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.

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.

My Third Thing

“A choice between two things is not a choice. It becomes a fight between right or wrong.” I read the sentence again. As the afternoon sun warmed the page, I pulled out my pen to underline it. I had never thought of it like that. No wonder I hate making decisions.

“We need a third thing, a way to step out of the conundrum.” I pulled my pen across the page again. Natalie Goldberg is brilliant, I thought. I sat on a park bench reading her book, “The True Secret of Writing” hoping to get my creative juices flowing again, and it was working. What I didn’t expect was to have so many life lessons pop out at me.

The chapter went on to explain that this “third thing” is not something that we will come up with. And it won’t present itself overnight. But the idea is that if we open ourselves to the possibility of a third thing, it will show up.

So I got down to writing, as the book instructed. What decision was I struggling with? Work. Duh. Six weeks earlier I quit my job thinking I had the perfect idea of what to pursue next (travel writing) only to find myself stymied. By what? I wasn’t sure. So I looked at other options. And though I had many, it was really a struggle between two lifestyles: that of employee–my work life dictated by someone else–or that of the self-employed.

I barely filled up a page. I had debated this so many times I was sick of hearing myself. I closed the notebook.

Four hours later, my third thing showed up.

Well, let me clarify. Yes, four hours later Michael and I decided we were moving to Europe. But like Natalie described, this decision had evolved over time.

Michael first showed up at my door five months earlier, homemade key lime pie in one hand, a mystery box in the other. Had he shown up empty-handed, I still would have been intrigued because I knew he had just returned from nine months in Central America. The majority of men in my dating pool have settled into a work life, a family life, a home life. I tried to fit into that, but, as my friend Jen said the other day, I am “a beautiful square peg” and I should stop trying to smooth my edges to fit into a round hole. I had a feeling Michael wasn’t a round peg either.

***

I don’t have many regrets in life. In general, I feel like I made the best decisions I could with the information I had. But there is one: I wish I had spent a year living in another country. It was part of my plan. After spending six weeks living with a French-speaking family in Switzerland the summer before my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted more of this experience. I’d heard college was a place where one could do something like this, so instead of doing a “gap year” (taking a year “off” between high school and college to do something incredible), I followed the crowd.

To this day, I can still see the moment my dream crashed and burned: I sat with my parents in the auditorium of Jefferson Hall at the University of Scranton. The fifty of us who had been accepted into the physical therapy program sat with our parents while the chair of the department explained what we was ahead of us. “Does anyone have any questions?” she asked.

I raised my hand. “Can we study abroad?”

She paused and looked at me like I had three heads. She explained the rigorous program, how we were not required to take all the general education courses because we had so many PT courses to take, how we had to start those courses in our junior year. Junior year: the year most students study abroad.

I don’t remember anything else after that. Recalling that conversation still brings tears to my eyes twenty years later.

Michael was twenty-seven when he moved to Paris. He spent three months at the Sorbonne before deciding to move back to New York. He’s regretted it ever since.

What was brewing here was a perfect storm.

***

Michael’s mother planned on him joining the family on a Mediterranean cruise this summer. Since the day I met him, I knew he didn’t want to go, and I understood. We’re not cruise people. If we’re going to visit a place, we’re not going for a day or a week.

Four hours after I finished writing about my two choices, Michael and I sat on the patio of a coffee shop, the sun pouring down. His mother had finally canceled the deposit on his room (or so she said).  But he’d also learned that, now, both his brothers were going. “Well, now it’s becoming a family trip,” I said. “No wonder your mother wants you to go.”

“Are you saying we should go?” he asked.

“We?”

“Of course ‘we.’ You think I’d go without you?” Well, frankly, yes. This was the first time the idea of me going had ever come up. I stumbled over my words. I wasn’t a cruise person either. This wasn’t something I budgeted for when I quit my job.

But I figured the ports in the Mediterranean wouldn’t be the tourist traps I had seen in the Caribbean. And I had frequent flyer miles–enough to get us both to Europe.

“You know, if we’re going to go, we should go earlier,” he said. Yep. If we were going to Europe, we were going for at least a month. Hell, why not a year? And with that, my third choice appeared before me.

————

(Note: Per the Shengen Agreement, we can’t spend more than three months of every six in most of Europe. Unless we buy property there, have a job there, marry a native, etc. So we’re going for three months. At which point we’ll return to the US to attend some family events happening in September and October. And from there, who knows where we’ll go next. What on earth will I do over there? Well, that’s for another post. In short: I’m sure I’ll figure it out.)

