San Antón (Part 1)

I knew the Camino Lois and I set out to walk in the Fall of 2015 would be much different from the one I walked in the Spring of 2012. We’d be walking the same 500+ miles along the exact route I’d walked three years earlier, but I was alone that first time. And those of you that have traveled alone and with others know how vast the differences in those two experiences can be.

Lois, 73, requested that we sleep in places that provided sheets and towels whenever possible. Thankfully, though, she was not opposed to sleeping in the albergues (aka hostels) on occasion. “I want to experience it all,” she told me.

“Oh, good,” I said. “Because there’s one place I want to stay that I didn’t stay the first time.”

“Sure,” she said.

“It’s in the ruins of an old church. But it has no electricity. And no hot water. And definitely no sheets or towels. So if you want to stay in a different place the night I stay there, it’s fine with me.”

“Nope. That sounds like quite an experience,” she said. “I’m only doing this once, kid. And like I said, I want to experience it all.”

So on September 25, 2015–our 20th day on the Camino de Santiago–Lois and I left the town of Hontanas at 8:30 AM for the walk to San Antón. The albergue has only 12 beds–given out on a first come, first served basis–and I wanted to get there as early as possible in order to secure two of them.

Leaving Hontanas (Photo courtesy of Lisa Reagan)

Lois and I leaving Hontanas (Photo courtesy of Lisa Reagan)

An hour-and-a-half later we saw the arch stretching over the Camino.

Approaching the ruins an San Antón on the Camino de Santiago.

Approaching the ruins an San Antón on the Camino de Santiago.

The green wooden door that welcomed me inside the ruins three years earlier was now closed, but the sign pointing out the albergue around the corner was still there. So we veered around the side of the ruins, and the next sign we saw–taped to the the tall black iron gate–nearly broke my heart. “Completo.” Full.

I did my best to hold back my tears. “Let’s at least go in and see it,” Lois said.Entering the ruins

We walked through the gate and the magic I remembered from three years earlier was still there. The 16th century stone walls towered above us, gold against the blue morning sky. Dark blue sheets billowed on a clothesline. Tau crosses were carved into the top of the arched windows, now devoid of glass. We stood in awe.img_2383

 

“I get why you like this place,” Lois said quietly. I could only nod, afraid if I said anything the tears would fall.

“Welcome,” said a woman in accented English. Sylvia, we learned, was from South Africa. She was serving as a hospitalera (volunteer) welcoming pilgrim visitors and those who wanted to spend the night in these ruins. After listening to her give a little history of San Antón and its albergue I asked her, “How early do you have to get here to get a bed?”

“Oh, it depends on the day,” she said. “Right now we don’t have anyone booked for tonight.” I looked at her, my face screwed up in puzzlement.

“But the sign on the door . . .” said Lois. “It says you’re full.”

“Oh!” She rushed away from us calling out, “that was last night. We forgot to take it down this morning!”

I followed her, my heart racing. “You mean we can stay here tonight?”

“Of course! Now you know we have no hot water? And no electricity.”

“Yes. That’s part of the reason I want to stay,” I said.

She took us into the kitchen–a cement slab around which had been built cement walls, supporting a Spanish tile-covered roof. A long table ran down the middle, its center dotted with dark wine bottles holding white candles. A small propane stove filled the back corner, a sink next to it.

Sylvia pulled out the registration book, and with a big smile I handed her my credential. Little did Lois and I know this would not be our last night in San Antón.

Sylvia registering (a much happier) Rebecca in the kitchen at San Antón.

Sylvia registering (a much happier) Rebecca in the kitchen at San Antón.

 

Another Surprise

Several weeks ago Michael began researching hot tubs. “Just because we rent doesn’t mean we can’t have the things we want,” he told me. Even if such purchases require us to reinforce and extend the deck.

