Nuts for the Winter

The last several days it’s been raining cats and dogs. Movie rain. The wind has been whipping and while it’s still in the 70’s it feels like Fall. We’ve been mostly staying around the house and the space. The only thing we’re missing is a fireplace to make it seem like September.

But the weather didn’t stop us from heading down to Mercat Central. I’ve gone back to strictly adhering to my allergy diet regimen. Jeff thinks that my ‘fudging’ and saying ‘It’s fine, I’ll eat it’ when we’re out with friends or traveling has been causing havoc with my health. I want to say he’s wrong, but I know he’s not.

So we braved the wind and rain and headed down the the Central Market. The building is enough to make you just want to pop in and look up at the ceiling. But its the stalls that will have you lingering. We take everyone who visits Valencia there. And in high season it’s packed with tourists, so we make sure in summer we go very early in the morning to get what we need. It wasn’t a problem today.

The halls were relatively quiet and it allowed us to go up and down the aisles and to inquire at the multitude of cheese mongers if any had Mantequilla de Cabra – Goat butter. I’m not supposed to eat cows milk and back in Seattle it was easy to get goat butter imported from Canada at our local PCC market. But thus far I hadn’t had any luck finding it here.

Over and over I inquired, and over and over I got the head shake and a ‘No‘. Finally, I asked a nice young guy at a lovely counter that seemed to carry everything cheese ‘Necisito mantequilla de cabra.’ And he said ‘Si’. He seemed surprised that I was surprised, and he reached down and took it out of the refrigerator. Then he cut me off large hunk and boxed it up. And the cost is about half of what I used to pay for Canadian goat butter in the US. It tastes like heaven.

Well, now I was feeling cocky! I had found a needle in a haystack and I was ready to go for broke. Since we were near Colon we headed down to El Corte Ingles and the Supermercado in the basement to check on their Hueveos de Pato supply. Duck eggs. This year, they’ve been thin on the ground, even for summer, and we’ve made regular trips to the El Corte’s in the area to check on their restocking each week we’ve been in town. Usually, no luck.

The Rare huevos de pato

So I wasn’t that hopeful. But I will tell you I need to buy a lottery ticket, because today the shelves were bursting with beautiful, glorious, rare Huevos de Pato. They had 8 half dozen packages. I squealed audibly and we looked around to make sure there weren’t any other people who also saw these avian gems and might rush us. Jeff was ready to by them all, but I felt we should leave one box. For that poor person who was going to come after us and find the cupboard bare. I used to do this when a shipment came in to our local store in Seattle. I would buy all but one – it’s a karma thing.

Jeff didn’t bother to ask me what I was going to do with 42 duck eggs until we got home.

‘Even you can’t eat them all before they go bad.’ he reminded me.

But I rubbed my hands together. ‘I have a plan.’ And I did.

I went down to El Chino and bought large ice cube trays. Then I filled those trays with an egg apiece – keeping some back for immediate enjoyment. I needed different sizes because duck eggs aren’t consistent. Some are very large and some are smaller than a chicken egg. They can be other colors too. Then I put 36 duck eggs in their new nests in the freezer. I’ll bag them up in larger freezer bags once they’re frozen. Then I’ll head back to all the El Corte’s in the area – as I have been doing – and see if I can rustle up one more load before winter hits, to ration over the dark and stormy months. Ducks don’t lay eggs in the winter.

So today was an epic day! Weather and all. And who needs to win the lottery when you are fully stocked with goat butter, and you’ve got a freezer full of duck eggs? Certainly not me! I’m hording my eggs for the winter!

Wrecks to Ruins

When I met Jeff, he was living in a house that I would have considered uninhabitable. I won’t go into details but it was awful and it smelled bad. Someone had died there. He was coming out of a very bad divorce that pretty much took every nickle, of the small piles of nickles, he had left. So even purchasing the worst house in Bellevue Washington took creativity and belt tightening.

It also meant he would become well acquainted, in the middle of the night, with the local Home Depot that was open 24 hours. He replaced all the plumbing in 48 hours one weekend and flooded the basement. He rewired the entire house and put up new wall board. He learned how to install carpet and the importance of a kick plate. And he replaced all the flooring in the bathroom and kitchen. At my encouragement/begging, he bought a book and learned how to put in a deck that was truly gorgeous, over the broken sad patio.

One summer, we had an Amish barn raising with my family to re-roof it after he’d lived there a few years. I won’t call it a ‘Labor of Love’ but he certainly loved the price we got for it when we sold it. He had doubled his money. And we just looked it up on Zillow and the little blue house is selling for a staggering price we could never have imagined.

Now here we sit in Spain, ready to start our house search in Galicia. I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to get what you want up front. Silk purse/sows ear and all that. Don’t get me wrong, I like those fixer upper shows on TV. But I’ve had my fair share of DYI and I think I’m well past it. But Jeff? He shocked me today with some new listings. I had to check to see if he ticked the box in the ‘Haunted House’ search category.

I can almost hear the creepy organ music now!

Sure, I like ancient stone walls. Thick beams that might be from trees felled centuries ago. In theory. But I also like a couple of other things. Like a driveway I could drive a car down without bush-wacking to the front door. And speaking of a front door, I’d like to get into it without peeling back vines, kicking the wood to loosen the tricky church-key lock, and ducking – like a Hobbit. I’d like central heating and to cook my dinner in something other than a cauldron hanging over the open fire in the kitchen. If you think I’m kidding – I just pulled all of this from the last listing he showed me.

He’s told me repeatedly ‘You get to choose this house’, since I chose none of the other dwellings we’ve ever lived in. But I know I’ll feel his hand on my back when he finds the ‘Former Monastery complete with bell tower (🙏 Please sans hunchback)’ or ‘Rustic 19th century grain silo’; both filled with ‘charm and potential’. The definition of which is as follows – Cold and drafty, requiring the owner to live at another location nearby while a bevy of workers replaces, restores, rehangs and recycles their entire house – all at their own leisure e.g. You’ll own your charming house (former Spanish inquisition dungeon) with loads of potential, but you’ll not live in it until 2023.

I had visions of lounging on a terrace overlooking the sea next Spring. While he has visions of ripping up the existing said terrace and relocating it. l’d like to have guests in our guest rooms next summer. While Jeff is set on tearing out all the walls for an ‘open plan concept’. Replacing rooms with a yet to be built, or even designed, guest house at an undisclosed future date. So, I’m choosing this house? Yeah, right!

I watch Jeff peruse these listing with a glazed hypnotic look of a man possessed. He’s seeing the potential and appears to be remembering when his age started with a 3, rather than a 5. While I am struck with more than a little fear in my heart, and the cold knowledge that comes with experience. Its just like child birth – too easy to forget how much it hurt. It’s why I did it only once.

But today he turned it all around on me.

