperies, and throws. Then you can refresh as trends and color palettes change. Plus, it’s a classic. And it comes complete with no slouch. Even Jeff, who had no opinion about anything related to fashion or furnishings, likes it.

I am happily sat here on the new sofa, recovering from the flu with my waffle throw that I brought from America nearly five years ago in one of my four precious suitcases. I love it that much. And I am smiling. Cured of my Sofa addiction after 6 couches in less than five years. My living room is complete. Just in time for winter, and in the midst of a terrible storm blowing outside. There is a fire in the grate and my chai tea candles are burning. Hmmm. Now, all I need is a dog at my feet. Don’t tell Jeff, but I’ve been looking for one of those, too. Let The Dog Saga commence!

Connecting Thru Life’s Storms

This past week has been a reminder that no matter where you live we are all the same. Storms come and go. We might think we are different. Different cultures, different religions or different cuisine. But we all live our lives in our own little world. And sometimes it takes stepping outside of it, traveling to the other side of the world, to make us realize that we truly are the same.

This past week I have been baking. A Lot. Some of my experiments have gone well. Other? Meh. But I also baked a few old standbys. Things I have been baking for a very long time. And I learned to bake from my Mom. She always had cookies or cakes on hand. As a kid, I never remember a time when there wasn’t a full double layered frosted cake on top of the dinner plates inside the cupboard. It was such a thing at our house that it was weird going to other kid’s houses and discovering that they didn’t have cake at the ready. Or a freezer full of ice cream. Who were these heathens?

This week I had a load of bananas that had turned. I let them go a couple more days until they were nice and black. Then, it was time for banana bread. Lots of banana bread. Seven loaves later, I surveyed my bounty and realized that Jeff would never eat all this banana bread before it went bad. And I am allergic to bananas. I popped a few loaves in the freezer for later, sliced a couple of warm pieces for Jeff with some butter, then wrapped up a couple of loaves to take to the neighbors.

We have so many lovely neighbors. They have helped us numerous times. We are the recipients of vegetables from May through October. And some of them grow and sell their own herbs and the like. They bring me tea and allowed us to wash our clothes and take showers at their homes when our well was a bust in July. I hadn’t been able to return the favor while I had the food truck going. So, I slipped on my rubber boots and made my way to their houses with my basket of banana bread.

The first loaves were delivered when I stopped off at the last house. The neighbor was out in her garden when I called her name and waved. She turned and I realized she was crying. She opened her gate for me and wiped her eyes. My heart sank. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong and my Spanish is not good under pressure. But I asked her what was going on. When she told me we both stood there and cried. Her son was in the hospital after attempting suicide. A parent’s worst nightmare. The details were heartbreaking. He couldn’t be released as he had tried more than once. The heartbreak I saw in her face was gut wrenching. I know that young man. I met he and his girlfriend at a gathering they gave last Spring.

We have experienced suicide in our family. My nephew in October of 2014. It’s such an unthinkable thing. You are almost in a fog when you get that phone call. It’s so unbelievable. I don’t know how my brother and my sister-in-law were able to make it through those months. That year. The anniversary. A hole that never heals.

I told my neighbor I understood how she felt – although it is her son, not mine. Then, we stood in her driveway hugging as she cried for five straight minutes. It doesn’t matter that my Spanish or Gallego language skills aren’t great. We understood each other. Mothers always do. That’s all that matters. Eventually, she was able to gather herself. I told her that Jeff and I would do anything for her. Drive her to Santiago to the hospital. Anything. She just needed to tell us. Then I made my way home and told Jeff. He was stunned, too. But pain is pain. He understands that.

The Gathering Storm

My neighbor’s heartbreak was not the only reminder this week that we are connected across continents. An ocean. Whether we know it or not. Hurricane Nicole struck Florida last week. And then, yesterday it hit Galicia.

When we lived in the US, we would watch hurricanes strike the east coast of the US every year. Sure, they were terrible and they are getting worse as weather around the globe becomes more extreme. But hurricanes don’t hit the west coast of the US. We get a big storm there and there. But on the west coast of America we didn’t really worry about hurricanes, except as spectacle on the news. Yet today, we live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes affect us now all the time in Galicia.

Hurricanes form in the middle latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. Some run the shoot towards the Caribbean and Mexico. Others towards Florida and then up the east coast of the US. A danger to property and people. But I never paid attention to where they went when they were out of the headlines in the US. But that massive energy has to go somewhere. And often, even if it never impacts the mainland of the US, it heads to Greenland on the jetstream, which makes a sharp left turn and starts heading south, barrelling down the coastline of Europe. Pummeling Ireland and making its way to the northwest coast of Spain. Galicia.

On Saturday, we made a run up to A Coruña for some things we needed. The weather was clear and sunny, and we knew Hurricane Nicole was coming. The stores would be closed on Sunday, anyway. It was packed, as was the enormous shopping mall and IKEA. No masks in sight and everyone coughing. We got what we came fore and fled south to home.