So a few days ago when I walked out onto the front porch and saw an outdoor heating lamp, I just rolled my eyes and went back inside. Michael had mentioned this potential addition to our life a few days earlier. Little did I know it was bought for a particular occasion: a large party Michael was having. Completely unbeknownst to me. In honor of my upcoming fortieth birthday.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary: My parents calling to say they wanted to come down to visit, Michael making plans for dinner and a show while they’re here, Michael hatching a plan for a male bonding adventure with my dad–helping reinforce the aforementioned deck–while Mom and I take off shopping.

So when Mom and I turned onto Shelburne Drive, I didn’t think anything amiss. I could’ve sworn a sign we passed said my name and the word “Compostela”, but that didn’t make sense. And all those balloons and cars? Well, the neighbors stopped by weeks ago inviting us to their fall party. And when I turned into the driveway and saw a fire pit that wasn’t there when we left? Well, by now I’m used to new purchases showing up around the house without my knowledge.

But then I saw Michael on the front stairs, and I read the large sign hanging from our deck–a sign that announced to anyone walking by exactly how old I will be in two weeks time. And just to be clear you knew who they were talking about, my picture was on it.

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But behind that sign is what brought tears to my eyes: a crowd of people larger than I would have ever expected to see at our house–because Michael always says it’s too small to host a large party. Turns out he was wrong.

There were people there from every part of my Asheville life:

  • David and Deanne, the wonderful couple in whose house I lived for seven months when I moved here.
  • Their son Fletcher who had no problem sharing his parents with me.
  • Mark and Linda, Lauren and John, Barbara, Chris S and Chris Y, with whom I’ve spent countless Tuesday mornings recalling Camino memories.
  • Barry and Margaret, Michael’s best friends who, four years ago, convinced Michael to move to Asheville.
  • Rick and Pamela, a couple Michael and I met while hanging out at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar a couple years ago (because talking to strangers is a perfectly normal way to meet people here).
  • And then all my friends from the Asheville Hiking Group (and the friends they’ve since brought into their lives, and now into  mine): Brooke, Julie, Sarah, Ashely, Ruth, Jewel, Anna, Jeff, Kim, Doug, Tracey. And Mike The Hiker. Who received that nickname when I lived with David and Deanne so they could distinguish him from “Dr. Mike”– and (eventually) Michael–when I sat around at their dinner table telling stories of my Asheville adventures.

On my 36th birthday, many of these same hiking groups friends sat around the table as Mike The Hiker told us about the woman he’d just met.  Three years later, she became his wife. And thank God for that. Because I understand Michael decided, just a couple weeks ago, that he needed some reinforcements for party preparations. And he called Mike and Ashley. Mike, who had his ACL replaced a couple weeks ago, and Ashley, whose first experience with our hiking group friends was an 8 mile hike that turned into 14. They didn’t hesitate.

“In your brace?” I said when I saw Mike on my deck. “You came and helped when you just had surgery?!”

“Oh, this was so entertaining!” he told me. “Watching Michael and your father trying to put that fire pit together, and then when the sign fell off the deck, and then . . .” My mother wished she had hired a videographer to catch all mayhem that she knew would ensue because Michael chose to have my dad stay back and help instead of her.

“We needed you out of the house for five hours,” Michael told me. “And you can’t survive alone with your dad for that long.”

“Oh, you should have seen Michael this morning,” my mother said. “He didn’t want you too hungry or tired because then you’d be crabby. But he didn’t want you too full because we were having all this food. And he didn’t want us to go shopping too early because then we’d get back too early.”

 

Well, he pulled it off. I arrived neither hungry, nor full, nor crabby, and spent the rest of the evening marveling at the event Michael (and Mike, Ashley, my parents, and friends) had all managed to put together.

Postscript: The heating lamp still stands on our front deck. Reinforcing the back deck? A hoax. The hot tub? Not a hoax. It will arrive in two weeks.

