You know I’m 52

I am 52 years old. After several days at my parent’s house I feel the need to state it out loud. In fact, I’ve already told other people this since I’ve been here. I know it sounds strange but it’s necessary.

In Valencia, or when I’ve lived in any other city, I never felt the need to announce my age to virtual strangers. It’s not because I look older or younger than I am. It’s because other people just assumed I was an adult that could chew gum and tie my own shoes. Or find my own way home. But when I come back to Portland, to the city and the house where I grew up, it’s essential. As a reminder, even to me.

We were checking out at the bike shop the other day and my phone rang. It was my Mother wondering where I was – we had been gone from the house for 2 hours. We spoke and I hung up and turned back to the person who was helping us. She had heard my end of the conversation.

‘I’m 52.’ I told her with a smile.

She laughed. ‘Yeah, I’m 54. My Mom still calls me and wonders where I am. She lives in San Francisco.’

We finished our business and went back to pick up my parents for lunch. They were graciously taking us out for good barbecue – something we can’t get in Spain. I drove because my Mom has cataracts. She drives when I’m not here but that seems to be irrelevant, because from the back seat she told me what to do the entire time.

Now, I’m not talking directions here. It was as if I was 15, just learning to drive and she was ensuring I didn’t hit anything and actually stopped at red lights.

‘Now, you’ll want to slow down here and look to your left because traffic can come from there. Then you’ll want to look over your right shoulder because they’ll be merging traffic. Make sure you’re getting over but not too far over and increase your speed.’

Jeff was sitting next to her in the back. I could see his face in the rear view mirror and he was laughing so hard, knowing what I was thinking, he couldn’t look at me in mirror as his face turned bright red. My jaw was hanging open. Incredulous.

‘I’ve been driving for awhile now – you know. I got this.’ I told her.

‘Oh I know, but this area can be tricky.’ she told me seriously.

We got the restaurant and sat down. I tried not to say anything and Jeff kept his eyes glued to the menu. I looked over and my Mom was reading her menu when I noticed that her glasses were missing one of the lenses. I pointed it out to her.

‘Well, no wonder. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t see.’ she told me.

I sighed. Now I couldn’t be upset. Now I was more worried than frustrated. How she’s driving with her vision the way it is baffles me. It’s so bad she didn’t know she was missing a lens. I think she was telling me what to do and how to get there from memory.

But being here and being babied (cause I am the youngest in my family) has it’s upside. Before I arrived she had called me for special requests and stocked all my favorite comfort foods from childhood. Green jello and pears – always the go to when I was sick as a kid. She made spare ribs and her famous coleslaw. I say famous because it’s in the Nordstrom Family Cookbook sold in their cafe’s around the country under ‘Field Family Coleslaw.’ When I presented her with a copy of it for Christmas one year she was pretty happy. I made sure she got the attribution. This morning I snuck down and ate it at 4am. It’s just that good.

And she’s cooking up bacon and maple sausage every morning and I’m eating like a gluttonous king. An extra 5lbs will be heading back to Valencia with me I am very sure. So perhaps being 52 this week isn’t so important. Maybe it’s more about taking all the concern and care on board and cherishing it. Because I know it won’t be here forever. Someday I’ll wish my Mom was there to tell me how to drive her car and worry that I’m not home. And when that day comes I’ll whip up a batch of her coleslaw and say a little prayer. Grateful that even at my age, she still worried about me.



A Taste of Home

I haven’t missed that much from home by moving to Valencia. Everything here is new and it’s harder to do even small things. But over time, that will fade. I even asked the guy at the grocery store yesterday where the tea was, all in Spanish. So I’m getting there. What won’t fade is the difference in food.  We like spicier, more varied food, and finding that in a restaurant here, with a range of deep fried to deeper fried bland food can be hard. We are done with Bocadillos, pizza and the other pub fare. We aren’t big desert or pastry people either. And Indian or Thai food isn’t near by in our neighborhood.

