Summer Plans Part 1 (or San Antón Part 2)

This summer marks the first year I will be able to travel for multiple weeks in Europe without having to:

  1. Quit my job.
  2. Find a job upon my return.
  3. Live off my savings.

Why? Because I did a most stunning thing one year ago: I accepted a full-time teaching position.

I’ve been on the planet long enough and among enough teachers to know that you don’t take a teaching job for the vacation. But let’s be honest here: it’s quite a perk.

  • Eight full weeks every summer.
  • A week at Thanksgiving.
  • Two weeks at Christmas.
  • One week for Spring Break.
  • Plus a myriad of other holidays.

Oh — and they pay me over the entire year. In other words, while I am walking across France this summer, money will get deposited into my bank account. Twice.

Walk across France? Well, not exactly. Across 300 miles of it. Beginning in Le Puy-en-Velay.

I first heard of Le Puy-en-Velay in 2012 on my first day of my first walk along the Camino de Santiago. Complete strangers would begin conversations with me and inevitably ask where I started my walk. “St. Jean Pied-de-Port,” I said, thinking that was the only starting point. Nope. Turns out people walk out their doors in Toulouse, Paris, Geneva and head towards Santiago. I met more than a few people who started in Le Puy and said the scenery was stunning and the food was amazing. “One day, I want to walk that route,” I thought.

Note: I did not think that on the first day of my first Camino. On that day I carried mostly things I’d  borrowed or bought used because, I told myself,  I’m only doing this once, so no need to invest in gear and clothing I’ll never use again. Ha.

I also thought I’d never be a classroom teacher. But for the vacation, and a few other more noble reasons, I accepted that position. And within minutes, I began plotting my summer.

Mission one: contact Rebekah Scott. Why? Well, that’s a bit of a story . . .

There were two things I knew after I completed my first Camino:

  1. I wanted to do it again.
  2. I wanted to be a hospitalera.

A hospitalera is a volunteer who spends two weeks caring for pilgrims at a hostel along the Camino de Santiago. This means, on any given day, I could be a listening ear, a counselor, a cook, a cleaning lady, a tour guide, a first responder, a leader of evening reflection, or all of the above.

Tosantos, 2012: Our hospitalero is at the head of the table. To my left: new friends from Germany, US, and France. Across the table: another French friend and the four Italians who helped out the hospitalero by cooking us dinner that night.

I had the pleasure and luck of being under the care of more than a few incredible hospitaleros over the course of my Caminos–including one man who literally gave me his own shirt to wear when I thought everything I owned was infested with bedbugs. He also washed the entire contents of my backpack. And when his generosity overwhelmed me, and the tears started flowing out of my rash-covered body, he hugged and consoled me.

I never got his name. But I will never forget him. And I wanted to, in some way, pay it forward.

In September, 2015, I–quite unexpectedly–got my chance.

My friend Lois and I were walking the Camino Francés (wish #1: check). It was her first Camino (and only Camino, she promised me), and I was accompanying her not just as a friend but as her travel agent, walking coach and translator.

Long before we left on our trip, one of the places I told Lois I wanted to stay was the ruins at San Antón: an albergue (hostel) in the ruins of a 16th century church. No hot water. No electricity. And therefore certainly not someplace Lois would have chosen. “Anytime we can stay in a place that has sheets and towels, we’re going to do that,” she’d told me. Electricity was kind of implied.

But she also said she wanted to “experience it all,” so though I offered that she could stay elsewhere while I spent a night at San Anton, she insisted that wasn’t necessary.

Soon after arriving at San Antón on September 26, 2015, we registered to spend the night and chose our bunks. Then I went to do some research. San Antón is run by hospitaleros and I wanted to know all about their experiences. Sylvia (from South Africa) patiently answered all of my questions. She stopped sometimes to register new pilgrims, or I stopped sometimes to chat with pilgrim friends as they came in.

Sylvia (L) and Lois inside San Antón.

Michael and Lisa — a couple from Atlanta who became our best friends along the Camino route — walked in and over the course of our conversation the idea of volunteering came up. “I could do it at a place like this,” Lois said.

