It’s Never as Easy as it Looks

When I started taking my practice tests for taking the theory test in preparation for getting my driving license, I was failing ALL of them – miserably. I believed it’s because the translations from Spanish to English for each of the questions/answers is wonky. But I persevered, while complaining bitterly. Jeff listened to my complaints and was less than sympathetic.

‘I took one of those free practice tests online when we first got here. I passed it without doing any reading. I’m not sure why this is so hard for you – you’re making too big a deal of it. I think I could just sign up for the test and pass it on the first try.’

Did that make me feel good? No – it did not. But maybe he was right, I thought. Then I wondered if I wasn’t as smart as I had thought I was. Was my brain calcifying? Was it early onset Alzheimers? I would read some of these crazy questions and even crazier answers out to him and he acted like it was a piece of cake.

‘You just need to read the questions slowly. I think you’re going too fast and you’re missing it when they say ‘Always’ or ‘Never’. Those are the words they tell you to be on the lookout for when taking tests.’

I would look up at him from my chaise – ready to throw a lamp or my phone at him, thinking ‘Patronizing asshole – this joker has not a clue!’ but also ‘Has all the grey matter from my brain disappeared?’

Fast forward to this week. El Jefe is using the same online practice tests I did. It’s the best one out there because they have the actual tests that you could experience when taking the theory test at the DGT office in the rice fields. But driving licenses are in my rear view mirror and I am busy editing my book, so I’ve been super focused on that. When he randomly emerges from the office it startles me.

‘What the HELL?! Have you seen some of those questions? (Is he kidding?) I have to take a break. This is crazy! I missed 6 tests in a row! SIX! It’s like they want you to fail. I think you can only miss 5 questions to pass (actually it’s 3, but who’s counting). Here, let me read one of these out to you. You tell me what you think the answer might be.’

Oh, how I wanted to say a simple ‘I told you so.’ And remind him of his ‘I think you’re making this harder than it needs to be.’ But I just listen to his rant. While my inner dialogue is Gloat, Gloat, Gloating. I want to hold up that piece of paper that I keep in my wallet that says ‘Provisional’ driving license and use it to fan myself. I want to display my giant ‘L’ prominently on the side board, and say ‘Wait – didn’t I already pass this test?’ But I do none of those things.

He reads me the offending question and awaits my response. Without hesitating I tell him the correct answer ‘Animals can only be on the right side of the road.’ I say with total dead pan – returning to my laptop.

He looks stunned. ‘But look at the picture. It shows animals running all over. So clearly they can be anywhere.’

I shake my head without looking up – or I know I’ll laugh. ‘You need to understand. When they ask you something with ‘can’ – what they mean is ‘allowed’. It’s pretty simple once you figure that out.’

He is stunned.

‘Oh, and never, ever go by the photo. That will trip you up every time. The photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the answer.’ And then I return to my manuscript while listening to him make the ‘Eh!’ sound, fling his arms in the air, and then marching back into the office like a teenager.

I’ve never been one to celebrate another person’s lack of success. It’s not in my nature. But this moment – just this moment – I’m going to allow myself that most human of emotions by delighting in what will certainly be his temporary defeat. And whispering to myself, more than a few times ‘Oh wait, I told you so.’

This Old Dog

They say you’re only as old as you feel. But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not necessarily true. You’re actually as old as you are. And there is no way around that.

I have been playing on a women’s futbol (soccer) team here in Valencia. We practice every Monday and Wednesday. It took me a couple of practices to realize that I’m not young anymore. Mind you, I’m not ancient. I’m 52. But I’m not 25 either, and that seems to be the median age of those on my team.

Jeff decided to come to one of our practices. I had warned him in advance. In my time playing teams sports in my teens and 20’s, I was usually one of the better players for most of the sports I played. Not blowing my own horn, it’s just that I loved playing sports. And it’s what I always told my kids; You don’t have to be the most naturally talented, but if you’re the hardest worker it will get you playing time. Hard work beats natural talent every time – Just ask Malcolm Gladwell. I know Emilie took this to heart.

