Tranquila, Kelli

Yup, it sounds like ‘tequila’, and while the effects might be similar, the word is something quite different. Tranquila means be calm or content in Spanish. Just chill. And people in every corner of Spain say it to me ALL THE TIME. Now, I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to ‘calm down’ that’s pretty much the last thing I’m going to do. Jeff rarely attempts this maneuver with me unless he’s feeling lucky on a particular day. And that’s just about the time his luck usually runs out.

The checker at the grocery store says it to me if I try to wave my card with the chip over the reader too soon. The guy who validates my card on the tram does the same. Our landlord, who I adore, says it to me every time we have contact with one another – and not just that time with the locked door and the bone scan thing.

Since conception I have never been one to rest on my laurels. When I was in college I went to a psychic fair, but it didn’t take a psychic to figure out that my shakras were aligned around Doing. A LOT of Doing. When I lived in Chicago, I had a healing by an actual trained shaman (who was an ex-Catholic nun married to an ex-priest – interesting combo). I had never met her before the moment of the healing but she told me afterward that one of the main things I need to learn in this iteration of life is patience. So, yeah. Not surprising that everyone in Spain can see it too.

Over the years, I’ve endeavored to conquer this trait of mine. But I find sometimes it’s a super power. I’ll plow ahead and knock down just about every barrier to any goal I’m trying to achieve. Jeff mostly stays out of the way and just watches. Mostly. But sometimes it can hold me back. Because sometimes waiting is more important than pushing ahead.

On one of my many visits to churches recently, I was sitting in the large empty space at night. I have been having a hard time sleeping. Praying helps. A voice as clear as a bell said ‘Slow down, kid.’ And it made me open my eyes and look around. There was no one there. But I can still hear that voice.

So as you do, in the midst of everything going on in our lives right now, we bought a car. When I took my Spanish driving license exams my instructor, Tino, used to pepper me with ‘Tranquila, Kelli’ constantly while I was learning to drive a stick. Jeff just got his Authorizacion Temporal Para Conducir (temporary driving permit) today. This after the Jefatura lost his written exam results and we had to go down there and prove he took the exam, and watched as they pecked on green screen after green screen, consulted multiple people, frowned, talked to themselves over and over, and finally banged loudly on lots of keys (not a Spanish thing typically – No tranquila) to find him in the Matrix. Pro Tip: NEVER EVER hyphenate your name. In Spain, they will lose you forever in their systems. Airlines around the globe will do it, too.

After he passed his practical driving test they lost it again, and it’s taken weeks and weeks for him to get the paper permit. When this happened yet again, Jeff just said ‘Of course. It’s why my luggage never makes it here when I fly home from the states. It’s the curse of the f*#king hypen!’ But I knew enough not to tell him ‘Tranquila, el Jefe’ because I wanted to stay married. I just made the appointment two weeks out (first available) and offered to walk down to the office for the 150th time and, finally, it was straightened out.

We knew Jeff had passed his test – the examiner told him afterward, even though we couldn’t get the temporary pass. When I passed mine we bought paddle boards to celebrate. When Jeff passed? We bought a car.

The car buying process here is interesting. You can read about it in Lessons Learned (so far), but generally, it required a bunch of what I like to call Mucho tranquila, Kelli. This is where the person(s) I’m dealing with, and myself, are not operating in the same lane of how fast things need to get done. And I’m not sure why I’m surprised. That’s how everything is here. And it’s also why these people will live to be 100 and I’ll probably have a stroke or heart attack next Wednesday. My shaman wouldn’t be pleased with me.

In the US, when you buy a car – especially with cash – it will take about 2 hours. I’ve done this a few times. Easy, peasy. In and out. You’re dictating terms because you’re going to write a big fat check, and the person sitting across from you knows this and they want the dinero. They’ll bring you water, horrible coffee, anything to keep you happy. You will decline all of it because you just want it to be over. The only snag you might have is when Homeland Security calls you a week later to ask you where all that money came from. Yes – this happened to us. Ugh. But here? No. You could be purchasing a Mclaren and have a Louis Vuitton trunk filled with cash that you’re using as your foot stool. It will not grease the skids. This process will go as fast as it will go. You just have to surrender to it. Again, tranquila Kelli.

