Courage and Crickets

This month was the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement- effectively ending The Troubles in Northern Ireland between the British and the Irish Republican Army. Many tributes in the US and Ireland have been playing. Including interviews with the architects of the agreement, which included American President Bill Clinton.

I’ve been watching videos and reading articles about how they got it done. A monumental task. Something that seemed so impossible after decades of violence, more than 3000 deaths, and hundreds of years of British oppression going back to The Plantation of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries. I guess it’s because I am Irish. Parts of my DNA are like a map of the entire west of Ireland, from County Cork along the wild Atlantic, all the way to Donegal. When we visited Ireland – as when we visited the Highlands of Scotland – I was vibrating. It was as if my blood started singing We’re Home!! There were places that spoke to me. I can’t explain it. But there was one place we visited that had nothing to do with my DNA. The walled city of Derry in Northern Ireland.

Living History

Visiting Derry is like walking through time that stretches back centuries. Except, that in few places in the world is time so readily within your grasp, because history in Derry is fresh. I wrote about our eye opening and heart breaking visit over New Year’s 2018 here.

Listening to those who crafted and negotiated The Good Friday Agreement I am struck by several things. First, their audacity. The belief it could actually happen. And, second, their willingness to sit down with people they were sworn to eliminate. Bill Clinton made a powerful statement in a recent interview.

‘It was a big adjustment. People had to get over the fact [and come to terms with] that in order to get well, they may never get even. And to learn to trust.’

The truest words for any healing or reconciliation.

As President, Clinton had to do things his allies and his own State Department told him he could not do. And his handshake on the streets of Belfast with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams made manifest his commitment to bringing the two sides to the table to hammer out a final lasting peace. 94% of Ireland ratified the agreement. 74% of Northern Ireland did the same. At long last, a bloody page in history was turned.

Parallels

Watching the news over the past couple of weeks, the gun violence in the US is on nearly every news website’s banner. It seems that America is not in a war with anyone but itself. Having grown up in a house with many more guns than people, I will tell you that more guns is never, ever the answer for peaceful cohabitation. Living under the threat of violence is no way to live. In your own home or in a civil society.

There are those that say that criminals will always have guns. So all citizens should be armed. But violence has only increased as more and more guns are sold and gun laws passed relaxing or removing ownership restrictions. And weapons of war have entered every US neighborhood after the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire. Its as though Americans worship only one amendment to the Constitution. The right to a well regulated militia. And it appears in the US as if everyone has joined up or started a militia of their own. Somehow we have extended the right to bear arms to machine guns. I heard an uneducated person interviewed on US TV after a mass shooting recently. <she said so casually as mass shootings have become too commonplace> He said ‘Guns are our God given right.’ I wasn’t sure which religious text he was referring to, but it has to be one they don’t teach in any Comparative Religion class I have heard of. Guns are a relatively modern invention not covered in scripture by the main religions of the world, including Christianity.

The recent shooting of black 16 yr old honor student, Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Missouri this month broke my heart. How does a boy get shot ringing a doorbell? The old man fired through a glass door! And the 85 year old may get away with it simply by stating he was ‘Afraid.’ Missouri’s Stand Your Ground law will afford him protection. Unbelievable. But why are Americans so afraid? The rest of the world doesn’t suffer from this kind of collective psychosis of fear, unless they are living in a war zone. And a self inflicted war is what Americans are creating, for themselves and their children.

Our students as young as five participate in monthly Active Shooter drills in school. Babies taught to hide and to be afraid. And we call this the price of Freedom. Where is the freedom to grow up without fear? The Bill of Rights allows for the Pursuit of Happiness, for godsake. How is the 2nd Amendment serving those children’s happiness? And, with our ability to turn a blind eye to mass school shootings its no wonder we don’t seem to care about anything but the right to open carry in a daycare center. As of this week, in Florida you don’t even need a license to buy a gun.

New Thinking

The only way The Good Friday Agreement got done, according to former President Clinton, was that the people got out ahead of the politicians. After a generation grew up knowing nothing but armed occupation, brutality and terrorism, they wanted, and demanded, that the violence stop. And that politicians do something to stop it.

I look at the parallels between Northern Ireland in the 1990’s and the US today. I watch the young people marching in the streets for change. And, yet again, the people are ahead of the entrenched, backward thinking American politicians. Protesters are demanding to stop the culture of violence and the insanity of rabid protections for guns over people. But I wonder which politicians will have the courage of Blair, Clinton, Adams and Ahern. In 2023? To stand up and say Enough is Enough!! Who will our heroes be and when will they emerge? To shepherd the end to gun violence through the congress/statehouse, and get it done. I keep listening. But, sadly, so far…it’s crickets.

Mud Wrestling

We are so happy that there has been movement on getting some of the infrastructure for the business started. But it means there are large swaths of dirt across the property. And now that sunny, unseasonably warm April has turned to rain, the large swaths are now mud pits. Fine. It just means less mowing when I hop on the riding mower for a couple of dry hours. Except it also means we have Fergus – The Superhero of Mud Surfing. Holy Moly!

Fergus is seven months old now. Labs have a development timeline that is spot on, almost to the day. I’m like a fortune teller. Let’s consult the Labrador Retriever timeline to see what we’re in for this week. Jeff has become a believer. And Fergus is playing all the developmental hits. His needle-sharp baby teeth have been replaced by adult teeth, right on time. So no more shark week. But he’s still a bit too mouthy for my liking. We are working on it. Dogs explore the world via their nose first and their mouths second. And he’s nearly a full sized lab now. Sadly, he doesn’t realize this and jumps up and wants to sit on my lap to fall asleep. Sixty pounds of dog is more than I want in my lap. OK. Sometimes I still let him up on the sofa and we watch tv or read a book together. If he’s in a calm mood. But when he’s in ‘let’s play!’ mode he’s a lot of dog.

I watch YouTube videos on how to stop him winding up. Mostly, it involves moving him repeatedly through his training to focus his brain. Which I do. But it doesn’t always work and I have to put him outside to run it off. And, lately, it’s been raining. Letting him outside means I need to get him back inside. And our furniture is protesting a wet muddy dog either jumping up and nestling in, or just brushing past. We are the proud owners of two shampooers. One for furniture and one for carpets. I’m on the soft furnishings side on this one.

On Thursday we had epic rain. The kind you hear on the roof one floor above that sends you awestruck to the window and then to Jeff’s office.

‘Do you hear that? We need an ark.’

And, it was about this time that Jeff’s work meetings all started, and I needed to go get Fergus outside. I donned the rain gear and boots, and headed out. Looking like the Gorton’s Fisherman from the fish sticks box when I was little. And where was our bundle of joy? I should have known. He’s more hippo than dog, wallowing, nay scuba diving in a mud pit behind the house. All I have to do is whistle now and he comes. He’s trained. But it’s a double edged sword because after that first fatal whistling mistake, all I could see was a brown flash heading my way. He didn’t look like the same dog, he was so smothered in mud. Bounding towards me very excited to see Mom, he got within a couple of feet when he launched himself and I was nearly bowled over by a waved of muck, dog flesh and licking. Muddy lips and dog tongue! Ick! I was already wet and cold. How was I going to get him clean and into the house? And I didn’t have dog shampoo outside.

So I grabbed his collar and talked to him soothingly to try to calm him down. Then we made our way to the front door, and directly up stairs to the bathroom. Leaving a muddy trail of Kelli’s boots and Fergus prints that would have to wait to be cleaned up until later. Readers of this blog know that I usually take Fergus into the shower with me to give him a bath. This time, I hadn’t thought this through. At all. Our bathroom is all black and white. White bath mats, white curtain on a floor to ceiling exterior glass door to a balcony, and a white shower curtain. I was still in my muddy rain gear and boots, holding on to Fergus’s collar. When we got to the bathroom door I realized my next mistake. Letting go of the dog, blocking him from the bathroom, I grabbed the dry-clean only bath mat (What idiot bought that? Oh yeah) and rescued it before he ran over the top of me, spreading the mud from himself all over the toilet, bidet, walls, exterior of the tub, then me, all while wagging his muddy tail furiously. This was fun!

I lept upon him like a spider monkey to keep him in one place while I stretched, turning on the tub and shower to heat up the water. I figured I couldn’t get any dirtier. Fool! My third mistake. But there was no way we were showering together. I couldn’t hold him to stem the dirty tide of destruction and get my clothes off at the same time. So, I tried to encourage Fergus to get into the tub. Alone. He balked with everything he had. I cajoled. I begged. I scolded. He just laid there panting. Dead muddy weight. Finally, I picked him up and got his front legs over the edge. He slid back out like a filthy anaconda and laid down. I stood up to stretch. My Hoe-back was acting up. My lower back needed to pick up a large slippery unsanitary dog and lift him over the lip of a bath tub like a hole in it’s non-existent head. I will admit to swearing like a sailor. Both quietly and at the top of my lungs.

