Best Moments of 2017

It’s that time of year again. Here goes, off the top of my head, and therefore in no particular order.

  1. The moment Michael proposed. Of course.  
  2. The moment I tried on my first wedding dress. I detest shopping. So my mother came down and we booked an appointment. In an hour I had tried on thirty dresses. The women at Candler Budget Bridal made it not painful at all! And, in fact, I got teary when I saw myself in the first one. Mom and I narrowed it to three. Two weeks later, I bought one — from the same place, but not one of those three!
  3. The moment I decided to end my fourth Camino. I didn’t know it was a good moment at the time. But aren’t some of your best moments only deemed such in hindsight? I had planned on walking another week. But 90 degree temps are not my ideal walking conditions. 
  4. The moment I saw San Antón in the distance. I had seen it twice before, but I don’t think it’ll ever get old. 
  5. The moment I saw my co-hospitalero (volunteer) at San Antón sitting at the picnic table writing in his journal. I’d met Stefano just two hours earlier, and we were to work together over the next eighteen days. I had never imagined I would be paired with someone with whom I wouldn’t get along. But I never imagined I’d be paired with someone who complemented me so well.
  6. Speaking of compliments, every moment Stefano paid me one. On my cooking. On my teaching. On my patience with pilgrims. And a million other things. Living without water and electricity is a hell of a lot easier when you have someone flooding you with compliments multiple times each day!
  7. The moment my school year was over. Not because it was over, but because it was my first year teaching full-time, and darn it, I did a pretty damn good job. Allow me to drop all modesty for a moment. The summer before I’d walked into a classroom stuffed to the gills with twenty years worth of stuff teachers thought worthwhile to save, yet no one deemed worth throwing out. That was the first of many challenges to overcome. I called in help when I needed it (in the form of other teachers, administrators, and my mother), cried plenty, watched a great many things go better than I thought they would, and long before the year was over, I was thinking, “Wow. I really like this.” (For those of you keeping track, when I finish my second year in May, this will become the longest full-time job I’ve ever held!)
  8. The moment I was in France and a paycheck got deposited in my account. This was the first summer  1) I didn’t have to quit a job in order to travel 2) I got paid while I was traveling and 3) I didn’t have to look for a job when I got back.
  9. The moment I realized Angela Watson’s calendar program and productivity course were answer to my prayers. Thanks to her, four months after I began my first year teaching, I was leaving my job every day on time, and didn’t have to show up early to get things done. Which, if you talk to most teachers, is unheard of in one’s first year. (And sadly, for some teachers, in their second, third, and tenth years as well!)
  10. The moment I walked into our house after the closing. I had only seen it twice before then, and both times it had someone else’s “stuff” in it. Now I walked into a empty canvas and thought, “Wow. This is a pretty darn good place to start!”
  11. The moment we booked our wedding venue. Five days after we got engaged, no less. I don’t much care for all this hullabaloo around weddings and wanted the stress of booking a place off my plate. Thankfully, the second place we saw was the one for us. 
  12. The moment I told Mom and Dad Michael proposed. They were as shocked as I was — because Michael did not ask my father first. Which reminds me of a Scandinavian woman I walked with on my first Camino who, when I mentioned this custom, said, “Wait. You really do that? I thought that was only in American movies.”
  13. In my classroom, the moment I re-used something I’d laminated last year. I thought, “Last year, I had to find this activity, print it, laminate it, cut it, code it, and figure out where to store it. This year, I just get to pull it out and use it!”
  14. The moment I told my students I was engaged. I give my students a quiz the first day of school. I love seeing their faces fall when I announce it. I wait a moment, then tell them it’s a quiz about me. One of this year’s questions was, “Why is the date June 16, 2018 important to Miss Gallo?” (Answer: c) It’s the day she’s getting married.)
  15. The moments spent meeting Michael’s cousins for the first time. What delightful people! And I get to see them all again in June:) (For the record, Michael’s immediate family are wonderful as well, but this wasn’t my first time meeting them, so I knew that already!)
  16. The moments spent laughing with Michael. 
  17. The moments spend laughing with friends. Especially at knitting nights. Which are really just an excuse for women to get together and talk (ideally with some snacks and wine in hand).
  18. The moments spent laughing with my students. One that stands out: Student says, “Can I ask a question? Two questions, actually.” Me: “Nope. Not two. You only get to ask one today.” Silence descends. Students stare at me, mouths agape, not knowing what to make of this. I wait a few more seconds, then I laugh. The tension is lifted and they all join in.
  19. The moments spent listening to Michael tell me of his ring-buying process. It was so funny to me, I wrote an entire blog post about it. Click here:)
  20. The Monday I came home to work to see all the furniture set up in my new house, all our dishes put away in the kitchen, and neighbors there to welcome us with dinner. And not just dinner, but plates, napkins, utensils, drinks, and dessert! All I can say is: I’m one lucky girl. How many other people have parents who WANT to come help you move? And a fiancé who coordinates it all while you’re at work?
  21. The moment Michael and I walked into our new home after being away for Christmas. “It’s great to be home,” has taken on a whole new meaning.
  22. Every moment, when I was in Europe, that someone commented on a blog post or picture. Yes, I love traveling. But on your own, away from anyone you know, it can certainly get lonely. And my spirits perked right up every time I read words from people I’d known for years, or just days. 

