The Best Menu

Jeff and I were invited to attend church on Christmas in Santiago. The service concluded with a lovely White Christmas on the organ. I couldn’t help but sing along. Then, an epic Christmas lunch, which ran until dinner time. Of course. With friends both old and new. Some were of the more Holy variety. Something I myself, sadly, can not claim. I’ll let the videos and photos tell most of the story.

We walked up to the Cathedral. I love the bells.

If you have ever walked a Camino, you’ll remember hearing the lone piper under the portico. Yesterday it was a jaunty tune.

The Cathedral asked San Augustin church to host the Belen – Nativity Scene. It’s a Xacabeo year and they needed all the pews for the masses. The detail is amazing. And allusions and metaphor abound.

Christmas trees were not a thing in Spain until about 50 years ago. Families had crèches in their homes depicting the cave of the nativity.

After the service we walked back thru the square and past the Parador. Down the road is a small funky laundry. Kind of random, but I stopped to take some photos as Pilgrims were doing laundry on Christmas morning. Its a wet muddy walk these days to Santiago.

Then, it was on to lunch. A beautiful table was laid for us. Our hosts outdid themselves. That is saying something. And the culinary delights – and extraordinary beverages – just kept coming. The flaming brandied Christmas pudding was a highlight.

Jeff and I took some photos of the lights of Santiago on a Christmas night as we walked back to the car. Including the light on the top of the Cathedral. It will be extinguished on December 31st until the next Holy Year when, once again, the Holy Door will open, welcoming Pilgrims from around the world.

I think Father Fermin said it best yesterday as we sat down to lunch. He looked at the cards at each place setting and he read it aloud.

‘Joy, love, hope, peace, believe. I think this is the best menu.’

I couldn’t agree more.

Feliz Navidad

Jeff and I drove down to Portomarin to look at the River this afternoon. Two months ago the rio Miño, the largest river in Galicia and one of the largest hydro-electric producing rivers in Spain, was down so low it was a trickle. Fish could not survive. The river was critical. We wanted to see for ourselves where is stood after epic rains over the past two months.

Good news!! It seems we got a Milagro de Navidad – Christmas miracle. The river is back to normal. The water is so high the old ruins are no longer visible. As far as we can tell the river is 3-4 meters higher than eight weeks ago. Galicia can breath a huge sigh of relief.

On the way home we stopped in Portomarin for a beverage at the only place open. The owners little daughter dressed in her Christmas finest was handing out treats to patrons, as her proud parents looked on from behind the bar. She was floating a foot off the ground, so excited about Christmas.

Fergus enjoyed his adventure with us but he was tired from it. Tonight he is asleep on the sofa with Jeff, as I cook dinner. I’m taking a page from my Jewish friends in the US who always eat Chinese food on Christmas- as those were historically the only restaurants open in the US. Except, I’m making a Thai cashew cabbage salad with curried chicken and spicy peanut sauce, served over brown rice as our Christmas Eve meal. Tomorrow we dine with friends in Santiago de Compostela after church in the old town. A big table filled with those who, like us, are living far away from family during the holidays. Of course, the hosts will out do themselves as they always do, making us all feel like family.

On the Christmas Eve, Jeff and I wish you all a Happy Christmas- Feliz Navidad – by adding a video my friend, Laia, in Barcelona sent me tonight from one of the epic light displays so many Spanish cities are known for. And Barcelona is no exception.

I hope Santa, or any one of the numerous holiday characters in your town, village, or country brings your heart’s desire on his sleigh, donkey or yak. And that you are spending the holidays with those most dear to you. May the magic of the season transform each of us. If just for a moment. And may you find peace and contentment in 2023. 🙏

A Break In The Clouds

All the Christmas cookie deliveries have been made. Jeff is happy to have the surfaces of the kitchen back. And all over Melide we spread Christmas cheer. It might have seemed strange to the ladies in the cafe bakery that we brought them cookies but they were all smiles. Jeff got cream-filled croissants with his beverage as a thank you. And then we hit Palas de Rei. To the Centro de Saud (health center) and the Concello (town hall). Smiles all around.

My favorite in Palas was the lady at the parafarmacia. It’s where our Amazon packages from Suer are delivered after they send us a notice lying that we weren’t home. So we see her a couple of times a week. She knows us well.

Fergus helped on some of the deliveries. I even brought cookies to the people who called the police on my food truck. She frowned but took them. And gave me a chilly ‘bueno’. Honestly, I was surprised she phoned the police after Jeff helped her get her giant bull back in her field and repaired her fence when the 2000lb beast was running and dangerously bucking in the road. The lady weighs maybe 100lbs. She couldn’t have done it without him. Oh well.

That neighbor can’t dampen my spirits today because we won the El Gordo! The Fat-man. The Christmas lottery in Spain. Ok, maybe only €40. But still. Money is money.

A Christmas Miracle

We are home today. Jeff got the Covid/flu shots yesterday. He was up all night very sick with a high fever. Which meant Fergus, LuLu and I were up with him. We’re his pack, after all. This morning Fergus is asleep next to me on the sofa. I am wrapped in my chenille robe and a duvet. Fighting a cold and watching as Jeff emerges from his aching vaccine induced sickness. We need to be well to go to church and spend Christmas lunch with friends in Santiago. This will pass.

And then it happened. The dam has broken. Our permissions for things are starting to come through! The solar panels have been approved by the Patrimonio for the preservation of the Camino De Santiago!!! Alleluia! And it came through in the name of our business. Right here. That means they know about our business. And will be reviewing our other project docs, too! We might just have cabins to rent next year. And, I might get the Patrimonio to get the police off my back for the food truck!! Now, it goes to the Concello for approval. I hope the Christmas cookies I just delivered to the town hall leaves a favorable impression!

We were supposed to get our water treatment plant installed the last two weeks of November. It kept us from traveling to Malaga to have Thanksgiving with friends there. But it didn’t happen. Then, this morning I heard from the guy. He will be here in January to get it done. He has all the supplies. ‘Very sorry for the delay.’

First Things First

I barely know how to feel. Its been so long since we have heard good news about the business paperwork and the Patrimonio or turismo. But now its happening. And in the correct order, really. The solar array will be in before the Cabins. So we can do infrastructure first. Bake the cake before applying the frosting- so to speak. And the water treatment infrastructure will be completed, too.

The Best For Last

The last cookies to be delivered were to our neighbor, Marie Carmen. She has had a rough stretch lately. Her husband’s health nurse was there helping and she answered the door. Marie Carmen came when called. It was three in the afternoon but Marie Carmen was still in her robe. Not like her, at all. She looks like she aged ten years in a month. But she brightened when she saw me and Fergus. Petting him and smiling. Then, I gave her the Christmas package of cookies.

As I was talking to our contractor this morning, this photo cane thru in WhatsApp. From Marie Carmen. She is dealing with a lot from the situation with her son. I don’t know how she is coping. But I wanted her to know how much we love her and value her friendship. And her taking a moment to send this to me means so much. It’s a gloomy, rainy week here in Galicia. Weirdly warm as humid air coming up from the Azores brings waves of rain. But todays was a bright sunny day, as far as I’m concerned. Because this business is actually happening. And, even without all that we have a wonderful community that includes Marie Carmen.

The Perfect Gift 🎁

Fergus and I went on an adventure yesterday. All the way to Lugo in his new coat. His first big trip with me. I had a puppy bed and a little seatbelt and harness for Fergus on the front seat. Its a DGT law that dogs must be harnessed and belted in. I will admit that bringing him home the first night I just held him on my lap. Along with toys and chew bones he loves, his bed is his happy place. He was my sidekick as we listened to Christmas music on the A54. We parked where we always do outside the Roman wall and walked to the main gate.