The storm arrived late Sunday, as predicted. It is parked over us. The newspaper usually does a good job of communicating these big weather events. We were out early around the farm before it hit, getting some things done. Put away or tied down. The high winds hit first. Then the rain. You could hear it howling and the trees still have leaves so they were whipping around. We lost power a couple of times. In the midst we of this, I baked some American Chocolate Chip Cookies as best I could. My secret recipe. In a break in the weather I took some down the lane to the neighbor who is hurting. I wanted her to know we are thinking of them. She met me at the door. She is very sick with the flu. I imagine the stress hasn’t helped. The flu is ravaging Galicia right now. GP’s are overwhelmed with it. Health centers are bowing under the weight. We’ve swapped Covid for the flu.

I handed her the cookies and told her we are thinking of them. Then, came home in the blast of wind. Waking up today, I have the flu and Jeff, who is not sounding too good himself, is taking care of me. The winds outside the window are wild. Roaring. Raining buckets. Our palm trees are bending but not broken. Snow is forecasted for higher elevations. Just one more reminder that no matter where they originate, we are all just trying to get through the storms – in life. Which means, like a marriage, we need each other for comfort when things get rough. In sickness and in health. More than ever.

If Only There Was A Pill For This

<heavy sigh> We have had American news stations on all day. Its an exercise in futility. We are six hours ahead of the eastern time-zone. The first polls in a small number of states in the mid-term elections won‘t close until midnight in Spain. We won’t know anything until tomorrow morning when we wake up.

But, you’ll notice I am still awake and it is nearly midnight. Jeff and I were yawning at 9:30 and went to bed. But neither of us could sleep. He is now out in the barn working on his Catrike. I am sat here with the news on, again.

Today, I have watched all the biggies. CNN, Foxnews, MSNBC, ABC. CBS. And a trend has emerged. Fear, fear, fear. Some spew conspiracy theories. Others gin up fear of the other party and the people supporting it. I would have laughed at some if it, if it wasn’t so dangerous and serious. Over and over, every news outlet turned to one of their hundreds of political pundits and asked ‘Why is America so polarized?’ I wanted to shout at the television ‘Look in the mirror!! It’s all of you guys!’

We see it so clearly from over here. I read a lot of news from around the world. But, I almost never watch live US news. And something else has struck us both while gluing ourselves to the television today. And it is not political.

What is it with prescription drug commercials? Tepezza, Zoloff, and a million more on American tv? I had forgotten how bombarded we are in the US with big pharma. My favorite are the women running through a field smiling about their menopause prescription meds. There is not a woman on the planet who is smiling about the fun of menopause. Let alone running with other women through a field making head wreaths out of daisies and manically laughing.

I love how immediately after the heart warming video promoting the drug, they begin the laundry list of potential side effects. ‘After taking drug xyz, if you notice your toenails falling off, skin ulcers, , inability to stand unassisted, trouble breathing, including death, please contact your Dr. ‘. Seriously? I’ll get right on calling my Dr after I experience death from taking this miracle drug.

When we lived in the US, our Dr had a sign in his office with a warning. ‘Do not ask me about some drug you saw on tv. I prescribe the correct medication based on your specific medical condition and my expertise.’ I figure you don’t print a sign unless it’s a problem.

But it’s not just prescription drugs. Commercials promoting heath care and insurance. A lot of those. A thousand years from now, the pod people who have survived the climate apocalypse will find a recording of American tv commercials from 2022. And they’ll wonder how a society with such a focus on health and fighting disease, was unable to elevate the health and wellness of everyone in the society.

I haven’t been back to the US in nearly three years. So its been awhile since I have touched, even peripherally, a for-profit medical care system that is unregulated as a foundational feature. And it’s odd to experience it in the midst of a high stress day with so much at stake in our country. A reminder that there is much more work to do in America, if we could just work together.

Its midnight in Spain. The first returns are coming in. So I gotta go. If only I had a prescription for Zlamnofar. If it didn’t cause purple rashes, Tourette’s syndrome, and uncontrollable sweating, maybe I’d be able to sleep tonight.

Returning to Plan A

My plan for the first couple of weeks after closing the food truck was to rest, relax, and nap. Read a book and meditate. All of this before starting up my long list of things I want to accomplish this winter. But it hasn’t worked out that way, and now I have discovered why. Thank you, LuLu kitty, for the insight.

Every day, I have been going at full steam. For example, in one day I drove to Lugo, bought paint and painted all the doors in the house. Hung the heavy velvet curtains in front of the front door to eliminate drafts. I have tried to order a new front door but it will take a year to get, and then even more time to schedule a workman to install it. So the old Victorian method of draft dodging seems to be footing the bill. Then, I organized my book shelves and started on my office filing. Jeff was tired just watching me.