As is the case every year when I write this post, I could go on and on and on. And on. But I’ve got students to teach tomorrow. And you’ve already read 1000 words of mine. So I’ll stop there.

Here’s to hoping all of you have many moments in 2018. Moments of joy, moments of surprise, moments of hope, moments of peace. Thank you for taking time from your days to read about mine.

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 on 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.

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 . . .

For the next part of our story, click here.

Best Moments of 2015

I did this last year, and had such a good time doing it, I thought I’d do it again. So voila: the best moment of 2015 (in no particular order). With apologies for everything I forgot. It was an eventful year!

  1. The moment I booked my flight to Nicaragua. (That was a Monday. I left three days later.)
  2. The many moments I spent speaking Spanish to my masseuse/nail tech in Nicaragua–a mere two days after I started learning the language.
  3. Every moment I spent speaking Spanish in Spain–on my first Camino I promised myself the next time I walk the Camino, I’m going to know Spanish so I can talk to the locals. Mission accomplished.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

  4. Every moment I conversed in French on the Camino. Especially the night I stayed in San Anton–when everyone else staying there could speak English except one man. He only spoke French. I conversed with him the whole afternoon, and translated the dinner conversation for him that night. Which brings me to:
  5. The moment someone at the dinner table in San Anton thanked me for playing translator, and asked me to, “tell him I’ve seen him many times on the Camino and am happy to finally know some things about him.”

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn't just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi--"The King") left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn’t just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi–“The King”) left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

  6. Every moment a fellow Camino pilgrim shared their story with me.
  7. The moment I saw Lois’ face when we got to Muxia–having walked over 500 miles together over the previous 47 days.

     Age: 73 Miles: 500+

    Age: 73. Miles: 500+.

  8. The moment I saw Michael again, after having been separated from him for three months (due to aforementioned Camino.)

    Together again:)

    Together again:)

  9. Every moment Lois’ daughter, other family, and friends thanked me for accompanying her on her Camino.
  10. Every moment Lois thanked me for accompanying her on the Camino. Sometimes she thanked me with words, sometimes by paying for things, sometimes simply with a smile.
  11. Every moment Lois and I strolled into a town and found our new friends Lisa and Michael seated at a table, drinks in one hand, cigarettes in the other, and big welcomes for us.

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

  12. Every moment spent on a ride in Disneyland with Michael. I can’t remember the last time I went on roller coasters. I’ll need more of that in 2016.
  13. The moment I finished the last stitch on the mermaid blankets for my nieces–three days before Christmas. I’ve never finished that early. IMG_4097
  14. The moment my nieces opened their aforementioned Christmas gifts. IMG_4096
  15. Every moment spent watching Michael play his trumpet at open mic nights at Witherbee’s in Schroon Lake.
  16. Every moment I learned one of my students did well on a test or final exam.
  17. The moments Michael spent telling me about the houses he was scoping out for us in Asheville (while I was in Spain).
  18. The moments Lois and I spent laughing over the videos Michael sent of the aforementioned places. (The places weren’t funny–but Michael’s commentary was.)
  19. Every moment I saw someone comment on a Camino picture I posted on Facebook.
  20. The moment I read Lois’ e-mail that said she was taking me up on my offer to accompany her on a Camino. And that, as a thank you, she’d gift me $1000. And not only that– that she preferred sheets and towels to sleeping bags and microtowels, so anytime we could get a private room (as opposed to a hostel), she’d pay for it.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino--VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino–VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