So Jeff joined me at the field to watch. Afterwards I asked him for his assessment.

‘Good News! You’re not the worst one on the team.’ he told me, as we walked back to the Metro. Since I’m the age of most of their Mothers I’ll take it. And I do try to work as hard as everyone else. Even though they’re hardly breaking a sweat on gazelle-like legs while I’m huffing and puffing red faced through all the drills. Its certainly harder than it used to be.

But I do have an ulterior motive for all this, and it’s more than just staying in shape. I’m taking a page out of El Jefe’s book and I’m learning Spanish in the context of something I already know. Yup – my soccer team only speaks Spanish. There is one girl who can confirm if I’ve understood correctly what the coach is saying, but 99% of the time I have to listen and understand ‘Futbol Spanish’. Then perform whatever instruction is given. And you know what, it’s working.

I’ve even put some of my ‘Driving Spanish’ to good use. La Derecha. Izquierda. One thing building on another. And I’ve also found that in Spanish, I’m not directionally dyslexic like I am in English. I’m not sure what that’s about.

Our last practice, I didn’t need any help with my Spanish. And I’m finding real dividends in everyday life. Because I have to quickly understand and respond on the field, it’s helping me to do that in restaurants, grocery stores, the optometrist – all sorts. Yesterday we went to lunch and my entire interaction with the waiter was in Spanish. And I didn’t even have to stop and ponder what he had said. I just knew it and responded. Some of it wasn’t the usual. And last week when we went to look at mattresses at El Corte Ingles it was the same.

So playing on this team is helping me in multiple ways. But like learning a new physical skill, combining that with learning Spanish is creating a muscle memory I can draw on without having to think about it.

Maybe with a little (OK ALOT) of hard work, this 52 year old dog can learn some new tricks.

Fin de Semana Delicioso

A Gorgeous weekend in Valencia. Saturday was windless on the beach. Micro waves, no wind. And it was warm enough to be out and about until the mid afternoon without a jacket. And the water wasn’t too bad after you got used to it.

It’s nice to get back to normal. Or what feels like normal. A little Spain. a little bit of the US. It’s a good combo. Jeff always says if we want to meet people who like to do what we like to do, we need to get out and do it. So we did. And he’s right. It was a weekend of making new friends.

On Sunday afternoon, we joined a group that plays ‘Padel’ every week. We had never heard of this game but it’s big here. The court is like a half sized tennis court, with a plexi-glass back and a tennis net. The balls are like tennis balls only they don’t bounce as much. And the padels are small, and are filled with holes.

Padel Rackets

We had a great time learning something new – rules sort of like tennis and racket ball combined – and meeting a bunch of international people. I played alot of tennis when I lived in San Francisco. I’ve got a mean forehand (the rest of my game is rubbish). I wasn’t sure if it would show up for me after all these years. But it did.

Jeff is really good at Padel. He’s tall, with long arms. The perfect combination for racket sports. He plays a much more well rounded game than I do. We will definitely be back.

After that I walked up to an Indian Cooking class I signed up for and learned to make Emilie’s favorite – Chicken Tikka Masala. The class was great – the food even better. It was right up there with the best CTM I’ve ever had. We made both spicy and sweet. And the mix of people at the class was great. It was low key and filled with mostly other American’s I had never met. One of the participants teaches Thai cooking so I’ll be signing up for her classes too. I came home from my class and Jeff enjoyed the results for dinner, garnering his stamp of approval.

One other important find this weekend in the food department was goose eggs. Finding duck eggs has been impossible this winter, as they rarely lay when the nights are cold. So El Corte Ingles has had no duck eggs and the farm near by hasn’t had any in months. But at Consum in Benimachlet – this weekend they had goose eggs. Big beautiful goose eggs! I can eat a goose egg. They come in packs of 2 and they’re 8 euros.

That sounds like alot but they’re the size of 3 duck eggs and those are a euro a piece so this is just a bit more. This morning I got up and decided to treat myself to a omelet, complete with the herbs from my balcony garden and avocado, English cheddar, sour cream and salsa. Heaven.