We are baffled by the actual times restaurants serve food (not tapas or just drinks) and it has proved challenging. We were hungry today at 11:30 am. We tried to go to several places to get lunch but they don’t open until 12:30.  One after another – no go. Finally, we just went home. And don’t get me started on the exceptions with bank holidays that pop up when you can’t imagine why it’s going on. I know it’s a cultural thing but I swear it takes a matrix in excel, and some sort of complex algorithm to determine when there will be an intersection between our hunger, biological clocks, Spanish restaurants opening times/food serving times, and bank holidays. There’s gotta be an app for that!

So, I’m finding I’m cooking more at home. I’ve made fajitas, which I thought weren’t half bad. Jeff wasn’t as impressed but I certainly tried my best. I’ve made Chicken Tikka Masala – but again, it needed more spices and finding those here requires a trip to a specialty store in the Central Market. So no last minute culinary whip-ups out of what they have at the Mercadona.

Last week, I made Beef with Broccoli and Basmati rice. That was pretty good, too. But there are foods from home that just, well, feel like home. And today we made the trek to find them. Comfort foods – foods that ground you in times of stress. It’s the fall back stuff, when you put on your jammies, get a blanket on the couch, snack and watch a favorite movie or binge watch a tv show. Wrapping yourself in the familiar.

Taste of America

Just off of Gran Via is a place called ‘Taste of America.’ Walking in, the first thing that strikes you is that the shelves are filled with things you would NEVER want to buy in a grocery store in the US, if you cared about your children living past high school. Sure they’re American as apple pie but, seriously, Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, or Capt’n Crunch cereal? They have American beer and lots of US candy. And real ranch dressing (honestly, whatever that is) and Jack Daniels bar-b-que sauce. Name brand peanut butter is there too, and the same artisinal jam from Maine that I bought my Mom the last time we were there. It’s kind of a weird thing. I always bring back jam, from where ever we travel, for my Mom. I don’t really know why I do this, but when I go to their house I get to eat it and remember where I bought it. I never bring back jam for myself.

But today at ToA, I mostly just looked at all. It was nice to see familiar brands and logos. But I wasn’t going to buy alot of that crap, whether I was missing US food or not. It was a reminder how terribly we eat as Americans. I didn’t drink Dr. Pepper in the US, and I’m not starting now. But then I went to the baking section. Different story. They had vanilla, semi-sweet chocolate chips. Baking soda and brown sugar. All the things to make real chocolate chip cookies from home. I snapped it all up, not for me, but because I need to start thinking about Emilie’s arrival. She’ll be here in 6 weeks for the summer break, and the first thing she’ll want to do it make chocolate chip cookies.

Then I saw that they had pancake mix and real maple syrup. Homemade pancakes and waffles are in our future. And boxes of Mac and Cheese that will get Em through her first meal. And they had Campbell’s tomato soup. Emilie hates tomatoes but she likes Campbell’s tomato soup. I don’t try to riddle it out, I just buy it. At the end, the guy threw in a free bag of Sea Salt and Vinegar potato chips, so our streak of gift with purchase continues.

And 56 euros later, we made the 8 km round trip back on foot. Jeff carried our bounty  in his back pack and we stopped on the way home and signed up for Spanish classes. So we ‘killed two birds with one stone’, as they say back home. Kind of gruesome, when I think about it.

I’m now looking at the things I bought stacked in our pantry cupboard and I was thinking. When I was a kid, my Mom would let me play ‘Store’ with some of the boxes and cans from the kitchen. And an ancient adding machine with a hand crank that made it seem like a cash register. It’s a bit ironic, because my parents owned an actual grocery store but it seemed I couldn’t get enough of it and played it at home with my friends. Maybe as we use this stuff from ToA, I’ll keep the boxes and just put them back in the cupboard, like when I was a kid. Sure, I won’t have the actual contents anymore, but when I open the door, it will feel like home.