A Tale of Two Caminos

Huffing up into the Pyrenees on the first day of my first Camino a compact woman who looked to be in her late sixties caught up to me. “Bonjour,” she said. “Bonjour. Ça va?” I asked. After exchanging details about where we were from she asked me if this was my first Camino. “Yes,” I said, thinking, Why on earth would someone walk 500 miles more than once? She told me it was her seventh. I thought I misunderstood her French. “Septième?” I said. Yep. Seventh time.

Half-way through that first Camino, I began planning my next. And on September 2nd I will embark on my third Camino in four years. I’m walking the Camino Frances–the same route I walked in 2012. With such a big world out there, I’m not surprised when people ask why I would do it all over again.

Actually, returning to the Camino is quite common. Nearly everyone I’ve met who has walked the Camino has walked it more than once–or is planning to.

There are numerous routes to get to Santiago, so a pilgrim could traverse up from Portugal one year (my route in 2014), from southern Spain the next. But why return to the same route?

Well, why do you return to your favorite restaurant week after week? Why do you spend time with the same friends repeatedly? Why do you go to the same church? The same gym? And root for the same sports teams over and over again? Because there’s something you enjoy about those places, those people, those experiences. And that’s why I’m returning to the Camino Francès.

  • Where else in the world can you walk a few miles, sit for a cup of coffee with strangers doing the same, then walk again, into an ancient town that wouldn’t exist anymore were it not for the tens, hundreds of people who walk through it each day?
  • Where else can you meet people from nineteen countries in the space of one month–people who will, within a few minutes of meeting you, tell you their deepest fears and their highest hopes?
  • Where else can you turn off technology for an entire day (or month) and be present nearly every moment, with more than enough time to reflect on your life–alone, or with people who are genuinely interested to hear about it?
  • And where else could you spend forty nights in forty different towns and share meals with people from all over the world for a grand total of $1700?*
Pilgrims from three continents (Africa, Australia, North America) sharing a meal on a fourth:)

Pilgrims from three continents (Africa, Australia, North America) sharing a meal on a fourth:)

I’m sure the Camino de Santiago is not the only place in the world one can experience all of the above. If you know of any others, do let me know, and I’ll add that to next year’s adventures:)

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*$1700 does not include airfare. It does, however, include every penny I spent from the moment I touched down in Europe to begin my journey–food, lodging, one doctor’s visit and three medications as a result of that visit! How do I know this? I logged every cent in a small notebook I kept in my pocket.

 

 

Where in the World Is . . .

“Where are you living these days?” a friend asked.

“Well, what’s your definition of ‘live’?”

Most of my stuff is in a 5 x 5 storage unit Michael and I share in Asheville, North Carolina. Though my stuff sleeps there, I don’t. The last few nights I’ve been in Schroon Lake. And the majority of last month I was in Poughkeepsie—where the rest of my ‘stuff’ resides.

“I can’t keep track of you,” friends say. Neither can I, sometimes.

So for those of you wondering about my next steps, here you go:

Michael on the desk of Chalet Edelweiss

Michael on the desk of Chalet Edelweiss

  • Sunday morning: I depart for the Collegeville Institute for a week-long all-expense-paid writing workshop with Asheville native Lauren Winner. For those of you that have been waiting for the book about my first Camino, this is the kick-off to my summer goal of finishing the darn thing. (But don’t get too excited, because the next step requires lots and lots of editing!)
  • July 4: I return to Schroon Lake for two weeks, during which time I will finally try to comprehend Michael’s love of opera by attending two with him, thanks to the Seagle Colony’s summer productions of the Barber of Seville and Falstaff.
  • July 16: We’re finally returning to Asheville! For a little while, at least. We’ll begin by attending the wedding of Mike (one of my first Asheville friends)and Ashley–who have graciously allowed us to come despite the fact that I never received an invitation–because I’m not easy to track down via U.S. mail (or so they say).
  • End of August: I’ll return to NY to meet my friend Lois and depart on September 2 for the Camino de Santiago — Part Deux. Michael has not yet confirmed where he will reside during this time.
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35L pack for a 10 week trip

  • November 11 — Lois and I return from our European adventure.
  • Mid-November — Michael and I head to California to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
  • Mid-December — We return to NY for Christmas, much to my father’s delight if you recall this post.
  • Post-Christmas — Who knows? Hopefully we will by the time the end of the year arrives!