On a sunny Monday we went to the dealership and walked in sin cita (without appointment). We were lucky – the guy didn’t have another client nor appointment at that hour and he spoke enough ingles that we could muddle through combined with our sad espanol. We looked at some cars and asked if we could make an appointment to test drive one. Usually, you will need an appointment for a test drive and it will be days or a week down the road. But, he said ‘Why not now?’ and we agreed. Here’s where Jeff not having that little important paper actually matters, because I would be doing the test driving. And I did a little thing that made us all go ‘Oh yeah! This isn’t the US. No free right turn on red.’ I only did it once after Jeff said ‘What country are you driving in?’ and the salesman in the back seat laughed nervously, took some nitro glycerin tablets and said ‘Oh, they let you do that in America?’ And Jeff said ‘Not legally the way she just did it. but yeah, in some states.’ So – we live. We learn – oops!

I’m happy to say we all survived the test drive and came back to the dealership. The salesman had me pull on to the sidewalk in front so that they could pull the car in through the front doors and put the car back behind the glass. But I remembered lesson one, day one, from my learning to drive in Spain. ‘Never, ever, under any circumstances will you drive your vehicle on the sidewalk. Except…’ It was in the book and on the test. But I did as he told me and I even managed to avoid hitting the old lady with the grocery cart and the walker who was in my way. And the cop who, after I stopped the car, opened my door for me and inquired ‘What the actual hell do you think you’re doing!?’ in espanol. Thank God he didn’t see me make that San Francisco free-right-turn earlier. Whew! I promptly teared up – tears are close to the surface for me these days. The salesman furiously explained the situation. The cop apologized and told me not to cry. Again, with the Tranquila. Jeff just looked at all three of us like we were out of our minds and walked inside, waiting for the kerfuffle to end.

This is where the purchase process could start. Translations were needed. I won’t go into all of it but it was a lot. Jeff had to leave halfway through, as he had another appointment. But in Spain the car is in only one person’s name, even if they’re married. Since I had a Spanish driving license (on me) and I’d had it for a year, then it would be in my name. He would be allowed to drive it as a member of my family. And since I’m his wife and he’s a dude, he will automatically inherit it upon my demise. Don’t get me started on what I’ve learned of Spanish inheritance laws.

But I wouldn’t be taking it home that day. Oh no. There would be gymnastics and complications galore. Wire transfers that took days to post, insurance acquisition nonsense, photos. Finally, ending with Jeff scraping the side of the car pulling it out of our parking space. But we’ll let things cool off on that front before we go into the story that involves the annual shaking of the orange trees on our street, swearing, and a lot of heavy farm equipment on a narrow Benimachlet street. The insurance guy just smiled at me and actually said ‘Tranquila.‘ as he inspected the ‘scratch’. I wanted to punch him.

Yes, it took 2 full weeks before we could pick up our car. And through it all, I have been taking deep breaths, going to my weekly massages, and following my Doctor’s orders who, at my last annual physical, actually prescribed ‘You must drink at least one glass of red wine per day. This is mandatory.’ He looked very serious and stern when he said it, and since he’s a licensed professional – I assume – its finally something I can Tranquila, Kelli the hell out of it.

See You on the Other Side

This blog should be focused on fun! Living and learning as we navigate the world living in Spain. Traveling and making tons of mistakes. Definitely not on grief. So I’m taking a little break, until I can do just that.

I need a little time to drink the wine. Smell the roses in the market and contemplate the view. Just for a bit. Then I’ll be back. In the meantime, I’ll update some of our Lessons Learned and other categories. Just a little housekeeping. I’ll see you all on the other side.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Of course there is sadness in death. But there is laughter, too. At weird moments gallows humor slips in and you find you’re laughing so hard your stomach hurts.

Before my 97 year old grandmother passed away a few years ago from Alzheimer’s – and generally being 97 years old – she was living with my parents. We were all gathered in my parent’s living room and grandma was sitting next to me. It was loud. But it was always loud. My Dad had been nearly deaf all his life after a childhood illness took most of his hearing. As kids, we weren’t allowed to play music in the house because he couldn’t hear over it. And on this particular day there was the usual talking at high volume that blanketed my childhood.