  21. Every moment Lois pulled out her credit card to pay for aforementioned rooms. It was like she was saying, “Thank you,” all over again, and a great reminder to me to accept the generosity of others.
  22. Every moment Lois and I opened the door to our private room, unsure if this one would be worse or better than the last.
  23. The moments Lois and I spent laughing about our bright orange room with a double bed pushed into one side and barely enough room to walk or put our packs down. “It will make us appreciate the good rooms that much more,” said Lois. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that room!)
  24. Every moment on the Camino when I fretted over something not going well and Lois said, “This is what makes it a good story.”
  25. Every moment I slid my tiny daypack onto my shoulders. Everyone should walk the Camino at least one day without their pack. Just for the joy.IMG_0962
  26. The moment a woman walked up to me on the Camino and said, “You’re Rebecca!” How’d she know? She read all my blogs about my first Camino, and knew I was doing it again. Why was she there? In part because of me. Apparently she e-mailed me a couple years ago and asked how to know when she’d be ready to walk the Camino. I told her to just book the darn ticket. And there she was:)

    Because who wouldn't want to walk across the Pyrenees?

    Because who wouldn’t want to walk across the Pyrenees?

  27. The moment not one, but two other women told me they’d also read my blog posts in preparation for their Camino.
  28. The moment Lois and I touched down in Ireland and said to each other, “Oh thank God! We’re back in a country where everyone speaks English!”
  29. The moment I got my first taste of real Irish butter. OMG. Butter will never be the same. I will never be the same.
  30. Every moment I bit into yet another delicious piece of Spanish bread. What I wouldn’t give for an American bakery that could produce bread like the Europeans.
  31. The moment I walked into the home Michael found for us–it was perfect. And I didn’t have to do a stitch of searching, calling, setting up appointments, or walk-throughs.
  32. The moment the neighbor girl opened her door, saw my bloodied palms, and took me in. (I had scraped the skin off both palms trying to keep Meg’s dog from chasing some wildlife. Note to self: when a dog starts running, let go of the leash.)
  33. The moment my sister Liz answered my call and said yes, she would stop what she was doing to take me to the doctor. (I couldn’t drive because of aforementioned missing skin.)

    He's cute--but strong enough to pull me over.

    He’s cute–but strong enough to pull me over.

  34. Every moment I stopped in to Mary Jane’s and saw my youngest sister Meg there–in her element: A busy but proud new business owner.
  35. Every moment spent eating the delicious veggie burgers at Mary Jane’s. (Their first ingredient is mushrooms. Need I say more?)
  36. Every moment spent making brownies for Meg’s new business.
  37. Every moment spent helping Meg move (out of her condo, temporarily into my parent’s house, then into her new home.)
  38. Every moment the former owners of Mary Jane’s  said how impressed they were with how everyone in the family showed up to help Meg. Yeah. We Gallo’s are good like that.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of whom live within 15 miles of each other.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of these people live within 15 miles of each other. If you’re in Dutchess County and need a Gallo, there’s probably one in shouting distance.

  39. The moment I learned I was accepted to a week-long all-expense-paid writing workshop.
  40. Every moment spent on our writing retreat in Franklin. Writing. Drinking good wine and eating good food with wonderful friends. All while being completely snowed in.
  41. The moment the guy showed up to drive me up the mountain to the writing retreat (which was preceded by moments spent crying wondering how I would climb up the snow-covered mile-long driveway with all my stuff, as it was clear my VW Bug wasn’t going to get me up there.).
  42. Every moment my parents helped to make our new house into a home. (Dear Mom and Dad: Sorry I was so stressed out and snarky during all that. Note to self: No more than two big box stores in one day. Note to self: Remember to down a glass of wine before getting in a car driven by Dad.)
  43. The look on Dad’s face the moment Michael sent him off to pick up a craigslist kitchen island saying, “Oh–the woman has a retired police dog. And he’s not friendly. So don’t get out of the car until you call her, so she can bring him in.”
  44. The moment I met two Irishmen on the road outside the ruins at San Anton. When they told me their 85-year-old father was behind them with another brother we all waited for them. When they arrived, I asked the father to stop in for a glass of water. He hesitated until I added, “with a pretty young woman.” It worked.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

