Our Soundtrack

Until we moved to Valencia, I hadn’t lived in an apartment for nearly 20 years. Sure, we’d had neighbors that drove us crazy at some of our previous houses. People that were so annoying you wanted to avoid the drive way, except at midnight, so they couldn’t see you and stop for a looong chin wag on the history of the Franco Prussian war – I wish I was kidding. We called that neighbor ‘Napoleon’.

But other than that, living in suburbia in the US is a mostly solitary experience. Drive into your garage with the automatic door and it shuts behind you. It’s pretty quiet, all things considered. So when we got to Valencia and our apartment, it was more of an assault on the senses. But it’s something we’ve come to count on. Our life now is punctuated with predictable sounds.

Our neighbors have a dog that barks for a specific period of time when they leave every day. Do we need an alarm clock? Not usually. They go to work at the same time every weekday. The dog barking wakes us up every morning. If it doesn’t we are disoriented. Sleeping in isn’t something we’re used to anymore. If they’re on vacation, or one of them takes a day off we could miss an appointment.

Another neighbor sings. Most afternoons I can hear him belting out an aria in his tenor voice with the gusto of a trained professional. But lately he’s been expanding his repertoire to include Maroon 5 and Justin Bieber. And just now I got a little Stevie Wonder and some ‘Part time lover’ through the living room wall. He’s pretty good and there are times I join him in song. When Emilie was here she found this terribly embarrassing. But I have no shame and I enjoy it thoroughly. Frequently, he and I sing duets. I’m not sure he hears me but he keeps up his end of the harmony. I’ve not met him – or so I think. We’re like musical ships passing in the night.

We do wish they would get a more regular schedule to the fireworks noise situation. There is still no predictability to that. Monday night at 11pm. Tuesday at 2:03pm. Mascleta or just a regular sky display. On weekends there will always be fireworks – day and night. But we are rarely in the know as to why. Unless it’s a well documented fiesta. Either at the beginning, to kick it off or at the end to say farewell. Ok, wait. It might be in the middle to say something else. Who knows? But it will happen.

The bells are also something I rely on. The bells of the tram and the ringing of the church bells in the square near us. But it’s also the absence of sound that will sometimes grab our attention. When Jeff says ‘Its quiet out there.’ Then he gets up to go to the window. ‘I wonder what’s going on?’ Like a parent who suddenly realized they haven’t heard the kids playing in the other room so they must be up to something, and might be getting into the Halloween Candy.

And speaking of children – there is a baby who lives in the building. The mother spends most mornings on the balcony feeding her breakfast. I remember when the woman was pregnant, and then the day they brought her home. I heard her the first time when I was out on the utility balcony off our kitchen doing laundry. Her cry was that of a brand new baby that I remembered from when my son, Nick, was born. As a mother, that cry still elicits a visceral reaction. It makes you perk up your ears and listen. You find yourself checking your pockets while holding your breath. Then you realize your kids are grown and you didn’t forget anything. When a new born baby cries it has no idea but it’s watched over by every mother within earshot – whether 25 or 95.

I do a load of laundry most mornings, and over the last 20 months I have listened as that child has gone from a new born cry to her first belly laugh. And then on to jabbering incessantly. It makes me smile as I fold my clean clothes. Her mother is teaching her to talk and I’ve picked up a few Spanish words right along with her. ‘No!’ now holds a place of pride in her newly forming vocabulary. The terrible twos are striking early.

I don’t know her name but I see her sometimes in the elevator. She’s gorgeous and points a lot at me so I can just imagine as she shouts commands at their dog during her breakfast. Dropping some of it as he whines for more. Having dubbed this child Inez, it’s clear she rules the roost in her house as her proud father totes her around.

So many of these noises we found annoying when we first arrived, but now we’ll miss them when we go. Like a pebble in our shoe. When soon we can only hear the sounds of the sea we’ll think back on them with fondness and wonder what our opera singer is getting up to. If the old dog is still well enough to lament his owner’s absence. The old church bell bonging at the odd moment – like it did today. And how Inez is getting on as she grows up enough to attend the local Escuela Infantil. These are the things that are the sound track of our life now. And, while I feel sure we’ll find new ones in our future home, until then, I’ll appreciate every moment.

Finding Joy

We’re home in Valencia. We left Santiago in the dark and pouring rain early this morning. I’m glad to be home but this past week walking 114 km was a good reminder for me on the power of the journey and what you find along the way.

To say it rained on us this week was an understatement. It’s a good thing we both know how to swim because that’s almost how we found our way to Santiago. We were hurting as we walked through the old town and under the portico to the square in front of the Cathedral. Strangers cheered us in, shouting and clapping. One of the most powerful feelings and I teared up a little – Shhh… don’t tell Jeff.

This short Camino came with more physical pain than emotional. I limped the last 20 km on an Achilles tendon that was visibly swollen and I drug my foot like Igor in Young Frankenstein. If I’d implored my fellow Peregrinos to ‘Walk this way’ I’m not sure they would have understood the reference. But Jeff laughed when I said it in a deluge at Monte de Gozo.

Jeff and I have been married for a long time, and together for longer. Over time, our life together became about the day to day. Raising kids, paying bills. The administrivia of living. But as Ferris Bueller warned us all in the 80’s ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.’ And it’s easy to do. So I wondered – how would it go walking all that way (5-6 hours a day) with Jeff? He didn’t do my first Camino with me. That was Emilie’s special joy.

We’ve never done something that was so physically challenging together. But he surprised me. Not that he couldn’t handle the rain, the sore muscles and the pain. But there were things about him I didn’t know. Stories he’s never told me. In all this time. I guess it took walking side by side for hours to make some things bubble to the surface.

And he mused aloud. In my experience, that’s my domain. Jeff isn’t much of a verbal muser. He’s more of a person who does his musing in private and shows up with the results after many hours, days, weeks of mulling things over. But over the last week I got a view into not only his process, but the outcome in real-time. Interesting.

