Nine Lives

Three times a charm. After several unforced errors, we spent Saturday moving the ball down the field.

Since moving to Spain my modus operandi has been learning by mistake. I identify something I need to accomplish. I research it ad nauseam. Then I proceed, invariably doing it completely wrong. I am chastised, repeatedly in español. Then, after making variations on the same mistake, I find the drop down on an obscure part of the website. And finally, bingo! I’m home free.

This culminated yesterday with getting our newish tow hitch certified by the ITV in Lugo. It only took us two months. Not a personal best. But not last place, either. And now all I need to do is go back to Lugo, after they notify me via SMS, to pick up the vehicle modification certificate. In Spain, modifying a vehicle is a big deal. But I have successfully gone through the entire process.

Now that we worked through that, it was time for another first. A few days ago Señor Sir showed up as I opened the door in the morning. He was limping pretty bad. Unable to put weight on his left back leg. We fed him. Then he curled up and slept for 24 hours. He got up, limped to his bowl, then went back to sleep in front of the fire until bedtime. He meowed to go out, then promptly disappeared for three days. I was very worried about him. Would he ever come back? Wounded, could he defend himself against the neighborhood cats or dogs?

On Saturday’s ice-cold frosty morning I heard a very weak meow. Opening the front door, there was Señor Sir. He limped through the door. And his back left paw was twice the size and covered in blood. I wrapped him in a blanket. Jeff ran to el Chino in Melide and bought a cat carrier. We loaded him in the car for our planned trip to Lugo for our ITV appointment. And after a Google Maps search, found a veterinary hospital was almost next door to the test centre. Señor Sir barely protested in the crate.

The hospital took us in without calling in advance, while we explained that this is not our cat, but he is injured and needs urgent medical attention. The ingles speaking Dr took us back. She shaved his leg and cleaned the scary gaping wound. Then she gave him an injection, bound the injury, and gave us a bunch of meds to take home. He’s now been dewormed and has eye drops for conjunctivitis, to boot. He will be on antibiotics and antiinflamatorios for ten days, which means we will have to keep him inside to guarantee we can administer them on time. His disappearing act won’t work for this. Upon his follow up visit with the Dr, he will be given the usual set of cat vaccinations. Rabies, feline leukemia, etc. We stopped off at a store and bought a litter box so we can make it until after Christmas keeping him inside.

Around here, cats and dogs don’t seem to be pets. They have jobs on a farm. To guard all the inhabitants. Or to kill pests. There are so many feral cats roaming free it’s a wonder that there is a rodent left anywhere in Galicia. They don’t seem to spay or neuter their animals. And vaccinations? It’s not a thing. We know that this cat is supposed to be Marie Carmen’s, along with three other barn cats she has. But he has chosen to come to our house for days at a time. And we have derived so much joy from his antics. I couldn’t stand to watch him suffer. Neither could Jeff. In the midst of Omicron we would not be out and about unless absolutely necessary. This was necesario.

And what did this emergency veterinary visit, complete with meds, cost us? If you are in the US, you’re likely thinking several hundred dollars. Yeah, nope. It was €39 + vat. And a €25 weekend urgencia fee. As I was paying, the Dr asked us the cat’s name.

‘It’s not our cat.’ I reminded her.

She smiled. ‘What do you call him?’

‘Señor Sir, mostly. Sometimes Sir Eats-Alot. But, seriously, he is not our cat.’

‘How long has he been coming to your house?’ She asked.

‘From the first day we arrived.’ Jeff told her. ‘Literally, before they unloaded our moving truck. He ran right up to me. He was small and scrawny. But he adopted us immediately, more than six months ago.’

The vet smiled. ‘If you bring the cat to the hospital when he is injured, and he has come to your house for six months, then Señor Sir is your cat.’

So, our hitch is certified, after the third try went off without a hitch. 😉 I finally achieved certifying a major auto modification in Spain so I can get my food truck. And now we can check How to obtain emergency veterinary services on a weekend in Lugo off the list. And Señor Sir, our new official cat, is asleep on a soft blanket on my chair. Recovering from his serious injury. On the farm, we live to fight another day. Something to celebrate.

Spain – The Sleeping Giant

Spain is a charming country. History sits on your doorstep. Quite literally. Buildings dating back more than a thousand years are still in use. Cave paintings from our distant human relatives abound. It’s all here. But Spain has other qualities that make it’s potential as a powerhouse even greater, and I see it every day.

It’s the right mix of old and new. While the rest of the world in the post-WWII era automated and modernized, Spain was in many ways held back due to it’s Franco-era governance and the rest of the world passing it by for major investment. There was a huge downside to all this. But there was an upside, too.

Just like Portugal, due to late investment in infrastructure means that Spain doesn’t have the same issues faced by other countries that were much further ahead of us. I’m thinking of the now failing US infrastructure. The Spanish government is pushing hard to bring broadband to every community in the country. Our little farm will get it in 2022. No more Moviestar satellite internet. Working from the farm will just get easier.

And this lays the groundwork for some of Spain’s other, more ambitious plans. Historically, it has been very difficult to do business here. The convoluted rules and regulations. The bureaucracy is mind numbing. But that is starting to change, post-pandemic. Enter the new Digital Revolution in Spain.