Our first stop was to the Correos office to mail packages to family in the US, and friends overseas. I have been baking and buying Spanish candies for our Christmas boxes. Spanish Holiday Candy used to seem exotic but now are just what we are used to. All this mailing is a little later this year than usual. But I have been a bit busy.

The people in the post office made over Fergus like the celebrity he is. He is learning to walk on a lead. Treats help. A LOT!! Passersby on the streets stop to pet him. He is getting socialized to strangers. My number one goal. We will stay away from other dogs until all his vaccinations are completed.

After mailing boxes, we were off to purchase a new cell phone. Mine has been a huge problem, of late. It wouldn’t retain a charge for more than a half hour off the charger. And sometimes it wouldn’t even take a charge. The EU has a right to repair law. But a new battery on an old phone isn’t that much less than a new phone. It was time to bite the bullet and just get it done. The women at the mobile service provider behaved as though they had never seen a puppy. And Fergus basked in their adoration, as I took care of the paperwork. It took a handful of treats to break him away from his new friends.

Our last stop was the HULA. Hospital Univerario Lucas Augusti. I had read in the newspaper that we wouldn’t be getting a text for the fourth dose of the Covid vaccine. Because we are under 60 years old. And I had Covid again back in May. I couldn’t have received another dose before 1 November. They have a 6 month rule after infection. But the good news is that now anyone can request it. I just had to drive to the hospital outside Lugo city centre, and make appointments for Jeff and myself. I could carry Fergus inside my coat to the appointment desk and make them for Jeff and myself. Easy.

When we pulled into the hospital’s underground garage, I looked over and Fergus was asleep in his bed on the passenger seat. Out like a light after his errands and adoration in old town Lugo. He was still harnessed in and none the wiser. I decided to run inside and make the appointments. Five minutes in and out. But, the newspaper was wrong, as per usual. Every hospital in Galicia manages things how they manage them. Just like every bureaucrat. It depends on who you get. Very often making up their own rules. This time it was unexpectedly in my favor. Sort of. They took me right into a cube and jabbed me with the Covid vaccine. And the flu shot. Slam bam, thank you, mam. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. It seems that Jeff will just need to drive to the HULA and get his jabs. No appointment. No texts. No QR code. No waiting. I was the only person there.

I have read the nearly 50% of those over 60 have eschewed the forth dose. And even less have received a flu vaccination in a year of skyrocketing flu numbers. 80% of beds in our hospital are occupied between Covid, Flu or RSV. After Spain’s record participation in the Covid vaccination program, it seems people here think the danger has passed. No wonder there wasn’t a line. I used to feel very safe in a coffee shop filled with old people because 96% were boosted. Now? Maybe not as much.

I went back to the car. Fergus was still asleep. As we drove home, I was a little surprised as to how it went. The last couple of Covid jabs have made me really ill. And, I haven’t had a flu shot since my son Nick was a baby. When we both got the flu so bad Nick ended up in the hospital. I knew both of these doubly whammy jabs weren’t going to make the following 24 hours very fun. And they didn’t disappoint. But, I have done this before. I knew it would pass, and I am better now than I was during the night.

I had planned on delivering cookies 🍪 to neighbors and friends today. I baked for nearly 12 hours straight on Sunday. Hundreds of cookies. That is not happening. But, tomorrow is another day. And now I am protected for our Christmas lunch with friends in Santiago on Sunday! I just need to get Jeff to Lugo before then. Knowing he is boosted and vaccinated against the flu is the only gift I want this year. 🎄🎁

A Prince Is Born

Sir Fergus is in the house! And what a first 18 hours it has been. I forgot what having a baby is like. Oh yeah. Now I remember.

Puppies eat, sleep, and poop (hopefully outside). I am his entire world right now. He goes nowhere without me. Again, just like a toddler. You can’t close the bathroom door for two minutes of privacy without someone small begging to get in.

In 18 hours he has learned to come when called by his name. I taught him this in the dark around 11pm last night while trying to get him to do his business before bedtime. Needless to say, we had a long rainy and dark training session. He finally got down to it and was rewarded with treats and high praise. Only two accidents in the house in total. As most new Moms can attest, I am joined at the hip with him. He is never off lead in the house. As far as LuLu is concerned, the jury is still out on this newest addition to our family. Although they are both native Spaniards and their pet parents are just immigrants using them for their residence visas 🤣🤣🤣

LuLu waited until he was in a deep sleep to get a closer look

Fergus seems at home already. Although I think it’s the constant treats for good behavior that are doing the heavy lifting. He loves his crate and I followed all the instructions online to get him to think of it as his safe space. Lined with a sheepskin rug. Toys. The blanket and stuffed animals we took to A Coruña to gather the scent of his litter mates. Including the little lamb with the electronic heartbeat to mimic his siblings.

Having done all of that, we still opened up the foldout sofa and we slept all together like a puppy pile. Even LuLu came up on the bed. And to our surprise, Fergus slept over eight hours. Of course, like every toddler, he slept sideways and Jeff and I had just the edge of the bed. But it was a big win. I woke up in the middle of the night, freaked out my heartbeat was so loud I could hear it. It was a moment before I realized it was Fergus’ heartbeat lamb as he lay there snuggled up to it.

This morning continued with crate training. Leaving the door open and letting him come and go. I turned my back for a second and LuLu kitty had jumped up on top of the crate. And with a nonchalance that would be the envy of Frenchwomen and felines around the globe, casually leaned against the metal door to slam it shut from above. Trapping Fergus in his crate. Then she jumped down and stood there looking in at him. As if to say ‘Now thats how the pros do it, peasant. You’re in my house now.’ Then she sauntered away.

Fergus doesn’t like the wet grass and prefers to sit on my slippers. A discerning gentleman.

The Queen supervising Fergus’ 47th walk today.

I will lose 20 lbs in the next month. I am sure of it. Countless walks, feeding him and forgetting to eat myself. And all the playing and running. But it will be worth it when he becomes the good Albergue pup I know he is destined to be. Although, I fear Queen LuLu would wholeheartedly beg to differ.

A Little Bit Of Magic

And Christmas rolls on. Last night we decided to take a drive on a stormy night. Down south to the town of Lalin. It’s about 40 kms from home. So not that far. Excepts, like most roads in Galicia there isn’t a straight one to be found anywhere.

I volunteered to drive since we were going at my urging. You are probably asking why we would venture out in the dark. But it’s Christmas time. And if we want to see the lights we need to brave the elements.

Driving on roads I have never driven on during a squall isn’t my favorite. I imagine it is not Jeff’s preferred method of transport since he sat next to me making gasping noises, clenching and physically shying away from guardrails he deemed too close. And generally white knuckled. But I an writing this so you know we survived.

On the way we passed from our house in Lugo province through the three other provinces of Galicia as we and Lalin are on the borders of all four and the road winds in and out of all of them. Like a ski run. A Coruña, Ourense, and Pontevedra. Lalin is in Pontevedra.

Lalin is a much larger town than Melide. That surprised me. And it is much more charming with more old buildings preserved. A more charming town centre. The Camino Invierno runs right through it. A route that I seem to run across every couple of weeks these days. Perhaps it is calling me. I could take a little walk before I open up again in April.

Jeff spotted this on a sidewalk near the main praza

Lalin has some epic Christmas displays. And I wanted to see them in person after some photos I saw on the Secret places in Galicia FB page I follow. And I am very glad we went. Especially on a rainy random Tuesday night.

