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.

Spanish at the Spa

In an effort to save the money during my sabbatical in 2011 I stopped getting my nails done–at first opting to paint them myself and eventually not painting them at all. I can count on one hand the number of times color has covered my nails since then. ‘Tis a far cry from the spring day in my twenties when I told my mother I couldn’t try on sandals at the shoe store because my nails were, at the time, unpolished and as such didn’t look good in open-toed sandals

This all came back to me when I was looking at the offerings at the Hotel Spa Granada–the hotel where I study Spanish each morning. During my research prior to my trip, at least three sources recommended their spa–not just for their services but also for the price. And so it was that at 4 p.m. today I found myself in a half-underground room near the pool–the only air-conditioned place I’ve seen, let alone been in.

I opted for the special that included a manicure, pedicure and thirty minute massage for a mere twenty-four dollars (and I’m told this is the “expensive” place in town). My masseuse greeted me in Spanish. I explained I spoke a little of her language–that I was learning. We exchanged few words that first half-hour because I was blissfully relaxed as her oiled hands pushed into my tight traps.

It was a good thing we started with the massage, however, because as she ran her hands up and down my back, I thought of three things I could ask her in Spanish. And so it was that when I sat down for my manicure I began what would become a full hour conversation almost entirely in Spanish.

How long have you worked here? Do you live in Granada? Do you work five days per week?

As she filed my fingernails, I learned that Judith has spent four years working at the spa six days per week (from 9am to 6pm). And that problem in America where we study languages in high school and most of us come out of it not being able to speak a word? It happens in Nicaragua, too. Unable to speak English after studying it in high school, Judith took night classes at an English school and is able to practice by speaking to her clients. However, she told me she only speaks English if her client doesn’t know Spanish. For the first time in my life, that wasn’t me.

I told her this was my first time in Nicaragua and in Central American, and that today was my second day of studying Spanish. Judith was impressed with my conversational abilities after my whopping eight hours of one-on-one lessons. And frankly, so was I.

I don’t profess to be a master at learning languages–a mere hour after conversing with Judith, I searched for words at dinner without nearly as much success. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started teaching myself Spanish three weeks ago, it’s that the best practice is to speak–mistakes and all. It also helps to have a patient listener. And lucky for me, in addition to her skills as masseuse and beautician, Judith had that skill as well.

First Days: Granada, Nicaragua

It’s by now a familiar feeling–that combination of exhilaration and anticipation and fear, the near future mostly unknown, that natural high, the feeling like I’m so happy I could burst, that moment I know that this is why I travel. It hits me within the first few minutes of arrival in a new place–which is usually before I’ve even made it out of the airport.

I don’t think I’ll ever replace the fear that hides among all of those other good things. At least not when I travel alone. As I see it, I have a healthy dose of fear–just enough to keep me on my toes but not enough to keep my heels firmly planted in my home country.

Up until two days ago my major travels only took me to Europe and Canada with a few stops around the Caribbean. So Nicaragua is the shock to my system that I expected–but only a small tremor, certainly not an earthquake. I’m not so naive as to be too surprised at what I see.

Granada is thirty miles from the Managua airport (into which I flew). Between the two, we drove by more than a few people using horses with carts as their mode of transit. I saw kids playing in front of houses made of corrugated metal, and understood how easily natural disasters could devastate countries like this. Watching over those children were parents or grandparents, and that got me to thinking of how simple life really is. Or can appear to be. A roof over one’s head. Food to eat. A companion along the journey. Time to play, time to work, time to help others.

But as we arrived in the city, the frenetic pace of life returned. Cars darting around the people on foot or on bicycle. Motorcycles weaving in and out. A one way street of traffic at a stop, for reasons we can’t see beyond the truck in front of us. Tourists in the central square. Horse and carriages for them to see the city. Sidewalks lined with semi-permanent stands– their vendors selling produce, music, shoes, watches, eyeglasses. People walking in the street if the sidewalk is blocked by a vendor.

