Sometimes, getting there is Half the Battle

OK – I couldn’t resist. We took separate flights to Sao Paolo – for reasons I won’t go in to, the consequences of which I’m still paying for. But we did get here. I knew it was going to be interesting when I saw a Franciscan monk get on the plane in full robes and a 3 foot cross embroidered on his chest. When he passed by my seat praying, I didn’t take it as a good sign. Then as they were closing the doors a woman ran on waving a lamp shade. Not a small one either – a VERY large lamp shade. And it’s not like she didn’t have two pieces of hand luggage and a roller bag with her. I just shook my head.

After take off, the English guy in the seat across from mine got into a serious argument, and almost fisticuffs, with the Spanish guy sitting in front of him over some perceived slight. I just thought ‘This is what that monk was praying about’ and just a little bit of ‘Where’s the lady with the serious lamp shade when you need her? Cause I’d like to hit this British guy over the head to shut him up so they don’t turn this flight around’. But she was in the back somewhere. Finally, his co-travelers settled him down. With the help of the flight attendant, they explained that just like your Dad told you and your siblings fighting in the back seat of the car ‘Sir, we will turn around and head for home if you two can’t get along.’ No one wanted that.

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We both landed in our respective planes in Sao Paolo – different terminals, of course. My flight went straight south from the Iberian Peninsula. Jeff’s flight went over Africa most of the way and crossed over the Atlantic at the narrowest possible point between Africa and South America. But we met up and got into an Uber. I mean, how long can it take to get from the airport to our hotel? Well, in a city of 12 million people (and 32 million in the greater Sao Paolo area) it can take 2 hours. No kidding – TWO HOURS.

But we were lucky and got Denis, the most amazing Uber driver ever, who drove us in his red Chevy Celta (Never heard of that model before? Me either). Denis regaled us of tales of Sao Paolo and Brazil in general, it’s history, it’s politics, the best places to go. He told us where we might ‘or most probably would’ get killed if we walked at night, and how to hold our wallet, purse and cell phones so as not to be victims of muggings or the like. He informed us how not to get ripped off by taxis, shops or restaurants. We loved Denis –  we actually formed a bond with him. But you can’t argue with the price $27 for a two hour Uber ride for two people. Unbelievable.

Then we pulled into our hotel, with a guard at the gate of the long driveway, into one of the most beautiful hotel drives I’ve ever been to. The grounds are amazing and I would pit the service and ‘that special something’ the staff has – it’s a spark of magic – against any 5+ start hotel in the world. Truly exceptional. Sure, you see pictures on a website when you book a place, but you don’t really know what it will be like. This place lives up to the photos. Check it out if you’re ever staying in Sao Paolo. Jeff’s hotel snobbery has been fully assuaged and tomorrow should be nice so we can have breakfast on our terrace. I’m almost forgiven for his air travel experience (or lack thereof) and the class he flew today as a very tall person.

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And then my ‘Only you’ moment came as I knew it would. But it’s good I got it out of the way early. Whew! Jeff sent me to get him a Coke – I still owed him for the flight. We were jet lagged and I had already drunk all the still water in the mini bar. So down I went to the lobby. But then I got stuck in the elevator after the doors made a terrible metal grinding noise, not quite closing. I started pressing buttons.

‘Surely, it’s been hours I’ve been stuck in here’ I thought, sweat pouring from my brow as I looked at my cell phone for validation on my rising stress level. It had been less than a minute but it seemed like more than an hour. I looked at the bell on the panel, but thought I’d give the frantic-random-button-pressing one more try before pushing the actual panic button. It worked after a few minutes. The elevator made a horrific sound and then dropped a foot. I wanted to scream but it was only me in there.

Then it started going down and finally, the doors screeched open on the bottom basement a few floors down – the hotel laundry. I got off the elevator and I wasn’t getting back on. Pushing the buttons for the other elevators didn’t work because this broken devil one was just sitting on that floor, like a goalie. I crept down the hall, looking for an exit or stairs, when I heard voices. ‘Hola?’ I called out tentatively – luckily it’s the same in Spanish – cause I looked it up on Google translate on the plane.

I could see myself from the outside. This is the point in a horror movie where the guy in the hockey mask with the ax comes out of a cloud of steam. The one where the audience is thinking ‘What’s she doing? Don’t go down there!’ Finally, I saw a door and heard voices. When I walked in they looked at me like I was an animal at the zoo. A gazelle who wandered into the lion’s cage – I didn’t belong there.

‘Ingles?’ I asked. They pointed to one guy. I explained that I had a problem with the elevator and asked if he could help me get back up stairs. He took me through the parking garage, the spa and finally to another elevator. My blood pressure had finally dropped. I got to the room and Jeff had taken his shower and was looking refreshed. Clearly, I seemed out of sorts and had no beverages in my hands. I told him my tale. He shook his head.

‘So I guess I’m not getting a COKE.’ was all he said,

‘Don’t you get it? I could have been killed.’ I was aghast at his lack of empathy – no matter what seat I put him in on that flight.

But he was unmoved. ‘You’ve been gone less than 15 minutes.’

So I decided a nap was in order. Being awake for 28 hours and learning that not only could I be killed outside these gates, but by the elevator in the hotel, was just too much for me. Where’s a fully robed Franciscan monk, muttering under his breath, when you need one?

 

 

 

 

Nou d’Octubre – The Day of Valencia

Every October 9th, since King James the I of Aragon sent the Moors packing south, Valencian’s have celebrated their freedom. OK, well as much freedom as people who still lived under a feudal system for 100’s of years following this conquest could. But the Spanish population, who were mostly Christians (Catholics) went from being the low men on the totem pole to those in power.

There is no debate here about the role of Charlemagne or Roland in freeing Spain from the Moors, like there is in Navarra. The Valencia’s are pretty sure it was this one guy and his lucky bat, who showed up right as his victory was clinched, that did the trick. You can see the Valencian bat festooned on manhole covers and futbol jersey’s. The Bat is the thing here.