‘Fucking dog! Work with me here!’

After several more attempts, Fergus decided he was done fighting and gave up. Realizing that the warm bathtub was where he actually wanted to be, he hopped right in and promptly shook a large portion of his mud coating all over me and the rest of the bathroom. Like a Jackson Pollock painting. An artist in the making. I think Fergus expècted me to join him in the bath but I didn’t dare let go, holding him with one hand and spraying him with the other. The amount of mud that came off him surprised even me. And rocks! Where was he hiding rocks in his short black wiry coat?!? It took three shampoos before the water ran clear indicating he was clean. At about that time Jeff finished his call downstairs and came up to see what all the fuss was about. By this time I was standing in the shower in rain gear rinsing Fergus off for the final time.

‘What’s all the ruckus?’ Jeff had the audacity to ask a wild-eyed me. ‘You look stressed.’

It was all I could do to keep lasers from shooting out of my eyes. I was wet, covered in muck, standing in the shower soaking wet fully clothed in rubber boots as our wonderful dog shook for the hundredth time so that dog water flew into my mouth. I would be washing the ceiling later. Surveying the wholesale muddy destruction of our bathroom, Jeff quickly realised his mistake and retreated to fetch the dog drying towels I had completely forgotten about when I started this misadventure. All this before I would discover the dirty havoc Fergus momentarily wrought to the duvet in our bedroom as I was rescuing the dry-clean only bath mat. (Again, whose idea was that?!)

Finally a clean pup ready for a nap on a de-muddied clean duvet 😉

Don’t get me wrong, I love rain. We wanted to move to Galicia for the seasons. Outside the big windows that line the walls of our house on every side, it couldn’t be greener. An abundance of that new bright green of freshly sprouted spring leaves and grass. This while the rest of Spain is battling an historic drought. So I can’t really complain. But please, Mother Nature. Cut me some slack until this digging is done. Because I’m pretty sure both me and our bathroom aren’t up for a repeat performance of mud wrestling with Fergus any time soon.

Beginning Again

When we moved to Spain, it was a whole new start to lives that already had 50 years under their belts. It was like being born again. No, not in the 1970’s American religious sense. But in the way that new beginnings can change everything. The writer, poet, philosopher and ex-priest John O’Donohue said it best.

There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning. More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could. Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning. Risk might be our greatest ally. To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a critical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginnings might be ripening. There can be no growth if we do not remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over.

John O’Donohue

Our moving here was the beginning of many beginnings living in Spain. I have always run towards change. So it couldn’t be any other way. And we have embraced each one, even though by definition beginnings are also endings. But this adventure filled with new beginnings has been a lifesaver for me. A restless soul, I have always searched for my place in the world. And now, I think I have found it.

Soul Friends

One of John O’Donohue’s most famous works is Anam Cara. It is the Celtic idea of a Soul Friend. Someone who is important in your spiritual development. A friendship that transcends the physical world and strikes at the heart of what it means to be someone’s guide. This is not just the person you have drinks with or go shopping. It’s a person who knows you, the light and the darkness, and embraces and celebrates both equally. Unconditionally, A true kindred spirit. A very rare gem.

I had a friend in the US decades ago. He lost his very important job as the CEO of a big company. When I heard the news I immediately drove to his home, but upon arrival I saw that there were just a couple of people there. Only a few days before they had thrown a ‘small’ dinner party with over 50 of their closest friends on the beautiful terrace of their estate. The guests were happy to drink his very expensive wine and eat the sumptuously prepared meal. When I remarked to him that I was shocked none of the others had turned up to console him, he smiled and squeezed my hand.

‘Kelli, in this life I find that I’m lucky if I can count my true friends on one hand.’

I was young back then. I couldn’t believe this could be true. But now I am wiser, and I know exactly what he means.

The older I get, the pickier I am with whom I am friendly. And even more discerning with those for whom I would use the term ‘friend.’ But, since moving to Spain I have found deeper friendships than I thought possible. People who are like branches from the same cosmic tree. As though my soul and my heart recognizes them from a place far away. A memory just beyond my fingertips. But it embraces them immediately, because it sees its own reflection.

I was chatting with a friend here the other day. We were talking about the difference between friendships here and those back home. How you could have mostly acquaintances there, but few deep friendships. Because you were busy and they were busy, and you didn’t really think about it. Or there was some weird sense of competition. The antithesis of true friendship. You would never have exposed your deepest fears or insecurities, or the darkest secrets of your heart. But here, it’s not like that. Here, my friendships are like frozen concentrated orange juice. The number of friends are fewer but the friendships are infinitely deeper. The bullshit is stripped away. Pretense isn’t a factor. We are all at our most vulnerable because we choose to be. We don’t have time to mess about with petty nonsense, gossip, or competition. And, it means we are more open to sharing, and to listening to each other’s hearts – both the light and the dark. To accept all of it without judgement or the need to fix each other. I find the power of such friendships is immeasurable.

I think few people ever feel accepted just as they are. Because to feel that, we have to expose ourselves. We must take the ultimate risk. To not only show ourselves to others, but to show ourselves to ourselves. Perhaps it is the freedom of such a big adventure that facilitates this. You leave your baggage back across an ocean, and take the opportunity to be you, perhaps for the first time ever.

Maybe this is why I have been so drawn to the Camino, like a gravitational force. People who undertake such a monumental challenge are looking for something. A new beginning. The ultimate risk. No matter where they come from. Pilgrimage makes beggars of kings and kings of beggars. And by the time they reach our house on The Way the bullshit is stripped away. The masks are long gone. They are, perhaps for the first time in their lives, themselves. Vulnerable. Open. Free. And when they walk into Santiago they are ready for another new beginning.

I think my old friend from decades ago was right. These days, I can count my soul friends on one hand. But in that I am very lucky. Because with them I can truly be myself. And, at this point in my life I don’t need anything more.

His Little Hoer

My lavender starts are on the way! It won’t be long before my mini field of lavender is planted. Just one less thing. Readers here will remember when we planted our lavender test plots in summer of 2021. It’s a good thing, too. I learned a lot. Especially about soil composition and conditions. Last summer was an epic drought in Galicia. This winter had record breaking rain. Observing how the lavender survived – or didn’t, in some cases – proved invaluable for my approach to a larger investment. And with the unlimited sage advice of my local spirit animal. Maricarmen, I am sure to be successful.

Yesterday Jeff put up the small fence to cordon off my vegetable patch from the entrance to Fergus’ dog run and my She-shed. My lettuces will be safe. He added a small wooden gate for easy access. I love it!! There will be a small painted sign on that gate very soon proclaiming my vegetable domain. Then, Jeff started cutting out large holes for windows in my shed. This meant I needed to get the windows we bought painted. They come with built in wooden shutters and will be black. It will match our house with white stucco.

I laid out tables in front of the barn, and in my rubber boots and painting overalls, I started painting one of the three windows. Right on schedule, Maricarmen came through the gate. Ready to inspect the troops and their handiwork. She advised me on painting techniques, inspected the new garden fence, then proceeded out to where the furrows await the lavender crop’s arrival. She marched to and fro, hands on hips, pointing and suggesting. Then she nodded her approval. It seems Maricarmen is a fan of my lavender harvesting plans. And my sensible approach to MVP (minimal viable product) farming.

‘If this goes well you can plant more next year.’ She told me.

Holy Moly! I have done something right. Can I get a Hallelujah?!!

Maricarmen is becoming more comfortable with us. She comes in our house and plays with the dog. Brings me even more veggies, and is less and less edited with her advice. All of which I am perfectly comfortable.

We have yet another shed attached to the barn. Like all the others, it is packed to the gills with stuff. It’s only recently that I have begun going through some of it. An archeological lasagna of the previous owners and what is surely their grandparents legacy. So odd to me that they left it all here. Someone was a bombero (fireman) a long time ago. The fire helmet has to be from the middle of the last century or even before. There are ancient cobblers tools and wooden lasts (forms to wrap the leather around in the shape of a foot) And iron holders for nailing on the leather soles. Cool old brass wall sconces that were clearly once for candles but were converted into electric lights sometime in the early 20th century. They have hanging crystals to reflect the light. Every time I lift another thing, something below it catches my eye. Yesterday, I took Maricarmen in there. And I got her signature response. ‘Uff!’

‘What are you going to do with all this?’ She asked me in Spanish.