Laws that will take effect next year will make founding your start-up here a very attractive and lucrative prospect. Even for foreigners. Huge tax incentives for founders. And tax breaks for those who work in them. More in line with what you might see in the US. And there is even more.

During the pandemic, those who could work from anywhere, did. They fled to locations around the world. Sunny, contagion-free, or free-er. But Spain missed out on a lot of this because, even on a non-lucrativo visa, you were not legally allowed to work remotely for a foreign company while living in Spain. But now, that is changing. And I don’t think it’s because I tweeted at our Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, back in spring of 2020 about this very topic. Ok. A few times.

When we moved to Spain nearly four years ago (how did that much time go by so fast?) people in the US asked us all the time how we managed that. I have heard ‘it’s impossible to do as a US citizen.’ And ‘You’ll see. They’ll never give you a visa.’ But, surprise! They did. And then the crazy political situation in the US and the pandemic hit. And people reached out to understand how we did it. But now, with the new Digital Nomad visa coming in 2022 it will be even easier. And more cost effective than when we did it.

This new visa allows the bearer to pay less tax. Just 15%. And, in reality, Americans will hardly pay that, because the US has a tax treaty with Spain. No double taxing. First you pay your US taxes. Give those numbers to your Spanish gestoria. Then you pay your Spanish tax, if any. But they want you to come to pump your income into the economy. Buy a house or a flat. The population is declining. Empty Spain is a very real thing. Real estate opportunities abound. There are a lot of Brits forced to sell up due to Brexit. Americans can pick up a nice home on the Med for pennies compared to the US. And your property taxes will be peanuts. Ours for the farm were €242 last year. Seriously. Our annual property taxes in the US were $9,000 a year. It’s simple math. An uncomplicated rudimentary US marketing campaign, and adventurous Americans would eat this up. And it should attract younger people. Not retirees or snowbirds.

The education system here is top notch. There are educated, qualified professionals waiting to use their expertise on the idea for your start up. Especially if it’s medical related. And the country is happy to have you. The cost of living here is <20% of that in Seattle. And the quality of life is 1000% better. Government-run Healthcare is the best in the world. And the people? We have never experienced anything like it before. Neighbors, and even strangers go out of their way for you.

The Spanish government is pumping big money into digital, green energy, and infrastructure. If you have a start-up idea related to any of this they will roll out the red carpet for you.

On the other hand. If you just have a job that allows you to work from anywhere in the world, perhaps a software engineer or the like. And you think maybe you’d like to raise your kids in a more family-friendly, low-crime, neighborly environment with a good education (and they’ll learn español – the second most spoken language in the world), it’s something to seriously consider. I wish it had been an option when our kids were growing up.

Either way, the potential here is enormous. Even with the Covid sixth wave, the Spanish economy is already back to 2019 levels. I am convinced Spain is a sleeping giant. And there are all the signs that she is waking up with post-pandemic EU funds and is ready to hit the ground running. I love the idea that an influx of new idea’s from the outside will help transform the Spanish economy. But also, that those who come here will be transformed themselves, like Jeff and I have been. A truly virtuous circle.

No Layers

Ok. So I got my haircut. New salon. New stylist. All fine. I like the shape. A good cut results in movement. Check. Check. Check.

The other ladies in the salon were very interested in me being from Estados Unidos. They seemed invested in my hair from the outset. No ingles in sight, which was fine by me. I had a photo. Super straightforward. She did the initial cut wet. Then dried it. She had actually achieved the perfect cut. Straight away. I was smiling under my mask. Then she went to cut my bangs. Perfect. Then she got out the texturing shears and went to town screwing up her otherwise perfect A-line bob by putting in layers. Why?!?! Just Why?!?

I have baby fine hair. Like my Dad. Touch it and it’s like silk. And it is stick straight. My Mom hated my hair as a child. She curled, braided, permed it. Nothing worked. Brushing it after a bath was torture as she ripped the comb through it’s always tangled mess.

But… since moving to Spain I have struggled to communicate NO LAYERS. Under no circumstances. NO LAYERS. Ugh. I have said it in ingles and español. I have typed it out. I have mimed it and drawn pictures. Provided photos of what NOT to do. I can not ever rock layers. It just makes me look like I have thin whispy hair. When it was super short, like the singer Pink, this didn’t matter. But even with a short bob, it does. Just cut it into a simple style and it’s got weight and fullness. That’s all that is required. Don’t get fancy. And never, ever, cut the length with layers. Its a rule. She broke the rule.

I have spent the past 7+ months growing out the abomination that was the 80’s weird hair blob of last May. The one where I looked like I’d been in a fight with a big dog with the mange. And the mange won. I just wanted a simple A-line bob. I had a photo, for god sake.

No, this cut is not horrible. The shape is still great. It’s just that she took all the weight out of it. And, for me, the weight it essential to the bob laying correctly. To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. Is it that Spanish people have thicker hair that requires layering with extreme prejudice? I don’t really know. It took me three haircuts with Rubin in Valencia to impress upon him that I never wanted a layer anywhere on my head. And perhaps this girl will get it eventually.

This afternoon, Jeff says I look more like myself. Which wasn’t hard to do. Although even he wondered why my hair looks so much thinner. At least I don’t appear to have the mange. Just a very thin bob. Which is progress of a fashion. I am not an extremely vain person. I rarely wear makeup these days. But it should be level one in the training course of a hairdresser. No layers mean no layers. In any language.