“Without power or hot water?” I asked.

“Yep. I would.”

A few hours later Rebekah Scott came by. I’d read her blog and knew her the moment I saw her. She was the woman in charge of coordinating volunteers for San Antón, I introduced myself and told her one day I’d love to volunteer here. It was then that I learned they, in fact, needed some volunteers. Tomorrow night.

From l to r: Patrick (Rebekah’s husband) Rebekah, and me

Usually there are two or three volunteers, and they stay for two week periods. For reasons I’m still not sure of (scheduling issues I think), after that night, there would only be one. One person to care for twelve pilgrims. Check them in. Make them dinner. And breakfast. Listen to them. Console them. Care for them. Clean the kitchen, bunk room, and bathroom after they all left. And welcome all the other pilgrims that just stop in to see the ruins throughout the day.

I saw my chance, but then thought of Lois, and watched my chance float on by. There was no way Lois would stay here another night. So when they asked me if I’d like to volunteer for a couple nights, I said I would love to if I was on my own, but I was traveling with a friend . . .

But then I remembered Lois’ earlier comments. And her saying to me, over and over, “This is your trip, too. So if there’s something you want to do, you just say so.”

I found Lois sitting on a bench in what used to be the nave of the church . “Hey Lois?” I started.

“What’s up, kid?”

“Well . . . ” my words tumbled out quickly before I lost the courage to ask them. “They’re going to be short a volunteer the next couple of nights and they asked if I wanted to do it, but I said I couldn’t because I was with you, but then I thought maybe–”

“Of course!” Her face lit up. Not, I think, because she wanted to stay two more nights but because she genuinely wanted me to be happy.

“Really?” I asked.

“Absolutely, kid. You’ve wanted to do this for years. And this is why we planned so much time for our walk–so if things came up and we wanted to spend more time some place, we could.”

I hugged her and we went back to share the news with the volunteers. Rebekah declared, “Tonight, you two will stay here as pilgrims. Then, tomorrow morning, after breakfast, you’ll be hospitaleras.”

After asking Sylvia a million questions about the life of a hospitalera, she handed me the hospitalero guide. Here I am reading it cover to cover.

——————

To be continued . . . 

Note: If you would like to contribute to the care and upkeep of the pilgrim hostel at San Antón, please visit here to purchase a fascinating little book about its history.

 

 

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.

Lightening the Load

On my first Camino three years ago, my friend Rick and I would see people with small daypacks. These were the people who hired  a service to bring their packs to their destination instead of carrying them themselves. “This walk would be a piece of cake if I wasn’t carrying a pack!” Rick would say. “Yeah, I could walk so much further if I didn’t have my pack,” I added. A few days ago, I learned we were right. For the first time ever on the Camino, there was no belt cinched tight around my waist, no straps pulling on my shoulders. I carried a tiny bag on my back that held water, my jacket, and some snacks.

“You already did this trail once carrying your pack. You’ve got that story to tell your grandkids,” Lois told me.”You’ve got nothing to prove, kid. And me? I’m only doing this once and I’m here to enjoy it. We can enjoy it a lot more without carrying our packs.” Well, since she put it that way . . .

I studied myself that day–how I felt being on the other side of the carry-your-pack or not debate. I didn’t feel guilty–initially. I did, however, wonder how other people would react to us, but was surprised to see we got the same “Buen Camino” greetings we received the day before.

A few hours into our day, after crossing a busy mountain road, we got to a food truck. Plastic chairs held weary pilgrims, their packs and walking sticks strewn about the pavement. Lois and I stood looking at our food options as a large man dropped his equally large pack and settled himself into a chair beside me with a big sigh. We smiled at each other, and I patted his back, then started to massage his shoulders. A man sitting across from him said, in an Irish accent, “Over here next!” pointing to his own shoulders. We all exchanged answers to “Where are you from” and “where are you going today.” I let out that this was my third Camino. “You’ve done this twice already? From St. Jean?” “No–I’ve done this route once before, and did 10 days on the Portugese last year.” I very deliberately did not add, “carrying my pack the whole time.” These men had seen Lois and I arrive. Looking at Lois, one would easily forgive her for not carrying a pack. But me? What was my reason? Did I need one?