I just shrugged. I have to go through it. Some of it is so cool. And old. I want to pick through it slowly. Maybe use some of it as inspiration for something artistic. I’m not sure yet. I already rescued the cobbler stuff. I may use the funky wall sconces in my She-shed – if Jeff rewires them to prevent a fire hazard. But as to the rest of it, I don’t know yet. There were also big grinding machines. The scoundrel (the philanderer) who was the ex-husband of the woman who owned the house previously, was an iron worker. I have a ton of his stuff in the house. Some of it I wish I didn’t have. He liked spray painting everything metallic blue! Ugh and heavy sigh. But our black wood hopper was something he made that we found in a shed. And there are a few other things, as well. Useful things. But old grinding machines aren’t something Jeff and I are interested in. Maricarmen perked up when she saw them.

‘You don’t want these?’ She asked me. I suddenly learned the word for filing or grinding things in Spanish.

‘No’ I told her. ‘Do you want them?’

She grunted. Then, she made a phone call. I have learned by experience that when Maricarmen makes a phone call, whomever is on the other end of the line drops whatever they are doing and comes immediately. She’s like Batman. Giving birth? Doesn’t matter. Sitting for your law exam? In the middle of performing brain surgery when Maricarmen’s number flashes on your mobile? Sorry! I gotta go! MariCarmen is calling!

Soon, there were trucks and men at our gate. Opening it themselves. Not usually done here. I had my painting music up loud and was doing my usual dancing, while slathering things with paint. I didn’t notice them, at first. It was a moment before Jeff’s ‘Kelli!! There is someone here to see you!!’ broke through. Ironically, anyone who breaches our perimeter is always here to see me! Including a crowd of unknown dudes in trucks. I have no doubt Jeff would lay down his life to protect me if the hoards with pitchforks ever came through the gates. But he’d send me out first to find out what they wanted. I turned off the music as Jeff patted himself on the back.

‘Aren’t you glad I saved you from the embarrassment of them watching you dancing and singing while painting that window?’

What?! I wasn’t quite sure how I should take that. My savior.

The first man was Maricarmen’s brother. And I know this because he told me. The others I didn’t know. Some had women with them of various ages. They brazenly drove all the way through, past my window table in front of the barn. Then, we walked the shed. They nodded, then swarmed like a hive of bees and began hauling big things out the door. Soon, there was a Klampet-style tying of precariously stacked items in a haphazard way into trucks and into vans. Finally, they left after shaking my hand and waving goodbye. MariCarmen came back later with a wheel barrow and a sack of broccoli. She gave me the broccoli, petted Fergus, then hauled more stuff home from the shed. She’s less enamored with old cobbler tools and antique wall sconces, but cares more about the big iron working tools. Before she left she stopped at the front door with her wheelbarrow.

‘I understand Chus is coming on Thursday.’

I almost laughed. Of course she knows when our new housekeeper is starting. And who she is. Likely, she had something to do with Chus’ arrival on my doorstep. Then, MariCarmen waved goodbye. ‘Hasta Mañana!’

Hoe Back

I have finally cracked it. I know why people here always walk with a stick. They have Hoe Back! Everyone grows their own vegetables. That’s a lot of hoeing. Or wheelbarrow-ing. The other day driving into Melide I saw a man and his wife walking on the side of the road with their own matching ancient wheelbarrows. They were nothing short of 80 years old. Him in his flat cap. She in her apron. Walking uphill into town. Amazing.

Today we have a lot to do. I have my newly protected garden to plant. Jeff just came down the stairs in his Carhartt overalls.

‘Let’s go, my little hoer.’

Yup, We both heard it the minute he said it. The day will be filled with ibuprofen and hoeing. My absorption into the Galician Borg is now complete. MariCarmen will be so proud.

Minuscule Victories

When you move to a foreign country it can be so hard. Harder than you would ever imagine. Especially if there is a language barrier. I have said it before, I stopped trying to ask for specific things because nothing here is called what it is in the US. Even via direct translation. Don’t ask for a water testing kit. No one will know what you are talking about and send you packing. However, if you tell the farmacia that you need to analyze your well water they will go to the back and return with a giant jug encased in plastic. Then give you a thousand and one verbal instructions for collection times and the very narrow window for the hours and days you can drop it off so they can send it out. Note: Entiendo mas pero hablar es mas difícil para me. It only took me three months and 47 farmacias to figure this out. Now I’m a total pro on the water analysis asking front😉.

The water example is just one of five thousand in the past five years. Jeff and I laugh about some of our bigger, very early, mistakes. How we made things so difficult for ourselves by failing to tell the story of what we were trying to do, rather than using the American name for something. And some of the looks we’ve gotten over the years are almost comical. Eye rolls and head scratching by countless clerks, medical professionals, gas station attendants. Sometimes they call a relative who knows ingles to speak to us on the phone. Jeff is better at it than me.

‘Tell them what you are trying to do.’ He reminds me often. And surprisingly, this is easier. Especially when I don’t know the right word. Often, I have many words in español to tell them the how. Then, they can tell me the what. But, there are still times when things are overwhelming. And frustrating. Not so much with other people. More with myself. And sometimes you just need to know you aren’t alone.

The Gift of Understanding

Last night I had an hours long conversation on the phone until nearly midnight with an American friend in Santiago. Boy, did I need that. It was like all the things I say with my inside voice, but out loud. Afterwards I slept like a baby. The first time in awhile. What a gift. And, today, more good news quite literally knocked on our door.

Jeff opened it to a small Galician woman who unleashed a stream of gallego on him. Assuming a cow was out, or we had done yet another thing wrong, Jeff shouted for me.

‘Kelli! There is someone at the door for you!’

Of course. I am the official American Ambassador of the village of A Campanilla. Since there are perhaps 15 residents in total – swelling to 30 in August holidays and fiestas – there isn’t much competition for the title. Unless you include Jeff, who has eschewed the American foreign service with extreme prejudice.

I have been searching for a housekeeper for, well, forever. To no avail. I have called every service in the Yellow Pages Melide (yes, they have that here), asked friends, asked strangers. Nada. Most services are commercial cleaning services. In our area women clean their own houses. It seems no one wants to clean the Americans house. And it is ‘The Americans house’ because you can ask anyone within twenty kilometers of here and they will give you directions on how to get here. I know this because I have ordered things in every burg, village, roadside fruit stand, and when I try to give the person I have never met in my life the address of where to deliver my purchases they always stop me.

‘I know where you live.’

It used to creep me out. Now I accept it as part of the benefit of living in rural Galicia.

This little woman on my porch was here to clean my house. What?!? After all this time, and likely A LOT of town gossip, the dam broke. And out popped this lady, ready for work. Hallelujah! My gallego is pretty much nonexistent. I do know the word for milk – leite. And a couple of others that are valuable in the food truck. Gallego is a lot like Portuguese – I think. Anyway, she will come at 9am every Thursday to clean the entire house. All this for €9 per hour. We will see how the first cleaning goes, then promptly give her a healthy raise. I will not be disappointed – I am pretty sure – and I won’t want to lose her.

Gratitude

I think living here can be difficult, but good for us. It’s the same for most Americans I meet. In the US, we are used to everything being new and shiny. And quick and easy. But you can expect none of those things when you move to Spain. Yet there is power in having none of that. Because you learn to appreciate the smallest things. Minuscule victories your friends in the US would mock you for. ‘What do you mean your plumber took 9 months to show up?!?’ Finding a food you haven’t seen in years in your local grocery store and celebrating by holding it up and dancing in the aisle. Learning how to accomplish some small administrative task that has taken you a year. How to ask for what you need and actually being understood. And this small woman standing on our porch, who is our new housekeeper, represents all that. Yet another reason in a long list of things to be grateful for. In this life in Spain, its a list never to be taken for granted.

Planting Hope

With the unseasonably warm weather over the past week Spring has sprung. The trees are in full leaf. Most of them, anyway. Some are a bit behind the others.

Our plethora of fruit trees are in flower. Even the fig tree has, well, baby figs. Shades of things to come. And the grape arbor is pushing forth it’s leaves. I can almost taste the stuffed grape leaves in summer.

Yesterday I mowed the entire property. It helps keep the morning dew from my socks as we run Fergus in the back field every morning before breakfast. The flowers on the plum, cherry, and apricot trees were gorgeous as I drove past singing along to my music in full voice, as Pilgrims wandered past, conducting the big orchestrations with my invisible baton. And rapping along with Flo Rida. Open up the champagne POP! It’s my house, come on, turn it up!

How Does Your Garden Grow…

My vegetable garden is ready to plant. It’s been properly turned over – on the direction of Maricarmen – and furrowed. I even have a new proper sized Galician hoe so I can hurt my back every Spring like a local. No wonder there are so many fisioterapias in Melide. We all have one on speed dial. My weekly massage is mandatory.