As with most place in the word right now, flu, Covid and other contagions are raging night now. We have started wearing masks inside businesses, again. Both of us have caught a bug or two this winter. So we were pleasantly surprised that Lalin was virtually deserted. Hardly a person, dog or cat on the street. As we drove towards the center of town Jeff commented on it.

‘It’s like a movie of the zombie apocalypse. Or where aliens have taken all the people. They’re just gone.’

Even the houses and apartments were dark. But the Christmas lights and the little villages all over town that they are famous for were all lit up. And that is what I came to see.

The first tiny village is for gnomes and fairies. A village in the trees for the fairies and the one on the ground for gnomes.

The second village was placed below the first and reflects the moorish past of Spain. I smiled when I saw the statue of St James. Of course.

We walked up through town. You can see how deserted the streets really were. Not typical for 9pm on any night. Especially during the holidays.

A train will transport the littlest, and perhaps over tired children, from one village to another. Each little village is themes and are designed to encourage kids to go in and play.

It may seem odd I wanted to go see something that is built for 5 year olds. But it takes me back to when I was a kid in Portland. We would go to a local dairy called Alpenrose. They are long gone now, I think. But back then, they were run by the Alpenrose family and they put up similar villages that were very elaborate. Selling hot chocolate with whipping cream. And free peppermint candy canes. Like a magical place we looked forward to every year. I hadn’t thought of the Alpenrose dairy in more than 40 years until I saw the photos of Lalin on FB.

If you’re in Galicia and are inclined, perhaps take a drive out to Lalin to see the villages. After all, at Christmas we are all children at heart. And no matter how ridiculous, we can all use just a little bit of magic in our lives. From wherever it might come.

Bo Nadal – Christmas in Spain

When moved to Spain nearly five years ago, we didn’t get cable tv. We used a vpn for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and all our other streaming services. So we could fool them that we were still in the US. That way, nearly all our entertainment, except for what was broadcast locally over the air, was in ingles. Big mistake.

When we moved from Valencia to Galicia more than a year and a half ago, we had to get Starlink internet on the farm. Not fiber in rural areas just yet. Although the Spanish government is making it a huge priority right now. Switching to Starlink, we decided it was time to cut the cord of the comfort food of entertainment- the vpn. And to let all our streaming services discover that we aren’t actually in WA DC, or Phoenix or Seattle. We are in Spain. And, what do you know? Our content immediately changed!

This is not entirely a bad thing. We had watched the entire American entertainment catalog durning la pandemia. And we kept adding and deleting channels as we exhausted watchable content. We were out of stuff to watch and this new content, much of it in Spanish or available in español, was fresh. And the stories are fresh, as well. Not so much recycled, tired stories. And there are plenty of European shows and movies we had never been aware of. Norway even produces shows in english as most Norwegians know english. Overall, we are glad we ditched the vpn.

But, this Christmas I was worried I would lose all my American holiday favs. And I have lost some. However, HBO Max and Disney have a full Holiday Catalog. And so does Apple+. So we are covered. But then, we started watching Spanish Christmas movies. And it is an education.

Santa Claus is a relatively new phenomenon in Spain. Traditionally, the Spanish go in for other traditions. The Three Kings, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar- the Three Wise Men to Americans in the audience – are all that here. Throughout Spain. We just recently watched a hilarious Christmas movie updated for modern times about these three and their smack down with the usurper Santa Claus. Reyes contra Santa. Kings vs Santa. And while watching this we learned of many of the other cast of regional beloved Spanish Christmas characters that are still celebrated today. And were around long before Santa Claus. Witches and fairies. And even weirder stuff.

Caga Tio

This is the Christmas log. Families in Cataluña decorate a log with a face. Adding sticks for arms. Then, they put it in the garden or on their balcony and cover it with a blanket so it won’t get cold. And feed it pieces of bread ir fruit. On Christmas they beat the log with sticks and beg to ‘poop’ sweets by singing a certain song. When they lift the blanket Surprise!! It has pooped them some sweets and small gifts.

I am uncertain as to what this teaches children about Christmas or, really, anything. Beating something for candy. But they have done it fir centuries in Aragon and Cataluña.

Olentzero

In the Basque Country they have their own version of Santa Claus. The legend of Olentzero stems from pagan times. He is a giant who comes down from the Pyrenees – the last of his kind – he is dressed in traditional peasant dress, and us foul smelling. He rides a Pottoka (wild horse). He is a cosl maker and tradition says he roams the towns and villages beheading naughty gluttonous people on Christmas Eve. Although he expects unlimited food and drink himself. Although, he has in recent centuries been transformed into a humble man who is kind and brings gifts to children.

There is a story of him pulling his cart through a village and saving children from a burning home. Dying in the process. But a fairy saw what he did and his kind heart. Then granted him eternal life. He visits every city, town and village pulling a donkey cart and handing out gifts on Christmas eve.

Apalpador

Galicia has their own giant at Christmas time. Except this one comes on December 31st. Apalpador is believed to have been a pagan tradition started and kept alive in the mountains of eastern Lugo. He is a kindly coal maker, and like his Basque cousin, he is foul smelling and ill kept. Historically, he would sneak into their homes and check to see if the sleeping child’s belly was full. If he found a hungry child he would leave them an handful of chestnuts.

But it evolved over the years. He had gifts for the children he has been making out of wood in his mountains cave. On New Years Eve he descends from the mountains to bring them to the children in towns an villages.

This tradition, along with the Basque Olentzero, was outlawed durning Franco’s dictatorship. But these traditions have been revived since Spain’s return to democracy and the celebration of regional languages and traditions have been restored.

Today, Apalpador leaves gifts and clothes fir children at the foot if their beds. To start the year off right. Out with the old and in with the new.

The Three Kings

Finally, there are the Three Kings. They come to Spain on January 5th and are met with huge parades and fanfare. In Valencia they came on boats and were parades from the port to the ayuntamiento (town hall) where tens of thousands lined the streets and waited in the town square. Then, the children go to sleep but not before leaving their shoes out for the kings to fill them.

In Cadiz children do something called El Arrastre or The Drag. Pulling tin cans on a string behind them down the street. To remind The Kings that they are waiting for them.

In Spain, sitting on Santa’s lap or writing a letter to Santa is eclipsed by their love of the Three Kings. Children write letters to their favorite king. Sometimes you see the kings in malls taking letters from children. And his helpers take letters during the parade on January 5th. Right under the wire.

During the pandemic, missing the Three Kings was perhaps one of the most difficult things for the Children of Spain. In Valencia, in January of 2021, they tried to out The Kings on a roofless double decker bus and have it 👩‍⚕️ ve the streets waving to the children because the parade was cancelled that year. Then, on tv they would televise them pulling up to the ayuntamiento and coming out on the balcony to wave to the cameras. But word quickly spread and 10,000 people braved the contagion with their children to run to the town square to see them in person. Such is the pull of The Kings. Even to adults in Spain.

Too Much For One Post

Of course, there are more characters and traditions. Too manny to count. The holiday season here is packed with other goings on, regionally. Epic light displays in Málaga and Lugo. Many towns and villages put up elaborate Belenismo (Nativity scenes). Christmas trees were not a thing even 50 years ago in Spain. But Belen were in every home.

Christmas markets are everywhere here – as in the rest of Europe. I’ll post photos as Jeff and I visit some of them. And I’ll do another post on traditional regional foods and New Years traditions the closer we got to Christmas.

