Friday, December 30, 2016

Being vs Doing

"He was always thinking of what else to do and she told him that it was rare for her, because she had grown up not doing, but being."
From Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I am currently reading the novel, Americanah and when I read this line I had an "Aha!" moment. What I realized is that all of my life I have been focused on what needed to be done, and for the first time in my life I am just being. I am not planning the next trip or checking my to-do list.  I am just living.

On a typical day in our old life in Salem, Oregon, Sam would wake up and tell me all the things that he needed to get done that day and then he would ask what was on my agenda for the day.  I would strain my early-morning-brain to deliver an answer that suggested that I too had a busy day ahead, and then we would hit the ground running.

Now when we wake up the only agenda is to get the shutters opened and the coffee on the stove.  Once that is accomplished we let the day lead us.  Sam will wander outside and find things to do, but without that feeling of needing to do any of it.  He finds joy in trimming trees and stacking wood.  I usually clean up the breakfast dishes and get a load of laundry going and then I go from there. Even days when I mop the floors, I don't feel a sense of needing to do it; I enjoy doing it.

In the past few weeks since I have blogged our being has led us to several places and activities.  The week before Christmas we went to Seville (Sevilla in Spanish).  We left our house early Sunday morning following a night of heavy rain and wind.  The hot water heater was not working that morning so I washed my hair in the kitchen sink with water heated on the stove. When we stepped outside we discovered that a tree had come down in the night, blocking our walkway.  Sam said, "Well, this is interesting," and continued on to the car. (We later discovered that it had snapped at the roots, so there was no saving it.) We carefully drove down the mountain noting new erosion and fallen rock from the storm, and then we parked our car in Lanjarón. We took the bus from Lanjarón to Granada and checked into our hotel there.

We enjoyed the festive lights in Granada and ate some tasty food. 

Light in Granada

More lights in Granada

The next day we walked to the train station for our trip to Sevilla.  We learned that we would be taking a bus as the tracks are being re-done for high speed rail.  Then we discovered that the bus only took us half way and soon we were dumped at another train station where we got the train the rest of the way into Sevilla.

We enjoyed a lovely few days in Sevilla. Our studio apartment seemed luxurious with electric heat, hot water, a shower that you could drive a car into and a fridge full of drinks that was restocked each day, without charge. While in Sevilla we walked and walked; and we ate. We especially enjoyed both a Peruvian and an Italian restaurant. We had planned ahead to go to the Alcazar, but we were having such a good time without an agenda, that we never made it. Next time. Perhaps. The public areas in Sevilla are outstanding with miles of wide walkways along the river, and large public parks where it is easy to get lost in the peaceful setting among fountains and a variety of gardens.

Yummy food in Sevilla

Lights in Sevilla

Lots of street performances - we enjoyed the groups of kids.

Christmas lights on orange trees

In the Plaza de España

Beautiful public parks in Sevilla

We returned to Granada from Sevilla for one more night in Granada and then took the bus back to Lanjarón.  It was Christmas eve and our bus driver was clearly the back-up driver so the trip on the winding road into Lanjarón was slightly terrifying.  When we got home we discovered a bag hanging on our door.  The neighbors had left us Christmas cards and homemade cookies and jam and chutney.  It was so lovely to come home to a gift from our wonderful neighbors!

Before we went to bed Sam had cut up the downed tree and repaired the water heater.  I had prepared for days without hot water and felt that he had delivered a bit of a "Christmas miracle!"

Our days move slowly, but they also fly past. It is an odd situation. We have already been in our house for five months (and I needed to count them on my fingers three times to be sure!) In ways it feels as if we just arrived, but at the same time it is as if this has always been home.

Last Monday we were working outside when a neighbor who lives way above us called to invite us up for "coffee and cake" at 3:00.  We finished up our work, took showers and drove the 20 minutes up the mountain to where this delightful Swedish couple has a vacation home. It was a warm day and we sat on their terrace enjoying the coffee and cake and the outrageous view (like ours, only higher up). As the sun fell over the mountain to the west they invited us inside for wine and snacks around the wood stove.  Four hours after arriving we finally said our good-byes and headed back home.