  45. Every time I booked a flight with frequent flyer miles –most of which I earned while on the ground. (My flights to Nicaragua, to my writing retreat, to California–twice, and flights for Mom, Dad, and Meg to Miami.)
  46. Every moment I told Lois something about the Camino and she said, “Now how would I know that if you weren’t here? It’s a good think you’re with me!”
  47. The moment I heard my brother and sister-in-law were headed to Paris to celebrate their first anniversary. And the moment, after booking their first AirBnB place, Jeffrey said to me, “I thought it would be a lot more expensive to spend a week in Paris.” I wanted to scream, “Duh!?! What have I been saying for years??!” but instead I said, “Yep.” And was thrilled when they said, “Maybe we should spend every anniversary in Europe.”

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, "Louvre and Love." Aren't they so darn cute?

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, “Louvre and Love.” Aren’t they so darn cute?

  48. Every moment Michael made me laugh.
  49. The moment my sister Jess got offered a new job. (Not that she didn’t like the old one. But change is good. I should know.)
  50. The moment I told Dad I was going to walk the Camino again, and he said, “Why?” and I didn’t take any offense. (When I said, “Lois is paying for our rooms and giving me $1000,” he was a bit more understanding.)
  51. The moment I ran the idea by Michael of me leaving him for a couple months (again) to go walk the Camino with Lois and he didn’t hesitate–told me to go for it.
  52. The moment, a few days later, when I felt bad for leaving Michael (again) and e-mailed him as much, and he wrote back, “…but this is something you want to do. I say go for it. Life is way too short. You have my blessings.”
  53. The moment Lois and I walked into Viana, Spain to find the Camino route completed closed off by fences, and the people sitting on top of those fences told us, “You’ll be able to get through in a few minutes–after the running of the bulls.” 12003239_10205262244818506_2797637238139038418_n
  54. The moment the hotel owner told us (in Spanish!) that we were the only guests that night because it was festival time, and they were too busy in the restaurant below to take any more guests. (“We are SO not in the U.S.” Lois and I said to each other.) “And the bulls run again tonight at 7,” he told us. Right past our hotel.

    This is as close as I got:)

    This is as close as I got:)

  55. Every moment I stopped to take a picture–knowing that, as far as Lois was concerned, I could take as much time as I wanted. Because a) it would give her time to catch up to me and/or b) it would give her time to take her own pictures. 11216845_10205193558501391_5678843200262570507_n
  56. Every moment I was able to secure another document I need for my Italian citizenship application.

I could go on. But it’s midnight. And I’ve been working on this post for quite a while. Special thanks to Lois Bertram, Michael Weston, and Jessica Gallo for some of these photos. And FYI: as much as I loved the traveling of 2015, I’m very much looking forward to nesting in 2016:)

And one more thing: writing this post reminds me, once again, how lucky I am to have such great friends, such a great family, such a great boyfriend, and such a great life. My only hope is that everyone else is blessed in this way in 2016.

In Case of Fire . . .

I have committed to living one year in a home I have not yet stepped foot in. I have seen it only in pictures and videos, narrated by the man who found the space: my boyfriend Michael.

There may be some women’s lib people out there who are a bit stunned or put off by this. But for this woman, it was kind of wonderful to not have to do any of the searching nor visiting nor negotiating.

Not to say Michael picked this place without my input. We had, earlier, talked about the “must-haves” for each of us. I wanted a place where I could head out my front door and  go for a walk. Which Michael said was pretty much any place. “Yeah, but I don’t want to walk down the side of a highway,” I explained. My dream was to be within easy walking distance of restaurants and coffee shops and a supermarket. “And what do you consider ‘easy walking distance’ these days?” Michael asked. A valid question considering I was, at that moment, walking 12 miles per day across Spain. “Fifteen or twenty minutes,” I said, “Less than a mile.”

