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.

How to get to Europe for $183.53

If you want to go to Europe and think flights are too expensive, stop saying that. Here’s how I paid a grand total of $183.53 for a flight from Newark to Madrid (via Dublin) and returning to JFK (via Dublin).

  1. Apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. There’s no annual fee for the first year, and it’s a $95 fee per year after that–but you can just cancel the card before the year is up if you don’t want a fee-based credit card.
  2. Charge $4000 on the card in the first three months. I don’t usually spend that kind of money in three months. But I learned I could pay my rent via credit card, and in previous years when doing this I’ve contacted family members for help. One sister charged her new appliances to my card, another charged her LASIK surgery to my card, Dad charged some business equipment he needed, etc. (I don’t recommend this unless you have nice family members like mine who promptly paid me back.) Also note you can link your card to your Amazon account and to Paypal so anything you buy with those will help you get your points.
  3. Set up on-line access to your Chase account (you’ll need this later).
  4. Sign up for an Avios account (that’s British Airways frequent flyer program).
  5. Once you charge your $4000, in 4-6 weeks you’ll have 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (4000 for each dollar you spent, and a 50,000 point bonus for doing it in 3 months). Actually, you’ll have more than that–they give you double points for every dollar you spend on travel and food purchases.
  6. Now call British Airways. (Yes, call–their web site told me it’s not possible to do this online right now.)
  7. Find out if they have seats available on the days you want to go (I booked 4 months in advance). Do not look for flights on British Airways or Iberia — the additional taxes are ridiculous ($1000 on the flights I initially wanted). Instead, ask them to look at your flight options on Aer Lingus (as of December, 2016, British Airways can book Aer Lingus flights). You’ll have to get to mainland Europe via Dublin, but for $183.53 I’m sure you can handle a layover. (While you’re there, get something you can put butter on. Their butter is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted!)
  8. Once you know your flights are available, go online and transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Avios points (that’s the British Airways frequent flyer program you signed up for in Step 4). You can make this transfer in about 45 seconds while you’re on the phone with British Airways. The transfer happens immediately.
  9. Book your flight. Pay your $183.53 in taxes.
  10. Brag to your friends.
  11. Get in touch with me and tell me about the awesome trip you just booked.

I’d recommend getting your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card through this link, because the guy who taught me how to use British Airways points on non-BA flights (Brad at RichmondSavers.com) will get a little money if you do, at no extra cost to you. It’s the least I can do for him. Oh, and if you want to get to get your whole family to Disney World for free, he’s your guy.

You can also learn a whole lot more about earning miles without leaving the ground by heading over to Chris Guillebeau’s site. His site is where I first learned about this concept (called Travel Hacking) many years ago. And it’s thanks to his site, travelhacking.org, that I earned over 200,000 miles the first year I tried all this.

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.

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.

Travel–Times Two

In February, my mother called to tell me a surprise party was being thrown for my grandmother’s 90th birthday the following month. It was to take place in New York, where she lives. That meant, in order to attend, I would have to hop a plane or drive twelve hours.

I called my boyfriend, Michael. “So Grandma is turning 90 and they’re having a surprise party, so I’m going to New York that weekend, whether you go or not.”

“Do you want me to come?” he asked.

“Well, yeah, but I don’t want you to feel like you–”

“Then ask me like you want me to be there!” he said.

So I started again. “Hi Michael. My mother just called and told me Grandma’s surprise birthday party is on March 22nd. How about we go up to New York that weekend?”

“That would be great,” he said. Since he had lived in New York City for nearly ten years and had talked about going back for a visit, we decided to spend a few nights in the city prior to the party, then head up to the mid-Hudson Valley for a few days with my family.

I opened my computer a few hours later and saw quite a few e-mails from Michael. He had already booked our hotel in the city. He had also sent flight options, leaving from the three airports closest to us. And he priced out a rental car. I could have cried I was so happy.

As a woman who has spent the better part of the last fifteen years traveling on her own, having someone else do the planning was monumental.

And it’s not just travel. Men who have a plan for a first date (how about we go to X restaurant at X time?) automatically score lots of points in my book. As a single woman, I have to decide everything in my life, so when someone else makes the choices for me, ah, that’s how I spell r-e-l-i-e-f.

That same joy overtook me again today. After hiking nearly seven miles, my friend and I reached the car. I checked my phone and noticed I had a few messages. Eurail passI opened one from Michael to see a picture of–what? Is that . . . yes, it is! Our Eurail passes! There they were, in his possession, and I didn’t have to do a damn thing to get them there. He has also booked our first month’s apartment in Aix-en-Provence, and checked us in for our upcoming cruise. And has documented all of this in an app we both have on our phones.

Well, now I feel like I’m bragging. And I am, of course. It is a good idea to give thanks for at least five things each day. And Michael is on that list most every day, and for that I am grateful.