A few weeks ago I started sewing vegetable seeds and they are doing well. Starts I can’t buy at the local Agro store. Sweet corn. Here, corn is for animal feed. Not for grilling in the husk over a wood fired, then shucking and slathering with butter and eating this glorious, dripping mess on the patio with friends on a warm August day. To every Galician we are the strangest of Americans. But, yesterday I went into Palas de Rei to buy the rest. The man who helped me laughed at my enthusiasm. Squealing over beets and beans. Peppers and squash. Heart cabbages. In my experience, it’s hard to get a chuckle out of stoic rural Galician men. So, I took it as a victory. The other customers were not as amused by my happy vegetable dance.

Rocks In The Garden

We are preparing the ground for the lavender. I’ll be putting rocks in the furrows to help reflect heat back on to the plants. To keep them warm. So, at Jeff’s suggestion I stopped at our friend, Toño’s, hardware store. He sells a lot of building materials, and I need a gigantic bag of rocks. Actually, I will need many of these. I want white-ish beige small rocks. Not pea gravel, but not crushed gravel. This will go between each row and facilitate drainage. It will also be the warm colored gravel I will use under the food truck tables and for all the paths I must have between cabins, etc. Once we are approved, of course. Think Parisian parks. I was pretty proud of myself for negotiating the price. I have done my homework. This first load will be two big bags delivered by truck with a crane. But I assured him there is much more where that came from if he gives me a volume discount that beats Obramat (Home Depot). Toño was happy to obligue and we shook on it. His wife came out to shake my hand. He even gave me a note tablet as a GWP – gift with purchase. You know how I love a GWP. 😉

Getting Started

I wanted to get those starts in the ground today but woke up to pouring rain. We will see what the afternoon holds. I think gardens are a physical expression of hope. No one plants trees whose fruit they don’t expect to enjoy. Or a vegetable patch they won’t be around to harvest. Plants are the ultimate reflection of optimism. Green thumb or no. And with the leafing of the chestnuts and the flowering of the fruit trees we are surrounded by the promise of brighter things to come. Even on a rainy gloomy Spring morning.

Semana Santa

This week is Holy Week. And we headed into Santiago for a fun night with friends. First, a Maundy Thursday service at San Augustine church. Then dinner with too much laughter including a friend’s daughter who lives in Southeast Portland. A small world. And finally, viewing the San Augustine procession from our friend’s balcony until well past 1am. Holy Moly we were tired. But in the best sort of way.

We are not religious, but there are times, like muscle memory, when it all comes flooding back. In church, the words may be in español, but I can speak them or sing them in ingles right along with the priest and congregation. I teared up when the priest washed and kissed the parishioners feet at the service. A simple act of humility. A reminder that we are all servants of each other. No better or worse than the next man.

A Lazy Good Friday

Fergus had to spend the night in his kennel outside. I felt bad leaving him overnight. He was fine, of course. We dashed home from Santiago first thing in the morning. He didn’t leave our sides all day. I’m pretty sure he stayed up all night waiting for us, because he slept all day yesterday.

Gearing Up

I have decided to take a fake it til you make it approach to this walking season. Thousands of Pilgrims are walking by each day. It looks like June or July instead of April. The Pilgrims Office in Santiago says its a 40% increase over last year. And I believe it. Already there are bed shortages. And yet, still we can not get our permissions. <eye roll> <another heavy sigh>

To cheer myself up I have decided I will make it look like we could open on a moment’s notice. Planting my flowers. Making it look inviting. Today, Pilgrims stopped to chat and take photos. No table cloths on tables yet, but I am purchasing equipment to increase the capacity of the number of orders I can put out at a given time. <deep breath>

A Time to Sew…

My vegetable garden starts are ready to plant 🌱. Jeff has tilled the soil in the fenced garden after they removed the trees with heavy equipment last week. He’s creating furrows with the tractor, as we speak. Then, I’ll head out to plant them.

Earlier, Jeff prepared the ground in the field for the lavender. We are a year late planting it but such is life here. Everything takes me longer than I would like.

Fergus was my constant companion today, until he chased Pilgrims down the road who stopped to pet him. I got my workout getting him home. A black dog on a hot day in Spain has it tough. He is back sleeping next to me as I write this. Worn out from farm adventures.

Tomorrow we head back to Santiago for a final pre-mass procession, Easter service, then lunch with friends. The perfect ending to Holy Week. I will say a prayer for things to continue looking up.

Milagro do Easter

We had to go to Lugo very early this morning for an appointment. Before the sun came up. This time of year there are no Pilgrims at that hour. By July we will start seeing headlamps at 6am. The appointment did not go as planned. Ugh. I do not want to go back for this for a third time. As a result, we were delayed coming home for a bit. It’s a good thing, too. The fog in Lugo was epic this morning. We could barely see a few meters in front of the car on the way to town. But by the time we made our way home the perfect blue sky had come out and we were smiling as we turned the sharp left at O Coto to head down our country lane.

This week is Semana Santa in Spain. Many people have the week off. But everyone has Thursday – Sunday as a holiday. And our little stretch of the Camino Frances is PACKED with Pilgrims. Over a thousand walked by today. So many it looked like August trying to weave in and out of them so as not to hit them or the stone walls on the edge of the road. Walking five across on a small country lane isn’t a recipe for self-preservation. Once cresting the small rise after the horses in the field, we can see our house through the trees across our neighbor’s cow pasture. Jeff pointed excitedly.

‘There is heavy equipment in our front yard!’

What?!? My head whipped up and sure enough, there was a yard full of trucks and tractors. And men. Lots of men.

‘That’s a good sign.’ declared Jeff.

But I was skeptical. They’re building the AutoVia (freeway) a few kilometers away. Perhaps these guys saw an open gate and needed a place to rest, or something. Because nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has gone my way this winter. There was no way they were there for us. I was supposed to have an entire water treatment plant installed around American Thanksgiving. We missed a party invite to spend it in Malaga with friends while waiting for the workers to come. That was over four months ago. We are still waiting.

Jeff turned the car into the gate after shooing some Pilgrims who were picnicking in front of it and getting a lot of grief in something other than Spanish or english. He finally just shouted ‘I live here.’ That got them reluctantly moving. Slowly. We parked on the lawn in front of the house and got out just in time to see Diego, our contractor, and our Plumber break from the huddle of workers. It’s a freaking Milagro do Easter!! They are here for us. And they are starting to dig all the water and install the septic and electrical for the entire project. And they are preparing the ground for the solar panels. What?!? I stood there, speechless. I wanted to cry. But they came towards me, all smiles.

‘You’re here.’ I whispered, in utter disbelief. As if they had been gone off to war and returned in one piece.

‘Of course.’ As though I have not been dodging the police, the scowls of our neighbors, waiting, calling, begging, crying, waiting some more, calling some more, begging some more and finally, crying some more – since July of last year. Nine months. Jeff laughed out loud, it was so absurd.

Do we have our permissions to open the food truck yet? Oh no. But here, they don’t need permissions for installing a 3000 litre water tank and treatment plant. Or to run electricity to the entire property – including the shadow of all the Cabins and campsites we have yet to build. Or to redo our septic system. I do need permission to change the color of my front door. Not kidding. But digging giant swimming pool-sized holes in my yard that someone could fall into and break a leg? Nah! No problem.

I walked around and they had already started trenching. And preparing the area for our solar panel install. They have dug up our septic system and are expanding the drain field. Jeff and I stumbled around looking at it all, with our mouths hanging open. The old guy on the giant excavator made quick work of all of it. I could hardly speak. Jeff is thrilled because now he knows where all the electrical and water is run. In case he needs to dig or something.

I know why all this has happened. This week, my Swiss Army knife-of-a-friend in Santiago offered to help us by interceding on our behalf. And not just with the Almighty. Somehow, just that kind offer seems to have kicked things into high gear.

‘I have become an ass pain, Kelli.’ Diego informed me.

I looked confused. ‘I don’t understand.’

He pointed to his backside.

‘Ah. You mean a pain in the ass.’

He smiled and nodded.

‘Welcome to the club.’ I told him. Sadly, he knows what I am saying. I know he has been trying to climb the mountain of bureaucracy. He says the Patrimonio told him we will have an answer in 15 days. <heavy sigh> And, if they approve it the real building will start.

‘Even before getting the concello’s permission?’ I asked.

‘The Patrimonio trumps everyone. Let them fight it out if we have the permission of the turismo and the patrimonio. Then the Concello have to approve it.’

I am not a person who ever holds grudges. It’s a waste of time. But even I am surprised at how the sight of all this equipment and our old septic tank has swiftly washed away the months of teeth grinding frustration and gloom. I have never been so happy to have giant holes and piles of muddy dirt everywhere. Long trenches and massive things I don’t really understand sitting in my driveway. Because it all means SOMETHING is happening. At long last. Tomorrow we are heading into Santiago to spend Maundy Thursday with friends, attend church, watch processions, eat amazing food, drink amazing wine, and watch more processions. And I will be giving thanks and raising a glass for Easter miracles. Because this year I am sure we are the recipients of this one. Just in time.