Nearly 800 years later they’re still pretty happy about it. And like most celebrations we’ve encountered in Spain, if one day of partying is good, six days is just that much better. Nou d’Octubre is the biggest celebration of Valencian pride, and that is saying something since they have a month-long Fallas celebration in March, too.  But Fallas is an internationally renowned party celebrating the art of satirical street sculpture that attracts visitors (and pyromaniacs) from far and wide. This celebration is for the people of the region.

We had some friends in town this weekend – who brought more friends with them – so our group pf 10 dove in and we got a bit of the flavor of the festivities that actually started on Thursday the 4th. Like all fiestas, there will be people dressed in traditional dress. Women dressed like they were as Fallera, and men in both traditional peasant and in Moorish inspired costumes performing or just walking the streets.

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There was a Medieval Market on the Serranos bridge leading to the towers of the same name, selling traditional locally made foods, jewelry, soaps and oils and hand made candies. October 9th is also St. Denis’ Day in Spain. It’s the equivalent of St. Valentines Day. Here men give their lady loves a kerchief full of marzipan sweets to signify their affection. Knowing Jeff would forget his clear obligations to me on St. Denis’ Day, I bought myself a beautiful kimono in the old city. When I showed it to him I explained how I’d helped him dodge a bullet on this most important of holidays. He appeared unmoved at my generosity.

During these celebrations, old palaces that are mostly government buildings now, are opened to the public for just 2 days. Valencian’s like their bureaucracy so they need a lot of places to house them and the old palaces are the perfect spots. Large, open and with big rooms that once might have been used to house men-at-arms, but now hold large conference tables or councils. A gentleman working in one of them explained the hierarchy to us.

In Spain, there are 17 autonomous regions (like states in the US). Ours is the Valencia Communidad (Community) – a collection of essentially 3 counties (Valencia, Alicante and Castello) – who have their congress in one palace here in the old city. This is like a state legislature. Then there is the Valencia county (I’m not using the right words but that’s what it is) – that has it’s own council. Kind of like a county council back home. Then there is Valencia, the city (Ayuntamiento) – which has it’s own city council and mayor.

It’s a little confusing since the name ‘Valencia’ is a loaded one, but you get used to it. In terms of Palaces, each one of these government bodies is housed in palaces that are usually closed to the public, unless you have official business before that particular body. But one time per year, they open them up so that the average person can enjoy the architecture and the stunning art that is housed in them. Sculpture, centuries old paintings and architecture is on full display. It’s easy to see how the aristocracy showed off their wealth and power using their homes as canvasses.

There was music in the square and, of course, fireworks – both during the day and at night. I swear, if someone invaded this country the inhabitants would think any gun shots they heard were associated to a wedding, baptism or a fiesta they forgot about. You think I’m kidding but you almost don’t even hear them anymore when they go off.

My favorite place we visited, although it’s open nearly every day so it’s not part of this celebration, was the Church of St. Nicholas. I had seen it before but never ventured in. Yesterday, we were walking by it between Palace tours and decided to pop in. For 6 euros (kids are free), we got to see something that was truly amazing. It’s called ‘The Sistine Chapel of Valencia’. And ironically, the restorer of the Sistine Chapel restored it recently so it was visible in all it’s glory.  Pictures don’t do it justice and it’s worth the visit.

Parishioners, or anyone in Valencia who needs help with a problem, will leave their home on 3 consecutive Mondays, walking in silence to the church to pray to the effigy of St. Nicholas for assistance. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of charity. The legend has it that he used to anonymously give assistance to many in his community during his lifetime. The precursor to Santa Claus. Promoting the ‘charity is its own reward’ type of approach. This appeals to me on so  many levels and the church is clearly a masterwork in celebrating his life.

Finally, last evening we were just enjoying a quiet time at home when we heard a procession go by. We barely get up and go to the window anymore when we hear a marching band in the neighborhood but it went on for awhile. So random. And the fireworks went off shortly there after.

So we’re not actually to the real holiday yet and we’ve fully celebrated it. Now we’ll enjoy a few days of no grocery stores being open until we get a brief reprieve before Spain Day on Friday. It will be interesting to see what that is like here in Valencia. Will the inhabitants be fiesta’d out after a week of celebrating Nou d’Octubre? Something tells me there’s a fat chance of that! More music, fireworks and processions coming up!

 

Interactive Tapas

Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all.  The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.

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My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.

We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.

Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.

We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.

Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.

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Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.

It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.

After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.

A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!

 

 

 

El Jefe y Keli

I couldn’t love our neighborhood more. Seriously. It reminds me of living in San Francisco in the early 90’s and in Seattle’s Belltown in the mid 90’s. In San Francisco in the Haight or in the Aves, you could catch Robin Williams working out new material in one club or another. In Seattle, you could catch Nirvana or Pearl Jam at the Crocodile for nothing when they were working on new songs.

Benimachlet has that same vibe, sans the famous people but I love it nonetheless. I sent Jeff to make hair appointments for us at our local hair salon. I figured his Spanish is good enough to work through it.  He sent me a photo of this post it. He is now officially El Jefe (‘The Boss’ in Spanish) and I am just ‘Keli’ since ‘Kelli’ would mean my double ‘L’s’ would be pronounced totally incomprehensibly. So it’s The Boss and Keli.

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Tonight, Sunday night, El Jefe and I went out in our neighborhood to have a drink and some tapas. Even on a Sunday evening there is alot going on in the square around our local church. A wedding had just finished and the revelers were in front of the church with their families.