A New Year’s Valentine’s Day Gift (How We Met: Part 4)

My second date with Michael (or the third, depending on which of us you’re talking to) was one of those marathon dates newly-dating people do. We began mid-morning with a trip to Good Will to find sweaters for an Ugly Sweater Christmas party that night. After fifteen minutes, we had our choices. We put them on the scale (this Good Will Outlet charges by the pound) and Michael plopped down $3.18.

Bags in hand, we headed to a costume shop to hunt down matching costumes for a themed New Year’s Eve party the following weekend. Michael wouldn’t let me pay for those either.

New Year's Costumes

New Year’s Costumes

Hungry and not yet sick of each other, we shared a late lunch at my favorite restaurant downtown, and then took a walk around Asheville.

During the walk, Michael asked if I collected any art.

“Not really, but I’d like to start. I actually have my eye on a piece in a gallery here.”

“Oh yeah? What is it?”

“It’s a ceramic boat. But on top of it is a scene that looks straight out of the Camino. There’s an old church, a path running in front of it, a little bridge crossing a creek. And you know what’s really funny? The piece is called, ‘The Pilgrimage.'”

Why I hadn’t bought it yet, I wasn’t sure. Or so I told him.

The following weekend Michael came to pick me up for the first of two New Year’s Eve parties we would be attending. I opened the door to my back porch to find him standing with a wrapped box in his hands. This was the third time he’d brought me a wrapped gift in as many weeks.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“Well, it’s your Valentine’s Day gift, but I couldn’t wait that long to give it to you.”

Valentine’s Day was not even on my radar, let alone the thought that Michael and I would still be dating by then. Not that I didn’t think it possible, I just wasn’t in the habit of planning six weeks into the future when you’ve been dating for less than four.

I invited him in. He put the box down a table while I finished getting ready for the party. I opened the door to leave and he said, “You’re not going to open it?”

“I thought you said it was for Valentine’s Day.” 

“It is. But I want you to open it now.” I peeled off the paper, opened the box, and moved tissue paper aside to find The Pilgrimage. I stood there speechless, mouth agape, looking from him to the box and back again.

“I can’t believe you did this,” I said to him. “How did you . . . I didn’t even tell you what gallery it was in.”

“Yeah, that took some searching.”

In the car on the way to the party, Michael told me how he remembered the name of the piece, and what it looked like, so he Googled it.  Eventually he found a blog post I had written about it–a blog post that included the name of the gallery. 

He went to the gallery, but didn’t see it. When he then asked, he was told it had been moved into storage downstairs, so they went to get it for him. He plopped down his credit card and, four hundred dollars later, it was his. And now mine.

The Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage

And that’s why I hadn’t bought it yet. I couldn’t justify spending that much money on myself. All in one place. And on just one thing–a thing that served no other purpose than to remind me of one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  Michael, however, thought I was worth it.

A Tale of Two First Dates (How We Met: Part 3)

Michael had heard about the Gingerbread House competition that takes place every year at the Grove Park Inn, but had never been. When he told me this–on the night of my 37th birthday party–I suggested we go together.

The gingerbread competition began in 1992 and now has over 200 entries. All of them 100% edible. You may have seen the winners on Good Morning America. Or seen the whole thing profiled on the Food Network. And it was all happening at a historic hotel just a ten minute walk from my log cabin. So on December 7, Michael met me at my house, and we walked up Macon Ave to the Grove Park Inn.

After touring two floors full of gingerbread, Michael suggested we get something to eat. After a light lunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the mountains, we meandered back to my house and parted ways outside my back door. I considered this our first date. Michael, I would later learn, did not.

Not all entries are actually houses . . . Gingerbread piano anyone?

Not all entries are actually houses . . . Gingerbread piano anyone?

Four days later I came home from work to find a gift-wrapped box on my screened-in porch. I was stopping home only briefly before I headed off to a writing class, so I opened it quickly and was surprised to find a foil-wrapped pumpkin bread inside. I called my friend Mike (not to be confused with Michael), who assured me that any man who hand delivers a gift-wrapped anything to a woman’s house is definitely interested in her.