‘I thought you were going to relax.’ he observed.

‘I have a ton of energy. Why not put it to good use?’

He shook his head and went back into his office.

The next day was the same. And then, the next. Our house is spic and span and completely organized. And the yard looks pristine, complete with my new composting bin scheme on the back of the barn. This flurry of activity makes Jeff nervous because when I finish my list I will begin working on his list – meaning the list I have created for him to do. I can’t do his stuff. Those are his super powers.

One of the things on my list has been getting LuLu kitty vaccinated and spayed. There are far too many tomcats running around here and we need a litter of kittens like a hole in our heads. If this happened I am not sure how we would distribute them. Everyone in the neighborhood is having litters of kittens themselves. They don’t need more feral cats. And me being me, I would not abandon them, and would be taking all of them to the vet for shots and to trying to get them fixed, too. But there is a problem.

In the US, they will spay or neuter your cats when they are 8 weeks old. To avoid the cat producing more cats. And, also, because female kittens will go into season as early 4 months old. A kitten having kittens is not good for the kitten or the litter of kittens. So I took LuLu to the vet and learned that it’s not so easy to get your cat vaxed or spayed in Spain, as it is in the US.

First, they won’t spay her before she is 6 months old. Then they insisted before giving her one vaccine she must be dewormed. So they gave her the dewormer and told me to come back in a month to start her vaccines. So, I brought LuLu back to the vet, right on schedule. They asked what they had given her for a dewormer (shouldn’t they know that?) and since they did the kind that is on the skin, they were able to give her the first set of vaccines. Great! But they will not schedule to spay her until I have given her another dose of a pill dewormer one month later. And only after this will they give her the second set of the vaccines one week after that. What?! All this, while we try to keep her in the house.

‘It’s very important that she stay inside during this time. She could get pregnant.’

Well, duh! This is what I am trying to avoid. Work with me here! But no. And keeping LuLu inside has proved challenging. Luckily, it has been raining cats and dogs (excuse the pun) and she hates the rain. Or, at least water on her paws. She was born during one of the worst droughts in Galician history. She’s more of a California cat, now. Well, still a kitten. So we have to try to entertain her to keep her from climbing the walls. Sometimes, Jeff takes her out to the barn to let her run around. And then, we found out why its been so crazy.

Before opening the food truck, Jeff and I had a routine. He would make me a coffee each morning. During which he would take his medicine. When I opened the food truck I started making my own small cafes con leche. One each morning. It was three days before he realized he hadn’t taken his medicine. Such was his well entrenched routine. And now that the food truck is closed up and put away for the season, Jeff is back to making me my coffee. But, now, rather than the little cups of coffee, he makes me American-sized coffees in our old American coffee cups. 20 oz. cups.

I didn’t realized that the gas in my tank had gone from 1 to 100 octane. I just knew that while taking a morning shower I felt compelled to clean the entire shower and tub, as well as myself. Then organize all the shampoos and shower gels. Efficiency has been my off-season middle name. So much so that Jeff started to notice.

‘Did you clean the bathroom?’ he asked emerging from the upstairs. ‘I thought you were just taking a shower.’

‘I was. Can’t I do both things at the same time?’

Again, he just shook his head and went back into his office.

I was painting the kitchen door when I reached for my big American coffee. The brown brew was a bit cold, but no matter. When I noticed that LuLu had her head buried in the top. Drinking to her heart’s content. I shooed her away, then dumped it out. A bit later, Jeff emerged from his office holding the cat.

‘Can you do something with her? She out of control today. It’s like she’s on speed, or something. Look at her eyes.’ They were crazy Starbucks eyes with dilated pupils.

I looked up at him from the kitchen floor, surrounded by pots and pans. I was organizing the kitchen cupboards.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m organizing the pans by size.’

He frowned. ‘I thought you were making lunch.’

‘I am.’ I said, pointing to the sauce bubbling on the stove. ‘Can’t I do both?’

He stood there staring at me with crack addict LuLu, who was trying to get out of his arms so she could wreak more havoc in the kitchen.

‘Whatever. Just, please, keep her from coming in the office. I have calls and even when I shut the door she plays with the door. She’s learned to get it open. If she gets in it’s mayhem.’

I agreed I would. Shutting the kitchen door to keep her inside. He was right. LuLu was out of control. She was jumping and climbing into the cupboards I was trying organize. Finally, after lunch we both crashed. Jeff came out of his office at 6pm, I was just stretching on the chaise in the living room. LuLu was sitting on the end table drinking cold coffee out of the cup from before I fell asleep. Jeff snagged her and took the cup into the kitchen.

‘Well, that explains A LOT.’ He said, upon his return.

‘What explains a lot?’ I asked, yawning after crashing.