I’m so glad we bit the bullet and ditched our vpn. Having Spanish Christmas specials on Netflix after four years has certainly been an education. And its helping my español. Another opportunity to learn about our adopted country. As we say in Galicia – Bo Nadal. 🎄

Lesson #1: Living In The Here And Now

I think we’re ready. At least for Fergus’ arrival Wednesday evening. I gave up my painting space for his puppy pen. Just until he is house trained. We pick him up at this foster home in A Coruña in a few days. He will be the first of his litter to be adopted. It will be a rough transition and we will sleep downstairs near his crate for a few weeks, to take him out at night. And to reassure him. I will bring a blanket he will sleep with and will rub it on his brothers and sister before we leave. So he will feel more comfortable in the car and when he gets to our house.

We have had dogs before over the past decades. We still miss them. And invested in top-notch professional in training. Not for the dogs but for us. There is an amazing training school in Issaquah, WA called River Dog. And the first thing they taught us was that the training was more for the family than the dog. Because dogs don’t think like we do. And humans will mess up a dog faster than you can say ‘fetch!’

Since we haven’t had a dog in a long time, I needed to brush up on my training classes. And my dog psychology. I joined some dog training FB groups. Especially for puppies. And YouTube has been a lifesaver. Practical tips and videos of exactly what to do, and more importantly what NOT to do, so Fergus, Jeff and I get off on the right foot. It’s about love, consistency, and boundaries. First up, we need to teach him how to live in our house. And to do that he needs to feel safe and secure.

It’s easy to find yourself down a YouTube rabbit hole. The first video begets another video. Then, another one. Late Friday I ended up watching Cesar Millan – the famous Mexican – now American – Dog Whisperer of tv fame. He can correct any problem with a dog, because the problem is almost never the dog. It’s the owner who needs correcting.

Cesar says that the first mistake people make with their dogs is treating them like they are humans. And projecting their human feelings onto the dog. In this way we send dogs so many mixed signals they become unruly. Dogs, like children, need clear boundaries. But dogs are not children. They need love and companionship. But they need a purpose. Something to keep their minds busy. Bored dogs are destructive dogs. And it is not their fault.

Labs, like Fergus, are some of the smartest dogs around, and he will need exercise and a job. But he will also need lots of love. They are an affectionate breed.

At the close of my lost Friday of YouTube, on Cesar’s last video he sat down for an interview. He told his story about being an illegal Mexican immigrant and crossing the US border at Tijuana. He spoke no inglés and while desperate living on the streets in South Central Los Angeles, he taught himself to speak english listening to the radio. Also, living on the streets and washing limousine’s for movie stars, he learned all about dogs and people. And that dogs are always a reflection of the owner.

Over the years Cesar has studied the psychology of humans and animals, and he finds a curious difference. Dogs need a stable leader. A pack will not tolerate an unstable leader. They will oust them quickly if the leader makes decisions that negatively impact the group. He says most species are this way. Including elephants. When the male leader goes into musk the females immediately oust him from the group because his behavior is erratic and unstable. They won’t stand for it around their calves.

It turns out that humans are the only species in nature that will tolerate an unstable leader. And this is because humans do not work together for other people’s highest good. We are in constant competition with each other. ‘Just look at social media.’ And this is due to our constant focus on the past and the future. Instead of the present. Animals in nature are present focused. Humans are not. We are constantly trying to game the future by using the past. And, we are money and power driven – something that doesn’t exist in nature, where animal prides or packs share resources for the good of the group.

He laughed, shaking his head. ‘Poor people try to get into the US to become rich someday. I did it myself. But billionaires fly to caves Peru in their private jets to sit in the mud with a toothless, penniless shaman to learn why they aren’t happy. To get back to basics. It’s because humans refuse to live in the present. Dogs already know this. The present is all they have. Humans are messed up.’

I am certainly guilty of this myself. Mindfulness has definitely helped me. But I am about to start a journey with little Fergus. Training a puppy couldn’t be anymore of a right-here-and-right-now activity. And something tells me that in the process I will learn as much, if not more, than my new buddy, Fergus’.

Leader of the Pack

When we left the US in 2018, we had to leave our cats, Lucy and Clubber. The best cats, ever. We cried when we said goodbye. When we would visit my parents, Lucy would follow me everywhere. Emilie and I had rescued her from a shelter at six weeks old.

Clubber is a polydactyl cat. She has a thick undercoat, a blunted club-like tail, and huge feet with a total of 26 toes. The breed came to the US on ships from Wales. They are swimmers. And they are the best mousers you will ever encounter. We got Clubber from a strange family who listed her on Craigslist because they thought she was too weird. The Dad threatened to feed her to a neighbor dog. Our beautiful Golden Retriever, Perkins, had died and Lucy wandered our house crying. Jeff was worried about her as Perkins had mothered her from six weeks old. They slept together, cleaned each other.

‘Lucy is depressed. She needs a friend.’

He contacted the family, who lived two hours south of us. We stood in their driveway and they opened the garage door. Clubber ran out and into Jeff’s arms. They took the $100 he was holding and went into the house. My Dad was in a physical rehabilitation center not far away, and he loved cats. So we smuggled her in and he lit up. Clubber is an amazing cat.

She loves water and would shower with me. If I couldn’t find her in the house I just had to turn on the kitchen sink and I could hear her running. Water is her joy and achilles heel.

We didn’t even consider flying the cats here. We flew them from Seattle to Phoenix one Spring and Lucy was never the same. She cried and hid at our house in AZ for two weeks. It felt like twenty+ hours in a crate on multiple flights would break her for good. We drove them from Arizona to my parents house in Portland over the course of three days to reduce the potential trauma. I wasn’t putting her through flying again. I still miss them both.

Not having a cat or a dog for the years we have lived in Spain was difficult for me. Most especially because we have been here alone. No family or friends from back home. Yes, we have made friends here. Lovely friends. But, no furry little creatures with unconditional love to curl up on my lap, or go for a walk.

When we moved to the farm from Valencia, we were greeted by Mr Sir. Or Señor. Our neighbor, Marie Carmen’s cat. He adopted, first Jeff, then me. We cared for him through scrapes. Some serious. Even visiting the vet with him last winter. But after I left for my wintery Camino last March, Jeff never saw him again. And neither has Marie Carmen. But one of her barn cats was pregnant. And in July, Marie Carmen handed me LuLu after I mowed her lawn. LuLu is a combination of Lucy, Clubber and Señor Sir. We are pretty sure she’s his daughter. She has the vocalizations and temperament of Lucy. And will fly through the air when playing, just like Clubber. She sits on the edge of the bath tub when I shower or take a bath.

As I have mentioned before, getting a kitten vaccinated, de-wormed, and spayed here is like an act of god. It was a two and a half month process.

Finally, we got LuLu completed and she is right as rain. A European pet passport means we can take her with us on vacation throughout the Schengen Ha! Mostly, it means if she decides to vacation on her own again, and gets lost, they can identify her and call us. She was going crazy after two months in the house trying to protect her from all the trawling tom-cats in the area. Jeff and I had coated all our furniture in ant-cat scratch plastic panels. But she was starting to find ways around them. Time for her to venture outside, once again.

We love LuLu. But I have also wanted a dog. For years. Living in Valencia was tough. It’s the dog capital of the world. Everyone has a dog there. It was like living outside a candy store and you weren’t allowed inside. But our landlord didn’t allow pets.

We’ve had Galician dogs who visited the food truck on a regular basis. I kept treats for them and they learned to come to the door with sad eyes. But they never stayed. Then, I started looking at rescues online. We prefer to rescue. There are so many dogs that need homes. But I also have to consider that I can’t have a dog of unknown temperament. I need one who is well socialized to strangers. And will fit in well with all the Pilgrims coming and going. Every day.

Then, there is the problem that so many shelters don’t want to respond to a foreigner inquiries. Over the past year this happened so many times. Even after I filled out the questionnaire. So, I did what I always do. I worked my community connections. And by this, I mean I told everyone I met in town that I was looking for a puppy. Including the vet during LuLu’s visits.