I later called Michael and told him I wanted my own space as well. A place where I could close the door. That meant we were now looking for a three bedroom home: One room to sleep in, and one room each to call our own.

file4871266154688After much researching, Michael presented me with two options. One was just a few minutes walk from the main drag in town, had a porch swing, built-in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace,  and oodles of charm. But it also had one big problem: one of the offices had no real windows–only a skylight. In other words, were there to be a fire, it would be a deathtrap. I know not everyone considers these things, but I’m the daughter of a fire commissioner. A man who, upon visiting the Asheville bar that sits out on a fire escape 8 floors above the city asked me, “How far down does this go?” “Three levels I think.” “It better NOT go only three levels,” he said, “It’s a fire escape for the building.” He left me standing there as he went to investigate. A few minutes later he came back out on the top level. “So you made it all the way down,” I said. “Yeah, I had to jump down from the last part, but there’s a ladder there. It’s good. People could get out of this place.”

This is also the same man who attended a performance of Blue Man Group with me and my mother in Boston. At the end of the show devices that looked like paper towel holders above our heads automatically spewed lines and lines of paper out over the audience. “This stuff better not be flammable,” said my father. He tore a piece off and when we got back to my apartment he put a flame to it. We were all relieved to see it was not flammable. Mom and I breathed a great sigh of relief. My father on the phone yelling at the Boston Fire Department was not something either of us wanted to witness.

So no, there was no way my office would be in a room from which there was only one true exit. I, with much love, told Michael he could take that room . . . “So basically, we have a room in this house that neither one of us would use,” he said. Yep. Onto the next house.

The next one didn’t have the same charm–no porch swing, no built-in bookshelves, no fireplace. It was also a little further from the main street. (Eleven minutes, to be exact. Because Michael had timed it for me.) But what it did have was a full basement, a two car garage, and–most importantly–three bedrooms all of which had at least two exits.

Mom and Dad are coming down to visit the week after I move in. Mom has good nesting instincts and has made every house I’ve lived in a “home.” I have no doubt my father will, not too long after he walks in, assess the house from every angle. He was a plumber. And a general contractor. He has bought and sold all sorts of houses. I don’t know what he’ll think of the furnace or the hot water heater, but I’m 100% sure he’ll find the place meets the basic minimums for fire safety.

Judgement Days–Or Lack Thereof

Prior to my first Camino I spoke with a woman who had spent a week walking The Way. She stayed in hotels the entire time and had her pack ported from town to town. She was the first one to tell me that “Everyone does their own Camino.”

During my Camino, I wrote an entire blog post on that very topic. Upon my return, I contacted the  woman who had shared her wisdom with me. She had read the blog post  and wanted to tell me why she had her pack ported: she had a family member with special needs. Every day she felt like she was carrying more weight than she could bear. The Camino was her chance to let someone else shoulder her burden.

Her words stuck with me and I hoped to carry that lesson for the rest of my life. Who was I to judge? Rarely do we have the whole story, and even if we do, what good does my judgement do anyone?

Of course, living this lesson is easier said than done. Such was the case on day 3 of our Camino, when I walked up to the front door of the Corazon Puro, at which we had a reservation. The owners looked down on me and in very few words dismissed me: I had been told to arrive by 3 p.m. and it was 3:15. They informed me they’d given our room away.

I freely admit I had forgotten they had told me to arrive by 3 p.m. But four pilgrims who had stayed at this place had raved about how wonderful the owners were, and their curt dismissal left me stunned.

As I told Lois what they said to me, tears sprung to my eyes. I knew there must be some explanation for their attitude. But at that moment I couldn’t get over it.  Lois and I found a bench and sat down to talk about our next steps. We decided we’d go back to the bar we passed and call a taxi to take us back to Burguete, a town we walked through that we thought looked like a wonderful place to spend a night. On the way to the bar, however, we saw a handwritten sign that said, “Rooms.” Nearby another sign indicated the name of the place: La Posada Nueva. I recognized it from our guidebook and we decided to take a look.

I inquired in my broken Spanish, and asked the woman if we could see a room. She indicated that would be fine, but asked kindly for us to leave our hiking shoes in the space under the stairs. I was spent and flopped onto the couch. “You go look,” I told Lois. “I’m still too flustered to make any decisions.” Let alone climb any stairs.

A few minutes later I heard Lois exclaim and start laughing. She returned with a thumbs up, telling me two friends we’d met earlier in our trip were staying in the room next to ours. I breathed a deep sigh, unlaced my shoes, and hauled my bag upstairs.