I Only Answer to Español

It was a very cold drive into Lugo early this morning. Freezing fog was my constant companion on the A54 autovía all the way to the A6.

Yet another Dr appointment at the HULA. It was packed. I now spend a few euros and park in the underground garage after learning my way around the campus. The line for the drive-up Covid testing was very long. That’s a new development after a Fall of no one being in line as I entered the garage.

The lobby was filled to the gills, as well. They had people directing those summoned for the vaccines (first, second or third doses) to enter the queue on the forth floor. Jeff and I are hoping to get the texts for our third dose very soon. I weaved my way through the masked throngs and headed to the reception desk to check in. They know me there and are very friendly and helpful. I needed to change my next follow up appointment scheduled for tomorrow, to after Christmas. I am having my hair cut tomorrow morning. It took a letter from the Pope to get this hair appointment at a decent salon and I will forgo another Drs appointment so I can have a real professional do something with the aftermath of that terrible haircut in May. I can no longer even it up myself with Jeff’s assistance and the sewing scissors. I resemble a raggedy sheepdog.

I tried using my ever increasing español on the lady at the desk. Full on present tense, perfectly accurate verb conjugation. Somewhat sophisticated vocab. Nailed it! I was pretty proud of myself. But she just smiled and responded in ingles. I frowned and answered her back in Spanish. She asked if I had understood her response in ingles. I said I had but I am trying to speak español as much as possible.

‘Its OK.’ She told me. ‘I think Spanish is difficult for Americans.’

I didn’t take it as a compliment. But, seriously, I know I spoke perfectly responsible sentences in Spanish. Work with me, people! I’ve been practicing for hours a day. This week the weather is gorgeous. Today’s high is 70/20 but the past two weeks have been freezing monsoons. Tucking in to my Spanish lessons has been a great rainy day pursuit. I am loving it. And it gets me closer to having local Spanish friends. You can’t expect everyone to speak to you in your language. Even if they are fluent. You have to be able to speak to them in a meaningful way in theirs.

The other day Jeff and I took a nice holiday leg of jamón over to Marie Carmen. As a thank you for all she has done for us since we arrived. And a gesture for what her friendship has meant to us. Her brother-in-law, son and his novia (girlfriend) were there. She invited us into the warm kitchen with this big black stove/oven thing heating the space. Now I have big black stove/oven thing envy. When you live in a cold place you value heat. The gathered ensemble had an involved conversation about replacing our gate, all the regulations, and advice on getting permission from both the Concello de Palas de Rei and the patrimonio for the Camino De Santiago. All in español. I did really well keeping up and – wait for it – actually speaking, forming real sentences in real time in a crowd of people all speaking at once. Sure, her brother-in-law laughed at my fumbling a few times, but my loosened tongue didn’t require shots of licor de herbas de Galicia to spit out spanish words. A true milagro de navidad.

After moving tomorrow’s scheduled appointment to after Christmas, I saw my other Dr, who also spoke to me in ingles. Ugh! I sure hope my new hairdresser tomorrow speaks only Spanish. I need to practice. After the holidays I am going to put up signs in Melide and Palas for intercambios. And I plan on volunteering at the local high school in the english class as a native speaker. Hopefully that will help with making friends, and meeting people I can practice Spanish with. Perhaps teachers at the school. I know the food truck will help too, but before that I need to file off the sharp edges and keep up my momentum. I never thought I would be sad when people went out of their way to speak ingles to me. But its become a hinderance. Perhaps I’ll have a t-shirt made up and wear it when I leave the house. ‘This Chica Only Answers to Español.’

Where There’s a Will…

Estate Planning. Never a fun topic. Because during the process of planning for your inevitable demise you have to think about your inevitable demise. <Queue the creepy organ music>

But I’m a planner. I like knowing that all potential loose-ends are tied off. Not flapping in the wind. Yes, we had a will in the US. But it was drafted before Emilie arrived and while we still had minor children residing with us. So it’s a bit outdated. And as we move our assets to Spain, we need a will drafted and filed in Spain to protect our global assets for our heirs. Our US will won’t cut it. And time is ticking by.

But inheritance law is very different in Spain than in the US. Here, except under extraordinary circumstances, your children automatically inherit all your property upon your death. This includes when your spouse dies. Your children immediately inherit your home. If your husband dies, you have the right to live in it until you die, but they inherit it while you are still in it.

In the US, things are very different. You can disinherit the usual heirs and name your friendly Chihuahua, Mr Pickles, to enjoy the fruits of your life-long labor. That’s right, folks. Your dog could become one rich puppy while your children and grandchildren live in a tent. Or you could give it all to the local garden club. Or a waitress at your favorite restaurant. Maybe the garbage man. Your choice.

But Spain allows expats (people who have immigrated from other countries) to draft their last will and testament based on the laws and customs of their home country. It covers all our worldwide assets but it will still be filed and probated here in Spain. We have our lawyer here drafting it based on American law, as we speak. But don’t worry, Mr Sir, the-cat-who-isn’t-our-cat here in Palas didn’t make the cut. But we will expect he will be well fed and taken care of by our heirs. And my favorite Valencian hairdresser, Rubin, has missed out, too.