Jeff wants a Mastin (mastiff). I didn’t really care. I just wanted a friendly breed (or combination of breeds) who will be my buddy, and like Pilgrims. Strangers. In other words, I’m not looking for security. Just a friend. Then, the other night we got a call from our insurance agent in Melide. She has four dogs and three cats. She’s the one who rescued the hedgehog and asked us to release it on the farm. A kinder soul doesn’t exist. Monica is a foster parent for animals through a shelter in A Coruña. And they have a litter of puppies that just came in. Would I be interested? What?!? Is she crazy? Of course!

Monica made the introduction to the rescue for me. I filled out the questionnaire. Then, we reached out to the foster mom who has all the puppies and we drove up there yesterday to Sada and met them.

A face not just a mother could ❤️

I am happy to introduce you to Fergus! He is our newest addition. A rescued black lab puppy. Or he will be next week. This week he will be vaccinated, chipped, and de-loused. I will pick him up when they call with the green light and his pet passport.

After Jeff and I were approved as his new parents, we drove to the big pet supply store in Marineda City and spent a million dollars on pet supplies so he will feel welcome. Including an anti-anxiety bed which is all the rage now, and keeps dogs that are in transition calm. Jeff is buying him some doggles (dog goggles) so he can go with us on our trike rides. We want to train him to be comfortable going on adventures with us. There are riding trails all over Asturias that we want to explore.

I have four months to train Fergus and socialize him before we open again. Basically, to spend every waking moment with him. Which is just fine with me. And I know LuLu will grow to love him, too. I’ve learned how to add Animal Rescue Mom to my list of How-to’s-in-Spain. And our family feels complete. Ok, maybe not. Marie Carmen just came by. She has a couple more barn kittens that need homes. And, if I’m honest, Fergus will not be our last dog. Like him, it seems I’m a pack animal at heart.

Galician Backroads

Yesterday, we headed into Lugo to collect our new NIE cards. At last. 10 minutes in and out at the policía nacional. No waiting. It would have taken even less time but the guy’s computer was being perezoso – lazy. 🤣 I told him we were unconcerned.

We had a list of things to do in Lugo. After receiving our new cards, we made our way to our bank so they could stop freaking out about us not having new cards. Luckily, in six months we can apply for permanent residency. We have to have lived in Spain legally for five years – can you believe it has been this long?!? And we can’t have been out of the country for more than ten months total during that time. Thanks to Covid, it isn’t even close. We will easily meet the qualifications.

After completing all our errands in Lugo, we decided to head south to the small town of A Rua. It’s about 60kms west of Ponferrada, nestled in the Ourense wine country. And it sits on the very picturesque rio Sil. The drive reminded me of driving over Stevens Pass and down to Leavenworth on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I know people travel to New England to see the Fall colors. They are gorgeous. But this part of Ourense is equally stunning. Perhaps, even more so. The wine leaves turned bright red, and the yellow on this beautiful day were like gold rustling in the wind. I will be fishing on this river. I can guarantee it. Fly-fishing heaven.

We weren’t there for the scenery, per se. But it was an added bonus. We needed to visit the tractor dealership. Surprise! But I wasn’t complaining.

I have a penchant for old farm equipment. Perhaps it sprang from visiting my grandparents on their sheep farm when I was little. We would drive down from Portland to Lacome on a road we called The Rollercoaster Road. It went up and down so rapidly and had covered bridges at the bottom of each very steep dip. My Dad would drive really fast in our old American car, packed with four kids and a black lab. He’d hit the bottom and practically fly through the old wooden covered bridges (ala The Bridges of Madison County) and we would cheer. The dog didn’t like it.

Yesterday, I looked for covered wooden bridges. But apparently they are not a Galician thing. We drove along the river through vineyard after vineyard. Jeff was happy to see whitewater.

‘I could kayak that river. Nothing too difficult. Class 2+ , maybe.’

I was happy to see the spark in Jeff’s eyes. Giving up his kayaks when we moved to Spain was rough for him. He didn’t speak for the entire day after he helped load them up onto the guy’s car and shut the garage door. Perhaps he will start looking for a new boat 🛶 to paddle.

We arrived early to A Rua. The shop wouldn’t open for another hour. So we decided to explore a bit. A Rua is on the Camino Invierno – The Winter Way. It’s an alternative from Ponferrada to Santiago. The crowds walking from Sarria can be brutal in summer. Three thousand + people a day. Hence my business. But the Invierno is a nice alternative. And yesterday’s visit made me want to walk it. Such incredible scenery. September/October would be the perfect time for the weather and to see the leaves begin to change. But it’s also The Crush. And this region would be in the thick of the grape crush at that time of year. The smell would be ambrosia. I remember it well from living in No Cal wine country.

As a side trip for Pilgrims with a little extra time – The Ruta do Viño Valdeorras runs through this area. The wine trail! I love it! Jeff and I were talking on the way home. Perhaps we can rent a large passenger van and gather some friends together. Start in Cacabelos and Villafranca del Bierzo. Jeff doesn’t drink wine so he would drive. And we could eat and taste our way from there. Then, up the rio Sil valley to Ourense, where there are two Michelin starred two-star restaurants. A fun weekend of good food, good wine, and good friends. Something to plan.

Finally, we went back and met the tractor people. They were very nice. My Spanish comprehension is getting really good. I interpreted for Jeff and he was very grateful afterwards.

‘You did really well. I was surprised how well. I couldn’t have gotten through that without you.’

‘It’s the food truck.’ I told him. ‘Sometimes I don’t want to assume you don’t understand things so I don’t try to translate, because now things seem so much easier for me.’

Although, the Pilgrims aren’t speaking tractores to me, my ability to hear rapid-fire español is now finely tuned. And, without a mask, I can understand what they are saying. I’m also less shy about asking for clarity. Another thing I have noticed about myself now is that I listen more broadly. That is to say, I don’t try to hear every word and translate it in my head. Which can be a recipe for falling behind in a conversation. I don’t know how else to describe it. If I am unsure I understand, I will say it back, either the same way or in my own español. They will either confirm my understanding, or restate, or clarify more simply. Even Jeff is less intimated now that I can help with communication.

It was strange. When the tractor people asked where we were from and we told them Palas de Rei, they looked at us funny. Then, after an hour the salesman warmed up. They told us they know the people who sold us our tractor. Ironically, our tractor came from these guys. He smiled when he showed us the even smaller one the scammer tried to get us to take, before we got a lawyer. ‘You didn’t want this one.’

Then he pointed to the one we got – which was still smaller than the 40hp the guy sold us. Apparently, the one we ended up with had to be purchased from this place in A Rua – as the dealer near our house didn’t have it and had quoted us the wrong price. We had a contract. He couldn’t afford to buy the 40hp tractor for what he had committed to. And instead of coming clean about it he tried to dodge and weave and deflect. A little honesty and communication would have done wonders.

So, the tractor guy in A Rua had heard about us. The crazy difficult Americans with an Abogado- lawyer. But, by the end, he was very happy to meet us. He told us what he could get and what he couldn’t. Some things available in the US are not sold in Spain. Never mind. We appreciated him being upfront. And he will get all of our future tractor related custom.

We left and drove towards Ponferrada. Through craggy mountains and looong tunnels. Before it got dark by Villafranca and hitting the A6, west towards Pedrafita do Cebreiro and home. But before I sign off today, I will leave you with this little video of driving in a village in rural Spain. Jeff barely bats an eye anymore on these small, narrow roads. For context, all of these are two way streets. Even the village cat knows that.