Scenes from a Morning Walk

Every morning, sometime between 6:30 and 7, I depart whichever home is serving as my current residence: hiking shoes on feet, pedometer at my hip. If I’m going to walk 490 miles across Spain in September, it’s time to get practicing.

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100 steps from the house . . .

This morning, I walked down to a fog-covered Schroon Lake with Michael and my father, up past the boathouse, and then parted ways with them: they headed to Stewart’s for the morning coffee klatsch, I went off with a goal to walk more miles than I did yesterday.

Schroon Lake Boathouse

Schroon Lake Boathouse

Yesterday, I got distracted. Taking pictures. So this morning I did not slip my phone/camera into the pocket of my fleece, and was thus able to reach my goal.

In case you missed it, let me repeat: I had to wear fleece this morning. It’s June 20th. It was 47 degrees.

It certainly looks like summer here.

They grey and white landscapes have been replaced by more colorful ones.

They greys and whites of winter have been replaced by more colorful hues.

 

Unimpeded views of a frozen lake are no more.

Unimpeded views of a frozen lake are no more.

Perhaps the universe is just trying to help me out. Cool mornings are better for walking than warm, muggy ones. Or maybe I’m just asking too much. After all, summer doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow.

These little ones weren't born in time to see snow. Lucky them.

These little ones weren’t born in time to see last winter’s snow. Lucky ducks (or geese, as it were).

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Travelers

“Are you sure you and Michael aren’t really just good friends?” my mother has asked me–more than once. I assure her that is not the case, but I can see why she thinks this. Michael and I, unlike most couples I know, spend a lot of time apart from each other. I don’t just mean a night or a week-end–I mean weeks, months. Michael and I joke that though on paper we’ve been dating for a year-and-a-half, in reality it’s only been six weeks.

Why all the time apart? It’s not because one or both of us travel for work. It’s not because we are in a long-distance relationship (though it often appears that way), and it’s certainly not because we don’t like spending time with each other (well, I don’t think it is–maybe Michael thinks otherwise?!) The fact is that we both love to travel, often “on-a-whim”–which, to me, is taking off on a multiple-week trip with less than three months of planning time, sometimes less than a week. And sometimes the travels one of us wants to take are not of interest to the other, or not good timing for the other. So instead of deciding not to go, we go anyway. With the blessings of the other, of course.

Like the time I decided to go to Nicaragua. In three days.

Like the time I decided to go to Nicaragua. In three days. (Where, upon arrival, I learned my Spanish lessons were to take place in the same building as the chocolate museum!!)

And so it was that less than a week into our three-month visit to France last summer I took off for ten days to walk the Camino–by myself. Again. Michael had work to do but I was antsy–unsure what on earth I’d fill my three months with (silly thought, I know, but that’s a story for another day). What I did know was that I love walking the Camino. So I took off–honestly out of fear of the unknown, yet ironically into another unknown. I walked a route I’d never walked, beginning in a country I’d never before visited whose language I didn’t know. Apparently I thought that would be easier than trying to figure out if Michael and I were stable enough as a couple to live together for the first time. In a foreign country. For three months.

Paris with Michael. Turns out we're good travel partners.

Paris with Michael. Turns out we’re good travel partners.

Two weeks after returning from France–where I discovered that I did indeed love living with Michael, and got the feeling he felt the same way–I left him again.

Confession: My favorite parts of my writing retreats are the good food, good wine, and good friends--namely chocolate cake, Writers Block Petit Syrah,  Lois (L), Lynne (R) and Stacey (sadly, not pictured).

Confession: My favorite parts of my writing retreats are the good food, good wine, and good friends–namely chocolate cake, Writers Block Petit Syrah, Lois (L), Lynne (R) and Stacey (sadly, not pictured).