And I learned some new things. I always knew Jeff liked baby goats. We had goats at one point and he’d laugh at them. But I never knew he subscribed to the baby goat subReddit. He’s a baby goat antics aficionado. Some people like cat videos – Jeff likes baby goats. And he also subscribes to the one for jokes. He had me laughing the whole way. And at least once a day I was doubled over after standing aside to let others pass as I struggled to control myself. He’s funnier than I remember with his puns, quick wit and dry sense of humor.

Jeff’s legs are much longer so he had to adjust his pace to mine and go slower up hills. But there were days he was in pain and we went at a pace that was comfortable for us both. I’ll only lose one toenail this time. So I’m pretty happy about that.

We met some cool people too. A father and son who were walking together after the mother had passed and couldn’t go. A woman who turned 70 in May and whose mother passed away in August. An educator from Minnesota who retired and finally had the time. A group of 5 women from the Faroe Islands who have been friends since they were 6 years old and were on an adventure.

Santiago is an interesting place. The end of journey’s. We watched as those who were already cleaned up walked the streets greeting those still finding their way in, with hugs and cheers. Like old friends, even though they’ve only known each other for a few days or weeks.

Cathedral of St. James – Santiago de Compostela

The smiles on every face, including our own, at the office to get the Compostela are broad. Open faces and laughter. Unspoken are the words ‘Can you believe we did it?!’ as we all peeled off wet gear down to long underwear hoping to ring it out a little before our number was called to get our certificate.

Last night we had dinner in a place that served Thai food we were craving and there were tables filled with ‘Camino Families’ having their final dinners together. Recounting tales from the trail. Places like Molinseca and Castrojenz. Times when they needed help from others and when they gave of themselves. Smiles, ribbing and laughter.

Written on the wall at the restaurant in Santiago

People who walk the Camino are looking for something. Within themselves, in the world. Sometimes it’s closure from an illness or a loss. Sometimes it’s to process grief or find a part of themselves long buried but not forgotten. Tears are almost always near the surface – wine helps grease the skids. And stories spill forth ready to be told. But in the end, I think it comes down to what we’re all looking for in this life. JOY!! And Pilgrims find it on the Camino – in one form or another. And even if only for a brief moment, they can name it and hold it in their hands.

Buen Camino🙏

Now He Gets It

When I came home from walking the Camino Frances in summer 2017, I needed quiet. After being on the trail for so long with other people who were having that same intense experience, I found it difficult to return to regularly scheduled programming.

It may sound like a big stretch, but at the time I imagined it like coming home from Afghanistan. You’ve had this intense experience far from home in a foreign country. It’s challenged you body and soul, and you’d had it with strangers who became friends/family. Then you find yourself back home eating chicken lettuce wraps at PF Changs with girl friends and they ask you questions about your experience. But you quickly realize you cant really explain it so they’ll actually understand what you did and what it meant to you. You’re completely changed and you’re at a loss. You’ll never see yourself the same again.

So you speak in broad terms but you try not to go too deep. I found most people didn’t really want to hear the deep stuff and, frankly I didn’t want to try to go there. I knew they’d never get it. And it sort of dimmed the magic I wanted to hold for myself.

But even though my friends couldn’t understand what I’d experienced, I also knew they fell into two categorizes:

#1- They knew I had changed and were happy for me. I was happier and thats all they needed to know. This group was supportive but I still brushed the surface on any Camino conversations.

#2- They saw the changes, didn’t get it and it made them terribly uncomfortable. This group did a lot of ‘Yeah, but weren’t you…?’ And ‘I don’t get why you’d wanna do something like that,’ This reaction required me to not talk about it – even at the surface. So I stopped right there.

Jeff fell into the first group but, of course he wanted to understand and hear about it in detail. Because he saw the changes more than anyone. And his crazy wife was saying we should move to Spain. But did he get it? No. He couldn’t. Not his fault, but he hadn’t done it.

So here we are, walking from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. A short Camino by my previous experience, but no less valid. When Jeff said he wanted to do it I was a little surprised but was happy a plane and train ticket wouldn’t go to waste. But would he be able to get a Camino experience in such a short time? Enough to finally understand? Or does that take the full 800 km 4-5 week trek thru sleet, hail, 100 degrees in the meseta, mountain ranges, and an angry teenager? I really didn’t know.

Then we were eating dinner on night 2. A friend and I were texting and I was reiterating the conversation to Jeff. His response made me smile.

‘They just need to come do this. You can’t really explain it so anyone understands unless they’ve done it. ‘

Ah. So now he gets it! It only took one day of water wars and the long slog to Palas de Rei to get there. And I knew his Camino transformation was starting to take hold when he broke out his Mountain Hardware hiking kilt. I didn’t know he’d packed it. And with the weather being so cool I wouldn’t have anticipated its appearance. But, yup, there it was one cold, wet morning. Bold move. Respect.

So I was impressed. And it ensured Jeff was given his official Camino moniker.

When I walked with my 15 year old daughter, Emilie, she would get frustrated at my pace and fly ahead. Sometimes by hours. This did not go unnoticed on the trail because I would meet people who would say ‘Have you met the American whose daughter walks ahead?’ Or ‘So you’re the American woman whose daughter walks ahead. I’ve heard about you.’

None of this was meant to be derogatory. It was just how people easily categorize each other when they don’t know your name or have history. I did the same when describing other people I didn’t know.

Jeff’s Camino moniker is ‘That American guy in the kilt’. And while usually very shy, he’s owning it like a boss. Towns? Villages? On the trail? Old men in cafes laugh and shake their heads. Furious discussions strike up in multiple languages in our wake as we pass. That’s what happens when you look like a tall Norseman striding from one village to another. When a giant waves sticks at you and offers a hearty ‘Bon dia’.

He’s been asked ‘Are you Scottish?’ Or ‘What part of Scotland are you from?’ And when he says he just likes a good kilt you can see their confusion. It makes him laugh.