We stopped for some wine at our favorite watering hole. We were there the day they first opened so we try to give them our custom whenever possible. But we got hungry and they don’t have a menu that was commiserate with our level of hunger. we went through the square on our way to another of our favorite tapas bars. On the way, we found a group spontaneously dancing. Not an organized thing, since when we walked home behind the folks with the speaker and the music, it was clear it was just a ‘lets turn on some music and see what happens’ type of deal. The crowd was loving it and readily joined in. Seeing dancers on the street in Valencias isn’t that unusual.

I love our tapas place. The owner is an old hippie and the food is top notch. The price of the cerveca and vino blanco are to our liking, as well. The place is cool and he totally digs us, so it’s fun to go there. The service isn’t typically hands off and it’s easy to get another drink and we feel at home.

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On the way home, we went around our summer outdoor theatre in front of the church. ‘Cinema a la Fresca’ enjoyed by all in the neighborhood on a Sunday night. We love the home grown eclectic vibe and the spectrum of folks who gather to enjoy a good film on a warm summer night. Back home, we used to go to Chateau St. Michelle and the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, WA with our kids in the summer to enjoy family movies outdoors. These are more arthouse films, but it’s no less enjoyable.

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Afterwards, walking back we passed by a shop front with an open door. A group of neighborhood gentlemen were beginning a game of dominos. We see this everywhere in the evenings around our apartment. Groups of older guys playing dominoes for money in cafes or parks. It serious business here. But this group was a fun and friendly bunch who was happy to share a ‘Guapa!’ as I took their photo.

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Before we moved to Valencia, I would never have believed we would live in a neighborhood like this. But every day, every time I turn a corner, I’m glad we chose to land here.

When I went to my hair appointment on Friday morning, I had a conversation with my neighborhood hairdresser, Pili, in Spanish. It wasn’t pretty, but she was so surprised at the progress I made, her enthusiasm for my particular brand of Spanish was infectious and made me feel proud of how far I’ve come. And then she threw me a curveball. Benimaclet is a very traditional Valencian neighborhood. People here DO NOT speak English so it’s easy to practice Spanish. But they also speak ‘Valenciano’ – which is another language entirely. Much like Catalan. And Pili is determined that I learn that too, so she’s coaching me. But the biggest compliment she gave me is that my pronunciation is ‘like a Valencian’, which I have been told before, so I’m on the right track.  I think we’ve found out home in Benimaclet. And, as everyone knows,  there’s no place like home.

Stop Whining

OK. I had my pity party. I missed home on the 4th of July. Seems like that’s a good day to mope when you’re so far from neighborhood fireworks and bar-b-que with friends. But like one of those blow up clown dolls with the sand in the bottom, you gotta pop back up.

And some really good things happened yesterday. First off, Jeff found he had run out of his blood pressure meds and that he could put off no longer going to the Farmacia near our house for a refill. He took a deep breath and took the bottle down there and explained what he needed. His old prescription was $30 a month. The new one? 3 euros for a month supply and no prescription needed. They just handed them over. He was giddy and now no longer intimidated by going to speak to a pharmacist.

I went to my Spanish lesson yesterday and it went swimmingly. Well, maybe I felt like I was swimming because I was in the blistering heat with dripping wet humidity. But my teacher felt I’m making good progress. We’re meeting up again today to keep the momentum going.

Then I took Emilie to have her sports physical so she can be cleared to play when she returns to school in the US. I swear it’s a racket, these sports physicals, but Jeff and I had found a clinic where there was a rumor that they had a Dr. that spoke English, so we could explain why the hell he needed to fill out this form with a bunch of weird questions like ‘Do you feel safe in your home?’ and ‘Are you ever sad?’. Things he’s supposed to ask her so that he can determine if these might impact her playing basketball or hitting a tennis ball.

So we went – they require no appointment – and muddled through in my lame Spanish at reception. I was feeling more confident after my lesson so I tried out a couple of new words and phrases. More on that later. Then we went and sat in the waiting room. A Dr. came out and we heard English. Like American English. I turned to find him chatting with an American couple who had just arrived and needed some medication.

He finished with them and then called us to his office. He spoke to me in Spanish and I answered him back. We waited outside for him to finish with another patient and then he came out and ushered us in. We sat down and he asked why we were there in Spanish and I told him, in English, and he asked if I was Spanish. I told him ‘No’. He said he was so surprised because my accent was so good he thought I was Spanish. Well, can I just say I LOVE THIS DR. He could be the worst Dr. on the planet but his compliment went a long way yesterday. I sat up a little taller after that.

It turns out he was born in Valencia but grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. He went to FSU and then moved back to Valencia to be near his parents. His wife is Valencian and he has two daughters who don’t want to live in the US. So Tallahassee’s loss is our gain.

We finished up with the sports exam and then met some of our friends who moved here last week from Seattle. We had worked together at a previous employer and they had been planning to move here with their daughter before we ever made our plan. Neither of us aware of what the other was plotting. So it all dovetailed nicely. And ironically, we met at the Portland Ale House on Salamanca, which is a mecca to all things Portland Ore. in the US. I grew up in Portland, and so did Pete, so we recognized all the photos and the marque outside.

They have great burgers and beer and it was fun to be surrounded by University of Oregon flags, Timbers paraphernalia, and old street signs and license plates I recognized. The owner is from Portland and he’s done a great job in bringing a little of it to Valencia. My family should get ready because when we visit the US in September they’re all getting Portland Ale House t-shirts. Seems right.

The burgers made Jeff’s day – best burger and fries in Valencia so far. And it was fun to hear about Pete and Ryan’s adventures in getting settled. They’re off and running, and loving living here too.

So I bounced back from my whining 4th of July. And it just goes to show you that the universe is listening. It knew it needed to throw me a bone yesterday and it threw me a whole handful. It’s time to get back to work.

Got’em – With a Little Help from my Friends

Before posting on my blog about my allergies, I hadn’t really told anyone here. My friends in the US knew about it because they knew me when I was sick. But after I found out, I would try to not make a huge deal out of it. In restaurants I would order around them. I didn’t want to be ‘One of Those People’ who make a production out of placing an order with a waiter. I was sure people would think I was just pretentious, not actually afraid of what I might be eating. It meant I popped a lot of Benedryl in the ladies room and skipped the wine.