I’m not a city girl but my solo self is not fearless enough to venture out into the countryside (give me time–this is, after all, only my first time in Central America). But behind the gates and doors along the street lie homes–like the one in which I’m staying–that have courtyards in the middle of them, common rooms open to the outdoors. I wouldn’t know I’m in a city when I’m in my room.

That serenity is briefly interrupted by my walk to Spanish class–down the aforementioned street, which at 7:45 this Saturday morning already had many vendors with their wares on display. Three blocks later, I step through the open doorway into the Hotel Spa Granada, past the bubbling fountain in the middle of the first courtyard, past the Central American art decorating the walls of the second courtyard, into the third courtyard which is occupied by a pool–the far end of which is covered by a sloped Spanish tile roof, under which me and my teacher sit.

Four hours later I head back home for lunch. (Today: spaghetti with a red sweet cream sauce, spiced rice, a fried banana and a salad.) My afternoons are mine to explore or relax.

Yesterday afternoon I joined a tour which began by giving us all bicycles with which to bike to the lake and along its coast, to a boat to take me around the Isletas–tiny islands with large private homes on them, or with a bar catering to tourists surrounded by those same tin homes, laundry hanging outside. (My Spanish teacher today told me no one here has washers or dryers.)

There’s certainly much more to see and do here. But ideally one strikes a balance between touring and resting. This afternoon I rest by writing. Reading. And if the temperature remains at 90, I’ll head into the pool. If clouds set in, maybe a walk. A future pleasantly unknown.

Last Minute Travel? Check.

I booked a flight today. To Nicaragua. I leave on Thursday.

Why? Well, I’m about to start teaching at a college. In New York state. Where it’s cold. The last winter I was here I realized the best way to survive was to head south for a spell. In January. And February. And March, too, if possible. (Thus is why I simply moved south the following year and never imagined spending another winter in the northeast. Never say never.)

The semester starts in fifteen days. So if I wanted to get my January thaw in, it was time to act.

Michael and I flirted with the idea of Grand Cayman. But for various reasons abandoned the idea. “For the money we’d spend going there, I could go learn Spanish,” I said, having recently come across a site I’d found last year for a language school. “I’m more a learning-vacation type, anyway,” I said.

I realize I don’t have to go to a country to learn its language. But if you can, why not? And if that country has ninety degree weather right now, well, sign me up.

Why Spanish? Well, I’ve always thought I’d love to speak another language. Fluently. My French and English allow me to communicate with lots of people when I travel. So when considering which language to work on, my first thought was to improve  my French.

But then I thought of the jobs I’ve wanted that required Spanish fluency. And Spanish is a darn good language to know if living in the US. Or traveling south of its border. Then there’s the Camino. English and French allowed me to speak with a good number of fellow pilgrims as we walked across northwest Spain, but I was often at a loss when it came to speaking to the innkeepers and other locals.

“Oh, but what about Italian?” I thought next. The language of (some of) my ancestors. Oh, how I love Italy. I’ve hit the major cities, the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast. But if I’m going to continue my genealogy research, I’ll soon be headed to the south of that country where English is not spoken nearly as widely.

So I debated. And debated. And then got stricken with paralysis by analysis.

Until I rediscovered Benny, the Irish Polyglot. A polyglot, I learned, is someone who speaks many languages. Benny went from being the guy who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish (after living in Spain for six months) to being able to pick up enough of any language to be conversational–in a few hours.

His advice for how to choose which language to learn  was this: pick the one you want to be able to use next. For me, that’s Spanish. Most every trip I’ve taken abroad is to Europe. And if I had to guess where I’d go the next time I’m over there, I’d bet money I’d be back on the Camino.

Yes, I realize Latin American Spanish is different from Spain Spanish, but my goal at this point is just to be able to converse and be understood. And I’m pretty sure knowing any Spanish is better than none.