So we are both enjoying this adventure together and I’m so glad he decided to make the time. Jeff’s already talking about doing the full trek on one of the many routes in the near future. And I’ll be proud to accompany ‘That American guy in the kilt’ any time he likes.

The Cloud of Dreams

Close your eyes. Closed? Ok. Breathe deep. Imagine you are staying at a refugio outside Palas de Rei. It was raining when you got here but blessedly, they had a covered cafe. And then you discoverer they had a private room. Heaven.

We are staying in a place of refuge. And not just from the weather. Like a sanctuary run by a Spanish man and his Argentinian wife. Its perfect.

We started our day in Portomarin to a beautiful sunrise. This gave way to a cold uphill walk for most of the day. Then a long downhill that burned my thighs and my toes. I was tired and whiney.

‘I can not do one more hill! I’m fed up!’ I cried

Then out of the mist, virtually from no where, appeared a place of refuge. Sanctuary. Or at least a cafe con leche. So we went in thru the wide barn doors into the ancient barn and stone courtyard. Only to discover it had been completely reformed into a modern paradise.

We were led to a private double room and as I showered in the tub that could hold 6 people easily, I mused.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to own a refugio? Helping pilgrims and facilitating the pilgrimages for those of all faiths and nationalities? Providing a port in the storm of Galician weather?

I could see myself owning an old stone building with windows sills two feet thick. I could serve beverages to the weary and infirm. Providing a simple meal to sustain them on their journey. Real bedding so they might feel human for just one night. Unlimited hot water, of course.

I stand under the steaming water but when I shut it off, the mist clears. Was it just a Camino dream? Hmm. Who can say? But its 7pm and I’m ready for a good nights sleep. And if this is Hotel California I’ll happily never leave.

Galician Rain: The Quintessence of Wetness

Holy Moly! It rained a little today on our walk from Sarria to Portomarin. Like if the earth flipped on its axis and the Atlantic ocean was dumped over the top of us for hours.

I’ve experienced rain like this before. Except then I was inside a car or Inside our home looking out with a fire burning in the grate. Or I could run home and take a hot shower. Never walking for hours thru it when its raining from below, hitting the pavement so hard it splashes up at you like little water bullets. The underside of our rain hats were wet after the water bullets hit our faces.

Jeff looked over at me during an epic deluge, while climbing a steep incline ‘Yup. I could do this for a month.’

So were we deterred? Not for a moment. Well, we did stop a few times at cafes to pretend we could ‘dry out’ and ‘wait for it to blow over’ but that was just fantasy. Eventually, after becoming chilled to the bone, we would get up like two old codgers, not even silently moaning to ourselves ‘Wait. I just need a minute to stretch.’ Then grabbing our poles for help before getting up to speed.

Back in Valencia, not a day goes by that we don’t get our 10k steps in. Usually more. But those are not Camino steps. Up and down thru mud and unidentifiable smelly muck. Crossing streams and climbing down thru a rocky slippery crevasse into Portomarin. Its rained so hard that roads I’ve walked before are covered in silt and rocks today. Washed out.

But now Jeff is asleep. I just got up to go to the bathroom and it only took me 3 minutes to stand. The ibuprofen must be kicking in. The last time I was here I’d done the pain before Pamplona. Galicia had nothing on me after 30 days, mountains and the Meseta.

But its still as lovely as I remembered it. The greenest greens and even the weather rolling in was beautiful before it sliced thru us like a water knife. Here are a few picture from our day. Layered up with gear – Jeff hasn’t stopped smiling like the water baby he is.

Just Don’t Be An Asshat

There are Do’s and Don’ts of life. Things you shouldn’t do if you want to be a good citizen and get along with others you live along side. In crudest terms it might be just the ‘Don’t be an asshole’ approach.

Im not saying I’ve never been one but I generally try not to be. Respectful is my general philosophy. And here on the Camino there are some easy tips on ‘How not to be THE asshole Peregrino in an Albergue.’

Numero Uno: Don’t come into any Albergue dormitoro and assume you can make as much noise as you like. People are sleeping. Could be 3pm and they’re napping after walking all day. Or it might by 8pm and they’re still wrecked from walking 35 km. But there will be sleeping. Be quiet unless its a small room and you can see everyone is awake.

Numero Dos: Don’t come in loud and drunk at 10pm and decide that nows the time to organize your pack, call your Mom, recount the good times at the bar with your friend. NO!! Just NO!! We’re not all 20 on a gap year!

Numero Tres: Don’t pack your stuff in noisy plastic grocery bags and rifle through every one of those bags multiple times at night and then in the morning. Use cloth stuff sacks! Like a human. And don’t sit on your bed next to me opening your plastic wrapped breakfast protein bar after your very loud phone alarm goes off!

Numero Cuatro: And speaking of alarms – DO NOT set an alarm on anything but silent/vibrate. Then put it under your pillow to wake you up. Not Everyone gets up when you do. Especially if you came in drunk late. See Numero Dos.

I like to think of it this way. Imagine you have a colicky baby who never sleeps. But finally you get them to nod off. You put them in their crib for some blessed quiet. Ask yourself ‘What would I never do while standing next to this sleeping angel?’ And then don’t do that in an Albergue.

But I gotta go now, apparently. The Janice of Spanish Albergue’s has dictated I will not get 5 minutes of sleep this night. Stay tuned for our next episode ‘How NOT to be an asshole over cafe con leche in a Spanish cafe,’ And feel free to share this with anyone you may know who is even remotely considering walking the Camino. As a public service.

Still – Buen Camino

Here We Go

Waking up at 4 am to catch a taxi to the airport seemed appropriate. That’s Pilgrim time after-all, and Santiago de Compostela was calling.

A little Planes, Trains and Automobiles to get to Sarria via Lugo but its the journey that kicks off the adventure. And this one will be completely different than last time. For so many reasons.