Michael next invited me to dinner at his house. I called my mother. “I’m being courted by a man who can cook!” 

Michael and I talked on the phone a few days before that dinner date. He told me he was good at the “middle stuff” when it came to dating, but not good at the beginning part.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I need a sign. A sign that she’s interested in me.”

“Like what kind of sign?”

“Preferably a banner that says, ‘Michael, I’m interested in you.’ Or just give me a kiss.”

“Well, Michael Weston, I am very interested in you,” I said.

“I would have preferred the second option,” he said.

And so it is that we come to Michael’s definition of a first date: the first time he sees a girl after she has given him “the sign.” Thus, when I showed up at his house on December 20, according to Michael, it was our first date.

Michael answered the door wearing an apron. I was dating a man who owned an apron! I entered his house through the dining room, where the table was set with candles and wine. He led me into the kitchen where he was cooking–in a wok. 

We sat down to dinner and then he got up again, came over to my seat, kissed me, and said, “Okay, now that that’s taken care of . . . ”

After dinner, Michael pointed out gifts for me under his Christmas tree. I didn’t know I was supposed to exchange Christmas gifts. With a Jewish man. Let alone on our first date. I opened a box of See’s chocolates (which I’d never heard of until I met Michael), a book of short stories by Alice Munro (he knew I was a writer), and the travel book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel (because after knowing me for just five minutes, everyone knows I love to travel. For extended periods of time.)

His gifts were definitely a hit. But it was New Year’s Eve when Michael gave me my biggest surprise. . .

The Way I See It . . . (LWM Part 5)

Michael: Is that a new necklace?

Me: No, I just don’t wear it much.

Michael: Oh. That’s why I haven’t seen it before.

Me: You saw it this morning. Remember I asked you to help me put it on?

Michael: Yeah, but that was the back of it.

Me: But then I turned around and you said I looked pretty.

Michael: I meant you. You looked pretty. I wasn’t looking at the necklace.

 

 

How We Met (The Second Time)

Michael and I met on August 12, 2012, then didn’t speak to each other for 15 months. Attempts were made but successes were few.

  • We arranged (via MeetUp.com) to car pool to a hike but he canceled the night before.
  • He then wrote (via Facebook) that we should get together otherwise. I told him to let me know his schedule, then never heard from him.
  • Three months later (again via Facebook) I wished him a Happy Birthday. “Hope you’re doing something fun,” I wrote. He replied: Thank you. It was fun.

I got the hint. Though it didn’t really matter to me. In my first few months in Asheville finding men to date was not a problem. It was during this time that I learned how complicated life can get when you schedule three dates with three different men all in the same week. It was a feat I would never attempt again, nor recommend.

So I went on with my life, writing blog posts almost weekly for BustedHalo.com. In August, 2013 I published a post titled, “Motherhood? No Thanks.” And within 24 hours Michael, whom I had not had contact with in nine months, wrote a response. He said he felt the same way–he doesn’t want children either–but that men don’t face the pressure that women do on the subject. Like me, he loves having nieces and a nephew. Then added, “I’m living in Central America right now. Could I do that with kids? Sure. But . . . ”

Whoa. Wait. What? Living in Central America? And he doesn’t want children? The heavens opened. A man who doesn’t want children and likes not just to travel but to live in other countries? I immediately went to his Facebook page to see what this was all about. There I found pictures of him on an island, then in scuba gear under water.

I wrote him a note thanking him for sharing a male perspective, and complimented him on his photographs. He said he’d be back in Asheville in October and was “sure we’ll bump into each other.”

So I invited him to my birthday party. I told guests not to bring gifts for me. Unless he’s between 30 and 50, single, doesn’t want children . . .

In the days before the party, Michael posted pictures on Facebook of desserts he had made in the past. “Lucky for you, you know someone with a birthday coming up,” I wrote.