Fast forward – I did the same here when eating out. You kind of start to learn the places that are safe and the food – even though the menu is in Spanish – that works for you. It can be limiting and I know being a culinary pioneer isn’t in my future. But I’m resigned to it and just happy when I find wonderful food I can eat.

But then I posted about it and my new friends here came out of the wood work and mounted a full scale Duck Egg hunt.  Sort of like Easter Bunny angels. The results are impressive. Maria – you found me my first dozen at El Corte Ingles.  I brought them the link you sent me and while we heard the one phrase we hear a lot on a daily basis ‘No, Impossible’, we asked other people in the store and Voila! there they were, on a bottom shelve next to the empty spot for Ostrich eggs.

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And then my English friend, Trish found a store that sells only eggs in Russafa. They have duck eggs! Other people started messaging me too. Sightings around town and Google maps directions to shops where they had seen them.

And finally, the farm got back to me last night. They said they would sell me some duck eggs for a Euro an egg – what I expected to pay. But just this morning, they emailed me back. They had discussed it and decided since it was an allergy and not a preference, they would sell them to me for .50 cents. Now I even have a Duck Guy in Spain. Who could ask for more?

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So I am flush with duck eggs now. Thank you everyone who messaged, commented and WhatsApp’d me. I’m forever grateful. A little onions, garlic, olive oil and avocado, and I thought of you all and smiled when I enjoyed my first duck egg omelet in Spain. It wasn’t the prettiest one I’ve ever made but it tasted like the best one I’ve ever eaten. My life just got a lot better – with a little help from my friends. Namaste’.

Family Matters

Not to get too melancholy, and perhaps it’s because June 5th would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday (she lived to 97), but every day walking down the street I see old people helping each other totter to the store or cafe, or just a bench. They have canes and lean on each other. But I also see a lot of people helping their parents and grandparents. Here you see grandparents caring for small children. And not just grandmothers. Grandfathers seem to be very involved with their grand children, interacting with them and actively engaged.

All of this is a little foreign to us. Neither of us were raised in multi-generational households. Sure, our grandparents might have lived in a nearby city, but they didn’t live in the same building on the same floor – or at the furthest, a few floors away. In speaking to our lawyer about it he said this was the normal way of living,  he couldn’t imagine moving so far away from family like we were doing. It isn’t in any part of their comprehension of what life should be like.

In viewing the fiestas and different mini-celebrations, all of them include people from kindergarten to very, very old. The culture here doesn’t seem to worship youth like we do in the US. Irrelevancy when the age of 40 is reached. Everyone seems to have a role that is equally important until they die. It’s not flashy but its quietly dependable.

The other day, I was heading somewhere and a young man, maybe in his late teens or early 20’s, was walking with his grandmother on his arm.  She looked like an apple doll. He was very handsome and she was clearly proud of the admiring looks he brought their way. I smiled, thinking how wonderful it was that he seemed so happy to walk at her snails pace. He didn’t get frustrated or try to rush her. She set the meters-per-hour in which they would process.

I wonder what our lives would be like in the US if this were the norm. What would happen if we lived like they do here and saw our families more as partners than burdens? I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve lived very far away from my family, in other states, since I was 23 – much longer than I ever lived near them. But that is what everyone I knew did. Aspiring to go out into the world and make my fortune – looking for career fulfillment.

But now, I’m on the other side of all that. My kids are pretty independent and it’s normal in the US, not to live in the same state as your kids. I never expected my children would want to live within 100 miles of me. But sometimes I look at my neighbors here in Valencia, sitting on the benches with their grandchildren outside our building, and I think now nice it is that they’re all together, supporting each other. And teenagers actually seem to spend time with their parents and grandparents.

Perhaps the Old World has something on the New World. Maybe, while we were busy inventing the concept of individualism, the people here decided that they had it figured out – Thank You very much. I do know that the grandma seemed very happy with the set-up, as her handsome, patient grandson escorted her down the sidewalk. If I could bottle the way they looked at each other and send it back home, I would make millions. On second thought, it was priceless.

Never Give Up

Sometimes things just take time. Language barriers can be a big issue. Especially when health issues are involved. Yeah, I’ve had that little issue with a kidney stone a few weeks ago. After that, I decided I was well enough to go all the way to Germany with Jeff to get his motorcycle. Maybe not the best idea, but I did it.

On the way back, I started having some issues but I took some pain meds and we made it home. We need to prepare for Emilie’s imminent arrival this Saturday and we have train tickets to got collect her on Saturday morning. We needed to get ready for that. But I have still had some pain and acquiesced to going to the Dr for a follow up.

I like my Dr. here. She doesn’t take our insurance but an office visit costs almost nothing and she has an ultrasound machine and a EKG and a bunch of other stuff – right in the office. She does it all and it’s all part of the office visit. Unheard of in the US. The tests they’ve run in my Dr.’s office would have involved nurses, radiologists, phlebotomists. Not here. My Dr draws her own blood, does her own ultrasounds and reads the results. She’s from Venezuela, spent nearly and hour talking to me on Monday and she’s great. And she’s referred me to a specialist for some complications.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had ridden more than 1700 km on the back of a motorcycle last week. I could hear her silent head shaking without asking me what the hell I was thinking. I felt I could avoid it. So she gave me a referral and I came home and reached out to my insurance company. I don’t know how authorizations work here for insurance and visiting a specialist so I needed to make sure I was doing the right thing. That was the first challenge.