It’s a weird process. Since the lawyer here isn’t used to asking all the questions a US attorney might ask because they don’t have the same options, we have had to ask them of each other. Ours is not completely straightforward with assets in two countries. Do we want to gift money to the charities we supported in the US. Like the Children’s Response Center for Childhood Trauma. Emilie was a big beneficiary of that amazing organization after several stretches in Foster Care, before she came to us. I used to send them a hefty check each year. They do amazing work.

Then there are the living wills and durable powers of attorney. Who makes decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself? When you are enferma in Spain? Perhaps Marie Carmen? I would trust her. She’d whip all concerned into shape with one pass of her stick. Drs and judges would bow before her. I have watched her care for her husband who is wheelchair bound after a stroke. She is committed and formidable.

But no. We have named a family member as our decision maker and executor. Someone who is quintessentially logical (he will run models to determine the best course of action) but without an itchy plug-finger. If you get my meaning. I don’t want to linger forever. But I would also like a fighting chance of possible recovery if my odds are better than 50/50. On this, Jeff and I are agreed.

I like the idea of starting the new year with things sewn up. Before we get our business up and running we needed our personal business settled. Peace of mind. That’s my goal these days. And as soon as it is signed we will both sleep that much more soundly.

Gifts of the Season

The trucks are rolling through the gate. And not because we have ordered stuff online.

One of the blessings of 2021 has been all the amazing people we have met. Yes, moving to Galicia has meant new neighbors and friendships. And I am grateful we have been welcomed to the community with mostly open arms. But it’s bigger than that. Even in the midst of the pandemic.

As most of you know, last summer we opened briefly as a free Albergue campground. We offered the weary and bed-less Pilgrims tents, and I cooked dinners and breakfasts. Just while Albergue capacity was so low that peregrinos slept on the street. It was a highlight of our year. And we were grateful we had the opportunity.

The people who stayed here were so grateful they often left us notes or even returned with gifts. One day in late September, there was a knock at the door. A family I remembered who had pitched their own tents in the front yard after all our others were taken, had returned. They‘d made Paolo Santo incense and brought me bundles – thanking me profusely for helping them with food and water on that very hot August day. It touched me more than I can say and I light a stick when I paint. It makes the house smell like a cathedral. Blessing my endeavors.

Now here we are at Christmas. For most people, July, August or September are in the rearview mirror. Their Camino might feel like a dream by now. They wonder if it was real. And Jeff and I would be just another anecdote. Those people who helped me that one day. But now, I’m not so sure that’s true.

Christmas cards from strangers have arrived. Boxes of goodies. And today, beef jerky all the way from Texas. What wonderful surprises.

We all like to believe we make a positive impact on the lives we touch. That people feel good when they spend time with us and take that feeling with them when they move on. Often, we never know. We just have to hope it’s true. But then there are the moments when you get an opportunity to see it. And it makes you smile and remember.

I said it at the time, but we have gotten more out of that short stint as an Albergue campground than we ever gave to our Pilgrims. A hundred times over. A lesson for us all that it truly is better to give than to receive. Like a pebble in a pond. Receiving this card today from a Pilgrim friend is the same. It likely took the sender moments to address and pop in the post. But her thoughtfulness made a huge impact and she will likely never know how big. A welcome gift on a stormy day in December. Especially today.

Just Keep Paddling

When I write a story for a book it’s always emotional. It’s as though the characters and the story aren’t really conjured by me. More as if they are people I’ve been introduced to, and they reveal their stories while I’m writing, sometimes writing through tears. A truly odd, but remarkable feeling. Like taking dictation. As a writer, I suppose it’s because I am not a plotter. That is someone who lays out a clear outline and takes their characters from one plot point to another. Not me. I am what is known in the trade as a ‘pantser.’ This is a writer who knows what the story is. Knows the ending and the arch, in general. But allows the story to unfold during the writing process. And it will surprise no one who knows me that this is pretty much my life philosophy. It just works for me.

While writing my finished novel The Grief of Goodbye, I became attached to the characters. Tess, Pen, Javier and Mateo. Selflessly-kind John and wise Inez. I missed them when I finished the final edits. I wanted to keep writing so I would be able to follow their lives. Finding myself thinking about them as I wandered around Valencia, wondering what they were up to. And my current book The Baker of El Mujandar, with Delores (Loli) and her husband, Xoan. Father Sebastian, and Hector, the village’s evil butcher. The elderly Cordoban baker and his wife have more secrets than loaves of Pan de Alfacar. And the weight of those secrets is heavy as Loli unfolds their story looking back over 50 years.

But when I paint it’s the complete opposite. Putting brush to canvas is never heavy and is always a joy. Yet, in this I am still a pantser. We recently had a friend to stay who didn’t seem to mind the lack of water pressure in the shower. Chris looked through my canvases and smiled. ‘You don’t have a definite style.’ And he is correct. Picasso had a blue period. Monet painted water lilies until the cows came home. I become inspired by something and I paint. I have no artistic school of thought. How it will turn out, even I don’t really know. Sometimes I sketch it first. Sometimes I don’t. Huge canvases. Or small ones – like looking through a window. It’s often complete crap, and I know I will paint over it. Other times, one painting will evolve into something else. Sort of like grafting a tree. If I didn’t paint the first painting I wouldn’t have painted the next part. I have learned not to judge. Often, it requires stepping back for a while. Taking the canvas off the easel and letting it sit. When I’m ready to do something with it, I will. Patience.