So overall, the last 2 days have been fun filled, with new friends, and delicioso! Just how a weekend should be.

My Daughter’s Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Passa Nada

I know some people who moved here after we did. They had been reading my blog and told me, on more than one occasion, ‘All we had to do was ask ourselves ‘What would Kelli do?’ and then do the exact opposite’. Sure, I’m pretty clear I’ve made some mistakes, but it’s all learning. That’s what moving to another country, and life, is all about. And in the end, I’m pretty happy with where we’ve landed and the life we’ve made for ourselves in Valencia. So it’s all good. No one else has to agree with it – but then, they’re not me, with my life goals.

The ‘L’ isn’t for ‘Lovely’ – but it should be.

I must have done something right, though, because after 6 driving lessons, today I passed my practical driving exam. That’s right, Valencia – look out cause there’s a new driver on the road and she’s fully qualified on these crazy streets we call call home. I’m about to embrace all the wonderful driving habits I’ve witnessed on a daily basis. Mad Max and his Thunderdome has nothing on these people. And now I’m one of them. Shooting across an 8 lane roundabout without lines, sailing off to my third exit from center lane like a pro, while yielding on a red with a yellow flashing arrow. A total piece of Santiago cake. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up some of that dispensation of sins I got when I picked up my Compostella in Santiago in July 2017. Oh well, I’ll just have to walk another one.

And once again, I am rated ‘Apto’ – ‘Suitable’ in Spanish. And Apto is good enough to drive in The Octagon that is Valencia city. I collected my placcard at the Autoescuela this afternoon. For the next year I will be sporting a large ‘L’ on the back of the car I have yet to purchase. It’s to warn everyone that I’m still a ‘Learner’.  But when I think about it, maybe I should have had that plastered to my ass for the last year to warn others to ‘Look out – she’s ‘learning’ to live in Spain!’ Because moving to Valencia has been a lot like going to school. You start out in Moving-to-Spain kindergarten knowing nothing but how to take naps and eat snacks. Then one day you graduate from How-to-Navigate-Valencian-Bureaucracy High School, wondering where the time went and hoping for an advanced degree in your future.

What I’m most looking forward to is driving outside the city. I can’t wait to get to my first uphill, mountainous, one lane road resplendent with a donkey cart and a cement truck and some random cliff-side road work, so I can test out my knowledge of uphill right of ways in real time. Until then, I’ll stick to the city where I can hone my skills on ‘Las Glorietas’ heading out to Shopping City.

In a week I get my provisional license and within the month my new official license will arrive from Madrid. Now I move on to the next thing. Our visa renewal and then, maybe, just maybe my scooter license. But for today I’ll raise a glass with friends and toast to being an ‘Apto Learner’ Spanish licensed driver. And that feels pretty damned good.

And Now We Wait

This morning I made my way to the Autoescula across town, where I have been taking my driving lessons. At 10 am we went to the starting ground for the practical driving exam. It was time.

On a wall I saw ‘Nunca sabras de lo que eres capaz hasta que lo intentes.’ by Charles Dickens. In Ingles it means ‘You never know what you are capable of until you try.’ I decided that’s all I really was there to do – try.

I agreed to go first. Someone else in the school was taking a motorcycle test there too. But he would go after me. I’m not going to say it was my best day. My usual clutch work wasn’t as smooth at I would have liked. In the US they don’t judge that part, but here it’s all part of the exam points so I’m sure I lost some for that.

I only had one real error and she explained it after. She said that alone wasn’t a disqualifying error, so I am not sure if I passed or not. But I certainly tried. My teacher thinks I still passed but he said we won’t know until noon tomorrow.

In the end, even if I have to take it again, at least I gave it a shot. I was very nervous and you could tell I wasn’t alone. Plenty of other people were pacing and biting their nails. Because, well, driving in Valencia – especially in the area where you take the test, it very difficult. Narrow streets, blind right of ways, zebra crossings aplenty, lights in roundabouts, go-rights-to-go-lefts, and more. My teacher said other people from Spain move here and they take lessons to drive specifically in Valencia, because it’s so crazy.