I felt a hand on my arm and I looked into the face of my frail, miniature grandma. She almost never spoke at that point and usually referred to me as ‘That Girl’ because she couldn’t remember my name. But she leaned over to me and whispered. ‘You were smart to marry a quiet man. Most men are always so loud and they never shut up.’ She pointed at Jeff with her crooked finger, and then she sat up straight and went back to her stoic vague self.

A toast at The London

But she was right. Marrying a quiet man has it’s advantages. When Jeff says something I listen intently. So on the day my Dad died I wondered what we should do. I felt at lose ends, not knowing how to send him off. My Dad liked scotch – A LOT. Whenever we visited him, Jeff made sure to stop off at an Oregon liquor store and bring him a bottle of something good, not the rot-gut stuff he usually drank. So we went down to a local place that has pretty good top-shelf scotch and we raised a glass. After our toast, I mused.

‘Where do you think my Dad is right now?’ I asked Jeff. I knew he couldn’t possibly know, but he knew I was looking for comfort. Without hesitation he said ‘He’s in a hospital.’

I was shocked. ‘He’s dead. He’s not in a hospital.’ I said, a little taken aback.

‘Yes he is.’ he said with confidence. ‘He’s a baby being reborn.’ As though Jeff couldn’t believe I wouldn’t think that too.

‘So you believe in reincarnation?’ I asked. Surprised we’d never had this conversation.

‘Of course.’ And he took another sip of the good stuff.

I hardly knew what to say. ‘Assuming you’re right, you think it happens that fast? They don’t give him some time on a celestial beach or a debrief session or something?’

Jeff seemed very sure of what he was saying. ‘Time is relative. Our perception of time is linear. It’s not that way in every place in the universe or the multi-verse. We can’t perceive it any different than this. But it is different.’

This was very Jeff.

‘So you think my Dad is a baby being born right now?’

‘Yup. I think he’s already been born. He has a bunch of things he learned here. But he has a lot more to learn – based on all the stuff I saw when I knew him.’ Again, totally confident in what he was saying. It made me pause.

Any American of my age will remember when the show ‘All in the Family’ premiered on US televisions in the 1970’s. It was a sensation in the era of the Vietnam war and it chronicled the story of the Bunker family in Queens, NY. The father, Archie Bunker, was a bigoted (aka racist) working class white guy who fought in WWII. His wife, Edith, was a typical wife of the time who was there to wait on Archie hand and foot. Archie called her ‘Dingbat’. It means he thought she was stupid. Their only daughter was married to a college grad student (to evade the war) who was against the Vietnam war, and he was active in his disapproval of Archie’s bigotry, misogyny, and his abusive treatment of his wife. When the show aired we all watched it in our house. My Dad didn’t get some of the jokes since he was Archie Bunker. Only on steroids. It’s why I have no patience for racism, xenophobia, ethnocentrism. Call it what you will.

When I was small, my older brother and sister had friends in school who were Italian or Latino. They came to our house a few times and my Dad referred to them as ‘Wops’ or ‘Degos’. Those are old-timey derogatory terms for Italians or Hispanic people in the US. My sister dated an NBA basketball player at one time. When she brought him home to meet my parents I wanted to sell tickets to my friends. Not because he was a famous guy, but because they were all interested in seeing the look on my Dad’s face. They knew. The guy was 6 foot 9 and big. And he was African American.

So when Jeff said that my Dad was probably already a baby. I had a thought.

‘Well, if karma is the fickle mistress I know her to be, then my Dad is either Italian, Hispanic or Black now. Maybe all three! What an interesting thought.’ And it was my turn to take another sip of that smokey, peaty liquid.

‘Nope.’ Said Jeff. ‘Chances are – statistically speaking – he’s been born in China.’

I smiled, wide eyed. ‘Holy moly! My Dad is a Chinese baby boy!’

Jeff just chuckled. ‘Who said anything about him being a boy?’

At that I spit out my drink. I was laughing so hard I cried. I couldn’t stop.

I reiterated this conversation to my Mom and she made me laugh again.

‘Well, Jeff’s such a genius.’ she told me. ‘So it’s probably true. Dad as a baby. Already? It’s a lovely thought.’