‘Just think. You’d be able to write about it.’ He told me. Trying to speak to my essential nature. The Old the pain will be worth it cause you’ll birth a book trick. I won’t say he didn’t peak my curiosity. I did Google ‘local exorcists’ or if I could easily acquire just a vile of holy water to ward off any lingering beasties.

So we shall see. We’re not heading up there until the first week in November so there is time for a good rethink and for his honeymoon phase of all these ruins to wear off. And I’m counting on that. Because in the end, he knows I can write, but he also knows I’m capable of chasing him with a hammer. There’s history there. And neither of us wants that.

A Backstage Pass to Heaven

Often, it’s in doing something for others that we gain the most for ourselves. In my life, I’ve found this to be the defining theme. Especially when there is nothing to be personally gained in doing it.

Here in Valencia I have this friend. She’s a little older and her body isn’t what it used to be. In general, she’s aware it isn’t going to get faster or stronger. Entirely the opposite. At 68, she’s slower going and she has issues with her knees and hips. So climbing mountains isn’t really in her future.

She moved here from the UK, after living in many other countries over the course of her lifetime. From Bahrain to Holland and the US. But in all that time she had never heard of the Camino de Santiago. And according to her, since moving to Valencia, everyone she meets has walked it in some form or another and they have their Compostella.

Before I went to the US this summer, she came over and wanted to see my ‘Camino stuff’ and I pulled it all out and showed it to her. The credentials with all the stamps. The certificate you get at the end in Santiago. The prayer cards that nuns and others place into your hands, and some of the homemade medals that found their way into my possession from people on roadsides or in random olive groves. Seeing all that stuff again makes me a little emotional and it all comes flooding back. But we have so many other friends here who have also walked the Norte and the Portuguese. And she’s decided she wants to walk the Camino too. But she won’t go alone.

Most of those she knows have other obligations or just don’t have the time. And she’s found another year has ticked by. So, I volunteered. We won’t be starting in St. Jean. We’ll fly to Santiago and take the train to Sarria and start from there. To get the Compostella, starting from Sarria is pretty much the minimum distance on the Frances with 2 stamps per day in the Pilgrim’s passport.

She is eager to do it but she’s nervous too, and her daughter back in the UK told her there is no way she can do it. Which, like anyone, means she’s bound and determined. And I’ve assured her we can go as slow as we need to. I’m not in any hurry and neither is she. We’ll go in October. It will be cooler in Galicia and probably wetter, but I feel sure we’ll make it just fine.

And then I got to thinking. We’ll be heading back to the US for the Holidays. Spending some of the holiday season with my parents. I can’t imagine what gift I could get my Dad at this stage. He will be turning 90 this week and finding a way to celebrate that milestone was hard enough in his condition from so far away. But this chance to help out a friend has presented an opportunity to do something for my Dad.

Last trip to our beach at Manzanita – Oregon Coast

So when I get to Santiago this time the Compostella will have my Dad’s name written on it. He was a Catholic at one point and the powers that be in the Department of Pilgrimages, or some such in the Catholic Church, let you walk for someone else who can’t do it themselves. So, I’ll be walking for you, Dad. And when they do the pilgrim’s blessing at the Cathedral in Santiago, I’ll accept it in your name. I know I’ll feel better having completed it with you in mind. And with the knowledge that, finally, the day you meet St. Peter at the pearly gates you can show him your backstage pass to heaven, and just maybe you’ll think of me and smile when you do it.

So this time I get to help two people. And it is true what they say. That is its own reward.

Birthday Wishes from Home

Its Jeff’s Birthday. 52. Finally. Every year, for 6 weeks we’re 2 years apart. So Jeff’s birthday puts us back to just a year that separates us. I feel sure that this one year will be significant as we get older. It will mean that I’ll be using a cane before he does. My glasses will get thicker before his. Since I’m already losing on average, 4 pairs of prescription glasses and another 4 pairs of sunglasses every year I’m well ahead of him on the forgetful scale.

This year I decided that I’d surround him with his favorite things. I mean, what do you get a guy who has everything? Or at least will just purchase it when the mood strikes. So surprising him with things on special occasions is not an easy endeavor. Luckily, I was preparing for this day way back when I was in the US.

First up – the birthday dessert. No simple cake or ice cream. Nope. Jeff is an uncomplicated guy and since we’ve moved to Valencia he’s craved one thing consistently – Jello. And the gelatin here just doesn’t have the same flavor and consistency of the real thing. So to accommodate the varied flavors that will satisfy his 1970’s palate, some room needed to be made in the suitcase home. TSA made sure they opened that suitcase to check it out. Probably shaking their heads.

Happy Birthday Jello!

Jeff hasn’t been enjoying all the Birthday love coming his way from his friends at Facebook. The daily reminder he’s getting older by making suggestions for organizations that he might find helpful or enjoy donating to at his advanced age. He sent me some of them and I laughed. He wasn’t as amused.

There are times Jeff misses the Northwest of the US. I think that’s why he’s looking forward to moving to the Northwest of Spain. He misses the smell of Fall in the air and rain. Real rain. But while I was there this summer I bought him a couple of photographs. The first is taken at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. He’s always loved the dramatic terrain of the Pacific Coast. Oregon’s is so much more craggy than the coast of Washington State.

Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park – Oregon Coast

The second is of Seattle. No matter what, for Jeff, Seattle will always be home. He was born there and it’s where he grew up. So I figured that he’d enjoy having both of them in his lair here. On a day when he’s missing the ease of living in a place that is so familiar – he can look at these photos and smile.

But then I snuck in a little something else. Jeff is the barrista in our house and every day he makes me my coffee. So I brought a little bit of home back for the guys who makes the best coffee in the world. Even though he never drinks it. But its something that will say ‘Home’ to him too.

Happy Birthday, El Jefe. I hope this year is he best one yet.

Captain Jack – Randomly Specific

We’ve spent this US holiday-non-Spanish holiday weekend developing our approach to finding a home in Galicia in the Northwest of Spain. My love for a well documented list is renowned. It’s a proven system and one anyone, of any level of intelligence, can execute. But let me walk you through it.

First, you tell your husband, who is already looking at real estate listings, that we need to make a list of what is most important to us. The must-haves v. the nice-to-haves.

Then you say to him, again, lets make a list after he sends you the 400th listing from Idealista or Fotocasa or one of a zillion other sites via email or WhatsApp or text. Why the mixed media? Who knows – but its disorganized and sloppy to me. Choose one and stick to it. And, oh yeah, let’s make a list!!

Jeff did this the entire time I was in the US and the entire time he was there and I wasn’t. I’m sure most of them are already sold. But yesterday I was able to pin him down. It didn’t take long, something he readily admitted but used against me like it was a personal weakness.

‘See. I told you it wouldn’t take long.’ he told me, shaking his head. Clearly failing to see the value in clarifying our priorities.