If I could have gotten some extra credit for learning ‘Driving Spanish’ I would have rocked that! Because I know I was the only person there who had to test with a language handicap today. Its amazing what you can understand when you’re stressed out. Suddenly, every direction I was given was crystal clear. It’s like my brain decided to help me out for once. It opened the secret room where it’s been keeping all the Spanish input I’ve received in the last year and decided to give me 25 minutes of free reign, before slamming the door in my face again when the test was over. That’s probably why my clutch work was so bad. My brain can only do 75 things at once. And 76? No, something had to give – the clutch.

Now I just have to wait. Tonight I have try outs for my second soccer team so I’m on to the next thing to focus on. Today is all about just Trying with a capital ‘T’. And just celebrating that. Tomorrow is a whole other day. And I’ll worry about it then. I figure – if I passed, it’s just what Forrest Gump said. ‘Just one less thing.’

Perfectly Imperfect

I read somewhere that in Japan they have a tradition. When a bowl or a plate is broken, it is repaired, but with a thin layer of gold along the crack. They don’t try to fake it with super glue or send it out to a master ceramicist to refire and repaint it, so it’s ‘good as new’. They celebrate the imperfection by bringing the two sides together with liquid gold.

This serves two purposes. First, it make the item usable again. And second, it serves as a great reminder that it’s the imperfections that are beautiful. After all, a broken bowl – damaged in a very specific way – is one of a kind. And the knitting it together with the gold makes it an actual work of art. I love this idea.

A few years ago, Jeff and I went to Greece for a few weeks. We bought a tapestry. The owner of the shop hailed us in, as nearly every shop owner does on a narrow Grecian street. Then he plied us with wine and proceeded to compliment Jeff – ‘You’re clearly an orthopedic surgeon’ he told him. Jeff never lets me forget this. When I asked the man what he thought I did, he pondered very seriously and then exclaimed ‘Why, you are the wife of an orthopedic surgeon!’ Jeff laughed so hard he choked on his wine, and I actually heard his wallet open.

The man’s practiced shtick, and the wine, worked eventually. We looked through all his rugs and tapestries. The wine wasn’t working on me enough to agree to purchase any that he showed us. Then he pulled something from the back. BINGO! That was the one. I’m a sucker for pomegranates. And I knew it would look amazing on the tall wall going up our stairs in the Snoqualmie house. But after it arrived and we hung it up, I did little to observe it. It was just there – beautiful, if a bit asymmetrical if I’m honest – and a remembrance from our trip.

Now, that tapestry adorns the wall of El Compartemiento. I sit across from it on my chaise, as I read, and when I’m writing every day. And now I get to look at it in detail. At first, I noticed that it wasn’t balanced. The right side and the left side aren’t the same. This bothered me a lot. Thinking ‘I’m sure we paid too much for this now that I look at it.’ But over the course of the last few months, I’ve spent a fair bit of time following the stitches. Some, on one side, lead to little hearts I had never seen before. Others to little gold coins that are present nowhere else in the fabric. The treasures and secrets it’s held all this time but I had failed to observe. Several artist contributed their expertise to different sections. And that’s part of what I love.

Slowly, it’s dawned on me that the imperfections and the lack of balance are what makes it so amazing and beautiful to me. Even more than before. Its drawn me in and brought me closer, rather than repelling me.

Last weekend was challenging with all the drama over my phone and that gang. After a sleepless night, I cancelled my driving lesson and spent Monday not leaving the house. I looked out the window and thought ‘Out there, it isn’t as nice as it looks.’ And then I snuggled up and licked my wounds and stared at our tapestry between naps.

But by Tuesday I was done with that. This city is a lot like this fabric that hangs on our wall. Nope – it’s not perfect. There are both the good and the bad people in every city. But there are hidden gems too – and I wasn’t going to find them sitting at home. So I rescheduled my driving lesson, and I joined a recreation and activities club. They do stuff nearly every day and tomorrow is my first practice on a Women’s futbol (soccer for the Americans) team in the Turia. I haven’t played since I was 12. Yes, I will be total crap at this but I’ll meet some good people, I’m sure. And make some new friends.