Moving into this house in Palas has meant I have walls upon which to hang my work. The turret of the staircase will be perfect for this. I was pretty prolific when I had my espacio creativo in Valencia, before Covid. Producing canvas after canvas. Inspired before the world crashed down. But I want to hang only the things that really speak to me. It’s better to have an empty space on the wall than to put something up that you’re not 100% proud of, or connected to.

When Chris was here he spotted a painting I had started three years ago and modified over time to its current state. He liked it so much I thought about giving it to him, but he had no way to get it home. Its titled Muxia. If you have never been to Muxia, it is a village on the west coast of Spain in Galicia, on the boiling ferocious seas of the Costa del Morte (coast of death). Known for consuming ships on its rocky shoals for millennia, it’s a stunning place with an energy that is indescribable. The waves pound the rocks, while the froth and foam recede to reveal blues and greens that defy the color spectrum. Standing on the edge of the world is like being inside a seashell. As though the sea is speaking to you visually. And you can feel the vibration of the sound coming up through the rocks in your feet. A truly special place.

My painting, Muxia, had floated around our apartment in Valencia after we closed up the espacio creativo during Covid. And since we moved to Galicia. It’s a wonder it wasn’t damaged as we settled in. Balancing on books on the bookshelf in the entryway. Landing on a shelf by the old fireplace before we ripped it out and replaced it with its current incarnation. Until Chris spotted it on that sunny day in October. And I realised this painting is one of those I am most proud of. It has movement and it speaks to me.

Yesterday, Jeff framed it for me. Then he strung the gallery cable over the fireplace and hung Muxia front and centre. I sit here now and I realize it is the perfect painting for our lives. And, as such, it deserves pride of place in our living room. Our life is an endlessly flowing, beautifully turbulent sea. Hmmm. It turns out my paintings are emotional after all.

As many of you know, Jeff is a water person. He loves nothing more than to be paddling a river. Over the years I have learned many life lessons from him when he has taken me out on the water. ‘If you want to stay upright, always keep one of your paddles in the water. If you do that you won’t go over. And when you hit rough water keep paddling. You’ll want to stop. It will be scary, but you just have to keep paddling.’ Very good advice, and not just when kayaking.

Our last week has been like paddling a raging river. You have no idea what is just around the bend. Or where the rocks might lie beneath the surface of the water. A ten foot drop will invariably take you by surprise. Sputtering and spitting out water. The splashes from the rapids will render you blind. But I hear Jeff’s words. And I sit here this morning looking up at Muxia and I know it will all be OK. ‘You just have to keep paddling.’

Batten Down the Hatches

The Azores anti-cyclone is dropping to the south. And that means storms from Iceland and Scandinavian, or northern Siberia are rapidly bearing down upon Galicia. The weather is wet and wild. And it will become even more so over the next week.

But has that stopped Pilgrims from walking? Heck no. Sure, there are far fewer walkers passing our gate. But they are still coming. Most appear to be long haulers, like this guy.

Taksi from South Korea

Meet Taksi from South Korea. And his donkey, Donkey-ote, (you heard it, right?) who he picked up in Roncesvalles. Walking together 790 kms. Adorable.

We had to drive into Lugo to meet with our banker today. Jeff is buying the tractor and all the implements. (It deserves a post unto itself) He was giddy and hardly felt the deluge and the pea-soup fog that marked our trek into ‘the big city’.

We took care of business and made all the arrangements. And we ran some errands. A new Bricomart (Home Depot) is opening in Lugo this Spring. I love seeing cranes working. That means the economy is humming. We are very happy to see the building is nearly finished. In the local news they said 80 new jobs were created. And it is spurring Leroy Merlin (another home improvement store) to gut their old location and expand. Cash is flowing in Lugo!

We were hungry by the end of our long list of errands and it was only 11:30. You can’t get real food at a restaurant or Café in Spain at 11:30 in the morning. We never, ever eat fast food anymore, and I very rarely eat anything but fish on advice of my Dr. But sometimes you just need a Big Mac. And in Spain and Portugal McDonalds will make them entirely sin gluten upon request, but it is not on the menu. So we decided to grab a quick bite before heading back to Melide to the tractor dealer.

We went inside and ordered our food from a very nice guy who taught us that a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is Quarto de Libra con queso, and right as he concluded our order he asked for our Covid passports. We were a bit surprised. Yesterday, we drove into Santiago to our favorite restaurant. We had made a reservation with the manager anticipating taking Emilie there straight from the airport. I didn’t want to cancel on them at the last moment, as restaurants are struggling. And their Poké Bowl is to die for. The food is so good. But they never asked us for our Covid passports. Yet McDonald’s in Lugo did. Maybe the regulations changed over night. That does happen in this ever changing Covid environment. Or maybe it’s because they know us.

So now, all indoor dining, no matter the time of day, must require the Covid passport for all patrons in Galicia. We were very happy to show it. Its on both of our lock screens on our phones. We thanked the guy for asking. And we felt 100% better when we took our masks off to eat. Everyone around us was fully vaccinated, too. Or they couldn’t eat inside.