Using Google Chrome, it translates their website automatically. But the drop down menus are still in Spanish. I did the best I could, but couldn’t find the name of the specialist she was referring me to. The phone menus are not in English calling the phone number on the back of my card. I started pushing buttons, got a guy on the phone, he couldn’t understand me and hung up on me. I took a deep breath, got a glass of wine (yeah – I know I’m sick but needs must), and dialed again. I started understanding some of the words on the menu and pushed a button. Someone came on the phone and I asked in Spanish if they had any English. They didn’t but they got someone who did.

This new person was determined to help me. Hold, checked back with me, hold – he finally took my phone number promising the ‘person in authorizations who knows English will call you back, OK?’. Well, of course I said OK. I waited 24 hours. No call back.

Today, I called again and pushed the same number I pushed yesterday. They got me an English speaker – told me I don’t need an authorization for a specialist, however, the Dr. my Dr. referred me to is not one of their Docs. So I would need to go out to the website of another local hospital and find someone who specializes in the same area.

So I did that and found a doctor that takes my insurance and is that kind of specialist, but I couldn’t make an appointment online. So I called. More menus in Spanish. I heard a couple more words I have started to recognize (and understand) and pushed that number. Bingo! I got a receptionist who listened to my Spanglish, explaining what I needed, and she was sympathetic.

‘Please call back at 4. Doctor here at 4’

I thanked her and then I called back at 4. They talked to the nurse of the Dr and they couldn’t see me but they got me in for tomorrow at 6pm to see another similar specialist. Here, Dr’s keep hours in the evening. So civilized. It means you can have a job and go to the Dr. after work. America – are you listening?

So, it just required me NOT to give up, get too frustrated, and being willing to sound like an idiot on the phone to get what I needed. And it required some very patient people at the insurance company and the local hospital to try to help me. Between all of us, we got it done.

I felt embolden enough to tackle getting some prescriptions filled at the pharmacy, knowing I have and appointment tomorrow with the Dr. The pharmacist was so helpful and explained everything. She asked a lot about my condition and wanted to help me understand what I was taking and why. Such great service and care.

Am I nervous about going to see a Dr. I will struggle to communicate with? Yes. But I’m doing everything I can to mitigate it. I’ve printed out allergy information. I’ve writing up my history in both English and Spanish (yes, using Google translate, but its the best I can do).

It’s funny – Jeff hated going to the Dr. in the US. Even for very serious conditions, he never wanted to go. But here, we’ve both been so impressed with our experience so far, we’re willing to take more of a leap of faith. Well, and I’ve researched the specialist and read the papers he’s written in medical journals and education and residency history – so yeah, I feel OK with his qualifications.

Like most things in life, persistence pays off. Lets hope tomorrow I get good news and my baby steps into the medical/insurance world in Spain can be short lived. I have too much planned for this summer. And being sick in any way isn’t part of them.

 

Tribunal de las Aguas

A while back, I learned of the Tribunal de las Aquas. AKA The Water Board. No, not that kind of ‘water board’. There is no torture, and liquid never makes an actual appearance. But it is all about the water rights of the Valencian Plateau and the ‘Waterlands’ herein.

To recap, this is the oldest judicial body in Europe, dating back to Roman times in one incarnation or another. It’s actually called out in the Spanish constitution, post Franco, expressly and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural body. And in Valencia, it’s a sacred, beloved institution.

They meet every Thursday, at the Apostles gate at the side of the Cathedral, and convene at noon – precisely. Seriously, when the bells of the Cathedral ring, these guys ceremoniously file over and have a seat in their little ring. Ready to hear the important water cases that will be brought before them. The men represent the water areas controlled by the 8 main canals that draw water off the Turia River. Both from the right and left bank, the arguments are all oral, immediate and transparent. The representative from the water area in question abstains to maintain total fairness. It’s rules and laws are understood by all. And the ‘wisdom’ demonstrated by the Tribunal is sacrosanct.

I had told Jeff about it before, but he had never seen it. And since we were already in Central Valencia (Colon) at 11:30 looking at 360 degree cameras at El Corte Ingles. And since we had time and nothing better to do, we decided to go by the central Catheral, to the Apostles gate, and watch the pomp and circumstance of the institution. And we hit the excitement jackpot because they had a case. It’s not every week or even every month that they get a case. So it was packed.

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We got there early and watched the court bailiff and ceremonial head, set out the chairs. Each chair has the water area’s name embossed in gold on the back of the chair. These are placed behind a metal gated fence to keep out the riff raff – us. Then precisely at noon, the bailiff will lead the members of the synods from the palace across the street dressed in robes and carrying his ‘water staff’.

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After they are all seated, he will call out each area twice. In the video, you will hear him use the word ‘Denuncia‘. This is not a legal concept we have in the US. When a person has a problem with another person, or company, or institution, they can officially denounce them. This generally requires them to go to the local police station and file an official denunciation. But to file a denunciation under false pretenses is a serious crime here.

We had a problem with a car rental company a few weeks ago. They never gave us a car and they still charged us the fee. I was so angry and a friend suggested I go to the local police station and ‘denounce’ them. I was clearly confused and he explained that if I did that, I would get a piece of paper with the official record of the denunciation. I could fax that to their head office and see if that would get me my money back.

This sounded scary to me and I asked if there were any limits on it. Can anyone denounce anyone? The answer is yes, anyone can denounce anyone. But again, filing a denouncement under false pretenses is a crime. He said that when we file to renew our visa, we will have to go to the police station and get an official record and it will list any denouncements against us. I understand landlords can make them against you and you can make them against a landlord if there is a problem. Its strange.

Anyway, for the Water Tribunal, the one party – the one feeling like they have been wronged, answers the call when the bailiff calls out and asks for any ‘Denuncia’ for the particular synod. And today, the call was answered. The crowd, like Romans in the Coliseum in Rome, were ecstatic.  A case!

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Jeff and I had become separated. This happens often because I’m usually trying to get to the front because I’m short, and I like to see the action. He’s so tall, he can stand further back, and people hate it when he’s up front blocking their view. We had gotten there early as they were setting up so I got right up front. I looked over and Jeff was a ways away, talking to a tiny little old lady who came up to his belly button, who only spoke Spanish and Valenciano. I gave him a questioning look so he messaged me in WhatsApp.