Sometimes, the best things come from difficult situations. And I much prefer filling the cracks with gold than trying to pretend things were never broken. Celebrating the imperfection, and then choosing to swim in it. I hope someday on my tomb stone they write ‘She was held together with liquid gold.’ Then I’ll know that all my very many imperfections were also celebrated by the people I loved, who loved me anyway.

Roller Coaster Sunday

‘God takes care of fools and little children.’ It’s been my motto my entire life. So far it has worked for me nicely. I’ve toddled my way through things and while there were potential dangers – I mostly ignored them. I just kept toddling.

But I digress. I’ll start at the beginning.

We left the house today heading for shopping. But it’s some sort of holiday (I guess the fireworks this AM gave that away) and they were closed when we arrived. We should have known, after walking up the Turia to Campanar to the only El Corte Ingles that is usually open on Sundays, but it was closed. No Dyson vacuum for me today. So we walked up to the tram and headed for Heron City.

After discovering Bauhaus was closed, we had lunch and then decide that bowling at the local bowl-r-rama was in order. I mean, who doesn’t love bowling. We realized we hadn’t been bowling since we bowled with our kids in Snoqualmie at the local pizza bowl. Its across from the town train depot and has just 4 lanes. It’s ramshackle and the guy who makes the pizzas also repairs the mechanics of the place – so the pizza’s have a little black grease on them, but it was part of the charm. $28 for an entire family to bowl and eat pizza on Sunday nights. Golden.

So this time we were both out for blood. No more sand bagging to make our kids feel better. No bumpers or any assistance with rolling the ball down that dinosaur aiming thing. Nope! We were head to head, going for broke. And they even had America sized 13 men’s shoes.

As you’ll see by the photos, I won. At times it was a total blow out. I’m not saying I kicked Jeff’s ass at Spanish bowling. But I kicked Jeff’s ass at Spanish bowling. There is no other way around it. He rallied at the end in the first game but he was no match for me. It’s good he conserved his strength – cause he’d need it later.

We had so much fun! So we went into the arcade area and I decided we should play this insane air hockey game where gobs of pucks come out at the same time. I’m a crazy good air hockey player so I was eager to try this slice of insanity. Needless to say, I again triumphed over Jeff in this game of total chaos. I was crowing about my victory. High fiving strangers. Then I reached for my phone. It was gone. Yes. I had been pick pocketed during our air hockey game.

We looked everywhere. A man and his son helped us after I gave his daughter all my game tickets that had popped out of the slot. I was bereft. Finally, we went up to the counter and asked if anyone had turned it in. No – of course they hadn’t. Someone had lifted my $1200 cell phone from my coat pocket. It was brand new. They recommended I go to the police and file a denunciation. It’s complex but it’s a police report. I’ve never denounced anyone before so I wasn’t really sure what we should do.

We gave my details and Jeff’s phone number to the desk but left knowing it wasn’t coming back. All of my elation from my afternoon of victories was long gone. I felt like a fool. I hadn’t zipped it in an inside pocket. I had let my hubris get the better of me. My enthusiasm for air hockey had hoisted me on my own petard. We walked back to the tram to wait for the train and discovered we had just missed it, as we watched it pull away. Our luck was going south fast.

So we waited the 40 minutes for the next one. In the mean time we became surrounded by a gang. I feel sure they were coordinated. I was a bit teary after my phone being stolen and I think they didn’t know what to do with a crying victim – because I’m very sure they were planning to rob us. When I realized this, I started crying harder and louder. Men – even thieving Men – don’t wanna deal with a crying woman. They looked confused. I got up and Jeff followed. We started walking down the street to the next stop. Eventually the entire gang followed us. And a few more suspects showed up besides.

We sat down at the next stop and one of them approached us and in English he asked for a cigarette.