He showed up with a homemade key lime pie. And a flugelhorn, on which he played Happy Birthday. I was impressed, but a little clueless. Luckily, the husband of a college friend was in town and at the party. When it was over he said, “Michael Weston. That’s your guy.” Turns out he was right.

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Michael playing me Happy Birthday. Note he’s standing in front of a vision board I created, on which you can see pictured the man I wanted to meet. Thanks to Kristin Fellows, who captured this moment on film. And thanks to Russ Savage for clueing me in.

 

 

Wicked Plants And How We Met

“Thinking about going here to celebrate our anniversary,” Michael texted me. I didn’t have time to read the rest of his message, so was left wondering what anniversary he was talking about. Up until today, we have never celebrated the anniversary of anything. Probably because we don’t even agree on when it was we actually started dating. That, and the fact that–in my opinion– anniversaries are something only married people celebrate.

A little while later, I read the rest of Michael’s message, which was simply a link to a picture posted on Facebook four years ago today. Michael isn’t in the picture. He’s the one behind the camera. But there I am, in front of the information desk at the North Carolina Arboretum, in a line up with the other people who had opted to attend the Meet-up that night.

Four Years Ago Today . . .

Four Years Ago . . .

“Oh, that anniversary,” I thought. The anniversary of the day we first met.

And so it was that Michael picked me up at work and together we drove over to the Arboretum. And that’s when I realized I had never before written the story of how we met.

So voila.

MeetUp.com was created shortly after 9/11 —  it’s a website that physically brings real live people together. You join the site, tell them the things you like doing, and they tell you what groups there are in your area that might be of interest to you. Writing. Pugs. Beer. Hiking. There’s a group for that. French conversation. Board Games. Reiki. There’s a group for that, too. Right here in Asheville. Not only that–this group actually meets. In person. Nearby. Remember when we used to meet people in person?

I first moved to Asheville just six weeks after finishing my first Camino (a 500-mile pilgrimage walk across Spain). Prior to that, I’d never considered myself a hiker. And honestly, I still wasn’t sure I qualified. But I was new to this city. And loved meeting people. And loved talking about the Camino. So I joined the Asheville Hiking Group, hoping to meet some like-minded souls.

Michael joined too. But we didn’t meet on a hike.

There was an exhibit on Wicked Plants at the Arboretum. The exhibit was inspired by a book of the same name, whose subtitle is, “The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.” Having lived in Asheville a mere two weeks at that point, I would have never known about the exhibit had it not been for Sammy–one of the hike leaders of the Asheville Hiking Group. He put out an invitation saying, “If I don’t set it up as a Meetup, I’ll probably never get around to seeing it before it closes.” I signed up to go. So did Michael.

There is a fee to enter the Arboretum. But those that have yearly passes can take an entire car load in. So we all met in a nearby supermarket parking lot and got into the cars of those with passes. Michael and I were in the same car, but apparently I didn’t make much of an impression–he has no recollection of that car ride.

Being the social butterfly that I am, I talked to quite a few people while walking around that exhibit–which was just as fascinating as it sounds. We walked into what looked like a haunted Victorian house. Home of the Nightshade “family.” The dining room table was set for a banquet–with a feast of foods that could cause illness or death. Or were at one time thought to do so. The bathroom was filled with stinky plants–warding off humans, but attracting pollinators. There were drawers to open, cabinets to peer into, and mysteries to solve.

I have since learned that Michael and I have very different museum-viewing habits. I could spend hours in a place Michael can cruise through in twenty minutes. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that today, upon reliving our visit there, Michael told me we didn’t talk to each other until the last portion of the exhibit–the greenhouse. He had probably been standing there for a while waiting for everyone else to finish.

So in the greenhouse, we talked. Found out we lived near each other. Decided we should car pool to future hikes together. He sent me a friend request on Facebook, which I accepted. Then we didn’t see each other, let alone speak to each other, for 15 months.

. . . And Today. How we got from then to now is a story for another day!

Happy Anniversary to Us . . .