This time to go on my twice-yearly writing retreat. For two weeks. My writing is a key part of the story of how Michael and I met, so it’s no surprise that Michael didn’t object to my leaving for two weeks. Besides, before he met me, Michael says he was pretty much a hermit. So I figure he gets to reminisce a little when I’m gone. But hopefully I return before he decides he’d prefer that life to one with me!

Oh. And then there was that time I went to live on a goat farm on an island in France for a week. Without him.

Oh. And then there was that time I went to live on a goat farm on an island in France for a week. Without him.

Then there was this past winter, when we lived as if we were long-distance lovers. To my credit, I did tell Michael–numerous times–that I had no intention of wintering in Schroon Lake. Apparently he did. Some would compromise by giving in. I compromised by moving three hours south (as opposed to three states south).

We're together sometimes. Like when I insist we are having a live Christmas tree. Which we'll cut down ourselves. (Well, which Michael will cut down.)

We’re together sometimes. Like when I insisted we were having a live Christmas tree. And we’d cut it down ourselves. (Well, more accurately, which Michael would cut down himself while I watched.)

Up until this point, I had precipitated all of these separations. Michael had noticed this pattern. Thankfully, he had yet to take offense to it. And made me feel better about all of it by taking off himself in April. For California. Without a return ticket. Some would see this as a sign of impending doom. I saw it as typical of the life of a traveler–why limit yourself with a return ticket?

To my credit, at least when Michael takes off for a couple months, I go visit him:)

To my credit, at least when Michael takes off for a couple months, I go visit him:)

I could only visit him for one week due to my teaching schedule. He returns today. But in the meantime, it may appear that I’ve one-upped him.

I called him a few weeks ago to tell him that my dear friend Lois (yes, the same one in the earlier pic) finally took me up on my offer to walk the Camino with her if ever she wanted to go. And she wanted to go this September. “Oh–and she wants to do the entire 490 miles. And to walk only ten miles a day. Which means we’ll be gone for two months.”

Michael, of course, told me to go. I wrote him an e-mail the next day. “Two months is a long time to be away from you.” He wrote back, “. . . I know, but this is something you want to do. I say go for it. Life is way too short. You have my blessings.”

I forwarded that message to Lois. She wrote, “I’m in love.”

So am I.

My Super Man

My Super Man

Winter Wonderland (Second Draft)

On my walk this morning, a blog post started forming in my head. I pulled out my phone, turned on the voice recorder, and recorded my thoughts lest I forget them. (Note to future writers: you will forget them. Every time. Unless you write them down or record them.)

A few hours later, I sat down to write. After I finished, I thought, “Haven’t I written some of this already?” So I went to the blog. And yep. I was right.

But it’s a little different. So with apologies for not having written in so long, voila. It’s a start. Next time, all new material. Promise;)

—–

In August of last year, I ended a streak. Prior to that, I had written on this blog every month for over four years. I never set out to write every month. It just kind of happened. Until last August.

What happened last August? I’m not entirely sure. I returned from Europe that month with continued travel planned through the first week of November. Then Michael and I accepted my parent’s invitation to stay in their second home in Schroon Lake for the holidays.

Yes, I'm as cold as I look.

Yes, I’m as cold as I look.

“We’re not staying here past January 1,” I told Michael. Living through an Adirondack winter had never made my list of “Things I Want To Do Once in My Life.” But Michael? He couldn’t believe Schroon Lake–or any lake for that matter–froze to the point that one could drive a truck across it. Ice fishing? Snowmobiling? Below zero temperatures? His eyes lit up–in excitement or madness, I wasn’t sure.

Michael’s desire to stay delighted my father–whose definition of paradise is “when all of your children live within a few hours drive.” Or, better yet, when they all still live in your house.

“We have to heat it in the winter, anyway,” my father said, trying to give me more reasons why this was such a good idea.

“At some point, I need to start working again,” I told Michael. “And trust me–there’s no work for me in Schroon Lake in the winter.” And so it was that a compromise was made. Michael would live in Schroon Lake full-time, and I would become a part-time resident. I found myself a teaching job at the community college in my hometown–three hours south of Schroon Lake. I would live in the vacant apartment over my parent’s garage Monday through Thursday, then drive up to Schroon and spend the weekends with Michael.