‘We don’t smoke’ I told him and then easily burst out into tears that were on the surface because of the frustration of losing my phone. I cry when I’m frustrated. It’s just how I’m wired, and my mother will tell you I’m a decent actress. Well Mom – I acted my ass off at that tram stop. You would have been proud. He backed away. What I wanted to say was ‘You don’t know the day I’ve had, Motherfucker, so you don’t want to mess with me.’ But the tears were doing the trick. Jeff just went with it. I was rapidly leaving the neighborhood of ‘Hysterical Female Acres’ heading straight to the border of ‘Unpredictable Crazy Town’. No body knew what I might do. Including me.

They were still circling us like sharks. Some of them with stocking caps and bandanas over their faces. I sobbed louder. Hysterical. Finally the tram came and we got on and sat next to the security guards. Then we got off and got on the subway. It’s the long way home but it felt safer. Jeff put his arm around me.

‘It’s just a phone. We could have been robbed or knifed by those guys at the tram stops but we weren’t. We’ll get it all sorted out tomorrow.’ And he kissed my head. Just then his phone started to buzz.

Turns out, it was the bowling alley calling us to tell us they found a phone in the trash. We hopped off at Angel Gimera and took a taxi back. Sure enough it was my phone. I was so grateful to the girl at the counter – more tears. I mean, my life is in that phone. Banking, photos of my kids, everything.

We took a taxi home – no more Tram drama for me tonight. Jeff made me a Bombay and tonic to calm my nerves – or two. It’s been quite a day. We’re starting to get into our visa renewal process, and crying at the tram station today surrounded by the gang members, after getting pick pocketed at the bowling alley, I had started to wonder if the universe was trying to tell us we should have a rethink. But then it all turned out OK.

God does take care of fools and little children – at least this fool. And for that, tonight, I am eternally grateful.

Fresh Squeezed

It’s a cool crisp morning here in Valencia. Surprise! We woke up to fireworks. Shades of Fallas – reminding us it’s coming and we need to book some rooms out of town for that week. First, it rained and then the sun came out like it inevitably does. A day without sunshine here, in some form, is rare. It’s why this is the perfect environment for growing oranges. They’re called ‘Valencia’ oranges for a reason. I remember pointing this out to my Mom and she said she thought the name came from Valencia, California. Oh my, we are so American.

When Jeff and I arrived here last year on the first of March, the trees that line all the streets in our neighborhood had some oranges on them. We thought ‘Wow! Oranges. How amazing our neighborhood trees aren’t oak but orange.’ And all summer we would walk down the street at night and hear oranges falling on to cars. These had kept growing and were huge. Sometimes when a particularly large one hit the hood of a car it would make us jump.

But the oranges we saw on trees last spring and summer were left over from last year’s harvest. And we started to understand that, after the fragrant orange blossoms early this fall turned into actual oranges on the trees. First green and small, like limes. Then orange and ever growing.

As the days go by the trees get heavier and heavier with fruit. Jeff is tall and he has had to duck under the trees or risk getting hit in the face with a branch of oranges. Everything is perspective and, to us, it looked like it was a bumper crop this year. We’ve speculated on how many people could be fed with these city oranges. It seemed a waste just to let them rot on the vine.

Then, the other day when we were heading out to do some shopping during siesta time, we saw how wrong we had been just last year. A crew of workers were out with this amazing machine harvesting our street oranges. We stood and watched them do their work. The machine shaking the tree of all it’s fruit, right into a hopper. Of course some of them don’t make it the first time and the workers were cleaning up after it. And the air? Oh the air was thick with the scent of oranges. Like some giant was grating orange peels and you could almost taste the oil from the peel in the air. It was so fragrant we weren’t alone in people stopping and taking deep breaths of the perfume.

We watched them for a bit. We can tell where they’ll go next as they have signs and tape up for the next section so cars won’t park there. But we shouldn’t have been surprised. The public works department in Valencia is amazing. They’re constantly sweeping and cleaning and generally tidying up. Go to any park here on every day of the week and they’re raking and pruning. And the oranges are a resource that can be utilized, while being a symbol of the city. Win Win.