A Tough Road to Hoe

I haven’t written in a while. It’s been kind of a tough stretch. Sometimes we need to take a step back and spend time on self-care. That’s what I have been doing over the past few weeks. Healing and being more quiet than I would normally. Jeff has been as terrific as they come. And so have friends here. There are times I pinch myself on how lucky I am to have landed in a foreign country and found such amazing people who are like long lost relatives you never knew you had.

We woke up this morning to a frosty Palm Sunday. Beautiful, but cold. After running Fergus, as we do every morning in the back 40, with the added degree of difficulty of Fergus stealing my bra from the laundry in the barn, chasing him all over the yard and having Pilgrims stop to laugh, point and take photos of us, as two grown adults attempted to cajole, shout, corner, then, finally bribe our dog to ‘leave it’, we got to work on the chores around the farm. Jeff has undertaken a special project for me.

Since we moved to the farm I have hardly painted. A canvas here and there. But even my tiny painting area in the house got usurped by the cat and dog. Even before that I felt constrained after my Espacio Creativo (the creative space/warehouse I rented in Valencia) went away before we moved. So the easels and the canvases were put away last fall on the farm. The paints were crated-up and shelved in the barn. And a small part of me was boxed up with them. Writing and painting are like two sides of the same coin for me. As my painting lacked an outlet, it impacted my writing. I wanted a space. A studio of my own. But, as all of you already know, getting construction projects a)approved, then b) executed, is like pulling teeth here, bordering on impossible. Next week, Kelli. Yeah, right. I’ve ceased dreaming of possibilities and have resigned myself to heavy sighs and pulling the covers back over my head. It was never going to happen. But then Jeff had an idea.

We have a few outbuildings on the farm. One should already be a Pilgrim laundry, but…don’t get me started on permissions. <eye roll> <heavy sigh>. But we have an old set of buildings with fenced pens that were used for chickens, pigs, baby dinosaurs. I have no idea what else. One of these we used for Fergus and his dog house/dog run. But there were others. Jeff took my sullen face back to one of the metal doors we had yet to open and made a suggestion.

‘What if I took the roof off this shed and cleaned it out. Stucco the walls and put in big windows. The Patrimonio and the Concello can’t say a word. It’s an old animal pen. Then, I could put clear panels in the roof. It would be light and you would have a place to paint.’

I was skeptical. Jeff has a real job. This would take a lot of time and effort. But Jeff drew up a plan. He did the demolition and welded a steel roof frame. And today he finished the roof. Soon, the new windows we purchased will go in. After that, he’ll rewire it so that I have all the electrical outlets an American girl needs in her She-shed. Then, he’ll start stuccoing it – inside and out. Finally, the paint will make it even brighter and I can start decorating it. And putting flowers into the pot wall he’s building, and in the window boxes. Something to look forward to. And an outcome we can control. Dare I hope?

Jeff’s idea gave me a glimmer of light in a long dark winter. So I planted my vegetable garden starts in the trays from Leroy Merlin and they are growing like gangbusters. Time to get the garden plowed and ready to go. So, we got out the roto tiller, and today we shaved down the area of tall grass in one of the pens. The fence will keep javalies, etc out of the garden. We did a ten foot by ten foot section as an experiment. Then, I hoed it all by hand into furrows.

They say gardening is like taking an antidepressant, and I have to agree. What a lovely day outside in my straw hat, gloves and rubber boots. We even took a brief break to head into Melide for the Palm Sunday procession and to pick up some plants from Sunday market day, when all the local farms bring in their produce and plants to sell in tents. (if you look closely you can see Pilgrims walking up the hill in the distance)

Finally, at home I was back to hoeing. I like to hoe my own row – as they say. It’s not perfect, but I do it with style in my Marc Jacob rubber boots I purchased at their store in the West Village in NYC. Those poor designer boots had no idea what they were in for when they went home with me.

Jeff was roofing the shed, and I was dancing around my hoe with my music up loud, when suddenly I heard giggling and turned to see my neighbor, Maricarmen, standing there in her apron, boots and straw hat. Something tells me she was amused at my smooth moves to ‘We got the Funk.’ I was kickin’ it old school. Nothing brings Maricarmen out like seeing us hoeing. Or not seeing us hoeing. Or pruning. Or whatever we are supposed to be doing at any given time of year when everyone else in Galicia is doing it. I thought she had given up on me but clearly she has not. She was here to inspect my handiwork. And she found me wanting. I am not surprised.

My Spanish is coming along. But my agricultural español is not where it needs to be. Today, I learned the word for tree roots is raíces. And I learned that a lot of head shaking, finger waving and tutting (in any language) means you’re doing it wrong. Seriously, I am hoeing incorrectly. How is that possible? They’re lines of dirt, for godsake. Maricarmen explained.

‘Your rows are too shallow. You need to hoe deeper.’ Then, all four feet of Maricarmen grasped my new hoe (which she informed me is also inadequate, btw) and she went to town on my furrows, giving a tractor a run for the money. She held the dirt. Shook out the clods. Shook her head some more. Then hoed, even deeper. Soon, she crawled out of the foot and half furrow and declared that we needed a blade to turn the earth. Apparently Carlos, our firewood guy has a small tractor that can fit in the fenced area (ours will not). He will come when she calls him and take care of it for us.

‘How deep should we furrow?’ I asked this agricultural expert.

‘Double deep. Or nothing you have will grow.’ Then, she led me around and inspected my vegetable starts. Shook her head some more, and began to lay out our garden based on sun and shade. I promised her radishes (they’re growing like weeds in the containers) but I feel like she’s not holding her breath that I will have success. She laughed at where I was planning on planting the corn. And frowned at my tomato plants in raised beds.

I looked over and noticed Jeff trying to make himself invisible so as to avoid the eagle eye of Maricarmen and her potential scorn of his new ‘chicken coop’ – really, Kelli’s new She-shed – design. He kept ducking behind things and running back to the barn. But, at 6ft. 3in he will always be the tallest person in any Galician gathering. She declared his clear roofing would kill all the chickens we don’t have because it will get too hot. Luckily, it’s not for chickens and we are going to use fabric to mitigate the sun. The clear roofing material is UV protected so we will be fine. But we didn’t tell her about our true purpose. I love her but I am gun shy with any neighborly gossip that might involve a visit by the police or planning committee.

I always wonder why I feel like an idiota next to Maricarmen and this time was no different. When she turned to leave, after we agreed I will go mow her lawn tomorrow afternoon, she pointed to our house as I walked her to the gate from the barn.

‘Your front door is wide open. I went in there first, looking for you. You should close it when you are out in your garden. Or someone will steal everything.’

Her work done, she waved and went home. I sit here writing this and I have a lot to be grateful for. Maricarmen’s expertise, for sure. And the fact that because of her I stopped hoeing. I am very sure that by bedtime I will be unable to move. Ibuprofen is in my immediate future. And just looking at me, wise Maricarmen took pity on me. Undoubtedly, she could see it, too.

A Life Unfolding

Family. It’s a loaded word. For me and many others. The past 36 hours have been full of it. In both expected, and very unexpected ways.

Sunday night started with working out how to get the Oscars on our tv here in Galicia. In Spain, it required us getting our old Moviestar subscription back. And that requires cable. We cut cable five years ago, and only had it briefly so Jeff could have internet after we moved to Galicia. Before Starlink. For a four hour tv show once a year, I wasn’t signing a long term contract for cable.

We had given up our US VPN service after Valencia, as well. Embracing Spanish tv. So Jeff set up our global service, again. And we used a server in Melbourne Australia to get their Plus7 channel, which had the corner on broadcasting the Oscars for all of Australia. It worked great. Until I fell asleep at 3am. But before that I got to see my brother, his wife, and their son on the red carpet. And to revel as host Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at Todd when announcing TAR’s nomination for Best Picture. The film didn’t win. But then again, no one but Everything Everywhere All At Once won anything. I haven’t seen it, but apparently it’s about a complicated family relationship. That word, again. Family. Ugh.

And Then It Got Interesante

I woke up late yesterday. Well, more like lunchtime after my late Oscar night. And I had a message from 23andMe telling me that I had a message waiting for me. 23andMe is an ancestry DNA service. Jeff and I did it before we left the US. I’m not sure why. Maybe he got the test as a gift. But we both did it. Over the years, more and more people are added to my family tree. People from all over the world.

A few months ago a guy reached out to me. We are second cousins, according to the DNA svs. He wanted to know if I knew who his Dad was. 23andMe said he is my Dad’s first cousin. But that couldn’t be possible. My Dad would be 94 this year. His aunts and uncles were all dead, or nearly, by the time this man was born. I couldn’t help him. But then, yesterday he messaged me again. He had another family name. And I knew that name. It was my aunt, my Dad’s sister’s married name. And it rang a bell in my head.