So I’m off. In 72 hours I’ll be living with a Nicaraguan family with whom I can barely communicate. I’ll take a few hours worth of Spanish lessons each day. And hopefully, by the time I say good-bye to my hosts, we’ll have had some great conversations. Wish me luck.

Happy Moments in 2014

I read that happiness really comes in moments. Following fellow writer Tara Lynne Goth’s lead, I thought it would be a good exercise to jot down those moments in 2014. I thought I’d get to thirty and then have to check Facebook for reminders of my year. But I got to 56 without any prompting, and it was a happy moment when I realized I could go on and on about this!

So without further ado, some of my many happy moments of 2014–with apologies for those I missed. I can already hear my mother saying, “How could you forget ______?”

  1. Sitting on the chaise lounge on my screened in porch reading a book with my babbling brook as background music.
  2. The moment I walked in the door to our twice yearly writing retreats to be greeted by the smiles and shrieks and hoorays of my fellow writers.
  3. Every moment I sat on the porch talking to Lois, Lynne, and Stacey on aforementioned writing retreats.

    The new  Mrs. Gallo

    4. The new Mrs. Gallo

  4. The look on Bethany’s face when the priest announced that she was officially married to my brother Jeffrey.
  5. Sitting on the patio at Atlanta Bread Company with Michael on the first warm day of spring, just after divesting myself of a pint of blood, having a conversation about joining his family on a Mediterranean cruise and deciding that we’re not the kind of people who hop a plane across the Atlantic and stay for only ten days.
  6. The moment we received the confirmation e-mail that our flights to Europe had been booked.
  7. 10430831_10202366764713313_8342761792980447587_n

    7. Arrival in Santiago

    The moment I finally reached the Cathedral in Santiago–after having walked more wet and lonely days than I imagined I would.

  8. When I showed up at the hostel the first night of this year’s Camino to find the door locked and learning the other woman approaching was also looking to stay there, so I wasn’t alone in trying to figure out how to get into the place.
  9. 9.  Manuel Rocha and me outside his bicycle shop in Esposende, Portugal

    9. Manuel Rocha and me outside his bicycle shop in Esposende, Portugal

    The moments I spent in the bicycle shop in Esposende sitting in comfy chairs talking to the owner (Manuel Rocha) with his employees and customers serving as translators, finally coming into contact with people who not only knew about the coastal route of the Camino Portuguese  but had also ridden it and were instrumental in building its infrastructure.

  10. The moment Manuel gave me a scallop shell for my pack listing all the towns along the Coastal route.

    10. My Camino pack with Manuel's gift attached.

    10. My Camino pack with Manuel’s gift attached.

  11. All the moments I used Google Translate (off-line!) to communicate with the Portuguese.
  12. The moment Michael realized his pack had been stolen and I had recovered it (which was one and the same moment).
  13. The moment I met Michael’s family for the first time in the KK Picasso Hotel in Barcelona.
  14. The moment I figured out how to use Facetime on my new iPad to talk to my parents.
  15. The first time I called my parents from France via Facetime.
  16. Seeing Rémy again—and how all those memories of my first Camino and his kindnesses along the way came flooding back.
  17. Meeting Rémy’s wife Jeanine–a wonderful woman who understands her husband’s need to head off alone for a few weeks each year to walk the French and Spanish countryside with strangers who soon become friends.


    16. and 17. Rémy and Jeanine

  18. The moment I realized that the first time in my life I’d be living with a boyfriend would be three days before he and I took off for three months in France.
  19. Every moment Michael did the dishes.
  20. Every moment in the open-air markets in France.

    Market in Aix-en-Provence

    20. Market in Aix-en-Provence

  21. Every moment spent speaking French–especially on the Camino and with Remy and Jeanine.
  22. Every moment spent in Jane Henriques’ art class in Ceret, France.
  23. Every moment I opened the shutters in our apartments to see a French city street below me.
  24. 23. View from one of our apartments in Aix-en-Provence

    23. View from one of our apartments in Aix-en-Provence

    Every moment I held the warm bread from the boulangerie in Aix.