So I slept better last night. It would be short lived. Today, Jeff added a twist that only he could and it’s one that no one, and I do mean NO ONE, could have ever anticipated in the history of home buying, or generally living as a land-based mammal.

We went for a walk down on the beach. Time for a leisurely stroll and a detox juice at my favorite beach spot. So relaxing. Then we walked back and Jeff saw the cargo ships out on the water. He pointed to them excitedly.

‘See those? That’s what I want to see from our new house. I want to lay in bed or sit on the couch or on the terrace and watch the ships. Day or night.’

He looked excited! It’s the most excited I’ve seen him since he’s been home. Including when I met him at the airport.

‘I wonder where they’re going and what they’re carrying. You know, I think you could probably get that data and build a UI so you could track maritime traffic.’ He was talking to himself.

This is Jeff’s form of free association. It’s where the genesis of so many of his ideas start. Although, often I’m not often there for it real-time. And I knew he wasn’t going to let this go.

So this afternoon, I notice he’s been gone for sometime in his lair. I leave him alone because he’s clearly doing something and I’m doing something and, I’m not stupid, neither of these things is going to be like the other. But I know when he emerges I’ll have some update on something he’s been mulling over.

I’m having a flashback to when we moved from Seattle to Arizona for my job. Jeff mapped the traffic patterns of the entire Valley of the Sun for a 3 month period based on specific data points. He married those with crime statistics and high school test scores (for Emilie). I didn’t know he was doing this but when he brought it to me and declared where we would be living I was in no way surprised. And I did exactly as he suggested. My commute was the shortest of my career and it was like living in Mayberry, as far as safety was concerned.

So he came out while I was repairing my broken blog (thank you for the heads up, Andy). He sits down and pulls up a website and shows me all the maritime traffic around the entire Iberian Peninsula. And he’s animated about it.

‘Tell me what I’m looking at.’ I say – barely paying attention as I’m trying to understand how I can resize and standardize the size of the photos I’ve already imported into WordPress.

‘Well, it turns out that there are land stations that contribute to the data for tracking ships and that you can contribute to crowd sourcing maritime data. So I’ve started mapping the location of available homes along the Galician coastline against the gaps in their data collection. If you look on the maritime map you can see where the gaps are. We could fill one of those gaps. And if we do that they’ll share even more data with me.’

This is perhaps the longest set of words he’s strung together since he’s been home. I don’t know what to say. None of this was on the list from yesterday. It’s not been prioritized. But I’m hopeful I can use it to my purpose.

‘Will this, in any way, help you winnow the list of 400 properties down to something more manageable? Like to the 10-20 homes that we’ll ever tour with an agent?’

He looks at me like he can’t believe I don’t understand his purely data driven pitch, upon which we should base our entire real estate purchase. Our ability to contribute to maritime data collection on the Spanish coastline should be top of mind. We do have another list, and I remind him of this. But there is more. I know there’s more.

I readily agree if he’s willing wear an Irish fisherman’s sweater and a captain’s hat exclusively from now on, answering only to the name ‘Captain Jack’. Jeff’s grandfather was a Norwegian halibut fisherman. I’m sure he has visions of himself heading down to the dock to chat up the crusty old salts spinning yarns about the one that got away. Except these people will be speaking Gallego (close to Portuguese) and he can barely converse with the girl at the cafe on the corner in Espanol. But he agrees a little too quickly. So, there is more. There has to be more.

‘And I looked up Weather Underground. The micro weather targeting on the coast of Northern Spain is sadly lacking. We could add to that too.’

Again, not surprised. But I feel sure the piece de resistance is upon us.

‘And then, I was doing research on water temperatures and wave tracking. There aren’t many of those buoys either. Especially ones that report real-time via satellite, to contribute to all the climate change information being gathered. But there’s a company in San Francisco that makes personal buoys. You can actually buy your own buoy and agree to share the information with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and NOAA and the like. It’s solar powered and doesn’t need maintenance for 10 years. And it fits into the size of a suit case. I could order one and bring it back with us in December!’

I’ve very sure there has to be a start up pitch video on YouTube and I’m not disappointed. We sit and watch how it works, etc. Along with the underwater drone they sell. (We’ll need one of those, too.)

‘Why do I feel like when we are ready to move you’ll be waiting in the car with your computer equipment, a tripod, high powered binoculars, a wet suit and your buoy while I deal with the the rest of the details? I can hear you now ‘Come on. Hurry up! There’s data waiting to be collected.’ Ugh!’

He has nothing to say to this because he knows I’m right. Sadly, I’m well aware that this is exactly how it’s going to go. But we all have our roles. And, if I’m honest, this is the kind of crap that made me fall in love with him in the first place. So I can’t complain. And I know I’ll be happy sitting on the terrace watching the ships go by, tracking our buoy’s light flashing on the water. OK, maybe not as much as Jeff as he’s crunching the numbers in his data base and bringing me graphs to review. But still.

La Mesa de Mosaico

It’s the a time of year again. Fall is in the air and after a busy summer of travel, life returns to normal. The mornings are cooler and the heat of the day isn’t as hot as it was in July. September promises cooler temperatures – even though this first day has decided to give us a last gasp of summer.

It’s also the season when we have visitors to Valencia. Sure, it’s back to school season, but since our kids are all in the US and most of our friends and family are either childless or well past the child-raising phase of life, they get to travel at the shoulder season or off season when the crowds are gone and the weather is still good. And it’s got me thinking.

We don’t get to see our most cherished friends and family that often. People with whom we have a long history. Sure, some can make the trip to visit, but for others that’s just not possible. Both Jeff and I go through phases of really missing certain people; just sitting down for a good long chat. Something we took for granted before, but now takes effort and a day’s journey to achieve. And WhatsApp just doesn’t always cut it.

I’m not a big fan of social media. Twitter is the only platform I participate in anymore. And that’s more for news and a global perspective on the events of the day. And to stay connected to a community of writers. So I don’t see Instagram posts or FB pics of my friends doing what they do on a daily basis. I prefer to learn about it when we get together.

Mine will be a tad more eclectic than this beauty

So I’ve decided I need to find another way to keep them close. A reminder of our friendship and our history on a daily basis. But what to do? And then I woke up early this morning and it hit me. I live in one of the ceramic capitals of the world. I’m surrounded by some of the most beautiful examples of the art form on a daily basis. And I have always loved mosaics. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the most amazing examples of mosaic in historic places all over the planet. Some made from stone and others from pottery. So it’s time I created one of my own. And who better to help me than my friends.