I’ve just finished my third day without my pack. And the guilt has come and gone and come and gone again. Yesterday, a German man caught up with us and one of the first things he said was, “I see you’re not carrying much.” I stumbled over an explanation.

Me and the German

He and I had a delightful discussion, and when he moved on I said to Lois, “I need to come up with some good responses to the question of why I’m not carrying my pack.”

We came up with:

  • In case I have to carry Lois.
  • My pack? You mean it’s not on my back? Hm.
  • The better question is why are you carrying yours?
  • I’m probably carrying about as much as the pilgrims of the middle ages carried.

“People can’t have a one-sided conversation,” Lois said. In other words, I didn’t have to say anything. That hadn’t occured to me.

“You know it’s not personal–he asked about your pack to make himself feel better.” Indeed, this idea of “it’s not personal” is one of the best things I’ve learned from Lois.

A few days ago, pilgrims gathered in the choir loft of the church at Zabaldika, some sitting on cushions on the floor, others on chairs. The Sister who ran the evening prayer service asked if anyone would like to share anything they’ve learned thus far on their journey. I hadn’t taken the time to consider either question until that point. But something simple came to me quickly. “On my first Camino I learned to stop judging other people. On this Camino, I’m learning to let go of my concern about other people judging me.”

 

 

A Day in the Life: On the Camino de Santiago

On Friday I’ll begin my third Camino. My friend Lois and I will walk ten miles per day for fifty or so days, reaching our goal of Santiago, Spain sometime in early November.

Some people’s eyes grow wide when they hear we’re walking ten miles in a day. “Well, think about it,” I explain. “If you’re only job was to walk every day, you could do ten miles, too.” I then explain the mathematics of it all, which may or may not help depending on one’s childhood experiences with numbers. But in a nutshell, it’s this: normal walking pace is three miles per hour. So it takes 3.5 hours to walk ten miles. And we have all darn day!

In fact, my day on the Camino is a lot like those of you working folks. After waking, I get dressed, pack up for the day and eat some breakfast. And about 8 o’clock I depart to begin my “work” day. I “work” for two hours, stop for coffee break. Then another two hours and I stop for lunch. Then another two hours.

And here’s where my day may differ a little from that of the working folk: I’m done at 2. I shower, change my clothes, do some laundry, and if all goes as planned I’m sitting on a piazza with a glass of wine by 3. I spend the next six or so hours catching up with friends, maybe doing a little grocery shopping, eating some dinner, then I’m off to bed.

There are a few other differences, as well:

  • The place I leave from in the morning is not the same one I return to at night.
  • Breakfast is shared with anywhere from one to twenty people. As are my coffee breaks and lunch breaks. And it could be twenty people from twenty different countries.
  • I see my friends nearly every day—or at most every few days. In person.
  • They only ever see me in one of two outfits, as that is all I have.
  • These friends of mine are people I’ve known only for a few hours or a few days.
  • Our conversations rarely have anything to do with our jobs. Or the headlines.  Why we’re here on the Camino is an often answered question whose answer can lead to a conversation that may go on for hours–a conversation in which I may learn about the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the end of a career, the questions one is seeking answers to.
  • I drink more wine on the Camino than I ever do in my life in the States. Partly because people like to buy me drinks, which is partly because they can buy a round for ten people for about fifteen dollars.
  • I go to bed earlier than I ever do in the States. And don’t need a book to read before my eyes close—my body slips into sleep not long after my head finds my pillow.
  • The bed in which I sleep each night rarely has sheets.
  • I share my room with one or two or fifty other people.
  • I don’t need an alarm. My roommates will begin rousing themselves long before I care to wake myself.

And every morning I’m happy to do it all over again.  This, I hope, is how you feel each day when you wake up as well.