‘You know I’m always a hit with the old ladies.’ he wrote – reference to our honeymoon cruise of newlyweds and nearly deads. He had been a big hit with the nearly deads at the Bingo games.

‘Who’s your girlfriend?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t know, but she’s determined that I understand what is going on so we’re using Google translate and she’s fascinated by it. A lot of pulling on my arm to say things and so she can see the screen.’

I look over and I could see her face through a break in the crowd and Jeff explained I was his wife. She said something to him and smiled at me.

‘She says you’re ‘guapa’.’ he said.

‘What does that mean?’ It sounded like Italian booze or that I might be crazy.

‘I don’t know – you look it up. I’m busy trying to keep up with her.’ She was pulling on his arm again.

‘Well, enjoy.’ And I turned back to the action.

We watched the case unfold. The President of the Tribunal had to abstain from this case because the party bringing the grievance was from his side of the river.  The Vice President led the questioning and the verdict was handed down. One party was not happy. The old man who won was gleeful! No documents, completely oral arguments and verdicts. No court record. And the verdict is final – no appeals.

I got out of the crowd and saw the old lady had absconded with Jeff. She led us over to the Water Tribunal museum across the alley, where she kissed us both and told us we were good people – in Valenciano. Then she left. I laughed.

‘You know it surprised me not at all that you attracted the smallest old lady in this square.’

He smiled. ‘Oh I know. She lives in Valencia and I think she just comes down here to watch on Thursdays for something to do.’

‘I think if you offered to put her on your shoulders, she would have done it.’ I said, shaking my head.

‘Definitely.’

So now he’s experienced the Water Tribunal and made a new, ancient, friend – and of course, he got the best one of the year so far. We agreed we’ll go back again in November on a cold drippy day, when tourists are thin on the ground, to watch it like locals. But they do put on a good show.

Good Wine, Good Friends & a Little Kindness

The days seems longer here. I think it’s because they’re so packed with things we’ve never done before. Navigating, learning how to do things and seeing stuff that leaves us in awe.

My day started with grabbing a Valenbisi bike (the best bike service anywhere) and riding 25 minutes to the city center to meet up with some friends, to go out to an area east of the city about 60 miles away. We were going to go for a full day of wine tasting and then lunch – or very late lunch by American standards. I am learning so I ate a very heavy breakfast.

Our first stop was at a winery called Chozas Carrascal.

http://www.chozascarrascal.com/en/la-bodega/our-vineyards.html

It sits on a plateau about 700 meters above the sea. When it’s cold in Valencia, it can be snowing up there. They have 100 hectres of grapes and 20 hectres of olive groves. A hectre is about 2.5 acres, for those of us unfamiliar with this measurement. They make wonderful wine and excellent olive oil. Both of which, I bought. The wines made at this amazing vineyard are unique in that they have varying special designations (Designation of Origin) as all the grapes in their wines are grown on those 100 hectres of land.

It reminded me so much of Napa Valley or even Eastern Washington state that I was homesick for about a minute. The gentleman who took us around asked me where I was from. I told him I had lived in California wine country for several years. He said he had never been there but had hoped to go someday. I told him he was wrong.

‘Look around. This is exactly like Napa Valley used to be 25 years ago. No crowds and a more simple feel. You have the best of Napa Valley right here. You don’t need to go there, you have this.’

They were lovely people and the tasting and tour were generous. At one point after we left, I broke the bottle of olive oil I bought from them (I won’t go into how), they heard about it and they saw that another bottle was brought to me to the village where we had lunch. I was so touched by their generosity and thoughtfulness.

Then we went to the town of Requena. Of course, it has it’s own castle. But we went to taste some wines and to take a walk into the past – the distant past. To the time when the Moors were ruling all of Spain and they utilized the caves below to store grain, (they weren’t drinkers) before the Spanish were storing wine in them. We all know the Moors are no longer running the show so the caves were converted to wine cellars and the rest is, literally, history. On some of the walls, you could see the finger prints of the people who had lined them with mortar centuries ago. Some of it was chipping off but most of it was still there.

In the winery we went to, the caves go back to times when they stored the wine in large terra-cotta vessels, so large we have no idea how they could ever have gotten them down there. We watched a video of donkey’s pulling them in 100 year old photos, but the stairs I went down couldn’t have been traversed by donkeys and there wasn’t an opening large enough to accommodate the immense size of the cisterns. But there they were, the vessels are still down there and you can see them in the pictures. The wine was great too and Anna, who showed us around, was very nice and while she said here English wasn’t good, it was excellent.

Our lunch at Los Cubillos Gastrobar, ( https://restauranteloscubillos.com/ ) right below the castle walls, was a Menu del Dia – of the usual 3 courses, but the food was local and one of the tastiest I’ve had since arriving here in March. The staff was really nice too. And spending two hours to eat lunch isn’t half bad. But if I get asked about American politics one more time I’ll jump off a castle. And here I can make good on that threat!

As lunch ended and it was time to go back to Valencia, my replacement olive oil arrived. I was so surprised. There was no reason for them to do this for me and yet they had – unbidden. I’ll enjoy it that much more every time I drizzle on something or dip something in it. A taste from a special day, with new friends in a place I’ve never been. I’m smiling thinking about it again already.

The Escape

Leaving your own country and moving to another requires adjustment. We start Spanish language classes on Monday. 3 hours every morning in intensive immersion. We need language skills and it’s becoming more and more apparent each day.

I’m looking at volunteering at a local school to help kids improve their English skills, but also to meet native speakers and use my soon-to-be-acquired Spanish. We’ve met new friends but most of them are expats from English speaking countries like Brits, Irish or South Africans. And those that aren’t want to speak English to us even though they’re from Holland or somewhere else in Scandinavia.