Yes, that means another project for Espacio Creativo. And yes, this will require El Jefe to get out his tools and assist. But, as time goes by, when each of our friends or family visits us, instead of the usual gift for hosting them (that’s standard) I will ask them to bring a piece of ceramic or porcelain that they want to add to my table. We’ll put it in a pillow case and break it together and then incorporate it into the design. And for those who can’t make the trip? Well, we can do it back in the US just as easily and I’ll carry the broken pieces back with us

Will they all match each other? No. But that’s part of the beauty of it. Each will be like no other. And will there be places that seem to stop and start abruptly? Yes. But I that’s exactly like life and it’s not about the individual pieces anyway, but how they come together and add to the overall beauty.

We are getting serious about finding a home in the Northwest of Spain. And as we look at the real estate pictures I’ll be envisioning our mosaic table in the space. And when we find a place where it will be at home, I’ll know that’s the one. Because we want to make sure our family and friends are happy there too. Not just in the Fall, but every day of the year.

History Under our Feet

The history of Valencia goes back millennia. Layer upon layer the people here have come and gone. They brought their cultures, and when they left many of their customs remained and were absorbed by new arrivals. Ebbs and flows.

It’s easy to see it in the many attractions tourists come to see. The Cathedral in the center of the old city has a necropolis you can visit after descending a set of stairs far below the floor of the modern church. Skulls and bones are on display where they lay and many are still embedded in the walls.

But the wonderful thing I love about this city is that discoveries of the past never stop. And they can be found in unlikely places.

Our Benimachlet isn’t a tourist area. Sure, the Metro Red and Brown lines come up here on the way to Alboraya and Rafelbunyol. But Benimachlet used to be a separate village – much like Alboraya still is today. When you walk through the old part of the area you see it and feel it. Our own square and church. The centuries old homes.

Old mixes with new on our streets that lay 7 blocks north of the Turia. Tourists often come up through the Jardin del Real, and sometimes to the Belle Arts museum to take in our hometown impressionist, Joachin Sorolla. But they don’t bother to go further. And I’m OK with that. There’s no ‘Nothing to see here, folks’ sign telling tourists to go back the other way to the main sites. But that’s the result. However, that may soon change.

During the Great Recession, Spain was hit hard. Harder than most countries in the world. They’ve done a great job of shoring up their banking systems and have turned away from austerity, pumping new money into their social safety net. But the way I generally measure the economy of a city is to look for cranes on the skyline. Building means banks are loaning money and people are buying homes. And businesses are opening. And there are a lot of cranes dotting the Valencian skyline.

One of the vacant lots near us, that had been planned for development before the economic collapse, had started excavating the sub-basement in anticipation of a new parking garage for the businesses and residents of the planned apartment building. The architectural rendering was on the sign and it looked like it would be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

This was good news to us. Things are ticking along in the right direction. But we hadn’t spent much time walking on that block for more than two months since we’ve been away. But what a difference a few months makes. Now the crane is gone, but the fences are still up and you can see shadows of activity. So I looked through a hole in the netting.

WOW! They hit pay dirt. Although I’m not sure the developer or the bank would see it that way. A full fledged archaeological site has sprung up where heavy equipment and a bee hive of hard hats were in early June. University students are sifting through the site and have uncovered walls of old structures and even a stone well is visible.

Jeff took these pictures over the fence for me since I am unable to go in there and he’s a giant. But I can’t wait to learn more about who lived there and when. And to see the artifacts they’ve unearthed. I could have stood there all day, looking through that hole and chatting with another passerby who was taking turns looking through it too. But we were on our way to lunch so I had to pry myself away.

I’ll make updates as we learn more and post more photos. But it’s great fun to live in a place with so much history, and a city and it’s citizens that value it too.

One of these Things is Not Like the Other

So Tech Support was a no show last night. Stuck in London. It seems our family’s ‘Summer of Travel Disruptions‘ continues unabated. Of course, there was my DFW saga of early July. And then Jeff was trapped in Chicago after a completely avoidable snafu where American Airlines and British Airways played ‘The Right Hand doesn’t know what the Left Hand is doing’ roulette, including sending his Seattle bound bag to Mexico City for a 3 day vacation. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. But at least they put him up in a hotel.

So when he called me and told me that his flight was taking off 3 hours late from Phoenix I was skeptical that he would make it home on time. He assured me that they had assured him that he was being rebooked, although they couldn’t tell him what those flight details were until he got to Heathrow. Not a good sign.

All was not lost though because he got the upgraded seat to a giant pod complete with 4 personal windows for his viewing pleasure as he crossed the Atlantic. And a storage credenza that could hold more than el Compartemiento. It wasn’t rough flying. He slept for 8 hours straight and they woke him up upon landing. No Janice in sight.

Fast forward to Heathrow. Poor Baby, Jeff might have made his original connection but for a Middle Eastern Prince and his entourage that were in the same class he was in. The black clad body guards, complete with ear pieces and sunglasses, wouldn’t let him pass them in the jet-way so he could run through the airport like a Hertz rental car commercial. As I heard him complain I had little sympathy.

‘You’re flying in your own cabin with princes with body guards. After you’ve slept on the floor of Heathrow we can talk.’

‘Well the upside is that I realize I need ‘Staff’. People who just handle stuff for me and keep others out of my orbit.’

I thought that was my job. Eye roll. Who booked his flights? Oh Yeah.

He had to stand in line with the riff raff – heavy sigh – to find out what BA was going to do for him. They chastised him for being late (totally their fault). And for missing his first flight and the connection they had rebooked him on, but didn’t tell him about. Then they insisted he give them his boarding pass to those flights that he was never given in Phoenix because they knew they wouldn’t be any good. He called me furious.

‘The woman was rude and ridiculous. I think there is a special place in Brexit hell for her. So I’m staying here. They gave me vouchers for a hotel, shuttle, food and the like. Again. Ugh.’

I could hardly contain my pity for him. I had barely gotten Doritos and a single bottle of water. I’d had to align myself with strangers to ensure the safety of my personal possessions. It was Mad Max. El Jefe had a £50 dinner voucher and would be sleeping in actual bedding. With access to a shower!

But that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed. I was looking forward to seeing him last night after 3 weeks apart. We’ve actually only seen each other for 3 days out of the last 7 weeks. And then he sent me this photo via WhatsApp and I’m not so sure anymore.

‘I couldn’t take advantage of the breakfast at the hotel because I had to head to the airport to get through security. So I’m just lounging here until my flight takes off at 8:30😢.’

He does love to rub it in. But you know what? Next time they offer that upgrade at the gate to Business/First Class my frugal self is going to snag it. Even if I have to sell the Louboutins in my carry on like a fish monger. Yes, it will be my turn to play the princess – sans the body guards. And I can do Princess with the best of them.

Oops! and Oops, Again

Yup! I’m messing with the Blog. It was time for a refresh. Even I was getting bored with the old theme. So you may have noticed some changes are underway – in real time.

The best part is I’m learning. The worst part is that its taking me some time. So bear with me and please excuse the dust, the noise and the mess. Hopefully, I’ll be where I want to be after the ‘HELP’ message I sent to my friends at WordPress comes back with all the golden tablets containing the knowledge I’m missing.