We got home and Jeff went into Melide to order the tractor and all the attachments. I’ll let him tell that story. I stayed home and met with our contractor in monsoon rain, so he could measure for our new Pilgrim bathrooms and showers. And a new septic system. Yesterday was a rough day. But today we are bouncing back and kicking it up a notch. Please don’t tell my cardiologist about that Big Mac. 😉🙏

A Deep Breath

Well that was fun. Not really. After the last 36 hours of extreme drama, Emilie’s feet never left US soil. You heard that correctly. Emilie remains in the US with her boyfriend.

Before you, dear readers, become concerned about us, just know we are in full support of Emilie staying right where she is. And her working through what she needs to. It’s all ok. And so are Jeff and I. Clearly, we are disappointed. But sometimes things happen.

It is said that the reason for so much pain in humans is a lack of acceptance of reality. It causes a conflict within us as we wish it weren’t so. When we accept it, we can move past it over time. Fight it, and we never move on. It’s the grieving process. In this case, Jeff and I just sat here, granted in shock, and immediately said ‘OK. Like so many circumstances, there is nothing we can do. We can only try not to add to furthering the drama.’ And that is just what we have done. You mourn the loss of how you thought it would go. Allow the disappointment to wash over you. Then you move forward. That’s pretty much our last two years. We know how to do it.

I always try to focus on the upside. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort. But we do have a house whose to-do list (other than major renovations) was long. And now? Most of that stuff got ticked off. In preparation of Emilie’s imminent arrival we had gone to town getting it all done so she would be comfortable. And now, we will spend the winter focused on getting our business up and running for Spring. Instead of all the little things that needed our attention, we will refocus.

It’s lovely to believe in fairytale endings. That a theme song will suddenly play to pull at your heartstrings and make everything OK. But that isn’t real-life. Usually, we take a deep breath, or two, and we look forward, towards the horizon. That’s where the future is, after all. And we keep going. In the end, it’s the only thing we can do.

The Countdown

Our daughter, Emilie, will be here in two days. And things are shaping up. I won’t say we didn’t have a bit of a heart attack over this new Omicron variant. Yes, it is not good health news for the world. But I was also worried that it might, at the last possible moment after two years, make it impossible for Emilie to come from the US to Spain. But that is not the case. Less than 24 hours until she steps on the plane.

And actual water pressure will greet her. The new water tank and well pump have been completed. We used to flush the toilet and the porch light would flash. I wish I was kidding. Jeff had to purchase a UPS so he could work. It would switch over to battery back up over 200 times a day. Our contractor said he thought it was a bad electrical and plumbing install when the house was built. Jeff disagreed.

We asked that the well apparatus be moved from a metal box inconveniently located in front of the old shed aka new laundry room, to inside the new laundry room.

They set the date for the work but insisted we didn’t need a new pump. I insisted right back. And, surprise! We were right. Sort of.

It turns out the actual pump wasn’t bad. But when they pulled the old pump out and looked at it (which they wouldn’t have done without us insisting on a new one) they found out that all the wires were messed up and that some were not even attached. The pump was shorting out hundreds of times a day inside the well. Which Jeff could attest to, as the UPS connected to his computer recorded each and every failure. El Fontanero (the plumber) and La Electricista (the electrician) were both shocked. Not literally. Jeff and I were not. When you stand in the bathroom washing your hands and the bathroom lights dim, you kind of figure you have a little problem. And whenever Jeff had an important call where he had to present something to his team in the US, he would warn me to use the bathroom before the call, to go to the Café in the village during the call, or to hold it until he was done. No joke – it was that bad.

And Ta-Da! Here is the new accumulator and all the new plumbing in the laundry room. We have water pressure in the house! The electrical is to code. Imagine. That big metal lump right outside the door is gone, and we have a new spigot for the hose on the outside. Like humans. They did a great job. But then they always do.

Our daughter will never understand why we are so excited when we crowd together with her to demonstrate the water pressure and hot water in the bathroom upstairs. The Emilie of two years ago would responded with a ‘Duh’ and an eye roll. And now? She will likely think Covid has melted our brains and perhaps she should stay in Spain so she can keep an eye on her ailing parents.

But in advance of her arrival, our Christmas decorations are up. Decorating the tree is always a journey down memory lane. Ornaments that mark the moments in our family. Family adventures and school creations are all there.

Emilie’s Christmas present for us made in kindergarten

And we are hanging family pictures up the freshly painted stairway today. Almost ready. A journey into Lugo yesterday had me buying a large poster board. Emilie will be greeted by a very big embarrassing sign at arrivals at the airport in Santiago. I’m the same crazy Mom she remembers. That will never change. But something tells me, after 707 days, this time she won’t mind at all.

Nothing is Sweeter Than Home

Home. Ahhh. It’s so good to sleep in my own bed. To look out the windows at the trees. Many were green when I left 10 days ago. Now they are all yellow and orange. The emerald green grass is covered with fallen leaves.

It was an interesting weather journey to Galicia from Salamanca. From blue skies to rain. Then snow as we approached Ponferrada. It was coming in sideways. The bus driver didn’t appear to mind and he plowed on down the AutoVia as though it was a sunny day in June.