‘You and the cat are both drinking that coffee. She’s climbing the walls. You’re cleaning and painting the walls. I’m tired just watching you guys.’

And that’s how I found out I am drinking waaay too much American coffee, and so is LuLu. This week she gets dewormed again, and next week she gets her final vaccinations so she can get her European Pet Passport. Then, we can schedule her surgery, and finally, she can go outside and play. Caffeine-free. As for me, it’s time for a caffeine detox and to return to my previous plan for rest and relaxation. But, I must say, the house and the yard looks amazing.

Redemption

I am learning the cycles in Spain. When and how personal income tax is filed. How to file quarterly business taxes. Our annual car tax. And now, how to file our house and farm property taxes.

Back in May, I received a letter in the mail telling me that this first year I would need to pay it in person at the bank. After this, they will take it directly from our bank account by December 15th each year. The guy at the Concello told me they would send me the notice in September with the amount and directions on how to pay it. September came and went. No notice. So this morning I made my way to the ayuntamiento (town hall) and enquired after the missing notice. They were very nice and promptly printed me out a copy. The guy had remembered me from my visit before, asking about it, as we are the only Americans living in these parts, and most other people know what they are doing. We NEVER know what we are doing. And everyone here knows it.

We own four pieces of land. Our taxes are divided into parts based on land use. Where our house sits is €226 per year. Our farm lands are a total of €36 per year. Crazy! I almost laughed when he gave me the invoices to pay at the bank. In the US, just our property taxes every year were more than our total annual mortgage and homeowners insurance here in Spain. Our annual taxes now are less than my kids monthly summer allowance for doing chores. I promise you, we will never leave this place.

Afterward, happily skipping down the steps of the town hall, I decided to treat myself to a coffee. I chose a cafe across the street that I have not been to in more than five years. The last time was with Emilie in July 2017. As you would expect, it hasn’t changed a bit. I ordered a cafe con leche and sat down.

Our town is on the Camino. Seven months a year it is crawling with pilgrims. But, this month it has slowed waaay down. Each day, less and less pilgrims are walking. But there was a young guy sitting at the table next to me as I set my coffee down and promptly dropped my papers, then my phone, then spilled my coffee on myself.

‘Oh no!’ I exclaimed, trying to set the coffee on the table. Then bending down to gather everything. The young guy hopped up to help me and I thanked him.

‘Where are you from?’ He asked. Clearly, my spontaneous outburst was in english.

I told him and asked about where he was from. I have had this conversation with so many Pilgrims in the past four months it seems weirdly normal. This particular conversation would be anything but. Then, I asked where he started his Camino. His boots and pack looked pure long hauler. And his pack had things hanging from the outside. Flip flops and other things. The longer you walk the less you care what anyone thinks. Its about convenience for you. Not fashion.

He had started in St Jean and was just three days from Santiago. ‘Not a lot of pilgrims. I heard after Sarria it was crowded.’

I laughed. ‘If you were here a month ago you would be walking with 2000 of your closest friends and a loud speaker with music. Now, just a few hundred.’

He nodded. ‘I am glad there are fewer people. I need the time to think.’ And then, he told me his story.

He was an addict – he listed all his drugs – and he has been clean for six months. ‘Even on the Camino.’ I congratulated him as the Camino can be a big party. Breakfast beer is a thing. But he had resisted. And now, his Camino was coming to an end. And he was struggling with what was coming next. I told him he wasn’t alone. It was a common feeling. But his fears were different.

‘I have hurt a lot of people back home.’ he told me. His face registered a sadness that struck me through the heart. I grew up with addicts. I know the the kind of pain he’s inflicted. I let him talk.

‘I haven’t seen my parents in two years. They don’t know I’m clean. The last time I went to their house to ask for money, my father kicked me out. He told me not to come back.’

I waited. Then ‘Were you asking for money for drugs?’

He nodded ‘Yeah. But I said it was for my car. They wouldn’t give it to me. I said some terrible things to them. My Mom looked scared of me. But I was so angry I didn’t care.’

‘Addicts do that. Usually what they accuse other people of doing, is what they are doing themselves. Deflecting.’

He was sniffling and tears in his eyes. ‘Yeah. I told them they gave up on me. But it was me who gave up on myself.’

Talking to this kid was striking a little too close to home. My heart was racing. I drank my coffee and tried to gather myself. ‘Can you call them?Tell them that you’re clean? You are walking the Camino and you want to turn things around.’

He looked at me with such sadness and shook his head. ‘I tried to call my Mom from Leon. To tell her how sorry I am. To tell her I’m off the drugs. I’m better. I’m different. But she wouldn’t answer.’

It was a moment before I realized I was holding my breath, and let it out. ‘I imagine you know their address.’ He nodded. ‘Maybe write them a letter. Own the things you’ve done and said. Be completely honest. If you have an addiction counselor I am sure they have talked to you about laying things bare. Taking full responsibility.’