Wednesday we invited the neighbors, who left the Christmas treat on our door, for breakfast at 10:00.  I made banana muffins and date nut bread and an Italian Frittata. We enjoy this family of four so much and it was delightful to spend 3-4 hours with them mid-week. The kids had fun following me around the labyrinth that I recently made.


On Thursday Sam and I took a long hike up past the ruin, down to the river and then back along the river to the base of our hill.  There is a bit of a path up the hill, but we decided to bushwhack up the sheer cliff, until we finally arrived at the one place in our fence where it is possible to climb over. It was an adventure, but next time we'll take the path.

Favorite ruin view
Another ruin on our walk

Tomorrow we hope to drive up to the snow with our snowshoes for a little outing and then we will spend New Year's eve with neighbors and friends.

This life suits me. The warm sunshine day after day, the gentle pace, the friendships that come easily with our neighbors...I noticed recently that the crease between my eyebrows - something I've had since I was about 8 years old, is less noticeable.  I think that is an indication that I have found the life that I was meant to live.  

As we say good-bye to 2016, a year of pain and sorrow for so many, we look to 2017 with many concerns for the United States and because of that, for the world, but when we can pull in and focus on right here and right now, there is joy and peace.  And our hope is that our friends and family, around the world, will experience the same, because all we have for sure is now, and all we really need to do is to just be.

Good-bye 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Taking a Break

No real blog post this week.  We are leaving in the morning for a little trip to Seville but will be home again on Christmas eve. We look forward to spending a few days in a European city at Christmas time to see the lights and other festivities. Wishing you all a joyful season!

Here are a few photos from the week (mainly for those, like my parents, who do not see my photos on Facebook.)

Sun setting on Mulhacén

Moon rising above Bubion


Sam burning trimmings

Sam and Manuel working on widening the driveway

A snowy morning

Lovely morning view

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Perfectly Normal Week

This week was just a normal week. I considered skipping the blog because who wants to read about normal life? But after scanning my Facebook newsfeed and seeing story after story of doom and gloom and sorrow, I decided that normal weeks may be exactly what people want to read about!

Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast with the neighbors. We arrived about 10 and spent several hours together. We are fortunate to have wonderful neighbors with two delightful young children. There is a gentle ease when we are all together; an ease that is rare so early in a friendship. It was a dreary day, but even when the hillside is swallowed by clouds, there is beauty.

Fog on the mountainside

Monday we went into Orgiva to check the mail and pick up packages. I had ordered two jigsaw puzzles and was excited to have an on-going project.  My tendency towards compulsion meant that I was about 400 pieces into the 1000-piece puzzle by the time we went to sleep Monday night, but I have found a better rhythm as the week has progressed.  

The citrus trees in and around Orgiva are loaded with fruit and along the streets there are deep purple blooms of morning glories and the sweet scent of jasmine; each outdoor cafe table was occupied as people meet for coffee or an early beer and tapa, and all the time there are views of the snow covered Sierras. Will this ever really seem "normal" or will I continue to appreciate how special this place is?

Morning glory


On Tuesday we decided to walk to the fuente to clean off the screen where the spring water fills the barrel before being piped to our tank. We started walking up the road and saw a flock of sheep in the distance with many sheep dogs and we decided to hang back in order to avoid provoking the dogs. There were also several hunters scattered across the hillside and each hunter had up to ten dogs with him. The hunting dogs were focused and didn't pay any attention to us as we walked.  We climbed up the steep path to the spring and Sam took several minutes to clean off all the gravel that had washed down onto the screen.  He noted that the screen will need replacing soon, so that will be a project for another day.

Fuente screen cleaning with a view

Wednesday started bright and sunny and the mountain was a brilliant white against the deep blue sky. We stayed around home, Sam doing yard work and I tried to get laundry washed, hung out and dried before the afternoon clouds blocked the sun and enveloped us. 