We’re fumbling through on a daily basis and it’s either feast of famine on our ability to communicate. Sometimes Jeff would prefer not to have to think about how we’re going to get something done. His take? ‘Easy things are hard. Just wait for the hard things. Who knows how we’ll tackle those.’ I prefer to keep some of those things in a fog just out of my reach. I’ll figure out how to get a doctor later.

So to escape, sometimes you just need to binge watch TV from home. We’ve got no cable but we do have Amazon Prime, with our paid channels, and Netflix. I get my news from NBC online when I wake up in the morning. But yesterday, after staring at some wires that came snaking out of our wall, Jeff hooked up the cable that is connected at the other end to somewhere, and we got local HD channels – out of the air.

We have no idea where they’re coming from but in flipping through the channels we’ve discovered we can pay to get our Tarot cards read on no less than 7 channels – for a small and ever growing fee.  Once we learn Spanish, we can listen to the televangelists try to save our souls. There might be a fee involved there too. We will eventually understand sports here and after Googling some of the acronyms for the teams playing, we’ve learned all the Spanish soccer/futbol teams names. And then we discovered the channels of TV from back home. And that we can change the programming to allow the ‘original language’ to come through. BINGO! We have more US shows.

Sure, back in the US I watched a ton of Spanish TV and movies. It’s how I started tuning my ear and honestly, it’s helped a ton here already. Great investment. But on days when going out and doing things is tougher than you think it ought to be, it’s nice to sit down and lose yourself in something mindless. Something you don’t even have to think about to understand.

Today, I’m heading out by myself to get spices in the Central Market. Its like a big open market but it’s undercover in a building like an old train station in the center of the city.  I’m meeting up with a new friend for a beverage who lives in that part of town. After trying to stumble through purchasing things in Spanish, it will be nice to have a chat with someone who doesn’t require me to think, over a glass of wine. And to come home and watch some Big Bang Theory with cultural references that I totally understand. Its stupid, I know. But the little things take on more significance here.

Its Official

Today, we got our Spanish National Identity cards. It’s a big moment that took place in a humble building on the other side of the city, and they’re resting in our wallets now. So we’re good to go until we need to renew our visas in 11 months.

Everything here is a process of doing something, learning you did it wrong, correcting your mistake, then going back and completing it. Hopefully, this requires only one additional round trip. The only thing I’ve done right the first time is getting us our permanent Metro passes. I looked it up, actually had all the documents it said were required on the website, took them all to the Metro station offices and we got our cards then and there. I know the agent was surprised by my baffled look when he handed us our cards. Nothing is ever supposed to be that easy here – and yet it was.

I think it emboldened Jeff. He went online and signed us up for Valencsibi – the bike ride sharing service that is a whole 36 euros a year. In three weeks time, when our cards come, we’ll be able to ride bikes all over the city, like the locals. Valencia is the most bike friendly city I’ve ever encountered. Bank paths are down every major thoroughfare and soon we’ll be taking advantage of them. Riding to the river and down to the beach.

These small wins are starting to add up and it’s helping my peace of mind. Slowing down and cutting myself some slack has happened organically.  And has come just in time. Moving to another country is stressful. We aren’t surrounded by a big family that might insulate us from every single thing that is different or new starting right outside our front door.

Expectations I had before coming here are all gone. Now it’s just a matter of getting up and just experiencing things. We can’t anticipate or control. And letting go of the need for either of these things is starting to make for a happier life. For both of us.

Standing at the immigration building today, I realized it’s only been a month since we were in that line the last time. ONE MONTH.  In so many ways, it feels like a year. We’ve accomplished a lot since then. Things aren’t so foreign as they were before and going back to a place I had been before on that first day, helped me realize that we’re OK. It’s all going to be OK.

The lists are done. Now it’s time to live – just like we did back home. Real life starts today.

 

 

Making Friends – the Hard Way

Today, I decided to take a tour. This is not my usual deal. I’m more of a ‘go-it-alone’, ‘lets-see-where-the-road-takes-us’ kind of person. But I signed up when I heard about it and I crawled out of bed at 6am.

Nooo! I don’t get up at 6am anymore. That was the old me. The Mom-me. The working me. But the bus was gonna leave Xativa with or without me. And I wanted to be on it. Jeff saw me off, like the first day of Kindergarten. He was going to enjoy a blissful day ALONE. I think he was looking forward to it as much as I was looking forward to seeing more of the area.

Sunrise Xativa

The big red bus traveled south with me and all my expat friends – Brits, Canadians, Americans and the like. It was for English speakers and I learned a lot about how others in my position do things here, the topography of the region, and the history. The rich history. Ahhh. I was in my element. It was like being back in history class in school, where they told you stories that brought it alive. I loved history.

So our first stop, after a very, very winding (get you super car sick, don’t look down) road – was Guadalest. It’s a hilltop town with a castle at the top – duh. With a lot to see. I walked through the old part and through the manse that the family who controlled the region for 300 years built, had an earth quake and rebuilt, and then lost it in some sort of conflict. I was a bit sketchy on those details.

Guadalest

But it was so fun to walk around the old ramparts, and what did I discover that surprised me? Oh yes, the making of an Indian music video. I wanted to be irritated that they were harshing my bliss, but I kind of liked the music and the choreography.  And the lead singer was easy on the eyes.

Indian Video

Then we were off to Altea. This is closer tot he water and simply lovely. We had a bit of lunch (wine) and a brief walk around the town. Gorgeous views and great shopping. But not as good as the shopping in Gata de Gorgos. It’s a little town with a series of shops where they sell hand woven wicker goods, bags and rugs that are wonderful! So I had to buy a bag, and then a throw for the couch. And then a rug for under our dining room table.

When I walked out of the last shop with the large rug slung over my shoulder my fellow travelers laughed. The wife of our tour guide especially.