Its funny but as much as I’m so much better prepared for this Camino than the last time, its still emotional starting out. First off, I’m missing Emilie today. She and I did this together over 36 days and I’ve never walked this before without her. I’m surprised it feels so strange. Yet it does

But this time I can speak to the taxi driver and the information booth in Espanol. I know how to navigate time tables and how buses and trains work. So the administivia isn’t an issue. I’m wearing my trusty boots that took me over mountains and across 800 km. So its like traveling with an old and trusted friend. And I have the boot charms I wore the last time to remind that I can do anything I set my mind to.

Then there is the sitting in the Santiago bus station seeing Pilgrims ending their Caminos. They look healthy and clear. Like they’ve been cracked wide open from the experience. I remember that feeling and the sense of freedom that came with it. Like flying.

But there is something else in the air. Pilgrims just starting out in new gear with that air of uncertainty. They’re all quiet, whispering, looking around. Checking and rechecking their gear. Clinging to the only things they have brought with them from home. This time I’m not concerned with my gear. Secure in the fact that I can get anything I might have forgotten along the way.

But for Jeff, this is all new and I’ve enjoyed watching him prepare. His head on a swivel as he’s taking it all in. He lifted my pack at the airport.

‘Wow! Yours is nothing compared to mine. Are you sure you brought everything?’

I just smiled. I wanted to say ‘Yes and No. I haven’t brought everything. But I brought everything I need.’ But I don’t say that. He will have to learn this lesson on his own.

And so our Camino has begun. And already its speaking to me. Differently than last time but just as loudly, nonetheless. Old lessons remembered and new ones to come. Important ones, I’m very sure.

Buen Camino🙏

Feathering Our Nest

There is only one thing that could keep me from wanting to take this trip North. Just one thing. And unfortunately it’s reared its soft downy goose head. No, I’m not raising birds…YET. But I don’t have to because people in Nordic places where they horde such things have an ample supply.

Now, I don’t want to say I live a life of luxury. Because I don’t. But I’m about to get a taste of it with our new top of the range dual-pillow-chamber-down feather bed. Yes, it came in! And we’ve picked it up, ready for the cool climes of rainy October nights. Ah yes. Flannel sheets and a feather bed, in which to sink like a baby or sleep, as if a butterfly in it’s cocoon. Nothing is better than that. OK, there are a few things but right now I can’t think of many right now.

Wait, What?! When we it ordered this summer (it was 7,000 degree Celsius that day) from our friends at El Corte Ingles in Campanar, we had visions that October would be like Seattle. I’d need to wear my Barbour coat, a jaunty scarf, and cute Hunter boots (Wellys to the Brits). Laughing while I splash puddles and run from my car to the door of whatever business was worthy of my custom. Nodding to my fellow weather adventurers as we say something stupid like ‘Can you believe this rain?’ <wakes from dream and slaps side of head>. Oh yeah, we live in Valencia now.

The first weeks of October here have looked like the last week of September. Rain? What rain. I need an umbrella from the sun. Coats, or even a jacket, are the jokes you laugh at. Maybe if I got up at 3 am and went outside naked I might need a light windbreaker. (If I didn’t want to get arrested). But other than that it’s been too warm.

I sit here and look at this lovely dual-pillow-chamber down feather bed and I want to pet it. I won’t deny it.

‘Be my friend.’ I want to tell it. ‘Let me sleep on you in October like normal people in northern Canada before the global climate change catastrophe. I promise, if you do, I’ll skip my little Camino. I’ll stay with you. And if you’re good and make it get cold, I’ll let you play with my Canada Goose Expedition coat.’

At the mention of the Expedition coat I know I’ve gone too far. It doesn’t speak back. It just sits there in it non-ecofriendly wrapping mocking me. Fine! I’ll leave it here and go. But one thing I’m bringing back with me from Galicia is RAIN!! No matter what I have to do, I’ll find some sort of Celtic witch up there who can conjure a spell to let me do it. Because when I get back – sweaty weather or not – I’m sleeping on that dual-chamber-down feather bed come hell or high water! Yes, I may be doing it alone as Jeff will never agree. Very well. That’s just more Nordic luxury nee’ fantasy for me.

T- Minus 6 days

It’s less than a week before heading North. My friend, who I was going to walk the last leg of the Camino with, has become ill. We are postponing our walk together until next Spring. But I’ve got plane tickets and train tickets so I’m going. And, Surprise!!, El Jefe is coming with me.

Yes. He’s decided that he’s going to give himself a taste of what it meas to go on Pilgrimage. Jeff has always been a much more ‘Outdoorsy’ person than me. He’s owned sleeping bags and tents, while I’ve had none. He’s got gear up the wazoo and he moved it all here in that slow boat from the US to Spain last year. But the Camino isn’t a camping trip. It requires some things that he didn’t already possess.

We headed to our local Decathlon. Decathlon is a local sporting goods retailer (they’re French actually). They are everything we wish we’d had in the US. Everything REI used to be before their prices and narrowing selection sent us to other outdoor retailers. But Decathlon will sell you riding gear, archery bows, darts, tether balls, every paddle sport you can conjure up. And so much more. They’re like Costco for us. If we go there for one small thing we will leave lugging gobs of new sporting equipment home and have me on the phone with the local riding club the next day inquiring after a membership and a horse rental.

Their quality is excellent and their prices can’t be beat. Now Jeff and I are fully kitted out and ready for our journey. We’ve packed and repacked. Edited down to just the essentials. I took out another pair of pants today. Kind of proud of myself for that. But I hate being ready this early. Walking by those packs – ready to go – makes me want to leave now. But our flight isn’t until 6am on Sunday morning. So what to do?

I did what I always do these days when I’m feeling out of sorts. I picked up my brush and started painting. Here’s my newest creation. I’m hoping to finishing it before we leave. Jeff sat on his computer and watched me paint it.

‘Do you like it?’ I asked him.

He turned his head to the side to examine it – like our Golden Retriever, Mr. Perkins, used to do.


