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.