Thursday we drove up the mountain to the look out tower and took a walk along the acequia.  It was the same hike we did three weeks earlier with Manuel and the changes were drastic. The previously yellow leaves were now brown and there was a constant shower of falling leaves as we walked.  The mountains, now snow covered, provided dramatic views. We stopped for lunch at an old oak stump and sat on the exposed roots for our picnic.  The patterns in the weather worn wood of the tree were spectacularly detailed. 

Stunning views

Fascinating patterns

After the walk we hunted for pine cones.  The large cones are excellent fire starters, but where we had previously seen the ground covered with cones, there were none. Someone else had gotten there before us and gathered all the fallen cones. While we hunted there was another man with a bag doing the same thing and it felt a bit like a hectic scavenger hunt as we tried to get to each long-needled pine first.  This time we each went home with only a few cones.

Friday we went back to Orgiva to pick up a package for Sam. We visited with friends that we encountered as we walked through town, and then stopped at a bar for beer and tapas and enjoyed sitting in the warm sun accompanied by a friendly cat. We decided to do a grocery run while we were off the mountain and went to the Mercadona.  There were two holidays during the week; Tuesday was Constitution Day and Thursday was Immaculate Conception Day. Everything closes on holidays, so the Mercadona was busy on Friday. We purchased what we needed then stopped at Juanmi's in Lanjaron on the way back home.  Lanjaron was hosting a week-long "ruta de tapas" and each bar had a specialty tapa for the event. Juanmi served us each a tapa of bread with jamon and cheese topped with a cream cheese stuffed pepper and that was topped with smoked salmon. It was amazingly delicious!  For two glasses of wine and the two tapas, it was 4 euro; in the States we would have paid at least $25 for the same thing.

One of Juanmi's tapas

On Saturday we went with our neighbors to a Christmas fair in Orgiva.  The event is held each year at a garden there. The couple who own the garden have spent years turning their property into a delightful place with varied landscapes and peaceful spaces. There were many craftspeople selling their wares and we purchased fresh grapefruit and mandarin marmalades as well as several other small items. We enjoyed a dance performance and music as well as food and drink. We ran into friends from Lanjaron and several others who we had met previously, and we appreciated the chance to visit a bit more with each one.  At one point I went and sat with a group from Lanjaron and it struck me that I really am making a life here.

We purchased a sack of fresh oranges; 2 euro a bag

Today is warm and sunny and we were comfortable eating our breakfast and lunch outside. 

December morning, outside breakfast

Late afternoon view from our property
It is all just part of what is now our normal life, and I couldn't be happier.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Life We've Chosen

It has occurred to us that what we are doing here isn't for everyone.  Many people get to this stage of life and look for things to be easier; they want to relax and enjoy the benefits of years of hard work. 

But we have chosen something different and we comment at least once a day that we love our life here.  I reflected this week about some of the differences between our old life and what our days are like now.  

I used to stumble to the kitchen, pop a coffee pod into the espresso machine and push a button to get a perfect cup of espresso each morning.  Now I fill the stove top espresso pot with water from the filter, carefully spoon the coffee into the basket, screw on the top chamber, turn on the gas burner, and wait...I watch the weather and if it is going to be sunny, I put a load of laundry in first thing so that it will have time to dry on the line before the sun sets. We have a septic tank and, like most people in Spain, we don't flush toilet paper - now, even in a public restroom, I carefully put the used tissue into the appropriate can.  Every time we go down the mountain we collect all the garbage and take it to the dumpster located next to the Ermita del Padre Eterno. In our old life we were always in a hurry to get someplace; now we think nothing of turning off the car and waiting for the herd of sheep or goats to make their way along the road.  Before, we could flip a switch and hot air would come from vents throughout the house; now we take turns lighting the wood stove and then feeding it throughout the day and evening.  

It all takes more time, but it just doesn't matter.  Like we say to each other, "what else do we have to do?"

This week I recovered from my illness and Sam took his turn with the coughing and sneezing; as of today we both seem to be on the mend.  On Monday I needed some sunshine after several gloomy days. Sam was just beginning to get sick, but he was willing to take a drive.  We ended up at the coast in the town of Salobreña.  We walked along the beach and then stopped for a delicious seafood paella. 