My cousin, her son, went to Africa in the Peace Corp after college in the 70’s. And there was a rumor that there was a child. I asked more questions. It turns out that this man is the child of my cousin, and is from Sierra Leone – in West Africa. Our DNA proves we are related. But it took a little longer to determine precisely how. Holy Moly.

We chatted for awhile about family. He said something interesting.

‘Appears we have a lot of writers in the family. You write, your brother writes movies, and I write songs.’

He’s a musician. His music is on Apple iTunes and Amazon music.

I emailed my Mom his details. She keeps in touch with my cousin in Washington State. Then, she passed on the info. And, yesterday this man was able to speak to his father’s sister for the first time in his life. It brought tears to my eyes.

His grandparents, my aunt and uncle, would have happily embraced him. They were world travelers and served in the Peace Corp in Ecuador during their retirement. Sadly, they are passed away. But his Uncle, my cousin, who lives in the Solomon Islands, since meeting his wife during his stint in the Peace Corp there, will be thrilled to meet him.

What a day! Jeff kept coming out of his office for updates, as I spent the day talking to my new second cousin. Amazing. Last night he sent me photos of his beautiful family. I must admit, I could see a little bit of my mischievous Uncle Joe in his smile.

At Thanksgiving, Jeff and I are heading to see Ryan in Washington DC. Then up the Maine to see our Camino friends, Chris and Esther. On our trip, my newly discovered cousin now lives in Massachusetts not far from Maine, and has invited us for a meal with his family.

Jeff was all smiles last night. ‘How do you feel?’ He asked.

‘Good.’ I said. ‘I’m so glad I could finally help him solve the mystery. And to connect him with his aunt and uncle.’

‘You did a good thing. You changed his life.’

I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just know that for the first time in a long time Family turned out to be a positive thing. As I lay there last evening, as sleep eluded me, I thought back to our long exchange. The one from months ago. Then, all day yesterday. How it all finally unraveled in a flash.

I woke up this morning to an obituary in my Inbox. It seems his father, my cousin, passed away on his sailboat in Sausalito, near San Francisco, during the pandemic. After sailing the South Pacific solo for eight years prior. But even though his father has passed, this isn’t the end of the story. For this man’s journey to find his family has just begun, and I get to be a small part of it. What a privilege. The amazing story of a life unfolding, from Africa to America, and beyond.

Little Black Boxes

The year 2014 was a difficult year. One of the most difficult of my life. That January we had to send our daughter to a special boarding school on the other side of the US. Dropping her off that day was one of the worst days of my life. I cried so hard as Jeff drove us away from the school, across the state of Kentucky toward Nashville, Tennessee. So hard that I broke all the blood vessels in my face.

When we left her that afternoon it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time we reached Bowling Green, Kentucky three hours later it was -1 and a bomb cyclone of arctic air had swept across the Great Plains down from Canada. It was as if the weather reflected our mood. The warmth had been sucked out of the world in the blink of an eye, and my heart felt the same way. We had to stop for the night due to the icy roads. Staying in a retched place, the only room available, not far from the highway.

The next morning, we would not make it to the Nashville airport. We were stuck in Bowling Green. Jeff was worried about me and suggested I take the day to rest, but I couldn’t rest. Across the street was the Corvette factory. I am not a fan of Corvettes but I like factories and engineering. A good distraction for my brain. So, we walked over in the bitter cold and took the tour. The only two people there that day, the receptionist looked at us like we were crazy. Who would go on a Corvette factory tour on a day like that? But one manufacturing line was up and running with employees who made it in. And the Corvette museum next door was open, as well. We toured that, too. The city of Bowling Green sits atop of one of the largest cavern systems in the country. A few weeks later we would read in the news that a giant sinkhole had formed under that museum, sucking in priceless vintage cars. I remember telling Jeff that if it had opened the day we were there I would have let that sinkhole take me.

Eventually, we were able to get flights out of Knoxville, Tennessee. I flew to NY for the week for work. Jeff was flying back to Seattle. Sitting on the plane after boarding, my boss called me. She was giving me a huge raise. But I was so numb, my thanks were less than enthusiastic. It was as though I couldn’t remember how to feel. Like a fog had descended upon me and everyone else felt like they were speaking to me through a tunnel. Barely audible. It took the full two hours until we landed in Newark for me to stuff all that into one of the little black boxes I keep for these things. The hard things. It was a lot for such a small space, and the door didn’t want to close so I could turn the key and put it on a shelf beside all the other black boxes in the warehouse where I keep the most difficult moments in my life. In my mind it looks a lot like the vast warehouse of crates at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, except without the Nazi emblems and stamps. Things would go in but they didn’t come out.

When It Rains, It Pours

That summer, my Dad fell across the rocks into the pond in my parent’s backyard. Paramedics had to fish him out. He had broken his thigh bone, amongst others and was in bad shape. I am fairly certain the only reason he lived is that my Mother willed it to be so. Who knew tuna casserole and scalloped potatoes had such power? She brought him food in the hospital each day and fed him herself. And every weekend I drove the 6+ hour round trip to Portland from Seattle. Heart attacks, anaesthesia induced dementia. Sepsis. It just kept hitting him.

In September I had to go to Europe for work. Standing outside the head offices of Christian Dior in Paris my phone rang. It was my Mom. The doctor had told her that she needed to make end of life choices for my father. They recommended hospice. I stood there, as my colleagues waited for me to go inside, and calmly talked my mother off a ledge. It was my Dad’s 85th birthday. She couldn’t imagine making this decision on his birthday. I told her I would be home in a week and would come down to talk about it. We didn’t know then that he would hang on for the next five years. I’m sure it was because he didn’t want to disappoint her.

After the call, I hung up, adjusted my bag, then smiled to my team. ‘Let’s go .’ We had a bit of a contentious meeting with the head of supply chain and logistics, but in the end it was all smoothed out. In the car afterwards, one of our number leaned over to me and said ‘That was amazing. How did you do that after that call with your Mom? There is no way I could do what you just did.’

‘You don’t understand.’ I said, frowning. ‘I had no choice.’

I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t be upset. I had to, well, more than keep it together. I had to perform. Just like in NY after taking Emilie to boarding school, I had a job to do. I just needed to keep the hard things locked away in the right box.

That night, as we sat in an ancient wine cellar beneath the streets of Paris drinking wine made with grapes from before I was born, I took a moment to breathe. I didn’t want to be drinking this expensive wine. I didn’t want to fly to London for another week of meetings. I was tired to the bone. Closing my eyes for a split second, I just wanted to go home.

The Hardest Thing

Three weeks after I returned from Europe, on a cold morning at the beginning of October, I got a phone call from my Mom. When I saw her number, I braced myself. It was too early. She was crying. This would not be good news. I thought it would be about my Dad, but it wasn’t. My nephew had committed suicide, his girlfriend had found him in the early morning hours. My brother, Bob, was across town when Kenny’s girlfriend called him with the news. He immediately called my Mom to rush over to his house to beat the Coroner who was driving there to tell his wife. So, my elderly Mom, with my much more elderly grandmother in tow, had to break it to my sister-in-law, Kenny’s mother, in her nightgown and robe while standing on their front porch. I already thought 2014 was an awful year. But nothing could have prepared any of us for the horror of this. I jumped in the car and made the drive south. After so many trips there for my Dad the car could have driven itself. I wasn’t sure how much more my Mom could take. And my eldest brother, Bob, and his wife needed everyone to surround them.

I tried not to cry in front of any of them. Building yet another black box on the drive down, I needed to make sure that they knew they could count on me for whatever they needed. Ordering chairs and tents for the memorial in the park. Any little errand. They just had to ask; I would do it. They should be unburdened of everything because the load they were carrying was too much for anyone.

It started to feel like 2014 wanted to destroy us all. There was nearly three months left in the year. I wondered what horrors it might still have in store for us. Praying 2015 would be better.

One day, a couple of weeks later I was at work. I don’t know what it was. Music playing, someone’s voice, something. Suddenly, I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I went into the closest conference room and closed the blind and the door. At the top of the hour, someone I worked with came in with her laptop. Obviously, I hadn’t booked the conference room. There would be meetings starting. But my colleague turned around and told the people she was meeting with to go find another room. Then, she came inside and shut the door. I didn’t know her particularly well. We were co-workers by sight. I was her senior by several levels. Aware I was being wholly unprofessional by darting inside and crying in this booked conference room, I should have gone to my office. I stood to go. But she sat down, anyway, and she took my hand.

‘What’s happened?’ she asked.

This wasn’t a Bad things happened at work kind of cry. This was My world is falling apart kind of cry. I could barely form a sentence, so we sat there in relative silence. Finally, I told her about my Dad and my nephew. How difficult things had been. That I missed my daughter, and I questioned every day if we were doing the right thing by sending her to that school.