And she’s right – it is a lovely thought. Hang on to your baby bonnet, Dad. I don’t know anything about being Chinese, but this girl-thing isn’t quite as easy as it looks.

The Last Gift

My father dying has hit me much harder than I would have thought it would. I loved him. But that never mattered. He wasn’t the fairy tale dad from TV or books. He was cruel and brutal – for nearly the entire time I knew him. But here I sit today and I’m broken up by his passing. Seeing him diminished at Christmas gave me no pleasure. Perhaps that’s more a reflection on me as a person, than him as a man.

As a child he kicked me as I played on the living room floor. He called me ‘stupid’ and ‘dummy’ and mocked me when he found me utterly ridiculous. I wasn’t alone. He showed no kindness to any of his children. After I took a test in school to identify genius kids, they put me in a special room with 4 other children to ‘maximize our potential.’ They all attended Harvard, Columbia or Stanford. I did not. My older sister told me they were shocked I was actually smart because they all assumed I was an idiot.

‘We always thought you were slow. You were so happy-go-lucky as a kid. I mean who could be happy here?’ she told me.

But, there is a beauty in growing up in such darkness. It makes it so much easier to find the light. And I’ve always looked for the light. Hope was forever my friend growing up.

I remember as a kid, at 10 years old, walking the ‘March of Dimes’ charity walk in Portland with my best friend, Karen, to raise money for crippled children. Her Dad met us at every check point over the 20 miles and had water and snacks for us. I couldn’t believe a father would care enough to do something like that. Show his child kindness. Like an alien landed on earth.

My Dad was a 95% – 5% person. 95% brutal and 5% unexpectedly kind. And the 5% didn’t show up until I was an adult. I remember when my son was a year old, I was going through a terrible divorce and I was hanging by the very last thread of a very long rope. I was completely broken and while visiting their house with my young son, I broke down. My Dad took me into his office, shut the door, and told me to sit down.

‘Listen, kid.’ he said. ‘Don’t listen to anyone else. You listen to yourself and find happiness. None of these assholes know what that is.’

I was speechless. This man who had never shown me a moment’s care suddenly had the words I needed to hear. Right at the moment of my deepest despair, the person I couldn’t possibly expect to help me did. I had no words.

At our wedding, I walked down the stairs at my friend, Curt’s house. I was holding my son, Nicholas’ little 5 year old hand getting ready to marry my best friend. And at the bottom of the stairs, there was my Dad. I was shocked. He offered me his arm and he walked with us the rest of the way. As I put my arm through his, he leaned over and said ‘I’m proud of you, kid.’ It was like he had socked me in the stomach. I couldn’t breathe, and I struggled to keep it together walking the path down to the rose garden. He had never said that to me before.

Jeff has been patient with me as I’ve gone through the grieving process. Today, he walked with me for hours in the rain. He didn’t ask me to explain, he just walked beside me in silence as I cried and held my hand. And it was Northwest rain. Not mamby-pamby drizzle. Even heaven was crying on me. I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful person to walk beside me through life. I’ve always known he married me against his family’s wishes. They’ve never liked me. I was divorced, with a child, after all. I wasn’t Catholic and I’ve always been a little outspoken. OK. Maybe more than a little. I was sort of used goods from the marriage fire sale. But, through thick and thin, Jeff has stood by me.

The final few weeks my Dad hallucinated. The hospice people said that’s normal as people venture to the end. He saw people crowded in his room and, although not religious, he talked about Jesus and God, a lot. I hope his Mom and family are waiting for him, where ever he’s going.

The other day I was taking a walk and I heard church bells ringing. I’d been walking for a while and I decided to go in to the church and sit down. I’ve never been religious but I find churches move me. I looked up at the alter and said a prayer for my Dad. And then one for myself. I didn’t really know what to ask for. ‘Help’ is all I could think of. I figure if there is a God, She’ll know what that means, even if I don’t. She’s heard me ask for it more times than either of us can count.

And then I decided that I would do one more thing. I decided to forgive my Dad. For everything he was. And for everything he wasn’t. And to wish him the peace he never found in this life. We all deserve that – no matter who we are. It may be insignificant, but it’s the last gift, as his daughter, I have left to give.