My back up plan? Well, Jeff is enroute to London, as we speak. So my tech support will be here by tonight. Yes, jet-lagged and probably grouchy. But I feel sure he’ll be happy to help me when he walks in the door. Yeah Right!

In the meantime – your patience is appreciated. Fingers crossed. 🤞

Well That Was Fun – Not

Its been an interesting week since I got back to Valencia. One I’d like not to relive any time soon. The week before leaving my parents in Portland I was starting to come down with a little something. I stayed away from everyone in the house – mostly – and only hugged my Dad when I left for the airport. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t even done that.

I’m a product of my parents in many ways. Their philosophy runs to the ‘Just keep going. Tough it out’ kind of mentality. Born of the Great Depression and WWII. Rather than lying down and resting, my people figure drinking more water and pushing through adversity is the best course of action. So After landing in Valencia, my day one 11 km walk on the beach was de rigueur for how I roll. Turns out that wasn’t such a good move.

Afterwards, I woke up in the middle of the night jet-lagged – to be expected – and very sick. I looked for a thermometer like a bear pawing through a Yellowstone camp site and, not finding it, then made my way to our local farmacia open 24 hours 365 days a year. They know us there and they speak ingles when I need it. I was dizzy by the time I got there and the pharmacist came around the counter and sat me down on the bench. I told her I just needed a thermometer.

‘You need to go the hospital. You are clearly very ill.’

I told her I was planning to see my doctor when the office opened later but I just needed to get rid of this nasty headache and find out if I have a fever. She shook her head and was insistent. She wasn’t deferring to my judgment.

‘Your face is red as a tomato and you’re burning with fever. I think I will call for assistance.’

I begged her not to, so she led me to the street, hailed a taxi, and told him where to take me. I let her do this because I couldn’t think straight. I had the worst headache of my life and I could barely keep my eyes open, as the light from the sunrise was starting to penetrate them. I wasn’t going to the usual IMED hospital all expat Americans frequent. She had sent me to Hospital Casa de Salud.

The difference between these two facilities is night and day. IMED is like a hotel with doctors that come direct from central casting. All white teeth and perfect hair. When they smile you can practically hear the ‘ting’ from the glare. This was no IMED.

Casa de Salud is the Catholic hospital that looks like it’s exterior shots could have a vintage from a 1980’s soap opera. The producers of the long running show, General Hospital would have been proud. It being Catholic also means its filled with nuns. Little nuns. Like under 5 ft tall. But don’t underestimate them, these ladies are fierce and I know this from staying at convents on my Camino. You don’t go up against little apple doll nuns – even Emilie knows this is a universal truth.

‘They’re kind of scary.’ She told me at one convent run like a military camp we stayed at in Carrion de los Condes.

‘These little women could survive a nuclear winter.’ I told her. ‘You want to be on their side.’

She’s now a believer.

If IMED is the Ferrari of Valencian hospitals, Casa de Salud is the ’67 Dodge Dart. Its not fancy but it will still get you from A to B. And while IMED is a more state of the art facility because it was built in the century we’re living in, Casa de Salud still has what it needs to get the job done. At IMED they speak in the hushed tones of a Sedona Day Spa, but at HCdS they have an even bigger bonus: All of the ER docs speak English. No translator required.

So the taxi driver helped me inside and they took me back immediately. No usual mucking about with paperwork, other than handing over my NIE card and requesting a pronunciation of mi nombre. I was running a fever of 40 degrees. That’s 104 to you and me. I was very sick. I told them I thought I had an ear infection and that the flight had made it worse. But that’s not what it was at all. I had a bad strep infection that they think I’d had for some time, and they immediately went to work.

They got me in a bed and started pumping me full of meds and working on getting my temp down and the infection under control. And the best part? They surrounded me with people who could communicate with me. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for that. I felt confident they had me and allowed the shots to take me to somewhere else. Not a coma exactly, just a place where I could understand that they were helping me but where I handed in over the wheel. I wasn’t the driver anymore. I faded away. The apple doll nuns were praying for me.

Right now I am here alone. No one I know is in Valencia this month. They’re all at second homes in the mountains or at the beach down the coast. Jeff is in the US. Alone in a hospital for the first time in my life and it felt very scary at the beginning. But the staff seemed to understand that. They took care of me both body and soul. By the time they finally discharged me they had become my preferred medical facility. A place I have confidence in – even more than Pristine IMED.

My descent into illness had been so slow I didn’t know my tonsils had been the size of Roma tomatoes and my breathing was impaired. Or that my hearing wasn’t what it should be. I just knew I could barely stand and my vision was blurry. Now the meds have started doing their work and my entire body feels like it’s awakening from a long hard trek across a desert. I can smell again. I’m just praying I didn’t give it to my Parents or Emilie.

But I can thank those little apple doll nuns and the docs for how I’m feeling today. And I’ll be bringing my local pharmacist flowers next week. It’s amazing how much of a difference communication makes. And how much compassion at a crucial moment means even more. Lets face it, I’m no longer a Ferrari. I needed a mechanic for my 67 Dodge Dart of a body. And A few kind hearts and by some miracle I found them. I’m so glad to be home now feeling much better with the help of strangers who cared.

A Bad Assumption

I am home. Its nice to be around the familiar and to blend the things I brought back with the things we already had here. Some family things that we had been storing at my parent’s house. And some that my Mom and Dad wanted to make sure I had from their home.

But night is day and day is night. I’m all mixed up. I slept when I got home and woke up 9 hours later at 3 am. But then it wasn’t light yet so I made my way down to the beach to watch the sunrise. I have missed the sea and the light here. Something about it speaks to me. I walked 11 km on a nearly deserted beach and had a coffee at the only place open (curious) before heading home on the tram. The majority of those I saw were 20 somethings clearly dressed from the night before.

I saw the deserted volleyball school Emilie went to all summer last year and it made me miss her terribly. She’s back at school for her final year and hardly needs me and my sage Motherly advice anymore. The tick-tock of the clock gets louder.

I felt smug having beaten the heat of the day and already gotten in a good long walk. The streets here are strangely deserted. Something I lamented last year in August but this year am finding it nice as I transition back into normal life. I am the only person in our building so the elevator stays at our floor and waits for my next adventure. There is no hustle and bustle outside. Even in the middle of the day there are hardly any cars on the streets and even fewer pedestrians. And the air is sort of misty with humidity. Like those filters they used to use on Barbara Walters during her interviews. Making everything softer around the edges.

There is a saying ‘If you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.’ Well, today that was never more true. I arrived in Valencia in time to go to the grocery store but I decided to postpone it until today. But what is today? Assumption Day. Ironic, I know. The day the Virgin Mary was ascended into Heaven. An important day in Christendom. So important that nothing is open. And by nothing, I mean nothing. How that coffee place on the beach was open I have no idea. But the rest of the city is shut down tight.