A very Jeff response.

‘Do you think I’m evolving as a painter?’ I’m not sure what I was looking for.

Again, the head thing.

‘Well, they’re all different.’

I don’t know what I was expecting. This is the same response I get when I ask his advice on multiple outfits when we’re going out. So that’s how my week is going to go this week. But it will be worth it in the end.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

I was walking back from Espacio Creativo today and I saw this painted on the ground. And I’m taking it as a good sign I’m on the right track.

Sunday – Fun day

We needed to get out of the house. Sure, we do stuff all the time but summer has roared back in the last week, and it’s been hot and humid out. Our landlord told me it’s call ‘St. Micheal’s Little Summer‘, since the end of September and the beginning of October is the time of St. Micheal. I’ll take his word for it. Either way – it’s been too hot to really be out mid-day.

A Sunday at the beach on Port Saplaya

So this weekend morning we got up early, walked down to El Espacia Creativo and hopped on the bikes for a ride down to the beach and up to Port Saplaya. It wasn’t too warm on the way up and we sat at an outdoor cafe, enjoying a coffee and water before heading back in the direct sun to stop at our favorite hamburger/biker bar for lunch. Asier’s is the best burger in Valencia (sin gluten options) and it’s located directly across from the La Marina tram stop by the beach. They know us there and are always lovely and accommodating.

But that’s not our local. Everyone has to have a local and our local dive bar is just down the street from our house. I’m not sure why, but the owner and his wife seem fascinated with all things UK and Irish and the bar, and often their apparel, reflects this. Again, they know us there. When we sit down the guy brings una cerveza for El Jefe and dos aguas for me – without asking. And they have good olives (a must when choosing a dive bar).

They also have electronic darts, and of an evening we are often found there battling it out for dart supremacy. Our dive bar is filled with hipsters too. It seems that most of the patrons are direct from Central Casting. They’re all ironically dressed, tattoo’d/pierced, and gorgeous. There is a part of me that feels like I need to check my hair before we make our way down there. We are not inked up enough for this crowd.

Everyone there has been accepting of us. They comment and laugh at my unique dart throwing technique. Less of Jeff’s precision and more of how my brother’s taught me to throw a baseball. I sometimes even hit the dart board. And one other thing that the patrons of this bar are all about is Ping-Pong. Yes, there are Ping-Pong tables at the small park across the street. Well, really it’s more like a large triangular median between the tram and several opposing streets, but in the middle are Ping-Pong tables.


Are we now the proud owners of our own Ping-Pong paddles and balls? If you know Jeff, he will always have his own gear, so yes, yes we are. And you can’t head down to the bar without lugging your own paddles and darts packed in their own cases. Is this strange? Not as much as you might think. Other’s have them too. So it seems Jeff has found his people.

And today after our bike ride we headed there and enjoyed a hearty game of Ping-Pong and some darts. Then we went up the Turia to see the new Downton Abbey movie. I love Downton Abbey. It’s probably ridiculous, but I do.

One year, back in the US, we gave up satellite TV for 18 months. Well, everything but Netflix. We wanted our kids to go outside. It mostly worked. But one the thing I forgot about was Downton Abbey. And when the next season came out I was bereft. What would I do? I was desperate.

After missing the season premiere, I took drastic action. We had a dive bar in Snoqualmie a few miles from our house. Finaughty’s is an Irish bar with authentically sticky floors owned by an ex rocker who, on occasion, had some pretty famous peeps come and play for the local crowd. Lots of signed memorabilia lined the walls. But on a Sunday night it was dead. Like NO ONE would be in there.

So we put on our parkas over our jammies – yes, it was snowing – and we piled into the SUV and headed to Finaughty’s. The bar tender knew us, but then Snoqualmie is a very small place so he knew everyone – including people who never went to Finaughty’s to play darts and enjoy a pint. So we walked in and ordered something and took it to the far end of the bar near a tv. Then I appealed to the bartender to give up one of the sports they were showing and turn it on to Downton Abbey. Huh? He looked at me like I was crazy but there was no one else in there to protest so he did it.

We sat there in our coats, nursing our drinks, first watching the previous week’s replay and then the current episode. We tipped him very well and left. Each week, we went back and each week he turned on Downton Abbey. But very slowly something changed. Soon, more tv’s were tuned in to the exploits of the Crawley family. More people came in and started watching it. Soon the bartender himself was engrossed in the action. Discussions around sports had turned to Lady Mary and Matthew and if Lord Grantham could save the Abbey from financial ruin. And Edith? Poor Edith. When Matthew died in the car crash the patrons shed real tears right along with us.

Did we go every week in our jammies and parkas? Yes, we did. Did anyone ever look at us askance for our entirely inappropriate attire? Not after the first few weeks. They were too engrossed in Downton Abbey.

So it was only fitting that after watching the movie today – with a deliciously predictable plot – that we stopped in at our local and enjoyed a cool beverage – one pint and two waters – a game of darts, and a good chin wag about the exploits of our old friends at Downton Abbey. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday evening on any continent.

Sh*t Happens

Let’s face it – Stuff happens. Toilets break. The A/C goes wonky. Usually at the most inconvenient times. When we first moved to Arizona, I noticed on the morning news shows they took bets on when the first day of triple digits (temps over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) would be reached for the calendar year. But I paid it no mind. Hot is Hot. Then on that fateful day, in May 2016, the A/C went out. Yeah, not good. Sleep wouldn’t be in my future.

I was in Arizona alone and Jeff and the kids were still back in Seattle finishing out the school year. We were just leasing a house temporarily. So the landlord put me up in a really nice resort on the top of a mountain with amazing views. If you’re ever in the Scottsdale, I can’t say enough good things about the Copperwynd Resort and Spa https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/phxaf-copperwynd-resort/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2 . But I should have been forewarned when they had a piece of paper in the room telling me not to leave my suit case open or my shoes on the floor, because they ‘couldn’t be held responsible for creatures crawling inside’. I.e. scorpions and snakes that might sneak in.