NOTE: I’m shortly starting a Galician Backroads series for cool, little known places – like A Rua – throughout Galicia for those who have asked me at the food truck for recommendations. ‘I’m almost done with my Camino. I have 3/4/5 days until my flight home. What should I do/see?’ Hopefully, this will help folks develop an itinerary that works for them. All suggestions welcome. Stay Tuned.

Grateful Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving 🦃🍁🍽 to all the Americans in the crowd! A day to sit, eat, watch sports, and finally, to remember that we all have something- often many things – to be grateful for.

I will admit, it is weird to spend American holidays outside the country. No one here, except the Americans we know, will mark the day. Maybe because of Covid for the past few years, but more and more we skip US holidays and stick to celebrating the Spanish ones.

Yesterday we did a big shop. The place was crawling with people. Jeff laughed.

‘They’re all stocking up for tomorrow’ in reference to American Thanksgiving, ‘and they don’t even know it.’

In the US, the grocery stores are packed the day before Thanksgiving. As though all of us forgot about it until the last minute. I was always right there with them. Even if I had the Thanksgiving meal catered. Piling two shopping carts full at Trader Joes with the help of Emilie and Nick. As though we were Pilgrims filling the larder for a long winter instead of just the four days of the long holiday weekend. Games, sports and tree trimming. Then, Jeff and I would get up at 4am the following morning for Black Friday and buy all our Christmas gifts before breakfast. It was so FUN!!

We would get the big thick local Seattle Times and go through the ads with the kids. They would get excited, too. Then, Jeff would map out a plan so we could shop strategically the following morning. No backtracking. No time wasting. No extra steps. In and out. Like a bank robbery but with more industrial engineering thrown in.

It wasn’t the deals. It was the hunt. The gamification of shopping, before that was a thing. When we entered a store we split up. We each had a list for that store and there would be no overlap. And no talking. We would recap later.

Usually, there was a break to be had halfway through. At the Starbucks at the Crossroads mall. Near the Big Five. We would have stopped there for some replacement basketballs or some other piece of sporting equipment for the kids. Filler gifts. They played A LOT of basketball and soccer. Then we would forge ahead.

Finally, after the Range Rover was filled to the gills and the roof rack could hold no more, we made our way to The Pancake House in Redmond for breakfast. This was where the recap would commence over coffee and our favorite breakfast foods.

‘Did you see that guy in such and such?’

Or

‘Thank goodness I ran. Got the last Nook on the shelf!’ That was the year eReaders were born.

It was our thing. We’d be home before the kids woke up. Jeff would unload the gifts into his shop in the garage. Every year Jeff and I looked forward to this. And every year we went. Sure, we still bought them other things from Nordstrom or REI. New skis or snowboards. Or some glittery UGH (not a typo – I mean this) boots. But we really looked forward to the morning after Thanksgiving, every year.

This Thanksgiving won’t be like those. I know this because we were summoned to the vet to finally get LuLu spayed and chipped today. At long last. It’s only taken two + months. So I took her in. An hour later she was out and going home. Such a weird thing. Months of hoops to jump through to get her spayed. We were turned away at one point last week because they waited so long she went into season, and they would do it until she stopped baying at the moon and climbing the walls. Then, today, a ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ type of surgery experience. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Good thing I put the honey-mustard roasted turkey in the oven before I went. I am not sure I could have gotten up to prep it if I waited. LuLu is in bad shape sitting here with me. Crying and making pigeon noises and shaking. They didn’t send us home with any pain meds or anything. It just seems wrong.

Heading to the vet, it was clear that Galicians don’t know it’s American Thanksgiving. The streets were just another Thursday. But Black Friday is a huge thing here in Spain. Deals and adverts galore! People take the day off work. And Jeff and I will be out in the fray tomorrow. Like moths to a flame. Do we need anything? Not really. Who knows if we will even buy anything. Maybe some new toys or treats for LuLu. But Black Friday morning is our tradition. Silly, yes. But we have each other. The most important thing to be thankful for.

Already in the Holiday Spirit!!☃️🎄🎁🎅

It’s Christmas time! Wait! ✋ Before the haters in the US start the It’s not Christmas until we celebrate Thanksgiving! thing, remember that we don’t have Thanksgiving in Spain. Here, after All Saints Day on November 1st ticks by, Christmas time in Spain is cleared for landing.

I don’t mind this, at all. Festive cakes, cookies and candy start filling the stores. The tables and bins piled high with these in the local shops puts the US to shame. And the bakeries are filled with gorgeous mouthwatering delights. Not that I can eat any of these things but I can take a deep breath and smile as I enter and order a coffee.

Today, I will be putting up our Christmas tree. In the US, we used to put up our tree on Thanksgiving. Not being a big football watching family, it helped fill the time as the turkey was in the oven. And, hey, I would be grateful for that tree, too. The last decade we had a fake tree, after The Great Christmas Tree Boondoggle of 2008. That year Jeff, Emilie and her friend, MacKenzie, went out, selected and chopped down a tree in our forest. Jeff dragged it into our house – I am still unsure how he got it through our double front doors and through the foyer – into the very large living room with very high vaulted ceilings. The tree didn’t fit – an understatement. The top scraped the ceiling and we had to have it repainted in January. Little MacKenzie pulled on my sleeve ‘Um. Kelli. I think it might be too big.’ I laughed out loud. ‘You think?’ It was so wide we had to move all the furniture to a weird angle in the corner for the next six weeks. But Emilie was so proud of the tree we kept it. Jeff lashed it to the bannister upstairs with climbing ropes. To make it cat-proof. Not that it would have moved, it was so wedged against the ceiling. We had to cut off large branches at the bottom to get presents under it. It took a few days for it to heat up and wake up the bees in the beehive nestled in the branches. Yup! It was an interesting Christmas season that year. Hence the fake (I prefer environmentally, less lethal) Christmas trees henceforth.

But nothing gets one in the Christmas spirit quite like a Christmas movie. There are some classics, for sure. Jeff and I decided it was time to search through our streaming services and fire one up. But first, we needed to slip into our warm flannel jammies and make some hot chocolate with a little Bailey’s, some Gran Marnier and a splash or three of Jamison’s. Then, we snuggled up in front of the fire and discovered one of the best Christmas movies – EVER.

Exclusively on Apple+, Spirited is the new Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds Christmas movie. A shined up modern-day Dickensian tale from the perspective of the ghosts. Hilarious from the first moment. In the style of a great broadway show – which it will undoubtedly be. Singing, amazing dance numbers. A Pull-at-your-heartstrings story, of course. And two comedy geniuses doing what they do best.

‘But, Kelli. I don’t have Appletv.’ You are saying right about now. ‘The only person I know who does is that mean old lady next door.’

Well, all I have to say to that is Start Baking! Venture over to her house with those Christmas cookies and a thermos of adult hot chocolate- see recipe above – and inquire as to her health. Then ask for her expertise on her Appletv. ‘Might I see it?’ Hold up the hot chocolate and request a couple of mugs. Or, better yet, have brought your own. Then plop yourself on her sofa and fire up Spirited. You’ll be very glad you did. She’ll be glad you did. It will be just like that scene with the old man in Home Alone. He wasn’t so bad when you got to know him. You might discover she’s not so bad, either. And, let’s face it, what could be more Christmas movie-ish than that?!

So – even with it being before Thanksgiving in the US – I will cross that dreaded line to be the first person this year to wish you and yours a Very Merry Christmas 🎄🎁 and Happy Holiday Season. May all your wishes come true. With a prayer for peace and healing on earth, and goodwill towards all. 🙏 In the wise words of Tiny Tim – God Bless Us, Every One.