Michael bought me Yaks Trax (which you attach to your shoes so you can walk on ice and snow without falling). And he gave me a down jacket for Christmas. I bought snow boots. And hoped I’d never have to wear them after this winter.

Michael plowing Dad's driveway.

Michael plowing snow for the first time in his life.

I witnessed Michael on snowshoes for the first time in his life. And cross-country skis. I left him on his own for ice fishing and snowmobiling–both of which involve sitting in the cold as opposed to moving through it.

Just as winter began to melt, Michael took off for California to spend time with his family. My family and I sent him videos of Spring erupting the week after he left.

In two weeks, I finish teaching. Michael will return from California, and wants to see what a quiet Adirondack town looks like in the height of the season– which, in Schroon Lake, is July 4th.

After that? Well, I’ll leave that for my next post. I promise there will be one. For me, life is much better when  I take time to write about it.

Alone at Last

Dad has made it clear that he prefers his children never live more than a days drive from Hyde Park, NY. Three of his children live within twenty miles. The fourth?  One hundred miles. And then there’s me. Asheville, a twelve hour drive door-to-door, just barely made the cut.

Mom will follow Dad’s proclamation with, “It’s your life. You can live wherever you want.” Dad glares at her. “We just won’t see you as much,” she says.

When I told my parents that Michael and I were going to spend three months in France last summer Dad said, “But you’re coming back, right?”

“Yes, but only because we can’t legally be there longer than that,” I said.

Michael and I considered Europe a test run. Could we live together? Abroad? For a year? I thought we could. He wasn’t so sure. “The only thing that’s stopping us from doing this right now is your family,” he said to me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You like to see them. A lot.”

He was right. No matter where I’ve lived–Boston, Bethesda, Asheville–it’s rare for me to go three months without seeing at least my parents.

When I lived in Boston, I wished sometimes that I lived close enough to drive home for a sibling’s birthday dinner or impromptu barbecue. After six years, I moved back to my hometown, and a few years later realized that yes, I was missing some things living a few hours away, but it wasn’t so much that I had to live there. So again I left. And again I have returned. And again, I’m ready to leave.

My timing, in my opinion, has been excellent. I was here to help my youngest sister move from her condo to her first house. And to care for her dog for five weeks while she got settled in to her new home and her new business. I was there when Liz needed “listeners” for my niece’s elementary school science fair. (FYI: They don’t have “judges” anymore. Just “listeners.”) I was there when Liz’s babysitter canceled and when Grandma needed a ride to the hairdresser.

But soon I filled my days with work–so much that I didn’t have the time to give anymore. Nor time for myself and the things I used to do–like write.

And so it is that, for the first time since I left Asheville, I have an entire weekend to myself.  Michael is in California and I have made my way up to the house in Schroon Lake.

For those of you thinking, “You have solitude–don’t you live alone in the apartment over your parent’s garage?” Ha. I do live there. But solitude is not what one finds living on the Gallo property. But that’s tomorrow’s story.

For today, I’ll ignore the lab reports I have yet to grade, the final exam I have yet to write, the algebra review course I have yet to plan. And I’ll sit in the living room in the house in Schroon Lake, close to the fire, with my laptop open, writing to my heart’s content.

The lawn is now green again, but I did see snowflakes yesterday.

The Schroon Lake house: the lawn is now green again, but I did see snowflakes yesterday.

On Teaching and Learning

Taking A Leap

Anatomy and Physiology was my favorite course in college. After spending a semester elbow deep in human cadavers, I returned the next semester as a lab assistant and began tutoring the subject to underclassmen. So ten years later, when my parents saw an ad in the local paper for an A&P instructor at a private college in our area, I decided to apply. But not without hesitation.

  • I had never before taught at a college.
  • I had never before taught A & P.
  • And did you catch that ten years had transpired since I had anything to do with A&P?

But I had a few things going for me.