So when I was told I could come home after 4 days, and a couple of lovely massages later, to a new A/C unit I was thrilled. But what I didn’t realize is that the workers had left all the doors open while they did the install in the walk in closet (where my clothes were kept) crawlspace/ceiling, and it was scorpion hatch season. So when I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks later, after a searing pain in my finger, I would flick on the light to see my cats jumping on a large scorpion who had been in bed with me and stung my hand. It hurt like HELL! And then then neuro-toxin did its work and it numbed up. But after beating the scorpion with my shoes and a broom at 2 am – all’s well that ends well. No Problema.

And the one thing that I didn’t have to do in Arizona was pay for the A/C install and wait to be reimbursed by my landlord. They wrote the check for the entire thing when the guys were finished, and all I had to do was wait for the scorpions to show themselves. We all have our assigned roles.

But here in Valencia? Well, I think I would rather wait for the scorpions. Our toilet in the guest bath broke. It wouldn’t stop running and after a few days we duct taped it so our water bill wouldn’t break the bank. Getting the tank lid off a European toilet required some YouTube video watching and 3 hands. If one of us lived alone we would have been screwed. The plumber took another week to arrive.

He came today. Our landlord, a lovely man, got caught up in a meeting at work and wasn’t here when the guy showed. Since I don’t speak Bulgarian, I’m going to say he was Bulgarian. So this guy did a lot of miming – I don’t think he’s remotely Spanish and my sad lingo skills didn’t seem to penetrate his ears. He grimaced at me repeatedly, rolled his eyes, and shook his head when I offered him a bucket after one of his lengthy incoherent rants. Apparently, his version of ‘Wax on’ means ‘Oops! I spilled copious amounts of water in the bathroom and I need mucho towels’. Only he didn’t say that in either Espanol or Ingles.

So finally, I figured out he requires more parts and he needs to go out and get them. Fine. ‘Vale’ I told him. ‘No Problemo‘. Pero eso es una problemo. Because he doesn’t have money for the part. Wait, what?

Back in the US, the plumber comes with a van. He has all the parts for toilets, pipes, etc. in the van. He gets the parts he needs by going out into the driveway where his van is parked and getting them From the van. Worse case, he calls someone who brings them. I have nothing to do with the entire process and don’t want to. In the end, he presents me with a bill for whatever he did and I pay it. That’s the extent of my involvement.

Here, they don’t do that. You will be very involved. You’ll be like his scrub nurse during heart surgery. I held the towels and mopped up overspill. I held his wrench and provided a third hand. I turned water on and off regularly. If he had asked me to mop his brow I think that would have been part of my job. And there is another big difference. How the exchange of money goes down.

Here, if there are additional parts required, you dig into your wallet and you hand him wads of cash like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. So you give the guy the money and he leaves for a jaunt down to the hardware/plumbing store (has a coffee/cerveza on the way – I am very sure), gets said parts at the plumbing shop and returns. All within a cool 3 hours, while you wait. Now I know why there are so many of these places near us. They need them close to their clients. And our plumbing superstore is across the street. So perhaps he attended a wedding or a christening on his foray outside my apartment but he was gone a long time. All this while I mopped up and surveyed the toilet carnage that was seeping out into the hallway.

So my new Bulgarian plumber eventually comes back and grunts some more; hands me a wad of change – in the style of a 5 year old who’s been sent to the store for a loaf of bread by their mother. His hand was popsicle sticky and sweaty and it was covered in lint. And I’m not sure it was all there (based on the receipt he gave me). Then he goes back to work.

The toilet is finally fixed. My landlord shows up. There is much discussion, arm waving and writing of many bills. Then the guy leaves and my bathroom is filled with old, broken parts. It’s a war zone that I’m expected to clean up. Yay! I can’t wait until the gas guy comes for the annual check up. That should be fun! I’ll have to make sure I have some tools on me, several hundred euros in my wallet and am at the ready to assist with all my nonexistent natural gas skills, as he sees fit.

I’m starting to wonder if perhaps everyone I come in contact with thinks I’m a little slow. I smile and nod. I run around and present things to them like a golden retriever trying to make his master happy after a long hard day at work. But I know I’m making progress. Every day my Spanish is getting better – and my mime skills too. When our landlord was just here we had a discussion in, mostly Spanish, about the neighborhood, etc. He asked after my Dad and I was able to give him the update in Espanol. I understood everything he said and mostly, I was able to form sentences that were strung together with all the required verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives. Perfectly? No way! My word order can be wonky – especially with the placement of adjectives. But he didn’t laugh at me once and seemed to understand me. So it’s coming. Poco Poco. Yo aprende. Someday, after I master Spanish, maybe I’ll move on to Bulgarian. I understand now, it’s all the rage.

Oh Lucy!

It’s crush time on the Utiel-Requena region (Plateau de Requena y Utiel). Prime Valencian wine country. But then growing grapes is something the Spanish have been doing – and doing well – for thousands of years. I love this time of year! I lived in Northern California wine country for several years and September is a special time.

Utiel, Valencia

September is the moment when all the work that was done last winter and spring, and all the waiting through the summer for the grapes to mature, comes to fruition (actual fruit). Its the first step in the long process over the next 18 months to 2 years before we can purchase the results in a store. How will it go? Only the Gods know. But there are early indications on the potential.

Today, I went with my friend Johan and a group of people to the Vera de Estenas winery in Utiel, where we toured the winery and learned all about their history going back to the 19th century.

This year there was hail in Spring. It killed many of the first blooms on the vines. So, according to Eduardo – the grandson of the current iteration of the winery’s owner – this year will be ‘Not so many grapes, but the grapes we have are good quality.’

I asked him, while walking down through the vines, if he thought this would effect the price of his wine and he just shrugged.

‘No. We don’t change the price. We will just make less wine.’