Jeff met me at the bus station and collected my bag from the belly of the bus.

‘I was going to suggest we grab lunch here, but its snowing so hard over the mountains that we need to get going before it gets dark and we get stuck.’

He said there were a dozen plows on his way over from Lugo and they were also spreading de-ice liquid on the road. He had followed one or another the entire way.

Just out of Ponferrada

As we made our way out of the valley the temperature continued to drop. But we have four wheel drive and Jeff had all-weather tires put on the car the week before we left Valencia. The guy at the shop on the Mediterranean thought he was a little nuts. But who is laughing now?

It is interesting driving through mountains here in winter. Lots and lots of loooong frozen bridges on the AutoVia (freeways). And a detour after they closed the road at one point. We made it home as it was getting dark. It seems Jeff has been very busy while I was away. He had American Thanksgiving off work and used the time to string Christmas lights in the trees out front. And on the new rain gutters. It was a nice greeting after being away.

Jeff bought the light fixtures I wanted, and a gorgeous ceiling fan for the living room. It distributes the heat throughout the house so efficiently that we can use less energy overall. Americans don’t love ceiling fans, but here you can get nearly any type of design. We put one in our bedroom this summer and it’s as effective as A/C for sleeping.

Jeff had other surprises for me. Small things he had taken care of. Stuff that is usually lower on the priority list but makes a difference in livability.

And he strung bumble bee 🐝 lights on our gate, as a surprise for Emilie’s imminent arrival from the US. It was their thing when Emilie first entered our lives. Before she came to live with us she had been placed in a temporary Foster home in Seattle. During the transition to our home as a permanent placement, Jeff would pick her up each day and he would drop her off to sleep at the temporary home. Just until she became used to us. And every day, at four years old, she would tease Jeff in her halting speech.

‘You betta watch out. Der is bees on dat gate. Dey gonna git you.’ She would laugh, wrinkling her nose. This each day, as he pushed open the temporary foster family’s front gate and walked her to the door in the afternoon for two weeks.

We just have a few more things to do before Emilie’s arrival. She sprained her ankle last week playing basketball at the gym and she will be landing here in a boot with crutches. So we will be staying close to home with her. But that suits us just fine. Because Jeff made sure we are ready. When Emilie arrives at home in Palas de Rei this week she will be greeted with strings of bee lights sparkling on our front gate. Courtesy of her Dad, who has never forgotten.

Salamanca- Dinner at Ment

After a very long week of 13-hour days, sometimes you need a little treat. And last night’s dinner was just the treat. After a ramble to see Salamanca’s Christmas lights, a little Christmas shopping (Emilie is coming) and to enjoy an impromptu local band, we settled in for a culinary journey.

We dined at Ment. It’s a restaurant helmed by Michelin-stared Chef Oscar Calleja. The renowned Cantabrian/Mexican Chef has created a sanctuary for food. Spanish chefs are making a splash on the world stage right now, and it is easy to see why. My friend, Donna, remarked that it was like eating in a spa. Chef Calleja’s philosophy of tranquillity and humility is certainly achieved.

The staff were as attentive as those of a spa. But it was the food that was the true star. We enjoyed the Fall tasting menu including everything hunted in the region during this time of year. Wild boar, goose, duck, and Roe deer. Truffles, mushrooms of obscure varieties,and fall berries, it was a wave of flavors drawing from the chef’s dueling heritages of Mexico and Cantabria.

I am no foodie, but I took photos of the entire meal. It was art, after all. Course after course. Each came with a palate cleansing surprise to lead you gently to the next course. The photos don’t really do it justice.

Finally, since I am unable to eat gluten they made us a special dessert consisting of a cotton candy tortilla, which they placed in my hand. Then they added a bar of sorbet covered in gold dust. I was to wrap is as a burrito and take a bite. Amazing. It’s the only word for it.

Donna and I moaned repeatedly throughout the three-hour meal. Inspiring other late arriving diners to say ‘I’ll have what she’s having’. Cotton candy ice cream burritos all around.

If ever in Salamanca, you must try this restaurant. And when you do, enjoy whatever seasonal tasting menu Chef Oscar Calleja has conjured up. You be very glad you did.

Salamanca – Numero Dos

Back in Salamanca for the night. And it’s lovely to be welcomed in the Hotel Don Gregorio so very warmly. It’s a five star boutique hotel nestled in the old historic center, near the university and the Cathedral. Although, Salamanca is a very walkable city. Everything is close.

Hello, welcome-to-the-hotel glass of champagne. I have missed you. A blessed respite from a very long week. But I met some wonderful incredible people over the past eight days. Laia and Letizia. Maria gave my friend, Donna and I a ride from the resort into Salamanca on the way home to Madrid. So we had the entire day in the city before I head home tomorrow. And we made the most of it.

My new hat purchased from a village shop in La Alberca

I had toured the Cathedral last week but apparently I missed the cloisters, and that ended up being the best bit. Here are a few pics from the building from the 12th century.

Then we hit the Art Deco Museum. Photos aren’t allowed but we took some photos in the small cafe filled with art. The light was amazing.