Everything Old is New, Again

This week is like a monsoon at our house. It is raining so hard that bringing the cat 30 meters from the barn to the house left Jeff soaked through his jacket. My knight in shining armor didn’t want me out in that. The news here calls it an ‘atmospheric river’. I call it the rain train.

Being from the NW corner of the US, we were prepared for the next few months. Grey skies and rain. Tomorrow it will be in the single digits during the day and night. Jeff has kept the fire stoked as I am bundled on the sofa drinking copias amounts of hot tea and bottles of water. But I had done my winter weather prep months ago.

A Blast From the Past

When we were preparing to move to Spain in late 2017, we had to dispose of most of our household items. This is more difficult than it would seem. No matter how hard you try, friends and family don’t always want your old stuff. Even for free!

That Thanksgiving, Ryan and his partner, Olga, and their cat, Lapa, drove down from the University of Colorado at Boulder to spend the holiday with us in Arizona. And we were thrilled to see them, of course. But we were even more excited because we could fill their car to the brim and send them home with things they didn’t have, and those we needed to swiftly dispose of. We knew Ryan would appreciate it all.

Jeff has always been a video game person. I am not. But from the time he was in high school he has purchased every game system that has come to market. And he and the family would play them. At Christmas, Jeff made sure that every year there was a new system under the tree from Santa. Complete with games. Sometimes, he had to go to great lengths to acquire them. Crossing his fingers that some girl who worked at a Walmart in Atlanta would actually pull it off the shelf on Black Friday morning and send it to him. The last one anywhere in the US. Ryan’s face that year was priceless. Santa out did himself.

The only ones I ever played were the dancing games like Dance Dance Revolution- psst…I was absolutely awful. And Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and Wii Fit. I lost ten pounds playing Wii Fit. And I endured hours of family humiliation with my guitar and drum playing. And singing. Uff! My children were brutal critics, for sure.

That last US Thanksgiving, as we loaded Ryan’s VW Bug – a classic college students car – with a tv and all those video game systems and games, I teared up. This surprised Jeff. But those were good memories. It made it real. We were going. Leaving everything, and everyone, behind. We had to let go of things and people. Jeff even gave Ryan his Atari from 40 years ago. It’s probably worth a zillion $$ on Ebay now, but I know he still has it.

When we landed in Spain Jeff began his re-acquisitions of new gaming systems on European electricity. Our old game systems wouldn’t have worked here, anyway. I understood his need to do this. Part of his comfort zone. And he played these online with friends in the US during pandemic lockdown. It helped him get through it emotionally. I don’t play any of these because I know myself. I’m rubbish at video games. Particularly because you have to care. I don’t. I can’t. But then, it changed.

The Old is New

We were recently reminiscing about sitting in our home theater room when the kids were younger, crushing Rock Band and laughing hysterically. Those were fun times. Especially on gloomy winter days. Where we lived in Washington state got a lot of snow. You needed entertainment when you got snowed in for five days.

‘They don’t make game systems like the Wii anymore.’ Observed Jeff. ‘ so many first person shooter games now. It’s too bad. We used to have a lot of fun with that when the kids were younger.’

But he forgot. This is Spain. In Spain, all new electronics arrive ages after the US. And people in Spain don’t discard stuff like we do in the US. They keep it. This country isn’t as much of a disposable society as we are used to. And, they trade things in for new stuff. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

So, for Jeff’s birthday I found a place in Lugo that sells new and used game systems and games. And I went there to browse. They marked me right away as a fish out of water. A crazy like a fox fish out of water, more like. 😉 A mixed metaphor. Never mind. And what did they have? The entire Wii system universe. Ok, not the Rock Band or Guitar Hero instruments, but everything else. I bought the lot of it for a whole €90, as the guy looked at me funny. Something tells me I’m not his usual gaming customer. And because this is the EU, they have to guarantee a fifteen year-old gaming system for two years. Crazy. I left my details with him, in case they ever get the instruments.

So, we are set for the winter. All the Rain Trains to come. Kickin’ it old school. I’ll be fit. Or, at least Wii Fit. And we can while away the dark hours ski jumping, doing yoga, and the like. Dancing to the hits from 2008. And grudge matching Wii tennis and bowling. All while smiling, remembering happy times from the past, and making new memories for the future.

A Cure For The Sofa Saga

I know that the first step is admitting you have a problem. OK. I admitted it years ago. But that didn’t help much. No, it’s not a problem with alcohol or drugs. It’s a problem with…well, sofas. Bear with me. I am a sofa person. Well, a sweater, shoes, coats, and sofa person. You don’t want to know how many sweaters, shoes, and coats I own. But sofas are also a problem. And it didn’t end when we moved to Spain.

People online talk about moving to Spain and perhaps shipping some items. Fine. I did this. Boxes of shoes and clothes. Some kitchen stuff I wish I hadn’t. Family heirlooms and momentos. But, unlike most people, I shipped a couch. What I didn’t think about at the time is that I would need something to sit on while I waited for my sofa to sail the high seas, slowly, ever so slowly, making its way to me in Valencia. There are a few early adopters of this blog who remember The Great Sofa Saga of 2018. And it was a saga.

While we waited for our stuff to arrive I had to purchase a filler couch. We needed something to sit on during that five month wait. It was probably my least favorite couch I have ever owned or sat upon. But, no matter. I only needed it for five months. I could deal. This sofa would eventually end up in the Espacio Creativo, anyway.

When the illustrious day of the American sofa’s arrival finally came, I learned that it was 1/2 inch short of fitting through the front door of el Compartimento. There was not enough pushing that would overcome the shortfall in the width of the door. No matter, we would crane it into the house, as so many people do. But it was 1/4 inch too wide. I called the landlord and asked if we might pay for the removal of the window but he wasn’t keen. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. That sofa had everything going for it. Down-filled cushions. A wide seat. The fabric was dog-proof. The perfect couch for us. But it was not to be. We moved it into our parking space in the garage below, as we had no car and nowhere else to store it. Did this mark us out as strange? Stranger than our neighbors already thought we were? Of course. Finally, some Americans took it. To be fair, they couldn’t get it through their front door, either, and had to have it craned up 10 floors. Quite a spectacle.

So I had to move the filler couch out and purchase a new couch, which I did. This couch became known as the slouch couch. Jeff dubbed it thus during the pandemic when we spent way too much time sitting on the sofa and it didn’t hold up well. Soon, we both avoided it. It looked good but was a back killer. Ugh. So when we moved to Galicia, the slouch couch did not join us. Neither did the filler couch. Wallapop (the Craigslist of Spain) ensured it. And when we got to the farm there was already a sofa, but it was not to my taste. Marie Carmen made quick work of carting it away. Again, heavy sigh. I had no couch.

Let’s take a moment and count. One American sofa moved to Valencia by container ship. Two sofas purchased in Valencia. Another one as gift with purchase of our house in Galicia. And yet, still I had nothing to sit on.

So, I began a search for a sofa in Galicia. Most sofas are made when you order them. You can’t just point to one and have it delivered, unless it’s IKEA or a similar place. I did not want an IKEA couch. We toured many a showroom across the region and found one that allowed me to customize a couch.

‘I want it to have the frame of this one,’ I said, ‘but the back of that one, with the fabric of the other one. And the cushion style of the one over there. But different feet in a different wood and color.’