__________

p.s. Though I haven’t written much in the last two months, I’m hoping to return to this blog many times in these next two months. If you don’t want to miss a thing I recommend subscribing to the blog (upper right)–that way you’ll get an e-mail every time I write something.

And for those of you looking to procrastinate whatever it is you’re “supposed” to be doing at this hour, here’s a link to things I wrote my first time on the Camino. -Rebecca

Scenes from a Morning Walk

Every morning, sometime between 6:30 and 7, I depart whichever home is serving as my current residence: hiking shoes on feet, pedometer at my hip. If I’m going to walk 490 miles across Spain in September, it’s time to get practicing.

20150619_070543_HDR

100 steps from the house . . .

This morning, I walked down to a fog-covered Schroon Lake with Michael and my father, up past the boathouse, and then parted ways with them: they headed to Stewart’s for the morning coffee klatsch, I went off with a goal to walk more miles than I did yesterday.

Schroon Lake Boathouse

Schroon Lake Boathouse

Yesterday, I got distracted. Taking pictures. So this morning I did not slip my phone/camera into the pocket of my fleece, and was thus able to reach my goal.

In case you missed it, let me repeat: I had to wear fleece this morning. It’s June 20th. It was 47 degrees.

It certainly looks like summer here.

They grey and white landscapes have been replaced by more colorful ones.

They greys and whites of winter have been replaced by more colorful hues.

 

Unimpeded views of a frozen lake are no more.

Unimpeded views of a frozen lake are no more.

Perhaps the universe is just trying to help me out. Cool mornings are better for walking than warm, muggy ones. Or maybe I’m just asking too much. After all, summer doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow.

These little ones weren't born in time to see snow. Lucky them.

These little ones weren’t born in time to see last winter’s snow. Lucky ducks (or geese, as it were).

 

 

 

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:

Photo

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.
Photo

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.

The Things We Leave Behind (or Three Uses for Everything)

Last week, my friend Lois sent me a link to the show Tiny House Nation. Each week, Zach Giffin and John Weisbarth help people build and move into Tiny Houses–classified as under 500 square feet for the purposes of this show. Zach lives in a 112 square foot house himself and serves as contractor and custom-furniture builder. John does the requisite eyebrow-lifting when he steps into the first family’s 1300 square foot house, and then helps them to scale down–to the point that they can comfortably live in just 172 square feet.

During that first episode, in an effort to help a Jeff and Chelsea Kibert determine what to let go of,  John said, “If you don’t need it, you can’t keep it.”

Ha. I would have said, “If it doesn’t have at least three uses, you can’t keep it.” That advice was given to me two years ago while I was walking nearly five hundred miles on the Camino de Santiago. The pack on my back held everything I thought I would need for the next forty days. Weighing in at twenty-two pounds, however, I started to reconsider my choices.

Rick, a fellow pilgrim on the trail, told me my pack should only contain items with three uses. I immediately liked the idea. After all, I’m the woman who is mystified by–and refuses to purchase–single-use items.

So on days when I walked alone for a few hours, I challenged myself to think of three uses for things I had with me. The words of William Morris floated into my head: Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Well, beauty wasn’t much of a concern along the Camino. But useful? Yes. Three times over.

A few days later, at a hostel in Tosantos, I met a fellow pilgrim named Becky. As we sat in the garden outside the hostel, our clothes swayed in the breeze on the clothesline. I shared the everything-must-have-three-uses philosophy with her.

“Only three?” she asked.

Only? Was she serious? Yes, indeed she was. Becky, I soon learned, was a master of packing light. She glanced over at the laundry line and gave me four uses for her bath towel. I was impressed. So far I had only used mine for drying me post-shower. And it didn’t even do that very well–probably because it was only as big as a legal-size sheet of paper.

By the time I finished the Camino my pack was six pounds lighter. Things I thought I needed for the journey (gym shorts, a second pair of hiking pants, a paperback book) had been left behind–and I didn’t miss any of them.

Last week, I watched Jeff and Chelsea decide what they would need on the next phase of their life journey–and knew that, like me, much of what they left behind would not be missed.