Being that I’m upside down on my time I forgot what day it was and headed out with my trolley. Jeff hasn’t been here in nearly two weeks and I needed supplies. It only took me two grocery stores with the shutters down to clue me in to looking at the date on my phone. The light went on. Ah yes. This was why the few people I encountered on the street looked at me like I was crazy to be pushing a grocery trolley. Clearly I had no idea what day it was – their looks of pity told me this. And they were right. So much for checking my own blog’s holiday calendar.

So tonight my dinner consisted of the chocolate bar Jeff left for me in the fridge, a bowl of popcorn, and a can of lentils. High fiber, to be sure. Like a picnic in a college dorm. But tomorrow is another day. I’m hoping against hope that I’ll find my way onto the right time before too long. But no more assumptions. I checked the calendar and it looks like I’m safe until early October on the grocery store front. So tomorrow we dine!

I Have Seen the Devil

The mistress of travel has not been kind to me. Although there were minimal delays this trip back to Valencia from Portland, mostly because American Airlines wasn’t involved, her twin demons, Jet-lag and Chatty Seat-mate, did their worst. I knew I should have taken the paid Business Class upgrade when it was announced in Seattle. But I thought ‘I don’t need more than Premium Economy. I still get the foot rest and the better reclining seat and I’ll just sleep.’ But it was not to be.

I have met the devil and her name is ‘Janice’, as I came to intimately know her. She would thwart my sleeping plan. Suddenly the seat I was in didn’t seem so ‘Premium’ after all. And to make it worse I could see through the little curtain at what I could have had. Like the guy in college you broke up with for having no focus or drive, who becomes a hedge fund manager and has a house in the Hamptons. You could have had that – you say to yourself. But not this time.

There are no ‘do overs’ once you’re on the plane. I probably should have just gone up there and sat down. But since business class had like two people in it they would have noticed. Janice made me almost risk it. She was a walking human rights violation half way across the Atlantic. It was torture sitting next to her complete with the sleep deprivation, incessant talking and her bladder the size of a walnut. Up, Down, Up, Down. I almost asked her if she thought she might want to have her prostate checked.

And before we took off, her personal flight preparation routine was pure Broadway. She nearly did a full outfit change into pajamas, right there in her seat. But for what? She never slept. And as a result neither did I. Before that final layer, I became well acquainted with her elbows as she struggled into her nearly full body compression suit – ‘So I don’t get a DVT. You know what that is, right?’ After I said I did she proceeded to tell me anyway. In detail. There were images on her phone of it. Yummy. Couldn’t wait for them to serve my dinner.

We’re hours into the flight and I’m wondering if there might be a way to jump out of the plane after I hear ‘We really are sisters from another mother’ for the 100th time. I don’t drink alcohol on flights (dehydration) but when they passed around the free champagne at the beginning I already knew I would need to partake based on the sound of her voice penetrating my noise cancelling headphones. I’ll be asking Sony for a full refund there. ‘Janice mode’ should be mandatory from now on.

So I didn’t sleep and I’m not a good person when I don’t sleep. Ask Jeff. I’m essentially a toddler. There will be whining and eye rubbing. Maybe some tears. And if low blood sugar is involved it will be 10 times worse. I need to be carried in an adult Baby Bjorn. Lucky for him he’s still in the US. Although if he had been with me we would have been sleeping in our pods in Business Class. He would have just laughed at me saying ‘I’ll be fine in Premium Economy’ and gone up and made it happen.

Once you get off your international flight at Heathrow they make you go through security again. Like I was a safe bet with my carry on for 9 hours previously over an ocean. But now, suddenly, I’m at def-con 10 as a risk to myself and others. And the Heathrow TSA is the worst.

They confiscated some of my finer hair products that were just fine to go through security in the US. But in the UK – danger, danger! And the British TSA guy took my bamboo tooth brush out of the bag and put it in the tray unprotected. Like I’m going to want to put that in my mouth ever again. I read somewhere that airport security trays are dirtier than a toilet.

I usually keep my frustration in check over travel security. They’re doing a tough job. But lets be real folks, I just flew there with all that stuff over Iceland. The last hour and a half flight to Valencia is hardly the biggest risk we all have faced. And I’ve been with ‘JANICE’!! I wanted to yell at this guy.

‘I’ve just rode 7000 miles with the largest sack of compressed security risk known to human kind. I actually considered opening the door and jumping out. Or throwing her out. Confiscate her next time, why don’t you? Not my wonderful Root Boost. Practically essential for living in humidity!’

I did get a little testy with him. He explained that the US TSA is ‘perhaps not as thorough as those in the UK.’ Which got my back up a bit.

‘Yeah. Well you have Boris Johnson as your Prime Minister. So I’d say your security isn’t better than ours. I’ve seen his nightmare birds nest hair. Maybe you’re hoarding foreigner’s premium hair products for him.’

Yep. Like I said, pure toddler. I’m not proud of it. I took a deep breath. Soon I will be able to hear the ding of the bells of the tram, since it runs just a few blocks from the house. And the lovely church bells from the square in Benimachlet. Sleeping in my own bed with no Janice in sight. I’ve found my smile again. Only a few hundred more miles to go.

I’m Probably Going to Hell for This

I’ve been told I have a ‘Justice Complex’. But I figure if there is one complex to have, justice is not a bad one. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s bullies and boundary-crossers. People who think it’s OK to intentionally make other people’s lives less wonderful, and sometimes much harder, than they need to be. And I just won’t have it.

To that end, I’ve done some crazy things in my time. I’ll freely admit that. Shameless things that other people would cringe at (including my family, unless its in their service). I’ve adopted alternate characters and personas when the occasion strikes. All because of this breed of person who thinks they can do whatever they want without consequence.

I did this on our honeymoon cruise when we were seated at a table full of rude, loud and boorish people who wanted to tell us what to eat. To be fair, Jeff egged me on that time.

‘Be that horrible New Jersey dry cleaning lady.’ he whispered. It’s one of the characters in my repertoire. So I did. I was so awful I surprised myself. The boorish people didn’t know what to make of me. It made our dinners that week into theater and almost tolerable.

And at one of Jeff’s class reunions I pretended to be him. Yes, I impersonated my husband, but it was for a good cause. I didn’t plan this, it just sort of evolved in the moment.

There was a guy who used to beat Jeff up every day after school all through junior high school. The bully waited for him outside the gate for three years, where shy, introverted Jeff was terrorized. He would try to run or go another way but the kid stalked him. When we met nearly 20 yrs later he still had a hard time talking about it.

So at the reunion, when Jeff pointed him out, I made a bee line for him. I chatted the bully, now late 30’s, up. I was younger and cuter back then, so it wasn’t difficult.