He didn’t seem concerned at all. But then why would he be? He lives in a beautiful place. He works in a gorgeous vineyard. Life is good. Some years more than others. Being a wine maker is being a farmer. You will always be at the mercy of the weather. And some years the fates are with you, and others they’re not. Eduardo understands this.

We went out into the vines and picked grapes. Then we took them up to stomp them in tubs below the courtyard in front of the winery. This is where the trouble started. We loaded our grapes into the tubs and then two by two we would get into the tub and stomp the grapes. Barefoot, of course. It’s nothing like the huge vat that was used for Lucy Ricardo on t.v. all those years ago. But I had dressed for the occasion in loose linen that could easily be hoisted up to avoid grape juice. I was prepared. This was not my first stomp.

It looked straight forward. Piece of cake! So I got in and then another woman got in. We were supposed to hug each other and sort of dance in a circle. Theory didn’t meet practice. After an unsteady start we took a tumble. Damn! Our futures as fully qualified grape stompers slipped through our grasp.

Was it ridiculous? Of course it was. We knew nothing about what we were doing and we had fun not doing it! But that’s not why any of us were there. We were there to have the wonderful lunch and taste some wine.

I’ll admit that my favorite wine is a Provencal French rose’. If I could never drink another type of wine, and just enjoy that wine for the rest of my life, I would be happy. Of course, I would prefer that I was sitting under plane trees with a cool breeze on a sunny day while doing it. But these wines weren’t bad and for people I know who enjoy a Bobal or one of the other wines from the winery, I purchased a few bottles.

What I really love about these kinds of outings is that I get to meet new people. Today was no different. It’s fun to hear the stories of those from places like Turkey and Mexico. Canada and Ireland. One woman who was born in Malaysia but is now a full Norwegian citizen speaking fluent Norwegian. And we had a famous journalist at our end of the long table at lunch.

Living in Valencia is a little like wine making. The experience varies from year to year. You have no idea how it’s going to go. But it’s the people that make it so special. And it requires a little alchemy. But the longer we’re in Spain the more we’re glad we made the leap. And we’re never looking back.

Preparado para el Camino de Santiago – Numero Dos

We’re only a couple of weeks away from leaving Valencia for my second Camino. This one will seem very short compared to the last one – only 114 km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostella. But much of the gear I’ll be taking will be similar to what I ended up with the last time. With a few modifications.

When I say ‘ended up with’ it’s because I started with much, much more. Last time, I read every blog, FB group and tweet about what essentials I MUST bring. And then I brought it all. Emilie and I left St. Jean with everything but the kitchen sink and two very heavy packs. I would begin leaving half of it at Albergues and cafes, or giving it to needy Pilgrims between St. Jean and Pamplona over the following 4 days.

‘Bandana? Here, take one – I have 3.’

‘Need a Band-aide? Please choose from the 10 different sizes of the 300 I brought ‘just in case.’.

As we were walking from the Pilgrim’s office in St. Jean that first day, down the cobbled street, we saw a gear shop on the left where we could have shown up in our birthday suits and gotten fully outfitted that morning. And probably with half of what we’d brought from the US.

And so begins lesson numero uno – Less is More. And when I say that I don’t just mean stuff. Less stress in advance. Less worry about whether I can get what I need if I forget anything. I brought so much stuff the first time I could have homesteaded in the Pyrenees or performed emergency amateur surgery with my fully outfitted first aide kit.

This time – 10 lbs of stuff in a 30 liter bag

But they say your Camino starts before you leave home, and I know this is true. It’s when the reasons you’ll walk all that way, and the lessons you’ll learn along the way, start to reveal themselves. Sometimes quietly. Sometimes with a roar. Where you go from total elation at the prospect of adventure, to waking up in the middle of the night asking yourself ‘What the hell am I doing? I have no business going thousands of miles from home, for more than a month, on this crazy trek!’. And when the self-doubt will be fueled by the majority of the people you know.

But this time it will be very different for me. I have walked this route before, so I know what to expect. However, last time I walked it in late June and early July. It was hotter and sunnier. This time I’ll be doing it in October. It will require less hiking skirts and sunscreen, and more waterproof, warmer clothing choices. I know the mud in places between Sarria and Portomarin will make navigation interesting.

And other things will be very different this time. I live in Spain now. The fears I had before around finding what I needed along the way are no longer there. Now I know how to navigate. I know where to go and what to ask for. And more importantly – I know HOW to ask for it. Is my Spanish Perfect? No. But if I can find and inquire about goat butter in Valencia, I can find anything else I might need in the week we’ll be on the trail.

So, it leaves me wondering – how will this Camino be different than my last one? Of course, there will be lessons to learn. Like in life, there always are. But I’m less clear about what they will be. So much of the stress of the unknown is gone and I don’t need to learn to slooow down. I’ve already done that. And I know where to pick up the trail in each village – it’s burned indelibly in my memory along the 800 km route. I know which Albergues to stay in and which to avoid. When Emilie and I went, she looked to me to make all the decisions about where we would stay and how we would follow the map. Keeping us on track and safe was my top priority.

So much of my last Camino was about the people I met and how much I came to value their love and friendship by the time we walked into Santiago. How those I met helped me and how I was able to help them when they needed it. So I’m looking forward to meeting others on The Way again. People who are searching in this life – just like me.

And it gets me thinking – hmmm. Maybe this time its about sitting back and letting someone else guide the adventure. Being on their Camino and not mine. Seeing it through their eyes for the first time and listening to their insights and lessons as it unfolds for them. Perhaps for this Camino the lesson for me is not in the planning or directing, but just in the being there for someone else. And right now that sounds just about right. – Buen Camino

*If you want more insights into what to pack for and helpful hints on the Camino - based on past experience - I'm adding a heading for just such advice. But as always, everyone's Camino is theirs alone, so take it for what it's worth and make it your own.