He waited a beat before answering. ‘I’m afraid.’ He whispered.

‘Afraid of what? What’s the worst that could happen?’

He wiped his eyes. ‘That they would turn away from me. After everything I have done, that saying I am sorry, really sorry, wouldn’t be enough. And then I would know that all the things I’ve done can’t be undone. That I really am alone.’

His honesty was so raw.

‘Do you want to try?’ I asked him.

He nodded. ‘I’ve written that letter in my head every day since St Jean.’

‘Have you ever actually written it down?’

He shook his head.

I wondered if I should take a chance and go further. Then, I decided I would. ‘You told me what you’re afraid of. What do you think your parents are afraid of?’

He frowned. ‘I never thought about that.’ He said.

‘Maybe you should. Your broken relationship with them isn’t just about you. No parent has a child and wishes for the day when they have to turn away from them and never see them again. When you have children, you pour everything you have to give into them. You have broken their trust and broken their hearts with your choices and your behavior. Believe me when I say they have grieved for you. Bled for you. Worried until they made themselves sick. Perhaps, after two years those wounds have healed on the surface but they are still open underneath. If you look at it from their perspective, you used to have all their love and trust, unconditionally. And now, you will have to earn it back. Probably, over a very long time. If you aren’t willing to put in the work, do yourself and them a favor, don’t contact them. Opening that wound again isn’t something they will easily risk.’

He was openly crying now. I reached over and squeezed his hand. When he got it together a bit I smiled, trying to reassure him. How was I in this conversation with a complete stranger? Oh yeah, the Camino. That’s what it always does. Deep sigh. Then I asked him to tell me something good about himself. ‘One thing you are proud of.’

He reached into his bag and pulled out a sketch book. Inside were the most beautiful ink drawings. One of the pictures was of his parents smiling from the page. They looked happy.

‘Did you draw that from a photograph?’ I asked.

‘No’ he said. ‘From memory.’

Now I was crying. ‘Maybe, if it’s too difficult, you don’t need to start with a letter. Just send this drawing. They’ll understand.’

I watched as he ran his hand over the faces of his parents. Like he was using invisible ink from his fingers to outline their faces, once again.

It was time for me to go. I went up to the counter and paid for our coffees. Then walked back to gather my things, as he repacked his pack. ‘Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. And remember, we are all worthy of redemption. Even you. Especially you.’ He smiled up at me. Then stood and asked me for a hug.

Driving home, I thought back over our conversation. The profound sadness in this young man. And I sent up a little prayer for the moment that letter arrives at the home of his broken-hearted parents. For a little crack of light to break the darkness that this family has lived through. Large enough that the three of them can walk through it, together. I was serious in what I told that kid. I truly believe that each of us are worthy of redemption.

Vote – Using Your Voice

I’m a strange person. I know this. There are few things that make me as happy as paying bills and filing my taxes. But another of those things is VOTING!

I have expressed on this blog that this year I didn’t feel as excited as I have in the past voting in the US general election. But I filled out my ballot anyway, for our home district/state in the US, and Jeff and I individually emailed them back to the county elections board back home. Our district has some close races. Our votes could make a real difference. They sure did last election.

I did not look at how he voted and he did not look at how I voted. Sure, we discuss politics all the time. We watch what is going on in the US. In the world. As any household does. But, on ballot initiatives we did our own research and voted our own conscience. As it should be. After we sent them back, Jeff asked me how I voted on this one, or that one. I was unsurprised we were not always the same. I lean in a little harder than he does on some things. But on the big things, we are aligned.

Little ‘d’ Democracy depends on citizen participation in keeping our institutions healthy and our voices heard. And we did our part from a small farm 7,000 miles away. So, if you are reading this in the US over your hot morning beverage, if Jeff and I can vote all the way from Spain, so can you! You don’t even have to print and scan your own ballot like we do. So, it’s pretty easy for you. Just put down your phone, finish your vente soy chai/extra hot/no -foam latte (Damn, I’m sat here salivating just dreaming about that drink) and get up, get dressed, and get out your mail-in ballot and fill it in. Then drop it off at a county ballot collection box, or pop it in the post. Or find an early voting station in your area. Or register to vote, if it’s not too late in your state. Or make a plan to vote on election day, if that is your only choice. Call your friends and relatives – your kids away at college – and remind them to vote. Democracy needs you – no matter your party affiliation.

I just checked, and my ballot has been counted. There is something so satisfying about that. When the results come pouring in next Tuesday, we will know that we are a drop in that river of democracy in action. No matter our differences, we are all Americans who want the brightest future for our children and grandchildren. And generations to come. Voting is one of the only ways we can ensure that the ideals of the American experiment, however critically flawed and imperfect, are still here for them 50 years from now to fix it and to mold it, to make it better to fit their best future. Please, America, take a moment and VOTE.