 

Falling

I’d done this once before: hooked myself up to ropes and carabiners and attempted to scale an indoor rock climbing wall. After that first class I thought perhaps I’d do it again–not for exercise mind you, but for the sculpted arms and flat stomach I’d always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, rock climbing requires two people. And I had nary a soul to join me.

Fast forward ten plus years. My friend Ben, who goes on a regular basis, tells me it would be a great way to meet men. This peaks my interest, as it would any warm-blooded, single, thirty-something heterosexual woman.

“I have no arm strength,” I tell him.

“Doesn’t matter–you use your legs.” I know for a fact that one can’t climb a wall without the use of ones arms. “Your arms just to hold you to the wall.  You don’t pull yourself up with your arms, you push yourself up with your legs.” This was all starting to come back to me. The arms don’t get sculpted because you’re pulling your entire body weight up with them; they get sculpted because your using them to hold on for dear life.

But that’s where the ropes come in. As long as you trust the person you’re climbing with, falling off the wall is not a problem.  Your partner, through some easy moves with the ropes around his own waist (which are the same ones attached to you), can stop you mid-air and lower you gently.

So last Tuesday night, I planned to meet three friends at the indoor rock-climbing place downtown. I signed the paper that outlined the various ways I could be injured or killed. “My boss would be thrilled you actually read it before you signed it,” the guy behind the desk told me. Maybe I shouldn’t have. 

I was the first to show up and while looking around I noticed something odd: no one was using ropes.

I recalled Katie, who would be joining me that night, telling me her least favorite part was falling off the wall. At the time, I was a bit mystified. “I don’t have a problem with that as long as I trust the person spotting me,” I said. I didn’t realize we were talking about two different experiences. The image in my mind included ropes and a person that kept me from free-falling. Her image, I now realized, did not.

Unlike my skydiving adventure, I didn’t have the time to shoot out e-mails to my family telling them how much I loved them. So I guessed I’d just have to survive. 

My three friends showed up and Ben dutifully explained how the place worked. Double arrows next to a “rock” indicated it was the one on which I would place both my hands to start. Then, I’d follow the color-coded arrows up the wall to the red line. “You can’t climb higher than the red line without ropes.” Regardless, that red line was entirely too far above my head for my comfort.

After a few tries, I made it up to the red line. “Now what?” I asked Ben.

“Jump!” he said.

“Uhhh. . . no,” I said, my arms clinging to the wall. I started climbing back down the way I came up, and jumped when I was just a few feet off the ground. I am, after all, the girl that to this day, when I go play on swing sets, does not feel comfortable jumping off until the swing has nearly stopped.

“But you jumped out of a plane!”  you might say.  Well, yes. Yes, I did. But there was a large Russian man strapped to my back. And in his control was not one, but two parachutes. And we had a good few minutes to get them up before we hit the ground.

At one point Ben pointed out some of the men of which he had spoken: glistening chiseled arms, six-pack abs. “That’s what this place does for you,” he said. That’s what this place does for THEM, I thought. Me? I’m going back to banking on my good looks and sparkling personality.

The Matchmakers of Asheville

She came up to me at the end of class, congratulated me on how well I’d done, and then said, “I have a personal question for you.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Are you dating someone? Or married? Or single?”

“I’m single,” I said, realizing where this was going.

“Well, I promise you I was paying attention to what you were teaching, but I couldn’t help thinking the whole time that you would be good for James.  He rents from me. How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Thirty-six.”

“Oh, good.  He’s thirty-four. Would you….” She stumbled a bit over what to do next, but I knew how this went.  After all, I’d been in this same position just three weeks before. And told her as much.

I handed her my card and said, “Feel free to give him my contact information, and tell him he’s welcome to call me.”