‘I want to hear everything about you’ I told him. ‘What you’ve been up to.’ I gave him my full, rapt attention

To say I was fawning over him was an understatement. Jeff was on the other side of the bar watching this exchange, mouthing ‘What the hell are you doing?’. Full disclosure, he never asked or hinted I should do anything like this and while not surprised, he was clearly nervous. I let this guy wax on for a long time. When the bully, who was hunkering down thinking his smooth moves where clearly working on me, finally asked me who I was, I said, ‘Don’t you remember me?’.

When he said ‘No, sorry. But you seem really familiar. I’m sure we had a class together. Can I buy you a drink?’ (the drinks were included with our tickets – so very smooth) I pounced.

‘Well, I’m sure I do seem familiar since we spent every afternoon in Junior High together.’

The bully looked confused.

‘It’s me, Jeff xxx.’ And I smiled my sweetest smile and pulled back my jacket that had been concealing Jeff’s printed name tag on my blouse. I had swiped it from the reception table when we walked in. They’d had to hand write him another one.

Now keep in mind, this guy wasn’t a rocket scientist because while I had on very high heels, I wasn’t anywhere near 6 ft 3. And I’m pretty sure when they do the surgery the 4 inches they cut off aren’t from the top of your head. The guy’s jaw dropped open. I thought he might throw up.

‘Uh…’ He was speechless.

I reached over and squeezed his arm. He looked at where my hand was touching him like it was burning his flesh, and his eyes got wide.

‘Oh sweetheart, I guess people really can change.’ I told him sweetly, then I walked out to meet up with Jeff by the front door. I bet that guy had nightmares for a week.

So yesterday, when Jeff called me and told me our old house in Seattle is for sale and they’re having an open house this weekend, and I’m in Seattle to take care of some personal business, I jumped at the chance to go for a very good reason.

‘Oh, you gotta go there and do that bored, horrible rich lady character.’ Emilie told me when she heard about it. She is so bummed she couldn’t come with me but she’s finishing her summer job up this weekend back in Portland.

I know, this sounds kind of harsh. I mean, they’re just selling our old house and they’ve owned it for less than 3 years. Why do we care? But they were BIG TIME Boundary Crossers of the first order during the purchase and closing process back in 2016. We had moved to Arizona for my job, so the house was just filled with our furniture to stage it. They had access to the house for an inspection for a few hours on an appointed day. That was supposed to be all. But the wife was also their real estate agent, so they let themselves in whenever they liked over the 45 day closing.

They actually slept in our bed (on our sheets and pillows). And I know this, not just from the security footage, but because during that time Jeff and I had to return to Seattle to finish up some stuff and we stayed in what was still our house. The first night, when I crawled into bed they had left their dirty socks under the sheets at the bottom. Eww! Gross! They lit fires in our cleaned out fireplaces and took one of the throws I had on the sofa. They had a barbecue out on the deck with their family, using our barbecue. Outrageous! Unprofessional! Possibly illegal.

So I decided I would take time out today to see what state it was in. I raised my children there. The wife is still the agent and she’s showing the house, but while we’ve never met I would know her instantly from the digital images of her abusing my home. They’d tried to sell it last year for $1.3m but didn’t have any takers and have lowered the price a bit.

This operation required me to get into character. Luckily, I had come prepared. Packing is my super power and I always have one outfit that can be dressed up – as required. A little more jewelry and make up than one should normally wear during daylight hours. A pair of ultra high heels, big sunglasses, a large handbag and an expression of total boredom. The look was complete.

Some of it was a little mismatched but it screams ‘I don’t really have to care.’ A version of this get up has gotten me upgrades at some of the finer hotels in this country. But that’s a hilarious story for another time. I have no idea why it works, it just does. Perhaps its 40% the clothes and 60% attitude. I was going skip the accent of the indeterminate country this time. But when I got there it just sort of came out and it helped me remain in character.

The agent was very welcoming. Of course, she wants to sell the house since they aren’t even living in it. We know everything there is to know about it so I asked about some of the things we did to the house. Softball questions to warm up. Dates when upgrades were done, etc. to test her knowledge, and also her honesty. She didn’t pass. Then I went to work.

‘You know.’ I said to her in my French, Iranian, Russian, who-knows-what-else-cause-Americans-can-never-tell accent, ‘We are just thinking of purchasing a property for when we’re in the US a few days a year. Something small – like this little place (it’s 5000 sq feet). But I need to get a feel for it. And I can’t do that without sleeping in it. My husband and my children will all feel the same, I am very sure. I know you understand what I’m talking about.’

I snap pictures of every room, at every angle, like I’m The photographer at a Vogue photo shoot. The agent looks confused. While she’s done exactly what I’m asking, herself without asking, she’s clearly shocked someone else would attempt it so boldly in broad daylight.

‘I mean, of course I would have to consult with my husband – he’s flying in from Europe tomorrow so I will speak to him then. But how would you feel if we were to, say, sleep here for one night before making a very generous cash offer?’

The agent gulps. I can’t tell if she is remembering what she did to us or if she’s mulling over whether to entertain this request with the dangle of a pile of cash at the other end. So I go further.

‘We have 7 children. Mostly boys. They are a rambunctious lot. But so fun. Such a delight. I love to cook for them. The family is the heart of the home. But of course, you know this.’

The woman nods. She has no idea where I’m going with this. Frankly, I’m not 100% sure either.

‘Well, the kitchen is where families spend so much time. (I spin a little like Mary Tyler Moore indicating the expanse of the kitchen) I would want to make a meal for my family in this kitchen. Before I could commit. I would want to ensure my husband would be happy watching me cook. You know, he likes to sit as I prepare the meal when we are on vacation and we don’t have our cook traveling with us.’

The woman appears speechless at first, but finds her words, indicating she would have to see if that was something they could arrange but she’s pretty sure the ‘owners’ (her) would allow it.

Then I point out to the pool.

‘And I’m sure my children would want to test out the pool. Salt water, you say? Well, this is very good. Good for the skin. Better than chlorine. My angels are so sensitive.’

Then I clap my hands together startling her!

‘I know just the thing! How about we stay here for just two days? Test it out – see how it goes. Get the full measure of the place. Maybe we could use the barbecue too. To cook some lamb. And then, if we like it we will make a cash offer and close very quickly. 15 days?.’

She’s salivating now. I turn back to the living room with our wonderful stone fireplace I loved sitting in front of on a crisp fall evening drinking a little glass of Riesling.

‘But you’d have to take this horrible furniture away because it’s very tacky. As my Grandmother used to say ‘You can’t dress up a goat and make him dance.”

The woman looks as surprised by that as I feel. I have no idea where that came from. Oops! I got lost in the character. So I recover quickly.

‘It doesn’t translate well from my language. But no matter.’ I wave my hand and then spot my missing throw. It’s still here, proudly displayed. Bile rises in my throat.

