Spanish at the Spa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 😉

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.

A Note of Thanks

I came across a greeting card this morning that made me laugh. The front shows a Mom driving a car with a couple wild kids in the back and says, “Mom, you took us everywhere…” The inside says, “And even brought us back home! Astonishing!” It made me think back to the road trip my family took to Illinois. Five kids, two adults, one car. And this was 1992 — long before there were televisions to watch from the backseat. From Illinois, we headed north into Canada and, after a stop in Niagara Falls, headed back to New York. At the border my parents were asked for our birth certificates. “We didn’t really plan to come back this way,” they explained, “So we don’t have them.”

The officer said, “We work very closely with ChildFind. How do we know you didn’t kidnap these children?”

Click here to read more. 

Quit a Job to Go To Italy? A Story about Motivation

In January of 2006, while on a beach in the Florida Keys with two dear friends from my college days, my mother called me. After exchanging pleasantries about my trip, my mother got to her point. “So your grandmother joined a senior citizens group.  And guess what the first thing was on the agenda of their first meeting?”

“No idea.”

“A trip to Italy.”

“Really?”

“Yeah – and she wants to go.” I was hoping this was leading where I wanted it to.  My mother continued, “but her hearing’s not too good, so she doesn’t want to go alone.” Jackpot.

“I’ll go with her,” I said, without hesitation. Grandma’s husband and dedicated travel companion of sixty years had died just six months earlier. Grandpa always called me “The Vagabond” when I arrived for meatballs on Sundays, having just returned from travels to Switzerland or France, or from an internship in Portland or North Carolina, or having come from my new home in Boston or Bethesda. It was only fitting that this vagabond take his wife on such a trip.

“I figured you’d want to go, but what about work?” my mother asked.

“If they won’t let me go, I’ll quit,” I said.

“Rebecca…”

“I’m kidding Mom. I’ll figure it out. Just tell her I’ll go.”

A few weeks later I received an e-mail.  My department was looking for volunteers to help another department catch up on a big project. It was not exactly mindless work, but it was routine. The work would have to be done outside our normal jobs, which meant staying late or coming in early. We would not be paid overtime, but we were offered something I consider much better: comp time.

By now I’m sure you can figure out who added an extra hour or so each day and earned six days of comp time in time to take her 83-year-old Italian grandmother on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the land of her ancestors. (For those of you asking why I couldn’t just use my regular vacation days, it’s because I’m one of the few Americans who uses up all her vacation days. I needed more!)

First, I’ll say that of course this all worked out.  Because I believed it would.

But this story came to mind today for another reason.

I was just reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive.  I heard Mr. Pink interviewed about this book a couple years ago.  I heard enough to get the gist of the book and so didn’t bother to read it. But something sparked my interest in it recently, so off I went to check it out of the library (yes, I’m one of the three people in the U.S. who don’t own an e-reader).

The book is all about what motivates us. I’m currently reading about extrinsic motivation, which he argues is best used only when there’s a routine task that needs to get done.  He cautions that, even then, extrinsic rewards are only good if the person giving them 1) explains why the task is necessary 2) acknowledges the task to be done is boring and 3) let’s workers complete the task in their own way.

That’s exactly what my former company did with the aforementioned project. They explained – in numbers – how many adjustments had to processed, acknowledged it was something none of us would want to do all day (but perhaps for an hour), and they let us do it how we wanted to do it – whether that was to come in before or after work, do it on a lunch hour, etc.

Mr. Pink argues that had they forced us to do it and/or outlined exactly how/when we could do it, we would not have been as motivated.  He’s spot on. Lucky for me, somebody in my company knew a little something about extrinsic motivation. Either that, or they learned about my conversation with my mother and didn’t  want me to quit my job.

—–

Epilogue:

In March of 2006,  me, Grandma Gallo, my brother, and two cousins headed to Italy. Grandma still talks about what a great trip that was.

When I took my first writing class in March, 2008, we were asked to bring something that was important to us.  Our first assignment was to write about what we brought – in my case, photos of  that trip. When I read my story aloud to the group I cried as I recalled Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table greeting me, “There she is – my vagabond granddaughter!”

 

Rocky Road

I rushed through the front door with a carton of Rocky Road ice cream in my hand.  “I know you all don’t really like chocolate, but I wanted Rocky Road,” I told my hosts who were sitting in the living room.

They looked at me in dismay.  “Did we say we didn’t like chocolate? Are you telling us you got Rocky Road because you thought we wouldn’t eat any of it?”

“No – I’m saying my night was that good that I needed some Rocky Road ice cream.”

“Uh-oh,” they said.  “That bad, huh?”

“I’ll tell you about it over ice cream,” I said as I walked off to the kitchen.  I pulled three white bowls out of the cabinet, filled a cup with hot water and stuck the ice cream scoop in it.  I peeled open the carton and proceeded to drop not one but two successive scoops of ice cream on the floor.  Isn’t there some old wives tale that if you drop things you’re pregnant?  God help me.

I put the dishes on the dining room table and then returned to the kitchen to pull out the toppings: Heath Bar pieces, Grand Marnier, Kahlua.  Not until I moved in with my hosts had I ever seen anyone pull  out liquor as an ice cream topping. What can I say? It’s not something we offered our customers at my father’s Dairy Queen….

My hosts joined me at the dining room table.  If you peeked in the window that night, you would have seen a 35-year-old woman spilling the details of her latest adventure/drama to her 70-plus year old hosts.  You would have seen lots of laughing, perhaps a few tears, and a healthy dose of advice and wisdom being administered. You might have wondered: are those her grandparents?  Nope.  They’re not related.  In fact, I only met them seven months ago.  But that’s a whole other story.

After spilling the details of my evening, my hosts said – not for the first time – “You’re better than television.”

Every once in a while I talk about finding a place of my own. “You don’t have to leave yet,” they say.  “Besides, if you left, what we do for entertainment?”  And who would I eat Rocky Road ice cream with at 9:30 on a Tuesday night?