Altea

‘I knew it. In that first shop, I saw the look in your eye and I knew. She’s on a mission.’

‘Well.’ I told her. ‘I generally spot what I want right away. And these little shops seems to have many of the items on my list.’

Altea to the South

I put my finds in the hold, below the bus and we made it back to Valencia. The bus dropped us off near the Xativa Metro stop so I hoisted my rug on my shoulder, consolidated a few bags and set off for the metro, leaving my new friends to watch me shaking their heads. Now, you might think they were the last people on my trek home to stare at me and consider my schlepping of a large rug on a subway to be totally inappropriate. But there you’d be wrong.

I was nearly stopped by the man in the booth as I barely squeaked through the electronic ticket stall, and not because he didn’t try, in his sound proof glass box. But I found pretending not to notice him waving his arms at me worked well, and seeing as how he couldn’t seem to find his key in time to open his booth, I just whizzed past and down the two escalators to the platform. The train was pulling in at that very moment, and I want to say I hopped on it but I was lugging a large rug, so I ambled, while balancing it on my shoulder.

The other passengers weren’t as enamored of my home home decor choices as you would think, but like most people here, they said nothing, and I had counted on that. Just stared. I smiled and made sure it didn’t fall on anyone. Getting out of the subway and then walking the half mile home through sidewalk cafes and crowds was quite a challenge, but eventually I made it.

I want to say Jeff was surprised to see me and my rug and the rest of my purchases, but he didn’t bat and eye when he opened the door. He just took it from me and asked me where I wanted it. People in my tour group had asked me ‘what is your husband going to say?’ and I stopped for a moment before answering.

‘He expects nothing else from me.’ I told them honestly. ‘In fact, if I don’t come home with a rug or some other large thing, like an armadillo or a pony; something that requires geometry to get home, he’ll be disappointed.’

I’m a challenge shopper. It’s in my blood. I had so much fun on this tour, I’m signing us up for the next one. The Olive Oil tour. Jeff is not getting out of this one. A whole day pressing olives. And you can buy olive products and the like. Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll be lugging home on the subway that day!

Fuel for the Fire

We have COFFEE at home!!  Yes, I found a grinder – which promptly stopped working so I’ll be returning it to The Worten for a working version – but not before it ground me enough coffee for 4 days worth of the addicting brew. My new El Chino coffee cups and little stainless steel pot are working as designed.

In the US, I made my coffee in a Turkish coffee pot, but I left it out of my luggage on the last day because we were already at the brink of going over weight. I had no idea how to use the stove top coffee pots here, but the one I bought seems to work fine, and the Torrafacto coffee I used to spend $20 a pound for in the US, is less than 2 euros here and it’s yummy!

Fortified with two cups of coffee, Jeff and I set out to get his hair cut. He already needed one before we left the US, but time ran short. And now we’re at critical mass – or a mass of mangy hair. He has ‘Teddy Bear Head’ and it’s driving him crazy. He’d gone to a couple of barber shops around our apartment but had no success in actually getting a cut. Both barbers spoke English but they kept sending him to the back of the line behind other walk in customers. He even asked if he could make an appointment but was told ‘No, we don’t have appointments’. Just wait.’ Well ‘Just wait’ meant ‘You’ll wait forever.’

He’d come home defeated and confused. So today I took him back to where I get my haircut. They have a women’s side and a men’s side that is filled with darker furniture and more manly style chairs. Seriously, it’s like a cigar bar but without the dark paneling. At first, when I suggested he go to the salon I go to, he was resistant. But looking in the mirror told him it was past time.

We rang the bell and they let us in. I’m always surprised by this ‘door bell’ business model. They look you over and determine if you are worthy of entering their establishment. We made the grade and went in. I explained in my broken Spanish that he needed a haircut – I’m sure they could see for themselves – and they took him to the men’s side and allowed me to go with him to explain what he wanted. Honestly, my Spanish is getting better. And my ‘Yoga Spanish’ is starting to ROCK!!

So they cut his hair and then they took him back and washed it so he doesn’t have all those little hairs that usually mean he comes right home and takes a shower. They trimmed his eyebrows and shaved him with a straight razor. Then the woman took him back to the chair and did a little style with some product. It was the best haircut he’s ever had and he looked amazing.

‘Wow! You look great!’

He smiled and I turned to the stylist.

‘Muey Bien. Muchas Gracias’

She smiled.

‘You need to come here from now on. Maybe don’t wait so long between haircuts and keep it up a little more often.’

Jeff isn’t one for the personal services but he agreed.

‘You have an appointment in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll come back with you then and have her touch it up.’

I smiled but I didn’t say what I was thinking ‘Seeee. I told you so’ didn’t come out of my mouth. One point for me. And his whole experience cost 19 euros. Practically nothing.

Slowly but surely, we are settling in and learning how to get things done. I’ve joined a writers group and made a few friends. I went to the Fallas fireworks with them on Friday night. On Saturday, we’ll meet more people at our Valencian ‘March for our Lives’ rally that a bunch of expats organized. And yesterday I met a newcomer from Northern Ireland for coffee and we had a great time laughing and chatting like old friends. 3 hours went by in a flash and we’re meeting again next week.

Next week, I’m taking a tour of a castle two hours south via bus. It’s my first foray into experiencing the history of the area outside Valencia proper. I’m so excited! So between these activities and my yoga class, I’m doing pretty well on meeting people and making friends. I won’t say it’s not difficult at times but then I remember, it’s only been three weeks.

I tend to be hard on myself. Setting expectations that I do something in a certain time frame, or in a certain way, isn’t a recipe for personal happiness. But I’m working on it. It’s funny, because I rarely have these types of expectations for others so I’m not sure why I’m so strict with myself. But it’s all good. Moving here is a growth experience. And opportunity to do things differently, both internally and externally. If I remember that over my morning coffee each day I do just fine.