The shop owner’s eyes spun as he took notes, and three and half months later they delivered the sofa. Well, a sofa. Not really the one I wanted nor custom ordered. I wasn’t trying to be difficult as I sat on my new sofa with my feet not touching the floor and my legs going numb. And, I was pissed-off. They had constructed it with ‘upgrades’. Things I never asked for nor would have wanted in a thousand years. The delivery men tried to convince me this was better. I was having none of it. It looked like a giant upholstered marshmallow. I find sofas in Spain are gigantic. So many apartments are rather small. How they build sofas that take up the entire living space and think this is a good thing is beyond me. If I had people over we would all be sitting or lounging on this giant marshmallow, unable to look at each other.

The owner of the shop came out to the house to see if he could make adjustments. When he walked in the door I could see the surprise on his face. Even he wouldn’t own this thing. He offered to let us keep it until we found another sofa, but I declined. I wanted it gone. But now, we were yet again without places to sit.

I bought some chairs to fill the gap, but we needed a sofa. The search continued and it was starting to become almost comical. But I wasn’t laughing. Finally, in September, I took a day off and Jeff and I went into Santiago to have lunch and pick something up from El Corte Ingles on our way home. We cut through the furniture department, as celestial choirs began to sing. I wondered if it was just musak playing over head, because it was Santiago, but no. Just then, a beam from heaven shone upon The Sofa. The one I have been searching for lo these many years. Well, more than four years, anyway. After five misfires, there she was. I almost cried.

I sat down and petted her. Then I looked up at Jeff and smiled. He just shook his head, but got out his wallet. Anything to stop this ongoing Sofa Saga. We were told it would be here by December 24th. But, as El Corte Ingles is known for, they surprised and delighted us today and delivered it nearly six weeks early. And it’s perfect. Just the right dove-gray color. I like a grey-scale, and then pops of color in the soft furnishings like pillows, rugs, draperies, and throws. Then you can refresh as trends and color palettes change. Plus, it’s a classic. And it comes complete with no slouch. Even Jeff, who had no opinion about anything related to fashion or furnishings, likes it.

I am happily sat here on the new sofa, recovering from the flu with my waffle throw that I brought from America nearly five years ago in one of my four precious suitcases. I love it that much. And I am smiling. Cured of my Sofa addiction after 6 couches in less than five years. My living room is complete. Just in time for winter, and in the midst of a terrible storm blowing outside. There is a fire in the grate and my chai tea candles are burning. Hmmm. Now, all I need is a dog at my feet. Don’t tell Jeff, but I’ve been looking for one of those, too. Let The Dog Saga commence!

Connecting Thru Life’s Storms

This past week has been a reminder that no matter where you live we are all the same. Storms come and go. We might think we are different. Different cultures, different religions or different cuisine. But we all live our lives in our own little world. And sometimes it takes stepping outside of it, traveling to the other side of the world, to make us realize that we truly are the same.

This past week I have been baking. A Lot. Some of my experiments have gone well. Other? Meh. But I also baked a few old standbys. Things I have been baking for a very long time. And I learned to bake from my Mom. She always had cookies or cakes on hand. As a kid, I never remember a time when there wasn’t a full double layered frosted cake on top of the dinner plates inside the cupboard. It was such a thing at our house that it was weird going to other kid’s houses and discovering that they didn’t have cake at the ready. Or a freezer full of ice cream. Who were these heathens?

This week I had a load of bananas that had turned. I let them go a couple more days until they were nice and black. Then, it was time for banana bread. Lots of banana bread. Seven loaves later, I surveyed my bounty and realized that Jeff would never eat all this banana bread before it went bad. And I am allergic to bananas. I popped a few loaves in the freezer for later, sliced a couple of warm pieces for Jeff with some butter, then wrapped up a couple of loaves to take to the neighbors.

We have so many lovely neighbors. They have helped us numerous times. We are the recipients of vegetables from May through October. And some of them grow and sell their own herbs and the like. They bring me tea and allowed us to wash our clothes and take showers at their homes when our well was a bust in July. I hadn’t been able to return the favor while I had the food truck going. So, I slipped on my rubber boots and made my way to their houses with my basket of banana bread.

The first loaves were delivered when I stopped off at the last house. The neighbor was out in her garden when I called her name and waved. She turned and I realized she was crying. She opened her gate for me and wiped her eyes. My heart sank. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong and my Spanish is not good under pressure. But I asked her what was going on. When she told me we both stood there and cried. Her son was in the hospital after attempting suicide. A parent’s worst nightmare. The details were heartbreaking. He couldn’t be released as he had tried more than once. The heartbreak I saw in her face was gut wrenching. I know that young man. I met he and his girlfriend at a gathering they gave last Spring.

We have experienced suicide in our family. My nephew in October of 2014. It’s such an unthinkable thing. You are almost in a fog when you get that phone call. It’s so unbelievable. I don’t know how my brother and my sister-in-law were able to make it through those months. That year. The anniversary. A hole that never heals.

I told my neighbor I understood how she felt – although it is her son, not mine. Then, we stood in her driveway hugging as she cried for five straight minutes. It doesn’t matter that my Spanish or Gallego language skills aren’t great. We understood each other. Mothers always do. That’s all that matters. Eventually, she was able to gather herself. I told her that Jeff and I would do anything for her. Drive her to Santiago to the hospital. Anything. She just needed to tell us. Then I made my way home and told Jeff. He was stunned, too. But pain is pain. He understands that.

The Gathering Storm

My neighbor’s heartbreak was not the only reminder this week that we are connected across continents. An ocean. Whether we know it or not. Hurricane Nicole struck Florida last week. And then, yesterday it hit Galicia.

When we lived in the US, we would watch hurricanes strike the east coast of the US every year. Sure, they were terrible and they are getting worse as weather around the globe becomes more extreme. But hurricanes don’t hit the west coast of the US. We get a big storm there and there. But on the west coast of America we didn’t really worry about hurricanes, except as spectacle on the news. Yet today, we live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes affect us now all the time in Galicia.

Hurricanes form in the middle latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. Some run the shoot towards the Caribbean and Mexico. Others towards Florida and then up the east coast of the US. A danger to property and people. But I never paid attention to where they went when they were out of the headlines in the US. But that massive energy has to go somewhere. And often, even if it never impacts the mainland of the US, it heads to Greenland on the jetstream, which makes a sharp left turn and starts heading south, barrelling down the coastline of Europe. Pummeling Ireland and making its way to the northwest coast of Spain. Galicia.

On Saturday, we made a run up to A Coruña for some things we needed. The weather was clear and sunny, and we knew Hurricane Nicole was coming. The stores would be closed on Sunday, anyway. It was packed, as was the enormous shopping mall and IKEA. No masks in sight and everyone coughing. We got what we came fore and fled south to home.

The storm arrived late Sunday, as predicted. It is parked over us. The newspaper usually does a good job of communicating these big weather events. We were out early around the farm before it hit, getting some things done. Put away or tied down. The high winds hit first. Then the rain. You could hear it howling and the trees still have leaves so they were whipping around. We lost power a couple of times. In the midst we of this, I baked some American Chocolate Chip Cookies as best I could. My secret recipe. In a break in the weather I took some down the lane to the neighbor who is hurting. I wanted her to know we are thinking of them. She met me at the door. She is very sick with the flu. I imagine the stress hasn’t helped. The flu is ravaging Galicia right now. GP’s are overwhelmed with it. Health centers are bowing under the weight. We’ve swapped Covid for the flu.

I handed her the cookies and told her we are thinking of them. Then, came home in the blast of wind. Waking up today, I have the flu and Jeff, who is not sounding too good himself, is taking care of me. The winds outside the window are wild. Roaring. Raining buckets. Our palm trees are bending but not broken. Snow is forecasted for higher elevations. Just one more reminder that no matter where they originate, we are all just trying to get through the storms – in life. Which means, like a marriage, we need each other for comfort when things get rough. In sickness and in health. More than ever.