That evening, over a meal home-cooked by the proprietor, we dined with our friends Mandy and Bill, another Rebecca we’d met the day before,  and a couple from–of all places–Asheville, NC. We shared our stories over our first course of  perfectly seasoned garden-grown tomatoes and cucumbers. We shared our greatest challenges during the main course of pasta with blue cheese, rabbit, and tortilla. The wine and laughter continued to pour forth as we devoured our apple cake for dessert.

The next day, friends that spent the previous night at Corazon Pura told us they were unsure why we were turned away–there were only three pilgrims in the entire place. I will never know, and have decided to let it go. Who am I to judge?

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.

    12.

    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).

    32

    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.)

    41.

    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.

A Gift for Me? Why–Thank You!

The most popular question I get these days is, “Where are you?” The short answer: Schroon Lake, New York. Learning, yet again, to accept the generosity of others. In this case, a rent-free home with more bedrooms than I have holes in my head (visitors are very welcome!).

I know many of you marvel at my ability to seemingly “stumble” into such things. In this case, however, I stumbled into generous parents. My own. Accepting their generosity, however, has had its ups and downs.

1999: Parent as ATM 

“Where do you want to go next?” my father asked as we walked down Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, my mother window shopping not far behind us.

“Well, I need to go to an ATM machine.”

“What? Why? You don’t have any money?”

“I do have money, I just need to get it from the ATM.”

“No, don’t do that. Here,” he said, pulling a wad of cash from his pocket. “What do you need?”

“I don’t need your money Dad. I have my own. Just not on me.”

“You don’t have any cash on you right now?” he asked, sounding incredulous. I took offense.

“No. Nobody my age carries cash anymore.” His brows scrunched together as he tried to figure this out. How could I explain the convenience of ATM machines to a man who has never in his life used one?

My mother piped in, “Lou, leave her alone. Just let her do what she wants.” She could see my frustration rising.

“Well, I can just give you some money,” my father said. “Then you don’t have to get any.”

“I don’t need your money!” I yelled and stomped off ahead of them to find an ATM machine.

Now I’m not complaining that my father likes to give his children money. But as a twenty-something finally out on her own, I wanted to  prove I could support myself. Which meant not taking money from Dad. My mother understood this. My father did not.

“I just wanted to help you out,” my father said when I returned with cash in my pocket. I looked at my mother. She must have tried to help him understand. Couldn’t he just let this go?

“I don’t need your help.” I said with a growl.

“Lou, just drop it,” said my mother. But my father was never good at that.

2011: Love and Money

Years later a friend told me about the Love Languages.”You’ve never heard of this?” he said.

“No. What is it?”

“Well, this therapist has studied lots of people in relationships. He says there are five ways people express love. You can take a test to find what your top two are. The idea is that you and your partner have to know how to speak each other’s languages.”

“Give me an example,” I said.

“Okay. So one of them is physical touch. So let’s say that’s how I like to give and receive love. If you don’t like to hold hands in public, then there may be some conflict there. We have to learn to speak the other person’s language once in a while for it to work.”

That night I googled “Love Languages.” And read and re-read the language called “Receiving Gifts”. That wasn’t me. I lived quite simply and got rid of stuff any chance I got. But you know who liked receiving gifts? My father. Whereas my mother has determined she doesn’t need anything and loves when we give donations in her name for Christmas, my father still likes getting gifts. I read on and learned the way you like to receive affection is also the way you like to give it. And that, right there, explained my father trying to give me money. It wasn’t that he felt I was helpless without him. It was how he showed he loved me. I cried. And here I was pushing away his love all the time. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to have a dad who shows his affection this way?

I told my mother about the book. “So the next time he offers me money, I’m just going to bite my tongue, and say thank you, and take it.” And that’s just what I did. And what I continue to do to this day.

2013: A New Approach

Dad, to his credit, has also changed his approach. When he gives me a fifty before I leave to go back home after a holiday visit he’ll say, “Now, I know you don’t need this . . . ” Or he’ll give it a purpose, “Here. The gas is on me.” Or “Get yourself a snack at the airport.” To which my mother says, “Or a couple drinks,” with a smile.

Then Dad avoided talking to me about it altogether:  after a three day visit to my home, I walked into the bathroom to find a bill sitting on the ledge below the mirror. He once hid a bill in the case for my iPad. Message received. No words needed.