  • I have a Masters degree. In a related field (physical therapy).
  • I have a Masters in Education, too. Colleges like people with degrees. The more, the better.
  • I had teaching experience. It was mostly one-on-one and in math, but hey.
  • And it was mere weeks before the semester was due to start. In other words, the college may have been a little desperate.

Thankfully, they only needed a lab instructor. Lab, in my opinion, is much easier and much more fun to teach. Sadly, we would not be dissecting cadavers.

After just two semesters, the department chair tried to convince me to teach the lecture portion as well. “You know I’ve never taught A&P,” I reminded her.

I managed to hold her off another year–until she realized it was only my perfectionism stopping me. “You on your worst day is better than any other option we have,” she said.

Well, if you put it like that . . .

After two-and-a-half years there, I moved on to a community college. I taught one semester and didn’t accept the offer of summer teaching because I had decided to give myself a one year sabbatical. The department chair said “If you ever find yourself back in the area and wanting some work, give me a call.”

The Best Laid Plans . . . 

Surprisingly not cold, snow shoeing on Rich Lake.

Surprisingly not cold, snow shoeing on Rich Lake.

Fast-forward to December, 2014. When we moved to Schroon Lake I’d told Michael I wouldn’t stay past the New Year. It’s too cold. After not working for nearly a year (by choice), I felt like it was time to go back. And there weren’t many options in Schroon Lake.

But Michael was excited to spend the winter here. The concept that the lake actually froze–to the point one could drive across it–fascinated him. He wanted to try ice fishing, and walk outside in below zero temperatures. I had none of these desires. But I had some ideas.

My Natural High

I couldn’t decide what avenue to take next in life, but knew I wanted to teach. Of all the jobs I’ve had (and there have been many), they have all involved teaching in some form. The more I taught, the happier I was. I’ve read that you know you’re doing the work you’re meant to be doing if, at the end of the day, you feel energized. After I finish teaching, I’m on a high–I’m replaying what worked and what didn’t, excited for what I’ve learned, what changes I saw in my students, eager for the next class.

Don’t Burn Bridges

So two days before Christmas, I e-mailed the department chair at the community college at which I taught four years earlier. Like most colleges, she had her spring semester staffed. But, like most colleges, things changed last minute. And so it was that I was given ten hours of courses to teach each week for the spring semester.

“They didn’t even interview you?” Michael asked.

“Well, no, but I worked there once already.”

“For one semester. Four years ago!”

Never mind that I was teaching two courses I had never taught before.

“What?” Michael asked. “You mean you don’t know the subject?”

“I probably know a lot of it. I took the course twenty years ago.” I was hoping the material in the General Biology labs I was due to teach overlapped with the material I taught in A&P. Michael laughed. “This makes me think about my college instructors in a whole new light.”

Thankfully, one look at the syllabus and I realized I would be okay. Two-thirds of the labs were things I taught in my three years as an A&P instructor. And the other labs would not be that hard to brush up on.

Home Again, Home Again

The college, however, is back in my hometown–three hours south of Schroon Lake. But the universe has a way of providing whatever one needs. The apartment over my parent’s garage, after having been inhabited continuously for more than thirty years by my grandmother, then my brother, then my youngest sister, was available.

And so it is that I’ve become a commuter. I don’t teach on Fridays, so on Thursdays I head up to Schroon Lake.

On Sundays, I return to the apartment that was once an oasis in my childhood: the place where I could escape the loud, chaotic life of siblings and parents, and take my spot on Grandma’s floor to attend her lesson on all things baseball as we watched the Mets games together.

Grandma didn’t just teach me about baseball. She taught me how to ask nicely for things. She taught me that everything must be put back in its place after I use it. She taught me that BLT’s are a perfectly acceptable breakfast food (as are Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts).

As I open the two-inch think Biology textbook to prepare for next week’s class, I smile as I realize I’m living in the former home of a woman who taught me things I’d never find in a textbook.

_______

And for those of you wondering: yes,  that list of all the wonderful things Grandma gave us–the one copied onto her tombstone–still sits on the windowsill.