The next day she called to see if I had plans for Easter, would I want to come to her place? I was sick and had already turned down two other invitations, so declined hers as well. She offered that she’d have me over another time. I wonder if this was her way of making the connection. I imagine not all men would jump at the chance to call a woman they’ve never met before to ask her out, sight unseen.  Though, now that I think about it, the one three weeks ago did just that.

~~~~

Maybe it’s because it’s spring. Or because I look like I’m in need of a good man. Or because my genes are too good not to pass on (yes, someone told me this.  I took it as a compliment). Whatever their reason, I’m fine with good-intentioned people expressing an interest in setting me up. I’ve heard dating is a numbers game. Just how many first dates does one need to go on is a question I wish I knew the answer to. 

Smoking Hot

In the junior high cafeteria, I sat alone every lunch period.  I knew no one and no one seemed interested in getting to know me.  I had braces, no fashion sense, and a body that was all out of proportion.  I ate my lunch as fast as I could without making eye contact, then stuck my face in a book.  A few weeks later I learned we could go to the library during our lunch periods and after I ate, I’d get out of that cafeteria as fast as I could.  The next semester when the guidance counselor asked if I’d mind not having a lunch period so I could take the classes I had to take, I said that was no problem at all.  Inside, I jumped for joy.

Fast forward twenty three years.  As I walked up Merrimon Avenue yesterday, a man at a stop light leaned out his window and said, “Girl, you’re looking good today!”  I smiled.  “Thank you.” There was a time I didn’t appreciate men yelling anything to me in public.  Actually, if it was complimentary I assumed they must not be talking to me anyway.  It’s still not my preferred method of receiving compliments, but at least now I can appreciate some kind words – even if they are tossed out from a car window.  As I continued my walk, I smiled thinking back to those teenage years when I wouldn’t have dreamed anyone would ever tell me I looked good.

High school wasn’t much better than junior high – but at least I had people to sit with at lunch.  My fashion sense may have improved a little (thanks to secretly “borrowing” my little sister Liz’s clothes), but I still had braces all four years and a body I hated.

Now the braces are gone.  I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for this body I’ve been blessed with – it did, after all, get me through a 500 mile walk across Spain.  My fashion sense: well, I know what looks good on me.  That doesn’t stop me from showing up to holiday family gatherings, looking around, and thinking I should hire my three sisters to redo my wardrobe.

~~~~

I walked into a bar a few weeks ago to meet a friend.  He flooded me with compliments on my appearance and over the course of the conversation said some more wonderful things about me to some of the friends to whom he introduced me.  The next day, in a conversation with another friend, I said how this has happened quite a few times since I’ve moved here – men here seem to be pretty good at giving compliments.  (I am still learning how to be good at receiving them.)  “Is it Asheville?” I asked him, wondering if men were just more forthcoming with compliments here.  “Well, you are smoking hot,” he said.  He continued on, but I didn’t hear anything after that.  Smoking hot?  What? I know I’m not the timid, body-conscious kid I was in junior high.  But “smoking hot”?  Me?

I tell my students all the time to give themselves credit for the progress they’ve made before telling me all that they didn’t accomplish.  I often find myself giving the advice I most need to hear .

So today I’m going to give myself some credit.  After trying on seven different tops and four different pairs of jeans, I finally looked in the mirror and told myself I looked good.  But smoking hot?  I think that’s pushing it.

Weddings – Thankfully, Not My Own

I’m not one of those girls who has always imagined what my wedding day would be like.  In fact, I haven’t thought much about it at all.  But I’ve been present for the stress and cost of plenty of weddings – so much so that I’ve told my mother for years that my wedding will be in the backyard.

“At least call it a Garden Party,” she said.

Since then, I added another detail: my wedding will be potluck.

“Potluck?  Really?” my mother asked.

“Yup.  No gifts.  I don’t need anything.  I just want Grandma to make her meatballs, Aunt Lia to bring her Taco salad, Mrs. Repko to bring a pie.”

“Pie?  You’re going to have pie at your wedding?”

“Sure – why not?  No one eats the cake anyway.”

My mother didn’t have too much to worry about – I wasn’t dating anyone.  When people asked me about my future with the last guy I dated I declared, “He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have live next door.”

Well, on Christmas day, my youngest sister got engaged.  Shortly thereafter, I found myself at the kitchen table with her, her fiance, and my mother.  My mother, eager for another family wedding, was asking about guest lists and locations.  “How about the back yard?” my sister asked.

“Hey – I want to get married in the back yard,” I said.  “Her wedding can be a dry run for mine!” My sister enthusiastically agreed.

My father piped in from the living room, reminding us of our slanted back yard.  “The front yard then!” we declared.  “That would be perfect!”  While dad tried to convince us the front yard was too small for 300 people, Mom interrupted.  “We need to stop talking about this,” she said.  “I’m getting sick to my stomach.”

“What? Why?” I asked.  “I always said I wanted my wedding here.”

“Yeah, but now that it’s a real possibility, it’s making me sick.”

As requested, we changed the subject.  My mother got up, poured herself a glass of wine, and returned to the table.  A few sips of wine later, her nerves were calmed enough that she permitted us to again talk about a wedding at the house.

Eight months later, the planning for my youngest sister’s wedding is in full swing.  The reception will not be in the front yard. But I still like the idea myself.