2014: The Price is Right

And so it is that I’ve accepted Dad (and Mom)’s gift of a place to stay for a couple months. Or longer, if we so choose. I will get back Asheville eventually. But if Dad has his way, not too soon. He loves having all five children living in the same state.  I marvel at the irony of it all: I left New York three years ago saying I would never again live in a place that requires a person wear fleece in May. Yet here I am. Showing Dad how much I love him. 😉

An Update and a Thank You

“I thought maybe I got off your e-mail list somehow,” my former piano teacher told me today. “But then I went on your blog and saw you just haven’t written anything in a while. ”

This is true. I’m not sure why I haven’t written. Not for lack of adventures–that’s for sure. So here’s a little taste of what we’ve been up to:

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Bastille Day in Vannes

Since leaving our respective homes back in May, Michael and I have shared five apartments, two houses, one cruise ship cabin, and three hotel rooms–in six countries, three US states, and on one body of water:

 

Our Saturday view in Ceret

  • We hung our underwear out to dry over the streets of Aix-en-Provence (that’s where the drying rack was).
  • Michael stuck his trumpet out our window to play for the tourists in Vannes (but as we were on the third floor, no one saw where it was coming from, which suited him just fine).
  • We peered down from our windows in Ceret every Saturday to see the market being set up (and of course ventured out into it).
  • We learned to keep a closer eye on our bags in Barcelona (you read about that one).
  • We hosted a dinner party in Asheville (in a lovely house bigger than any I ever hope to own).
  • And just last weekend we watched my brother (finally) marry the wonderful woman he’s been dating for a very long time.
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My niece and my new sister-in-law.

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The view from the porch at my writing retreat

For those of you thinking that my days of solo travel are over, I beg to differ. Over the last four months, Michael and I have spent six weeks apart. To the aforementioned tallies, I can personally add ten different hostels, one hotel, one house, and one farm–and an additional two countries.

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On the Camino . . . Again

  • Just two weeks after we arrived in France, I flew to Portugal to spend ten days on the Portuguese Camino to Santiago.
  • I spent a couple days in Paris to meet a friend from NY whose travels happened to coincide with mine.
  • I left Michael in Vannes and hopped a boat to a goat farm on an island for a week of volunteer work.
  • Less than twenty-four hours after returning to the US, I drove up to New York for some family time. Four days in New York turned into ten. Because I was enjoying it. And because I can.
  • I spent a few days with Michael before leaving him again for two weeks on my twice-yearly writing retreat.
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Michael and I on Schroon Lake

So what’s next? This month, Michael will be in Asheville and California. I’ll be in New York and Montreal. And we’ll meet again in a house that stands just thirty seconds away from the shores of Schroon Lake–whose waters will be frozen over by the time we leave there in December.

Summing it all up like this, I’m a bit speechless–and I’m a writer, so that’s saying a lot.

During these times–when I look in awe at the wonderful life I am blessed with–all I can think to do is give thanks.

I’d like to thank you all, dear readers. You who have said, “Go!”. You who have read this blog–some for many years. Thank you for subscribing. For telling your friends about this blog, or about me, in hopes of inspiring someone else. Thank you to those who have posted a comment or contacted me personally. Thank you for asking me to speak to you, your friends, your students. Thank you to those of you who have made a change in your life and shared your fears and excitement with me. If you’re one of those people, stop right now and be damn proud of yourself. I’m sure proud of you.

My first public reading–John C. Campbell Folk School, March, 2008

I don’t know if or how my life would be different if I didn’t start this blog. But I can tell you this: my life is so much better for having done so. And for that I thank my first writing class: our teacher, Glenda Beall, who gently coaxed our stories out of us, my classmates who listened to those stories and laughed or cried and told me to keep writing, the classmate who showed me what a blog was when I had no intention of ever starting one, the classmates who started the on-line writing group and eventually our twice-yearly retreats, and to all my successive writing teachers and classmates.

And to all of you. I now know I like to write for an audience, and I thank you for showing up to my performance.

Luck? I think not.

I should take showers more often. Not for hygiene reasons (I think life is entirely too short to waste so much of it on such a silly daily ritual). I’d take them more often for this reason only: it’s under that flow of water that I come up with some of my best writing ideas. Tonight, it was this (with apologies for all the hot water wasted because I wanted to keep working on the idea):

Since graduating high school, I have never lived in the same home (or town) more than two years.  I’ve never lived in the same state more  than four. Never held a full-time job longer than sixteen months, a part-time job longer than five years. And this was all by choice.