I can not recommend this museum enough. It’s the largest collection of art from the Art Decco period I have ever seen. They have an amazing exhibit of the art of Toulouse-Lautrec. The most I have ever seen in one place. The stained glass in the atrium alone will make you cry.

A wonderful catch up with my Irish friend, Donna, who I first met in Valencia nearly four years ago. Time has flown by since we moved to Galicia. Too long, by half.

Its time for siesta before a Michelin- starred dinner at an appropriately Spanish hour of 9:30. I must say, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by Spanish again. I missed it. Like a favorite song playing in the background of my life now. Galicia is hours away, but I already feel like I’m home.

La Alberca – Numero Dos

Yesterday, we took a field trip into the past after a snowy walk through the woods to La Alberca. It was nice to have a bit of a break.

Credit: photo by Johannes

The Spanish students needed to rest their brains. And I needed it because I am tired of the sound of my own voice. It was a lovely walk and we all learned a lot and enjoyed the day.

Entering the town from the woods is a different experience. The lintels over the doors and those holding up the corners of many buildings are carved stone. And some of them have significant meaning. Most homes mark their construction date. And perhaps other information key to communicating it’s purpose, or the rank of the inhabitants centuries ago.

One building stands out as a place where torture during the Spanish Inquisition occurred. The carving in the lintel depicts a cross with an olive branch and a sword. The message is clear. Convert to Christianity and enjoy peace. Don’t convert, and torture and death will likely result. There is a tunnel that runs from the torture chamber in the basement of this building to the town church.

Many people were, of course, tortured for other reasons. Witch craft. Women were especially targeted. But some Muslims and Jews ‘converted’. And in an effort to prove their loyalty to their new religion they would gift the town with a pig – an animal considered unclean by both religions.

To commemorate this practice, the town releases a pig each year into the town. The rule is that if the pig is at your door during the day you must feed it. If it shows up at night you must bring it inside, feed it dinner, and allow it to sleep there. Apparently, you can see neighbors as sundown approaches shooing the pig away. No one wants a pig as a houseguest. A statue of the pig has been erected next to the church. On certain fiestas there is a legend that if a boy rubs the pigs bollocks at midnight he will ‘get lucky’.

The church, like so many towns in Spain, is the heart of the community. It has all the requisite alter pieces. And the arched ceiling. But the carvings are remarkable.

The ossuary for poor people is attached to the outside of the building. It allowed those who could not afford a burial in the church to be church-adjacent.

Every night a bell is rung on every corner in this town. It is a tradition that dates back centuries and is passed down thru families to the eldest daughter from her mother. Families take turns by taking an entire month of ringing the bell throughout the town on each corner of the village. And they do not miss a night. No matter the weather. The bell calls the souls of the poor to rest.

There is a legend that a few centuries ago, a young woman was the assigned bell ringer. But a storm blew in and she decided to skip the bell ringing that night. The next morning she was doing her chores in the village and people congratulated her for keeping her commitment to ringing the bell in such bad weather. More and more people came to praise her dedication. They had heard the bell in the midst of the storm. But, it seems the bell had rung itself. Since that day, no one has ever missed their bell ringing responsibilities.

The town is not large. The Plaza Mayor is simple and contains the requisite stone cross. But it also houses the tourist office, now located in the old town jail.

I’ll add a few other random pics. The rain gutters are interesting, too. Animals and art.

And finally, completely unrelated but for my Camino friends. The storm that blew snow and cold down from Siberia on us yesterday in La Alberca, also landed snow at O Cebreiro in the Lugo Mountains on the Camino Frances. I saw this photo in the newspaper and thought you might enjoy it. Imagine hiking through a few feet of snow on your way down to Triacastela. Winter in Northwestern Spain.

There Are No Unicorns

We like to think we are all unique. Individual unicorns. One of a kind. But we are not.

No matter where we are from we are all the same. And this week has proven that to me, yet again. There may be language barriers. Perhaps cultural differences. But, in the end, we all care about the same things. We have the same hopes and dreams.

During this program I have hours of one-on-one sessions with Spanish students practicing their ingles. Both speaking and listening. Most of the students are younger than I am. A few are the same age. But no matter the age, we see ourselves in others. They are mirrors back to us.

Mothers with young children who are missing them. They talk of the mother’s guilt of working so much and we share photos of our kids as they express themselves in a language that is not their own.

Fathers who tell you about their parents and families, before telling you about their high-powered job. Defined more by those they love than by how they earn a living.

Then, there are young people, just starting out and finding their way. We have all been there.

Over the course of the past five days we have all bonded. I think humor breaks down barriers. Self consciousness is the killer of language fluency. And all the egos have begun to fall away. Silliness has been very effectively used to get us all to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously. Alcohol helps.

Last evening we had a Queimada. It’s a Galician tradition made in a clay pot with 100 proof alcohol, a few pounds of sugar, cinnamon sticks, coffee beans, and a large lemon rind. Then it is set ablaze. As the alcohol burns off, incantations are recited to ward off bad spirits and negative energy. When the flames turn green it’s ready to drink. One sip turned my head inside out. But it was great fun. I realize I have one of these bowls in the kitchen at home in Galicia, left for me by the sellers. I had no idea what it was until now. Thought it was a punch bowl. I am anxious to experiment.

Woke up this morning and it had snowed over night. A beautiful sunrise. Enjoy.