‘Sometimes the hardest decisions are still the right solutions.’ She assured me.

‘How do I know?’ I asked her, wiping my cheeks.

She smiled. ‘You don’t. You just do the best you can.’

Then, she told me she thought that I had Broken Heart Syndrome. What?! That sounded like a made-up thing. I wasn’t a teenager. My high school boyfriend hadn’t broken up with me the day before the prom. But she shook her head.

‘No. It’s when too many very bad things happen in quick succession. When you can’t catch your breath from it before the next wave hits you. It can literally, physically break your heart.’

My heart felt broken. Shattered into a thousand pieces. The glass shards kept sneaking out of the boxes, cutting deep. But I didn’t know what to do about it. I had my warehouse filled with black boxes. I was convinced that I just needed to wipe my tears and make sure the lock on the door was secure so they couldn’t get out.

Nothing Last Forever

The next year wasn’t much better than 2014. Jeff had a terrible motorcycle accident where he nearly died. My Grandmother passed away in November. But everyone has these things, tragedies and trials. As a human, I am not alone in this. And more black boxes filled with grief were added to my warehouse. ‘Get up, Kelli. Just keep going. All you have to do it put another box on the shelf.’ So, I did.

It wasn’t until I decided to walk the Camino with Emilie in 2017 that I seemed to stop putting boxes in – if just for a few months. It felt strange. I had been doing it since I was a small child. There was comfort in it. But, after that first day in the Pyrenees, I opened my backpack and found out I was carrying a warehouse full of boxes on my trek. People talk about packing light. I had packed as heavy as it comes. Everything I thought I was leaving at home had jumped into my pack, like a lead weight. It turned out, I was the warehouse for all of it. If my pack was going to get lighter, I needed to do the work, opening them one at a time, walking with their contents each day. Shaking out a box before leaving it in the dust on the trail, then selecting another. I think it’s why I prefer to walk alone on a winter Camino. I can stop at churches and pray or cry in solitude. Have the place to myself. Sing or dance on an empty trail. Ask the tough questions of God and myself. And feel what it is to feel the hardest things – finally. Sadness and anger is just repressed grief. And the only way out of grief is through it.

Why Now?

Everyone who reads this blog knows a lot about me. For better or worse, I tend to be an open book. But it seems my heart is physically broken, once again. I know the causes, and they are telling me there is a fix. So, I’ll be doing that. But, this time, I’m going to do it differently. No getting back up and shaking things off. Pretending that I’m invincible. I’m going to take it slower. Be kind to myself in my recovery. This is uncharted territory for me. I have no idea if it will work. But I do know that I have learned that a warehouse of heavy black boxes doesn’t work long term. I need to sell the place. This time, I’m going to deal with it – all of it. The pain, the frustration, the grief. Then maybe, just maybe, I can avoid breaking my own heart, once again.

The Dreaded Appointment

Getting appointments in Galician bureaucracy has become big news of late. Never has a population’s ire been raised to such a fevered pitch. Peasants with torches and pitchforks at the gates of Frankenstein’s castle had nothing on these people.

During the pandemic, all appointments with Spanish bureaucracy- basically anything in Spanish life – required a pre-appointment. Cita previa. They confused me as it translates to prior appointment. This gets muddled when you are making a selection in a drop down on a government website and one of the options is prior appointment. What it’s really asking is if you want to make a prior appointment for an appointment. At first, this felt like I was in an endless loop. No, I didn’t have a prior appointment. I needed to make an appointment so that my appointment would then become a ‘prior appointment.’ But then, I realized that the prior appointment isn’t something in the past. It’s having an appointment before you turn up at whatever office in which you have business to conduct. Dear Lord.

And Then It All Changed…Except It Didn’t

Essentially, the pandemic measure are nearly disappeared. As of last week, all public transport no longer requires a mask. Flying to Valencia, the onboard announcement says it’s required, but none of the crew wore them, and half of the passengers were maskless. On the metro it was hit and miss. I needed a mask for the Drs, but not for the 20 or so farmacias I had to go to to get meds. Life is returning, somewhat, to normal. Except for the cita previa. Prior appointment. And the people are pissed off. So much so they have taken the government to court.

Last week, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that post-state of emergency rules requiring a prior government appointment are unconstitutional. And limits citizens access to services they themselves pay for. The government works for the people, not the other way around. I’d like to see them rule on all the bureaucratic gymnastics that are an art form here. But I digress.

Requiring a prior appointment, that can only be obtained via a computer or mobile device, is discriminatory. Laws have been passed that have forced banks in Spain to attend older people in person, who A) don’t understand how to use an atm. B) don’t own a computer or smart phone. Or C) if they did, they couldn’t figure out how to navigate thru the maze of ridiculousness for obtaining an appointment. I understand this because I am far from elderly, and I needed an appointment with the Tesoria and could not figure out how to get an appointment online. And it nearly caused a divorce in our house, except that if I wanted one I couldn’t figure out how to get an appointment, so I could get an appointment to schedule it! So Jeff is safe – for now.

Jeff heard me muttering curse words under my breath at the dining room table, banging on my lap top. Ok, not so under-my-breath. Normally, I would be doing this in my office upstairs, but Fergus was whiney and if I went upstairs he would have kicked his separation anxiety into high gear. I needed this appointment because Spanish Social Security hates me. They take the payments out of my bank account, then send me delinquency notices. Anyone who knows me knows that I pay my bills. Early. So, the quickest way to raise my blood pressure is to mess with my money and my credit rating. I’ve divorced people for it. So I was in no mood for user experience friction.

Spanish government websites were designed in 1995, and never touched again. You can almost hear the sound of a dial up modem when they render – s l o w l y. If you go into an actual office they are filled with CRT’s and green screens running DOS. So any UI is just a skin stretched thinly over this dinosaur from the Pleistocene epoch. Sadly, swearing at it does no good. Ask me how I know. Jeff heard me and came out to ‘help.’ Right from the off, this would not go well.

‘Let me see what you’re doing.’ He sighed. ‘If you just have a little patience.’

My eyes narrowed. Mansplaining? After all these years, his answer is mansplaining? Does he have a death wish?

Jeff takes the mouse from me and begins clicking through menus. He frowns.

‘What is it you’re trying to do?’

Ooh. He asked a question. I informed him through gritted teeth. Where is my issues log when I need it? He clicked some more. Then, like any highly trained professional, he rendered his diagnosis.

‘This site is ridiculous. It’s impossible to make an appointment for the department you need. Go see Rubin.’ Not my hair dresser in Valencia, but our accountant/lawyer/miracle worker in Galicia. I’m pretty sure I only want to have service providers named Rubin. I don’t need to hear their litany of qualifications. Or fancy certificates or degrees. Your name is Rubin? Feel free to operate on my heart. I totally trust you. But Jeff wasn’t getting off so easy.

‘Why do you always assume I’m not doing it right?’ I asked.

He opened his mouth. Then promptly shut it tight, and returned to his office. Secure in the knowledge that whatever he might have said would have done him no favors.

And Speaking of Rubins

When I was having my hair repaired in Valencia, Rubin excitedly told me he had married his longtime partner the year before. He was glowing.

‘We went in October to get the appointment, to make an appointment to turn in all the papers so that we could schedule our civil ceremony.’

The old appointment to get the appointment is that extra special trick of Spanish bureaucracy, of which I am well acquainted. When you get an appointment, you can never ever assume this is the appointment. Oh no. Even if your particular operation, at whatever agency should only require one appointment, often they will make you come back. After you’ve gone online to schedule – wait for it – another appointment, of course. But, this time Rubin – that little bundle of positive energy – smiled and worked his magic. How did he accomplish this? I asked.

‘I told them our story. We met nine years ago on December 1st. But this was October. We couldn’t wait four months to get the appointment to make the appointment to schedule our ceremony. I had all the papers. We needed to marry on December 1st or we would have to wait another year. I even conjured some tears.’

I have so much respect for the theatrics, and said so. When it comes to bureaucracy you do whatever it takes.

‘I knew you would understand, Kelli. Anyway, there were three people working there. The woman turned to her colleagues. She couldn’t bypass the process without getting into trouble. She needed them as coconspirators. She shrugged in their direction, but they both put their hands over their eyes I don’t see nothing they told her. So she took our papers and scheduled us on December 1st. And now we are married.’

I had seen in the newspaper it’s a four month wait to get the first appointment, for the next appointment to make the appointment for the civil union. ‘Why four months?’ I asked Rubin.

‘Maybe so you can change your mind. But we have nine years.’ He told me, waving his comb. ‘We are not going anywhere.’

But I think it’s something else, entirely. The first test of the success of your marriage in Spain is your ability to work together to make an appointment with the civil registrar. If the two of you can navigate a Spanish government website together, you can survive anything.