Bang! Bang!

Fall has…well, fallen. The trees are turning all sorts of colors, and it’s mushroom hunting season. The last of the chestnuts are on the ground. The high winds of the past week ensured that. After months of brown fields, they have returned to emerald green and the landscape looks like Ireland, yet again. And another annual tradition here in rural Spain has commenced. Hunting season.

We lived in rural Washington state for a decade. In the mountains east of Seattle. I wore heels to work in the city, and wellies at home. We had a resident elk herd of about 500 head next to our kid’s school, but we never saw or heard hunters. The only gunshots we ever heard in all those years were when a crazy guy created a survivalist bunker not far from our home in the woods. Then had to be forcibly removed from it by the ATF and state police after going on a murderous rampage. A survivalist bunker sounded extreme back then, as we were instructed by federal law enforcement via loud speaker flying over our house in a helicopter to ‘Stay in your home, lock the door, draw the curtains and keep away from windows.’ We all sat on our bed with our kids and Emilie’s sleepover friend that Saturday, trying to keep everyone calm. Our house was on the local news live as we sat and watched it from the cameras on news helicopters flying over. And on the national news that night with the blanket press coverage of such an unusual event. And now? In the US in 2022 a survivalist bunker and a murderous psycho armed to the teeth wouldn’t rate in the top 20 news stories.

On The Hunt

First, let me say that I do not like guns. I was raised in a house filled to the gills with them. My Dad was almost always armed, even up until right before he died. (🙄 Don’t even get me started) As children, we were instructed to assume every gun in our house was loaded, because they were. ‘No sense in having a gun if it’s not ready to shoot.’ Was my father’s horrific parenting philosophy. Needless to say, I have never had a gun in my own home. And I never will. Jeff, a US veteran, is even more vehemently opposed to firearms than I am.

Having said that, I have fired guns growing up. I have been hunting (although never shot anything) and am not against legal hunting, as such. If it is to put food on your table. If you kill it you should eat it. Personally, I wouldn’t eat it, being more of a pescatarian. But to each his own. There are certain populations of animals that are out of control here in Galicia because the top predator populations were decimated over the centuries. And hunting provides food for the people, and thins the herd. I am speaking now of wild boar hunting. It is part of the culture of Galicia.

A Little Too Close To Home

Yesterday, we were awakened by gunshots very close by. I know this because I rolled over and said to Jeff ‘That’s pretty close.’ And when I said ‘close’ I meant on our land not far from our barn. We got dressed and went outside. Dogs were barking with their floppy ears flying, then with their noses to the ground. Clearly, on the scent of their quarry. Hunters were following them kitted out in their gear.

When we moved into our house we told the owners we were planning to fence the land. They informed us we needed to put in a gate. So hunters could cross our property. ‘Its not a law. But if you want to be a good neighbor you will do it.’

I stood and watched one hunter shoot at something. He missed, I guess. The dogs took off after it. He followed, then hopped over the fence and out on to the Camino filled with a group of very surprised Pilgrims. Men with guns and the Camino don’t often seem to go together. Unless you walk in the autumn. His dogs took off into the field with the horses. He followed over the fence. The horses were not pleased.

We see men with trailers filled with hunting dogs, with dead boars strapped to the top. It’s not my lifestyle, but is part of the culture dating back centuries. Who are we to judge? But I would advise Pilgrims to keep their eyes peeled and their ears perked for hunters and their dogs when walking this time of year anywhere in rural Spain. Just one more reason to wear the brightest clothing walking on the trail – rainy day or no. It wouldn’t do you any favors to looked like a bulky wild boar through the trees these days in rural Galicia.

The Oldest Profession

It may surprise some who read this blog on a regular basis, but I am no expert on prostitution. Sex work. But, over the years of traveling in Europe and living in Spain, I have learned a few things. Some from afar. Others, more up close.

Children of the Corn

My first European encounter with this taboo subject was traveling to Milan for work. Most luxury brands have their shoes made in factories outside of Milan. Master cobblers hand make the shoes and they apprentice younger folks to learn the trade. Its a dying art form. There is a reason they cost so much. Brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Louboutin. Amongst many others. The villages and towns outside Milan host small factories that pump (a shoe joke – excuse the pun) out pairs of €2-3,000 shoes by the truckload.

I was in Milan at the invitation of French fashion house, Christian Louboutin. They collected me from my apartment in Milan and drove me out to where their factory was located. A town of local cafés with not one but two Michelin stars. The decor was nothing special but the food would make you weep.

After 9 cups of espresso and countless meetings, including with the chief cobbler, we adjourned to enjoy a sumptuous lunch. Then, the car drove me back to Milan for other meetings. On the way through miles of fields, I noticed women sitting on lawn chairs, holding umbrellas to protect from the hot sun. First one. Then there was another. And another. Until they were commonplace. Odd.