Now our orange trees still have some oranges at the top. Maybe 5% of what they had before. Just like they did when we arrived last year and thought how amazing it was that we had orange trees in our neighborhood with actual oranges on them. But now we know just how many there were before the street harvest. And we’ve learned something equally valuable. When we get our car, we will not to park under an orange tree if we don’t want a dented hood in July.

Zen and the Art of Learning to Drive in Spain: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’

I don’t know much. But one thing I have learned after two driving lessons is that driving a stick is no big deal. Yup – only killed the engine once in an hour and a half, after stopping at a light and trying to start forward in 3rd gear.

Another thing I learned is that I drive like an American. As a practical matter, this is not a bad thing. But if I want to pass the Spanish driving test I need to unlearn nearly everything I was taught in Driver’s Ed in high school and have employed for the last 36 years.

When we are taught to drive in the US we hear ‘Head on a swivel’, don’t just trust your mirrors. Use them, of course, but also turn your head and check your blind spots. But in Spain, you only use your mirrors when changing lanes. If you turn your head you’ll fail the exam.

Part of passing the exam is theatre – I was advised today. While not twisting my head, I must exaggerate my examination of any zebra crossing so that the examiner sees I’m observing my surroundings, without actually turning my head. All while taking instruction from the examiner in Spanish.

Next, now that I’m a proficient manual transmission driver, I shall never downshift. This would mean I would be taking my hand off the wheel. And keeping my hands at 10 and 2 are of a top priority. I will use the brake and the clutch and then shift into a neutral position – never using the engine to slow the car.

Turning left in front of other cars must be done on the axis point of intersection. It may feel like I am going to run into the other cars but this is ‘normal’. And making a right turn, no free right turn. Only turn on green, but then immediately I must follow a second set of lights to determine if I can proceed.

Speaking of lights, where is the stop light? It’s not the one across the intersection on my side – where it has been in nearly every country I have ever driven in. Nope. If I stop at the line, it will be directly above me or on a pole on the side walk on either side of my car so I’ll have to crane my head to see it.

So, after everything I was worried about, the stick was the least of my concerns. And we haven’t covered parallel parking yet. Here they like to bump the other car’s bumpers, while shoe horning their car into a space that could be smallish – or it could be huge. But either way, there will be bumper bumping. It’s just the way it is.

Jeff was looking out of our apartment window down to the street and called me over to the window.

Not close enough

‘See. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m not buying a nice car here. Every bumper is dinged, scraped or punctured. I’d freak out if we had any one of the cars we had back home.’

After the lessons, we rolled into the street in front of the Autoescuela. The instructor said I did really well. Apparently, I drive like someone whose had 5 lessons, so after our lesson tomorrow he will inform me how many more I’ll need. Then he told me that tomorrow he was sure I would be able to ‘not run any red lights’. I was a little taken aback.

‘I ran a read light?’ I asked. If so, he never said.

‘Just one.’ he smiled. ‘That’s very good.’

Then he bid me a hearty ‘Hasta Manana!’

It gave me a whole new appreciation for those Autoescuela cars I see everywhere, and it’s a reminder to give them a wide berth in the future.

I’m deep into it now and I’m going to see it through. The instructor told me all I have to do is ‘Fake it for 25 minutes.’ All I have to do, during the practical exam, is forget everything I know about driving and do everything my instructor is teaching me now. And then I can go back to driving like I know how to drive – of course finding all the stop lights and such.

And then I can buy a car that I won’t care about at all. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – perhaps that’s the Zen part.

The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

Derry on the Uptick

*Still doing this on my phone. Formatting, etc. May be wonky.

Derry is a vibrant walled city with the old and new working side by side. Traffic and people weave through the gates; tourists and locals walk the top of the wall. Life is good here.

The walled city sits on an island hill that used to be surrounded by water entirely. Several centuries ago the river sort of sank a few feet. Hence ‘the Bogside’ neighborhood. And ‘the Waterside’. No longer an easily defensible island with a natural mote.