I’m Not Alone

I like to read the opinion section of our Galician newspaper. We were enjoying our morning beverage the other day as I spotted a headline. I Thought I Was Smart Until I Tried To Make An Appointment. The author is a doctor, no less. But he got caught in an endless bureaucratic loop. An online government cul-de-sac from which there is no escape. I read it aloud to Jeff – laughing hysterically as I saw myself in every word.

After the Supreme Court ruling, all prior appointments are no longer required, except where they will still be required. On the government websites that are impossible to navigate, for the operations that are the most vital to people’s lives. Like Social Security. So, I feel sure there is more swearing and mansplaining in my future. But, like hairdressing Rubin and his new husband, Carlos, Jeff and I have a few decades under our belts. And it seems we’re not going anywhere.

The Americans Have Landed

My time in Valencia has provided a stark contrast to our quiet life in Galicia. Especially at the start of Carnival.

Sitting in my hotel at night I heard the familiar eee-ooo-eee-ooo of the sirens as ambulances drove past. I haven’t heard that noise in a very long time. And the sound of a random marching band. Living in Valencia every neighborhood- practically every block – has their own marching band. Any given day or night is a good one for pro-cessing. With or without a litter containing a saint leading the way. And fireworks – petardos 🧨. Practically mandatory for any night in Valencia.

The Invasion

Things have changed in the past two years post-pandemic. More and more Americans are moving to Valencia. I heard American english everywhere. A hundred times more than before. I could pick them out on the sidewalk. Americans have a different way of walking. Of striding. They smile more and look strangers in the face. American couples, even in their 60’s and 70’s, hold hands walking together. You never ever see this amongst Spaniards of a similar age. Walking anywhere, with just a glance, I could play American or Not. Then just wait to hear their voices as they passed. I was always right.

I asked friends about it over lunch. Perhaps I was mistaken on my perception that Valencia is being over run by Americans post-pandemic, but they confirmed my assessment.

‘You are not wrong. Floods of Americans are moving here. They’ve sold up their expensive homes in the US and they come here with a lot of money. And the rents and cost of homes are going through the roof. Valencians can’t afford to rent or buy apartments anymore.’

‘Do you think there will be a backlash?’ I asked.

‘It’s already happening. People are angry. They talk about it in the newspaper. They’ve increased the wealth tax here, as other communities lower or eliminate it. The influx will change the way of life in Valencia. And the cost of everything will skyrocket, even more. Young Valencians won’t be able to buy a home.’

Spain is beginning to revaluate the Golden visa scheme. But they are adding a Digital Nomad visa. All this as Portugal just banned Golden visas. This visa allowed people who invested €500k in a business or property to gain immediate permanent residence without any mandatory in-country stays, as required for other visas. Basically, it encouraged wealthy people to come skip the queue. It has made home ownership out of reach for young Portuguese, as wealthy foreigners drive up prices.

We are glad we bought two years ago. We didn’t pay an exorbitant price for the property. It was within the range of average prices for homes of the same vintage with land and a barn. Americans who stopped at the food truck last year would sometimes ask after our farm. The bold might inquire, sheepishly, what we paid for it. They are blown away when I deign to answer.

‘Maybe we should think about moving to Spain.’

I never thought when we left the US that Spain would become so popular with Americans. There certainly weren’t many when we arrived in Valencia five years ago. And in Galicia there are even less. But, it seems Americans have discovered our little corner of the world since la pandemia. And the beauty of living here. I don’t know how to feel about it. Except when my neighbors down the road, who are going to NYC on Thursday, called to ask me today if they could use me as their American contact on their ESTA application. As I rattled off my US details, including my never used US mobile #, it struck me like a ton of bricks. Wait a minute! I almost forgot. As I mull the new tidal wave of Americans in Spain, oh yeah, I’m American, too! Oops! Since I haven’t been to the US in so long, I sort of feel I’m not really anything. Not Spanish, but not American, either. These fresh-off-the-boat new born American immigrants are not me. But, of course they are! I’m just a little more battle scarred than them. Perhaps a smidge wiser. I can call someone on the phone in español. Make a Dr appointment or make a dinner reservation. Talk to the Amazon driver. The lady at the bank or in a shop.

Our Pack

Chatting with my friends in Valencia over lunch, we each recounted the fog of the Covid years. How weird it feels to think of that time. The confinement, especially. How we each coped. The uncertainty and weird bonding we did with strangers on balconies across the road. People we got to know by sight every night, clapping. When a wave or a smile meant you were seen. Lets face it, the Covid years in Spain were like dog years. Instead of living here five years, it feels more like ten. These new people will never know what that felt like. To be a foreigner in the midst of such an overwhelming crises. When you barely knew Spanish, and what to do or how to get help on a normal day. Let alone in a pandemic without the support of family. Especially when a loved one is critically ill. When your neighbors and friends came to mean everything to you. Even if you couldn’t physically touch them or speak to them, they were a lifeline you couldn’t live without. Before the pandemic, the little boys next door would fight in the room next to Jeff’s office. It drove him crazy. But, after the confinement began, he counted on that noise, especially when I was in the hospital. Someone was over there. He wasn’t alone.

‘Let’s face it.’ Said my friend, Donna. ‘We are pack animals. We don’t do well without our pack.’

It’s only five more years and I can sit for my Spanish citizenship test. Then, with a Spanish passport in hand, I can legitimately complain about ‘these bloody foreigners’ just like everyone else😉. Until then, I’m just another American interloper who smiles too much, holds hands with my husband in town, and puts up temporary fences like I own the place – psst…I do. In the meantime, I’m happy to be The American Contact for any ESTAS that our little community needs. My contribution to our local pack. For now, that just will have to do.

Remember?

It’s funny how certain things evoke memories. Things that spark the senses. A smell or taste. The feel of the air or the light shining a certain way. Here in Valencia there is something around every corner waiting for me. Something that says Remember?, and it makes me smile.

I spent yesterday morning running errands. Since I was not going to miss my favorite gluten-free bakery, I ran them up in my old stomping grounds. I know where everything is up there.

First stop – Santa Amalia gluten free bakery. Usually, I only get the tarta de manzana. But in honor of Carnival starting I got a susu donut roll. Practically a prescription. Decadent heaven.

A Little Shopping

Then, I ran more errands with some unplanned stops. Especially my favorite herbolario in Spain – health store Herbalario Navarra. To check out their new stock. Lovely people. I bought essential oils.

My stops had me weaving in and out of the park. My favorite kind of errand run. The parks of Valencia can be traced back to Napoleon when the French army occupied the city. His second in command found Valencia’s lack of green spaces to be less than sophisticated or civilized. He ordered parks dedicated and planted throughout the city. And the large trees you see are from that time. Hundreds of years old.

After a wonderful lunch with friends at a great new Lebanese restaurant, I stopped at the new english bookstore. My friends read the blog and pointed me there. It’s new. Book Lovers Valencia And they sell both new and used books. I was there when they opened at 4:30. It was filled with Americans by the time I left. Students and retirees. The owner is amazing.

This little gem hosts a Silent Reading For Introverts Happy Hour. And local english author readings. Oh, how I would have loved this place when we lived in Valencia.

Light Memories

Yesterday afternoon, walking back to to the hotel, the light was just right. February sunset. It reminded me about the Spanish Women’s fútbol team I joined in February of 2019. To meet people and improve my Spanish. No one spoke ingles. I learned futbol spanish as the coach shouted commands. We practiced in Almaserra. I took the metro up north and walked through the village to the sports centre every week. Almaserra is a gorgeous little pueblo. I was 52. Every other player was in their 20’s. Jeff came once to watch our practice.

‘How did I do?’ I asked breathless, afterwards, as we walked to the metro.

He smiled. ‘Well, you weren’t the worst player.’

At 52, I took that as high praise. After fútbol I would go home and sleep like the dead. Those girls probably went out and partied all night.

My Dentist, Sofia, told me the other day that I was very brave. ‘You do new things. Even things Spaniards wouldn’t do.’ And I guess she is right. It is a little brave to join a fútbol team in a foreign country at my age. Funny, that feels like a hundred years ago.

In the Hands of the Master

This morning I awoke to a beautiful Valencia sunrise and immediately headed up the park to my hair appointment with Rubin. His assessment of the condition of my hair was almost verbatim to what I predicted.

‘Uf, Kelli. What is this? Call the police. This is terrorism.’ As he ran his hand through my hair.

‘My take, exactly. This is four months of grow out. Jeff told me Go see Rubin.’

Rubin is sad Jeff isn’t with me. I think the other patrons thought I was crazy to have come all the way from Galicia. But they don’t know how lucky they are to have him nearby.

I am in his chair – el maestro’s- as we speak, with foils all over my head. A cup of te in my hand. As Rubin sings to the music playing. This was always Jeff’s favorite part of his haircut. I was right before I came. It really does feel like home.