Ode to a Porch

I sit on the porch, rain lightly falling around me. The roof over my head, the eaves hanging down, protect me–allow me to sit in the midst of nature, without the threat of bee stings, mosquito bites, or rain. I sit at the table facing one corner–the corner that looks out at the yard next door. The white picket bridge over the creek, a red leafed tree behind it, and beyond that a cherry blossom covered in white blooms.

The rain means outdoor work has stopped, so this afternoon I will not be bothered by the yard workers revving their motors to maintain a lush green lawn that no one ever uses. The renovation on the house across the alley has also stopped, the sounds of their machines replaced by the sound of rain falling into puddles.

I remember when my landlords first showed me this cabin. We entered the living room where a round wooden table dominated one corner. “That’s where you’ll eat during the winter,” my landlady said. I was a bit confused until we got to the porch.

porchI recall last summer spending mornings in the chaise lounge out here, eating a bowl of yogurt and muesli, my glass of water on the green shelf next to me. I didn’t sit at the table mindlessly eating while reading a book. Breakfast was the meal I ate mindfully–or at least tried to.

I recall packing lunches to bring to work, so I could eat quickly in the office, and thereby leave earlier in exchange for taking so little time for lunch. As spring blossomed I realized I needed a break at midday and drove home (a mere two miles) for lunch each day. I had time to cook if I wanted, or I simply took leftovers out to the porch. At the table birds provided my soundtrack, a book my entertainment, with commercial breaks provided by the squirrels.

I recall those work days when my lunch hour just wasn’t enough, when I wished I could spend the whole afternoon out here. Indeed I did on weekends, when I spent entire days moving between the chaise lounge, book in hand, and the kitchen: eating and reading the only tasks on my agenda.

There were entire months I ate every meal on this porch.

“So you’re going to lose the cabin . . .” my mother said when I told her of my plan to head to France for three months.

“Well, yeah. They’re thinking of selling the property in the spring,” which meant I could possibly be given one month’s notice to move anyway.

I was thinking how sad it is to leave this place. Of all the homes I’ve had since leaving my parent’s house, this, by far, has been my favorite. When I first moved in I would often stop what I was doing to reach out and lay my hand on a log. I loved that I could see so clearly what my house was made of. No insulation or sheet rock hiding its bones.

I realized today marks thirty days until my departure from this place. And today I am trying to change my thinking from “I only have thirty days” to “I have thirty more days!”

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.)

 

Free-Spirited Spinster?

I stood on the front porch of the Unwound yarn shop in Blowing Rock, NC, chatting with three women I’d met just a few minutes earlier inside the shop.  They were on a day trip to the area. I was two weeks into my sabbatical year, taking my sweet old time driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As travelers are bound to do, we all got to chatting.

“Where are you from?” they asked.

“New York,” I said, already trying to figure out how to answer the inevitable next question.

“And what are you doing here?”

Where to start? “I’m on my way to Brasstown, North Carolina, and decided to drive for a spell along the Parkway.”

And that’s when we jumped down the rabbit hole. Each question they asked plunged them deeper and deeper into my story. They learned I’d just gotten rid of most of what I’d owned, that I was about to start a four-month stint at the John Campbell Folk School, that my sabbatical year would culminate in my walk along the Camino to Santiago.

“You’re a free spirit!” one of the women said. 

“I am indeed.” I thought of my littlest sister Meg who introduces me to her friends saying, “This is my free-spirited sister,”   usually followed by, “you know, the one who’s getting rid of all her stuff and going around the world.”

The woman on the porch of the yarn shop continued. “When you’re done with the free-spirit part, marry a good-looking man — and make sure he’s a democrat.”

I laughed.  “I’m hoping I don’t have to end my free-spirit days in order to get married.”

She considered that and quickly agreed.

This idea–that travel is something to “get out of my system” before I “settle down”–is one I don’t know that I agree with. A few months before I started my sabbatical  friends starting saying things like, “You’re going to meet someone the day before you leave. What would you do if that happened?”

“I’d still go,” I said, matter-of-factly.  There were no other options in my book.  I do some drastic things, but canceling a whole year of adventures because I meet someone who just may want to date me? Marry me even? “If he’s really that interested, it will work out regardless.” 

“Good for you,” they would say.

Then there were those who thought, myself included, that I’d meet someone over the course of my travels. That sounded more plausible then meeting someone in my hometown the day before I left. “I’m sure he’s out there traveling the world, so I’m going to find him,” I told a couple people when pressed on the topic. Indeed, I met more than a few fascinating traveling souls, but our time together was that of two free-spirits who cross paths briefly and then go on our respective journeys elsewhere.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m not meant to simply live the life of a single woman. Not long after one of my sisters announced she was pregnant, I had visions of being the spinster aunt–the “crazy” one with the wild hair, a cottage in the woods. My niece would love coming to visit; my sister would dread sending her worried what fanciful ideas I’d put in her head.

I laugh at that thought as I sit here on the porch of my cozy cabin next to my babbling brook, the sun peeking through the clouds, my hair unbrushed.

My back porch

My back porch