  25. Every moment I ate the bread from the boulangerie in Aix.
  26. Moments spent sitting with Michael watching the people go by in Aix, Vannes, Ceret, Coulliere.
  27. The moment we saw Ben in the Asheville Airport–knowing we were finally home.
  28. The moments I spent talking to Laura and Chris via Skype while they sat in Laura’s hospital room.
  29. The first moment I stood in front of a class of foreign students and began teaching them English.
  30. The moment I learned the concept of student-centered learning and realized the next time I teach me and my students will have an even better experience.
  31. The moments each morning when I wake up to a man who is happy, and happy to see I’m awake (because he wakes up hours before I do).
  32. The moment I realized my boyfriend was bringing more bags to France than I was (a little selfish, I know).
  33. The moment Chris and Esther offered their home to Michael and I for the months after we returned to Asheville.
  34. The moment I realized Meg was going to get to live a dream she had told me about years ago.
  35. Every moment Ava and Bella screamed “Aunt Becky!” and ran to hug me.
  36. The moment I finished transcribing hours of interviews I did with my grandmother quite a few years ago.
  37. Every moment spent cooking with Mom the day before Thanksgiving.
  38. The moment Michael played the first few notes on his trumpet in the businesses in Schroon Lake for the Olde Time Christmas–the look on everyone’s faces as they stopped to listen.
  39. The moment Michael showed me the homemade Chocolate Creme Pie he made me for my birthday (which he managed to get to Montreal all in one piece).


    39. and 40.

  40. The moment Michael told me how he stopped at a Dunkin Donuts on his way to Montreal with the aforementioned pie and asked them to write “Happy Birthday Boo Boo” on it.
  41. The moment I opened the package delivered to me on my birthday and found it was macaroons from Michael. (No–not the coconut ones. If you don’t know which ones I’m talking about, OMG–go find some and you will never be the same.)
  42. The moment I tried Michael’s mushroom risotto for the first time (and every moment I ate it thereafter).
  43. The moment Dad realized I bought a TV so that when he visited he could watch the Olympics. (It was the smallest TV the poor man has probably ever seen, and was returned a couple weeks later despite Dad assuring me that I’d get used to having one.)


    43. The TV was so small he couldn’t see it from the couch. So he had to move a chair closer.

  44. Every moment Michael made me laugh–and there are lots of them.

    I may  one day need counseling for how to live with a man who is always so darn happy.

    44. I may one day need counseling for how to live with a man who is always so darn happy.

  45. Every moment Michael made my mother laugh.
  46. The moments Jessica called to ask for my advice.
  47. Every moment I look at the birthday card from Jessica that sits on my dresser, the front of which says, “Thanks for being born.” Of course, I had no control over my birth, but still, I like the sentiment.
  48. Every moment someone says, “That Michael–he’s a good catch.” And I realize they’ve only seen a small part of what makes him wonderful.
  49. Every moment I spent writing.
  50. Every moment I spent teaching. Especially the moment at the end of a two hour tutoring session with a first-time student when she said how helpful I was and gave me a big hug.
  51. Hiking with Jan.
  52. Having lunch with Bernice Ende— a woman riding her horses back and forth across America whom I read about in the local paper and e-mailed to say, “You sound awesome. I want to meet you.” And she said yes.
  53. The moment Liz called to ask me to crochet her some more wreaths for the knobs on her kitchen cabinets. The irony of the fact that the sister who used to call me “Granny” whenever I crocheted now calls me to request such things is not lost on me.
  54. Every moment spent in a class with Barbara Waterhouse.
  55. Every moment spent in a Celebration at the Center for Spiritual Living in Asheville.
  56. Every moment spent catching up with friends and family after my return from Europe.
  57. Every moment someone commented on a blog post I wrote. Brings a smile to my face every time.

Oh wow. I could go on forever here. Thanks Tara Lynne for the idea. What a great way to start a Tuesday.