Dia de Los Reyes

We are back in Valencia, and like most people I know back home, we brought the plague with us. The flu is raging there. But we arranged to have seats at the big 3 Kings parade so we braved the cold and dove into the fray down near the Plaza de Ayunamiento – town square.

Calle la Paz

In the US we are all over the Santa thing. Reindeer. The North Pole. Elves. But in one glorious night it’s all over. As kids we got another week of winter break and then it was right back to school after New Years. Here in Spain it’s not like that at all.

Here the song of The Twelve Days of Christmas comes back as a handy little guide to what the season of the nativity is all about. Kind of like those School House Rock songs from Saturday Morning cartoons as a kid. They still enable me to remember the pre-amble of the Constitution and how bills pass through Congress. Our civics education in the US being so lacking we require cartoons to imprint it on our brains. But we won’t go there today.

Here – as in so many other countries around the world – gifts giving isn’t so focused on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The children of Spain are laser focused on Twelfth night or Epiphany Eve, and then King’s day. This is the day when the 3 Kings who visited Jesus to bring him Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh show up with their chests full of presents for all the children of the city.

The malls have lines – not to sit on Santa’s lap – but to sit on the laps of the Magi to ask for gifts. Children don’t write letters to Santa. They write letters to the Magi who will bring them what they desire. Let’s face it – the Maji have a proven track record of delivery. At the parade, the letters were collected by special people on the route and they were all marked ‘Urgente’ in a bold adult hand.

And in Valencia they’ll leave their shoes by the door with food and drink for the Magi and their camels hoping for what they asked for. The 3 kings are called Gaspar, Melchoir and Balthazar. And they are pretty much an old white guy in a long white beard. Then a younger white guy in a dark beard. And then an Africa guy who’s in his 20’s. I heard they’re supposed to represent the ages of a man’s life. But they also represent the continents of Asia (the Oriente in Magi parlance), Africa and Europe.

Float after float went by with kids and adults on them throwing candy by the barrel. Children brought bags from home to scoop it all up. Some threw so hard it hit us in the head with force. The Valencia Futbol Club threw Adidas socks and I got Emilie a pair. The balls were a big draw in between handfuls of projectiles of candy. But I was most impressed that the push we’ve seen on tv for recycling in the Communidad de Valencia played a big role. Very smart in getting kids on board with cutting back on waste and getting their parents to recycle. They were every where in the parade and I got a new composting bin and recycling bags that I filled with candy. I’m not immune from gather free 🍭

Like any major Spanish procession, there seems to be the heroes (the magi) and the bad guys (the Romans). In this case it’s Herod who tries to steal the children’s candy while taunting the crowd walking the parade route – accompanied by his Roman henchmen. It’s all pantomime and the crowd loves it, booing loudly and giving the man the thumbs down. He played it up and the children cheered when a 3 year old fended him off.


The 3 Kings start the night by coming ashore at the port at 5pm. Then they’re escorted by the police to the parade starting grounds at Alameda. A helicopter records their progress on tv. Some of the floats are amazing feats of engineering. Dragons. An Automaton Ballerina. A stained glass Peacock. Stilt walkers and acrobats.

Finally, the 3 kings will arrive at the city hall in the Auynamiento, where they will be received like, well, Kings to the cheers of the waiting throngs of children. They will proceed to the balcony where they will expound on a few old chestnuts – ‘Be good children.’ ‘Obey your parents.’ ‘Clean your room and eat your veggies.’ Then they’ll sit on thrones in a room inside where the children file in to receive gifts before heading home to put out their shoes.

Today, King’s cake (Rosca de Reyes) will be eaten. This is a special cake that contains fruit and cream and a coin. Whomever gets the coin has luck for the rest of the year. We always did something similar on New Years with our kids.

It’s so different than what we’re used to in the US, so watching these kids excitement a full 2 weeks after our Christmas is pretty cool. Between US kids and Spanish kids, I think children here got the better deal.

And after all the stores being open on a Sunday yesterday, I lament one thing about the end of the holiday season here. The clock starts over for the year, due to laws that went into effect in 2019, and now we’ll have to wait until summer for an open grocery store on a Sunday – they only allow it for the last half of the year. Even the Valencians I know hate it.

And now it’s only 53 days until the season of Fallas kicks off. Yay! We’ll just have to rest up until then.