‘What a lovely throw. Such exquisite taste ‘ I say through gritted teeth. ‘It makes me want to steal it.’ And then I laugh without humor while looking directly at her.

The agent says she thinks they can work something out. I smile my best ‘Bless your Heart’ kind of smile. As I go to leave she reaches out to shake my hand.

‘We don’t touch.’ I tell her. I’m not shaking the hand of someone who abused my house and brazenly stole my throw. ‘Oh, and I did see some cracks in the walls. Those would have to be repaired before we could make an offer. I’m afraid that would be a deal breaker. My husband will not like it.’

My work being done, I drive away to meet some friends for lunch. I got to see the house and perhaps next time she’ll think twice about abusing other people’s homes and leaving dirty socks in their bed. OK. She probably won’t because she has no idea who I am. But I feel better. And yes, I’m pretty sure I’m going to Hell for all of it.

Priceless

Yesterday was my birthday. Yup, I’m 53 now. Kind of crazy when I think about it. Time is flying by.

My Mom hosted a birthday party for me last night so I got to see my eldest brother and his family – including his son and his grandchildren. It’s been a visit full of memories and reminiscing. And what are birthday’s without gifts? I need nothing. Seriously, I don’t want a thing. But it seemed there were other plans.

My entire childhood I used to sit on the toilet lid and watch my Mom put her hair up. My Mother’s hair has always been long – she promised my Dad she would never cut it short. But I never remember one day, in all that time, that she wore it long.

Mom’s Tobacco Can

Every morning she pinned it up, back ratting it and then spraying it so that a Caribbean hurricane couldn’t budge one hair out of place. And she always kept her bobby pins in an old pipe tobacco can from my Dad’s pipe smoking days in the 1960’s.

I saw this can last week when she sent me into her bathroom to fetch something for her. Since I’m struggling with naming anything I want when all the contents of my childhood home are liquidated, I told her ‘I want that old tobacco can’. Surprise! Upon opening my birthday presents, it seemed she had cleaned it out for the first time in more than 50 years and it was wrapped up for my Birthday. I was touched beyond words.

Then I got the last piece from the dinner wear set we ate on when I was small. Sort of a Jetson’s meets the Space Race kind of deal. Seems appropriate since it’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing and we were eating on these dishes watching it touchdown on our black and white t.v.. I might have to hand carry that on the plane.

And this painting of my Grandma Maggie’s house in Seattle. I remember seeing it in her house when I was a kid and now I’ll take it home and keep it safe. It will be well loved and I’ll smile when I pass it hanging on the wall.

But the best gift – sorry, Mom – was Jeff’s. He’s back in Valencia and has been home alone for a few weeks. He woke me up to his rendition of Happy Birthday. Learning something new isn’t easy and I’m touched beyond words.

Jeff’s Happy Birthday

So, my presents aren’t store bought and shiny this year. They don’t have name brands or logos promoted on Instagram. And there’s no app for any of them. But I must say they’re more precious to me than any others I’ve received, because all of them are irreplaceable. Just like the people who gave them to me.

Well, this is a Surprise!

We were getting ready to go for a walk yesterday in my parent’s neighborhood. Time for a break. When from down the street a figure appeared walking straight for my parent’s house. Much speculation about who it could be … it was my brother, Todd. He’d had meetings in Los Angeles and decided to pop in on his way home to Maine. He came to see my Dad. Maybe for the final time. I was so happy he was here.

We haven’t seen each other in a while. Since my grandmother died a few years ago. It’s always interesting when he and I are in the same room. As kids we had a ‘Love/Hate’ relationship. I loved him and he hated me. That might be a little extreme but since I was born 2 years after him, he felt he was dethroned. Although he was always perfectly dressed like he was attending Wimbledon or Royal Ascot, while I was covered in mud with twigs coming out of my pig tails. He’d make me walk far behind him when my Mom made him take me somewhere.

That didn’t stop me from chasing him around and following he and his friends. But he knew I could be useful too. I was his personal crash test dummy. Any time they built a ramp to jump their bikes – I tested it for them in advance. I would be summoned, if I wasn’t already lurking. I mean, they wouldn’t want to get hurt or anything. Often it wasn’t well built and after I would crash and skin up my knees and elbows he’s step over me and gather his friends together to strategize about how they might redesign it. Of course, so I could test it for them, again.

‘Should I wear the football helmet?’ I would ask him – knowing that hitting my head was a real possibility.

‘Nah – you’re tougher than that.’ he’d tell me. ‘And besides, I don’t want it to get scratched.’

I took pride in my fearlessness and battle scars. Any tears would be saved for later, out of his view.

Emilie loves his stories and there are so many. And he loves to tell them. Stories I forget until he comes to town.

I always had money as a kid. I saved everything I ever got from birthdays, lemonade stand sales. Selling homemade (they’d call them bespoke today) potholders and bouquets of dandelions door to door. I was an earner. Todd was not as industrious back then, but often took on a management role – taking his cut, which I gladly handed over if he would smile at me for just a moment.

One day, he and his friend, Jeffy, asked me if I wanted a burrito from the local Taco Time up by the Big Dollar Shopping Center. I said yes and he said he’d be happy to get me a burrito, but alas, he had no money. Could I front him some cash? I ran up to my sock drawer and came back with enough to cover us all.

Todd and Jeffy rode their bikes and were gone a long time. They came back and went on and on about how good this burrito they got me was going to be. I bit into it and large chunks of meat came out. Looking over they were rolling on the floor. Finally, they admitted that they had made a side trip to the store to purchase some Alpo dog food and they laid out the burrito on the sidewalk and filled it with the dog food. They thought it was hilarious.

I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I ate that entire burrito. Apparently, I freaked him out because I said how amazing it tasted. I remember thinking ‘I’ll show you how tough I am.’ I was 8 years old. And it’s why I was the perfect person to taste that first nasty batch of brown maple flavored Big League Chew in my Mom’s kitchen. Yuck!

Todd spent the day with us yesterday, making us laugh and since his flight to NY was cancelled he was back again today. It was good to see him and reminisce. Emilie likes hearing that I was an annoying little sister, just like her.

But the best part was today when my Mom and I left him alone in the house. He got a few hours with my Dad one-on-one. Just the two of them talking. After the car service picked him up and we waved goodbye, I came back inside and my Dad was crying. They got to have conversations they’d never had before. Things that needed to be said and acknowledged. It was good.

‘I wish I’d been a better Father.’ he told me. And I know why he said that.

‘Regret are pointless. We can’t go back and change it.’ I told him. ‘Its time to let it all go. It’s time for all of us to do that.’

But I know how hard it is. And I know it was hard for my brother today. But I’m so glad he came. Its not the crashes and dog-food burritos that matter. Because no matter how much water has passed under that bridge, we’re family. Time and distance won’t change that. And I’m so grateful.