‘Are these women trying to keep crows from eating the corn?’ I asked the Louboutin executive.

‘No.’ She laughed ‘They are not scarecrows. They are prostitutes.’

I frowned. ‘With a lawn chair in a cornfield?! Isn’t that uncomfortable?’ The words were out of my mouth before I thought it through. Never mind.

The French woman gave me a decidedly Gallic shrug. ‘I have never contemplated this before. Perhaps they use his car.’

Of course.

In the US, prostitution is illegal. Police vice departments arrest those who ply their trade. In Europe, and Spain in particular, prostitution is tolerated. But pimping or sex trafficking is not. Basically, sex workers are workers like the rest of us. Ok. Maybe not exactly like the rest of us. But, lets face it, its work.

The Word Hobby Has a Whole New Meaning

Right before the pandemic hit, Jeff and I were coming out of a hobby shop in the old historic centre of Valencia. A woman approached us to offer her services to both of us for €20. A twofer. Jeff was shocked, after I politely declined.

‘€20!’ He exclaimed.

‘I know, right? A discount hooker. I would have felt better if she said €100. Do we look down on our luck?’

Jeff didn’t know what to say. He had never been propositioned like that before.

‘Isn’t she afraid we might be cops?’

I looked down at his bag filled with modeling parts and paint, then shook my head.

‘Plain clothes cops coming out of a hobby shop on a Saturday morning? A decidedly low risk in the cop department.’

Rear View Mirror

During la pandemia, our local Ford car factory in Valencia was shuttered. First for the lockdown. Then because Covid decimated the work force. And what did the newspaper report on? The impact on the sex workers at the gentleman’s club next door. These were specialist prostitutes with a focus on the factory lunch hour. You could do your work, then be home in time to pick up your kid from school. Make dinner. Which goes to show you that Covid hit every industry very hard. Even prostitution. And in typical Spanish government fashion, they were allowed on Covid unemployment. And, why not?

All of that was behind us. Or so we thought after we moved to rural Galicia. Until recently. Trips to Lugo for one thing or another has had us walking in an area inside the wall that we had not traversed before. New tires for the car in anticipation of winter weather. New brake pads. Our NIE card renewals. And more. This last time, we walked down a now familiar street.

‘I’ve seen that woman before.’ Jeff remarked. ‘Wasn’t she here the last time we walked by?’

This surprised me. Jeff notices nothing about everything. Its why he thinks every British actress, young or old, is Judi Dench. It drives me crazy! But this time he was correct.

‘The one in the red American letterman’s jacket? Yeah, she was here.’

‘That’s weird.’

‘Not really.’ I told him. ‘All these women standing around here. You see them, right? They’re prostitutes.’

Jeff’s jaw dropped. ‘It’s ten am. And it’s raining.’

I laughed. ‘I don’t think they care about the time of day, or the weather. Besides, its almost coffee break. Last time we were here one of them took a guy inside that house back there. So I don’t think they are planning on the umbrella for full privacy coverage.’

He just shook his head. ‘I feel like we should give them some money or something.’

‘Yeah. That’s what we need to be seen doing. Handing out money to sex workers near the police station that will issue our NIE cards. We are already seen as weird here. Let’s not push it.’

We all need to make a living. Some are blessed with educational opportunities and family support. Others are not. And, lets face it, the cost of living is rising. Making ends meet is the priority. So, I’m pretty sure, post-pandemic, there are no more €20 hookers in Valencia, anymore.

The Patient Is Critical

It’s that time, again. In America we hold national elections every two years. The two years after the big Presidential elections are called the mid-terms. Before the last ten or twelve years, most Americans skipped the mid-terms. Which is weird since the US House of Representatives has to run every two years. So there was always a lot at stake. But, most people – and when I say most people it is more like 50% of eligible voters who vote – only take the time to mark their ballots in the big show that is presidential elections. Voting is not a national holiday, held on a Sunday, or mandatory in the US like it is in most other countries. And its getting harder all the time to vote in the US. Historically, Republicans tend to turn out in the mid-terms more than Democrats. But the world has changed since 2010.

We live in Spain, but are eligible to vote in our state, district, city of residence in the US. It is called Overseas voting. They send me an email. I follow the instructions to log in to get my ballot. I fill it out, print it (don’t forget to shrink to fit the paper in the printer), sign it, then email it to the election board email for overseas and military voters. Then I wait while they verify my signature and send me confirmation that my vote is counted.

I always vote. If there is a dog catcher, sheriff, public utility supervisor, or judge up for election I vote. I read everything in the voter pamphlet and do my own research. Especially into ballot measures. Like those studies that tell you that peanuts are a superfood, and come to find out the study was paid for by the Peanuts-R-Us lobby, I dig into which lobbying groups are backing which ballot measures. Where’s the angle? Who benefits?