Long have I wondered if I would ever find “it”: the place, the job, (or, for that matter the spouse) with which I would have a lasting love affair. Conversations with friends  have often centered on this very topic: my (at times exhausting) search for “it.” Ideas about what “it” could be. Where “it” could be. What I’d learned “it” certainly wasn’t.

And then one day I realized (or maybe I read it in a book, or heard it from a friend) that THIS is who I am. Right now, in this moment. It may or may not be my future. But really, who cares dear Rebecca? So what if I never find work I want to do for any length of time. I am, in this moment, someone who finds the idea a little boring. So what if I move every few years? Frankly, the idea often excites me (though my mother will tell you it also very often drives me insane). Because think about it: after just seven months of living in Asheville, I found myself exploring new territory less and less. I had found the places I loved to watched live music, to linger over a good meal with friends, to curl up with a good book. And I didn’t care to search anymore.

But as they (i.e. my mother) say, “The grass is always greener.” When I’m on the road, I often wish for the comfort of knowing exactly the place to go for that perfect meal, that soul-searching conversation, that hip-swaying music. But when I’m in place where I have all of that, my soul starts to whisper, “It’s time.” Time for a trip. Maybe to a new town ten minutes away. Or a country a plane ride away. Or maybe it’s time to move. Or take a sabbatical. 

I have lived a wonderful life, filled with incredible experiences, unforgettable people, some of whom passed through my life for just a moment, others who stuck around a bit longer, and every variation in between. I am damn lucky. Actually, no. As my minister said the other day, “Luck has nothing to do with it.” And a light bulb came on. “You bring into your life that which you put out there.” Oh. My. God.

  • I thought back to the conversation with my mother that very day about the new potential job I seemingly ran into. “Why is it that wherever you go people want to give you jobs?”
  • I remember the time I called a financial planner for advice. In between my contacting him and us having our phone call, his wife read my blog. When I asked his rates he said, “Oh – sorry I didn’t mention this earlier. My wife is completely enamored by you and the way you live your life, and so am I, so we’ve decided to take you on pro bono.” I recalled a friend’s reaction upon hearing this. “How is it you always manage to fall bass-ackwards into these things?”
  • Yes, I’m the girl that had two nights of couchsurfing turn into seven months of rent-free living in a town I loved. Oh, and did I mention my hosts were not only fascinating people, but also had a love of cooking and sharing it with me?

This may all seem lucky to you. Indeed long-time friends, upon hearing what I just “stumbled” into, often say, “Well, I’m surprised, but not really, because it is you after all. Of course it would happen to you.” And maybe that’s just it. Remember the film “It Could Happen to You”? I don’t either, but I remember the title. And silly me, I believed it.

But it turns out it wasn’t silly at all.

  • I’m working thirty-two hours per week these days. I can take those eight hours off whenever I so please. Luck? Nope. When I first took the job, it’s what I said I would do: make myself so indispensable that they couldn’t turn down my request.
  • That free housing in Asheville? Nope. That wasn’t “luck” either. I first of all believed that the world is full of good people, and found a whole community of them at couchsurfing.org. Then I put out to the universe (my friends, strangers) that I’d like to live in Asheville. I didn’t need to know how. I just had to put the idea out there. And the opportunity came to me in a way I never could have imagined.

Don’t limit your possibilities by telling the universe exactly what you want,” my minister said a few weeks ago. “Don’t say you want a million dollars. Because honestly, would you turn down the person who offered you a hundred million? Instead, put the idea of abundance out there. And watch what happens. There’s more out there than you ever imagined.”

Huh. This woman knew me. I’m the girl that thinks the question “Where do you want to be in five years” is so silly for this very reason. “There is no way I could know that,” I say. “Do you have any idea how many things exist now that none of us imagined five years ago? And you want me to limit my thinking to only what I know, only what I can envision? Five years from now I’ll be doing things none of us could have never predicted.” But they’ll be things someone put out to the universe at some point. And “by luck,” they showed up.

—–

Go ahead. Try it. I dare you. Put some outrageous idea out there. No need to figure out how it will happen. That’s not necessary. Just believe in the idea. Write it down. Tell a few people. Or not. Make a collage about it. Or not. Just put it out there, then hide it away or tell the world. And watch what happens.