Valencia Fall

The blazing sun of summer has given way to my favorite time of year – Fall. And the light? The glorious warm light that you can only describe as Yummy!. If light were a physical thing that you could wrap yourself in, this kind of light would be soft and comforting like a favorite blanket at nap time when you were a child.

I could sit at the tables of any outdoor cafe and look at it for hours – dancing along the stone walls of the old city. Kissing the Plaza de la Virgin in the evening. This morning’s walk from Trinidad, across the old stone bridge lined with popes over the Turia, and through El Carmen saw the morning sun peeking down the wet cobbled streets. The temperature was perfect and we lingered for a long time over coffee and pastry. Usually Jeff is ready to get on with the day, but even he seemed in no hurry to get things started from anything other than a sitting position under the olive trees on a shady street. At one point the wind blew and the leaves rained down us like snow, making us laugh.

I can sit here now and see my olive trees on the terrace and their fruit is starting to turn black. Ripe for the picking. My gardenia tree is past flowering for the season, but it did put on a fragrant show in spring and early summer. And my pomegranate tree? I have glorious pomegranates! I can hardly believe it. I love pomegranates. And I seem to collect them in imagery, art and jewelry. Funny how we’re attracted to certain things. These hearty few fruits are the first from the tree I bought on my birthday at Friday Market in Benimachlet last year.

The days are still warm but the nights are cool and sleeping with the windows open and a breeze blowing means that we’re sleeping like babies. Better than with the A/C blasting. But it also means I have to sweep more. The wind carries the sand and dust up from the Sahara desert and North Africa. So my washing machine is perpetually covered with the sandy grit on my laundry porch off the kitchen. I’m sure we’re wearing it every day in our ‘clean laundry’.

The fruit in the stands at the Mercat Central are bursting with all sorts of fresh local verduras. Tomatoes the size of cannon balls. And my favorite Herbalista has fresh herbs that smell heavenly, and freshly dried dried ones we can’t get anywhere else.

I’m very sure this time of year is the best time to visit Valencia. The weather is good and there are an abundance of fiestas coming up in October – if that’s your thing. Otherwise, you can just meander, spending the day walking the city or an evening stroll at the beach. Enjoying the abundance that this beautiful city has to offer.

Carbon Footprint

We have not owned a car now for more than 18 months. When we moved here to Valencia getting my driving license was a very high priority. I mean, we’re Americans. You can take the Americans out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the Americans. Well, it turns out you actually can.

Sure, we had Jeff’s motorcycle shipped over. And we used it here and there for a few adventures. But the bike mostly sat unused. We walk everywhere and we use public transport or ride share services. We haven’t really needed a car. But that hasn’t stopped me from looking. It’s just been hard to justify while living in Valencia. If we need to go outside the city we take a train – usually. And on a very rare occasion, when where we want to go can’t be reached by train and then a taxi, we can rent a car for almost nothing. We don’t pay car insurance unless it’s for a rental.

But it’s more than that. This summer has been the hottest on record, all over the planet. The Amazon is on fire and the glaciers around the globe are melting at an alarming rate. As humans, we should be very afraid of what is going on. Jeff and I were just talking about our trip to the Arctic Circle on his motorcycle in Alaska, over coffee this morning. The Boreal forests, and the permafrost holding up the Alaska oil pipeline as we rode up the treacherous Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks. Well, this year that permafrost is melted, and the tundra and those pine trees are on fire. Unprecedented.

I’ve been holding off on buying a car because I wanted to ensure that we were as responsible as possible. Sure, I looked at our old standby Audi. My little TT. But Audi doesn’t have a good alternative fuel and I just can’t pull the trigger – I wouldn’t feel good driving it. But the real question surrounding purchasing a car was if we really needed one. Now that we’re looking to move – mostly permanently – to Galicia, it’s not really a choice. The answer being ‘Yes’; the second questions is more about how we might go fully electric and the viability of being able to get across the the country.

Luckily for us the EU, and Spain in particular, is ramping up their charging networks and stations on major highways by the end of 2019. Iberdrola is leading the way and soon they will complete a network with a station no more than every 100km. We’ll be able to criss-cross the country on electric power. So going fully electric is getting more viable.

Electric Charging Stations in Spain

But what about charging at home? There are no facilities to charge a car in our garage here in Valencia. So a plug-in electric/hybrid or, my preference, a fully electric car isn’t possible while we live in our flat in Benimachlet. But looking at the future, I can’t imagine purchasing a solely petrol powered car. Pumping the same old carbon into the air – like we did with all our SUV’s in the US. In this day and age it seems irresponsible to inflict that on our friends and neighbors when we have so many alternatives. And they’re wildly affordable in Europe – unless we go Tesla or the like.

But what about the rest of our carbon footprint and plastic waste? Now we’re looking at other things in our lives that are large contributors to carbon emissions. I’ve cut nearly all the beef from our diet. Jeff used to eat A LOT of beef and pork. We’re shifting to chicken and more sustainably raised protein/meats. And it’s healthier anyway.

Then we started looking even more closely at the small stuff. When you buy vegetables in a supermarket here, you put on a plastic glove to pick up the apple, potato, whatever and place it in a plastic bag. So the waste adds up. When I go to buy cheese at the cheese monger – he wraps it in paper and seals it before putting it in a plastic bag. But then I found these and they’re only one of a dozen alternatives:

Reusable produce bags

We are bound and determined to avoid buying things that are made with plastics. Sure it means we’ll be taking our grocery trolley to the store more often because plastic packaging is lighter than glass. But we’re willing to make the switch, whenever it’s possible, to make that choice.

We’re not perfect eco-warriors, but we’re doing what we can, when we can. So it seems I’ll wait until we are set on where we’ll be living up in Galicia and then we’ll make our decisions on a car. But in the meantime, it feels really good to know that in the last 18 months, we’ve significantly, and consciously, reduced our overall carbon footprint. Now we just need to find a way to get back to family in the US with the least emissions possible. Covered wagon – here we come!! At least our luggage would get there when we do.