Derry is the only walled city in Europe whose walls were never breached by an enemy. And they were under seige here plenty. There is an actual Siege Museum to walk you thru the details, complete with armour and starvation descriptions aplenty to ensure you skip lunch. But not Guiness or a Savingnon Blanc. We’re not that disturbed.

Short version: Surprise! The English colonized Ireland in the 1500’s with their protestant Scottish cousins. They kicked the Irish Catholics off their land and formed plantations. ‘Plantations’. Now where have I heard that before? Hmm. This is known as ‘The Plantation of Ireland.’ It was systematic oppression and colonialism.

Lots of rebellions by the local native population took place, so the English ringed the city in a wall with gates to allow commerce to flow. But also to maximize defense from local riff raff. Only Anglo-Scots were allowed to live inside. Other Catholic crown heads of Europe took umbrage over this and that – bada bing, bada boom – siege!

And like most sieges, it left a big impression on the population. The mayor of the town at the time said essentially ‘Hey, so I’ll pop out for milk. You guys stay here and guard the town during this ‘siege thing’. Promise I’ll be back.’ The milk got lost in the royal mail. (Insert Crying Over Spilt Milk reference here).

The town starved brutally during the siege so even today, every year, they take great pride in constructing effigies of this gentleman, then hanging and burning them. And I thought my family could hold a grudge. We got nothin’ on these people. There is even an effigy guide in the local Tower Museum to help the next generation make sure their effigy is the most accurate and humiliating as possible. Lest they forget.

The walls are the transit system here. Its a little over a mile all the way around. We are staying right on the wall so we just hop up and we are off where ever we need to go. No traffic to contend with and the views are lovely.

Just up the wall from us is The Cathedral of St. Columba. It’s the first Protestant cathedral built after the Reformation (Martin Luther starting the Protestant church). Its old. They wanted me to pay for a ‘photo license’ to take pictures of the inside, so I don’t have any. Never been asked to do this in any church in the world, and I’m not starting now. It wasn’t as spectacular as our little church in Benimaclet, but it was nice enough.

In the vestibule, where you can take photos without a license, is the cannonball used by the Catholic army to shoot over the wall. It has a hole where they stuffed the terms of surrender. Heads up! Siege mail incoming!

The graveyard outside the cathedral peaked Jeff’s interest for walking thru and reading old tomb stones. It’s his favorite activity in small villages.

Here are a few photos of walking the wall and some of the sights from it.

We have discovered little Alleys and warrens in the city. Full of businesses run by women.

Derry is the poster child for the working woman, in my opinion. Shirt factories were in full swing here. 18,000 women worked in them in this area at one time in the 19th and 20th centuries. There was little work for Catholic men so the women were the breadwinners.

One of our elderly guides told us his mother worked in one. Another co-workers came to work 9 months pregnant and had her baby during her shift. The other women hid them and made sure to pick up the slack on her quota of collars for the day and such, or they would have fired her. The woman was back on the line the next day working. Without the baby. If she had taken a day off she would have lost her place. The women-run businesses here today are a tribute to those women in the factories working 12 hour days to support their families.

We will miss ‘Womens Little Christmas’ on January 6th. Its when women, on one day a year, have traditionally left the housework and kids to the hubby and go out with their friends for the day. I love how the advert advises booking early to ‘avoid disappointment’. I think the women here have known disappointment for centuries.

We are off back to Dublin tomorrow to see a few of the last must-see sights before heading home to Spain, and seeing Em off back to school in the US. We’ve checked off so many things in our lists this holiday.

We picked up her prom dress and shoes here yesterday. I’m pretty sure no other girl will be wearing the same thing at her school. Whew! Prom dress shopping is too important to leave it to an online experience. And it’s a Mom/daughter milestone I didn’t want to miss. She’ll go back with all the things she needs for the next few months.

After one more cross country drive tomorrow. This marking on a Derry street pretty much sums up how that will go.

We will thoroughly enjoy the last few days in this beautiful country.

Northern Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The walk down to see them is stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Mixed Bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cookies – Numero Dos

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

Finally found a double boiler

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

Messy Chocolate Peanut Butter balls ala Kelli

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

Just Getting Started – This is not all of them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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