I am an unaffiliated voter. I am not a fan of the two party system in America. I prefer the multi-party systems in European governmental politics. Where compromises have to be made for governments to function properly. A little less brinksmanship. Although, it’s not perfect, either. Far-right governments are popping up in Italy and Sweden. A worrying sign for a continent that has dabbled with right-wing extremism before, and tens upon tens of millions paid with their lives.

I admit, I am not excited about voting this time. I don’t know why. Perhaps its the news and the very real fear that democracy is lost in the US. Or on its last gasp, anyway. There is no 911 (or 112 – in Spain) to call for help. The patient isn’t looking good. We read everything and watch news clips and it truly feels like the sun is setting on the place I used to know. The extremes are pulling the country apart.

I had a Pilgrim today from Tennessee. A former school teacher, I figured I would ask him how he sees things back across the pond. Is it really as bad as we read?

‘There is going to be a civil war.’ He said matter-of-factly. He saw the shocked look on my face. ‘We talk about it all the time where I live. There are too many people with guns. The country is so polarized and Covid made it worse. The polarization it not just Democrats and Republicans. Its the haves and the have-nots. Economic disparity is so great and accelerating. I don’t think what is coming can be stopped. It’s picking up speed.’

His answer was honest. Terrifyingly so. We feel it here from so far away.

I filled in my ballot. And I signed it. Last election I sent it back immediately. This time it has sat on the table for two weeks. I keep asking myself what I am waiting for. Me. A person who always votes. Who bugs Jeff ‘Did you vote yet?’ Even living in Spain, as Americans I feel its our civic duty. When I become a Spanish citizen I will exercise my right to vote here. But, this time, this election I am filled with both a sense of futility and dread. I don’t know why.

They say that how the US goes, so goes the rest of the world. I hope the rest of the world is watching us closely and doesn’t follow us over the cliff we are approaching. Because, if I am honest, it feels like its coming up fast and the checks and balances brakes built in by the Founding Fathers are out. Those more interested in being right, than in doing the right thing.

Jeff and I feel lucky to live where we do, after reading the news back home. But we are not naive. The EU flirting with governments led by far-right parties born from the fascism of WW2 provides little comfort. Especially as they are on our doorstep.

Don’t worry. My ballot will be returned shortly. My voice will be heard. If for no other reason than to try to protect the Constitutional rights for my children and their children. Before its too late.

Winding Down

Our season with the food truck is winding down. And not just because the police came back to interrogate us some more. Today, it was the wind that had us throwing in the towel. A very wet towel.

I was all set to open when the 50kph winds began. Our tent started to take flight, even with the cement blocks anchoring it to the ground. I was like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Hanging on to it for dear life, as the rain pummeled me. Jeff ran for ropes and straps in the barn. He started tying poles to the heavy tables. I reinforced his efforts with anything heavy I could find. Bricks and sandbags. Drowned rats. The best description. The second day in a row for Jeff.

As we wind down the food truck, we are beginning all our indoor winter projects that have been neglected all walking season. I want a remodeled kitchen. But there are no contractors available to do the work. Jeff is going to do some small modifications for me. Just until we can get someone who can do what I want done. I’m not holding my breath.

On the way out of Bricomart in Lugo yesterday the rain came down in Biblical waves. Just running to the car I was soaked. Jeff told me to get in. He would load the car.

‘No sense in both of us getting wet.’

But wet didn’t cover it. Not by a long shot. By the time he strapped a butcher block counter top to the roof rack and loaded some kitchen cabinets into the car he was as wet as if he had swum a river. No exaggeration. He got into the car dripping wet. I wanted to laugh but the withering look he gave me as he wiped water from his eyes said No talking. I have wet underwear. Just drive. I read in the paper that drought-ridden Galicia got 10% of her rain for a typical October just yesterday. Jeff is pretty sure it all fell directly upon him in the Bricomart parking lot.

Today, Jeff is in the barn welding things. Hooking up my new business dishwasher in the barn so it drains outside. Printing drain attachments on his 3D printer for our dryer. And lasering me a sign for the gate that informs Pilgrims we are closed for the season. In a couple of languages.

If the weather gets better, I would like to be open next week so I can use up the last of the bananas and avocados. But, perhaps Mother Nature has other plans. My immediate post-season list includes sleeping for a week. Reading a good book (The Physician by Noah Gordon). Then starting my Spanish up, again, in earnest. And yoga. Lots of yoga. Then getting back to my writing and painting. And finally, harassing the turismo and patrimonio in Lugo, relentlessly. Two can play that game. Because I am over these cops stopping by and rattling my cage. On April 1, 2023 I want to be bullet-proof so neither the weather, nor the cafe owner up the street, can stop me. With a couple of cabins built and welcoming Pilgrims, once again. 🤞