It was a beautiful day and there were few people around. The sun shimmered on the Mediterranean and we marveled at how different the climate is only a few miles from our mountain home. Flowers are in bloom everywhere and the orange trees are loaded with colorful fruit; soon we will be able to buy huge sacks of fresh oranges for only 2 euros from old men along the road.

Sun on the Mediterranean

Felipe stopped by one morning - he and a friend were driving up the mountain to do some cross country skiing and he had forgotten his poles so he stopped to borrow ours.  We were so pleased that he thought to come and ask if he could use them.  Later Sam was working on some leaks in the water system when Felipe returned and jumped out of the truck to help out.  We love the easy give and take that people have here.  It is hard for us to ask for help, but we are learning from the example of a more open and trusting culture.

Felipe and friend assisting Sam with the water issue

Today Sam wanted to do some fence repair.  We pulled on our boots and when to the bottom part of our property.  The hillside is steep and when you are down there you would never guess that there is a house just over the lip of the hill.  The neighbor's horses have reached across the fence because even Spanish horses believe that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  But as a result there are places where the fence has been pushed down and so Sam pulled and stapled and added rebar posts.  I was nearby to hold or hand things as needed.  As we worked we could hear the church bells in the villages across the way and after awhile Jesus brought his flock into the neighboring field and we enjoyed the clanging sheep and goat bells.  Fence mending is hard work, but with the view and the auditory atmosphere, it didn't really feel like work.

Happy worker-man

Pounding in rebar posts

Fence repair with a view

Jesus lives a solitary life as a shepherd.  In the summer he is high up in the mountains with his herd, but in the winter he is back down here and he is our nearest neighbor.  He has a reputation, but we aren't really sure what that reputation is.  So we have decided to go out of our way to be friendly.  At first we just waved when we passed him on the road but then one day we stopped and introduced ourselves. This week I made banana bread and Manuel delivered it to Jesus.  He has numerous dogs and they aggressively protect his flock, so I did not want to try and deliver it myself, but Manuel knows him and was happy to take it for me. In the evenings when the sun is setting and the temperature drops, we are cozy in our house and we can hear the bells as the flock returns to the barn; I think of how cold and lonely it must be to be a shepherd and I will continue to look for ways to show kindness to Jesus.

We are worried about the political situation in the States; from our perspective it has gone from crazy to disastrous.  I wake with a jolt of anxiety in the night and then resent that this has been allowed to happen.  But our days have a gentle rhythm, and we try to stay present, not letting the situation "at home" steal any of the simple joy that awaits us here and now.

And always, there is the view.....

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Brief Thoughts From a Sick Head

Last Sunday we got up early to meet Manuel for another hike.  This time he promised no steep ascents or descents - instead we were going to walk along the acequia (irrigation ditch) to Puente Palo.  I knew as I got dressed that I was coming down with something, but I wanted to hike so I didn't mention it to Sam.

Manuel was waiting for us when we walked up to the gate just before 8 am.  The sunrise was especially spectacular, indicating a change in the weather.  

Spectacular surise

We drove up the mountain to the lookout tower and stopped to check for mushrooms under the oaks there. We stood at the fire lookout and watched as the sun rose over the mountains to the East and as the rays started to sparkle on the surface of the Mediterranean.  

View from the fire lookout

Then we drove on a little bit, parked the truck and began our hike.  

The route is lovely, and gentle as promised.  The oak forests were at the peak of yellow brilliance and here and there golden poplars punctuated the view.  Manuel pointed out several varieties of oaks, some that keep their leaves year round, and he told us the Latin name for each.  

Yellow and gold hillside

We learned which oaks have the tastiest acorns and when we passed a very large and old tree, he hugged it.  His excitement for these mountains is contagious and we found ourselves reflecting his joy as we walked. 

A true "tree-hugger"

Blues (the dog) was with us and he kept busy sniffing the many places where wild boar had recently churned up the ground.  It was a pleasant walk and by noon we were back at the truck.  

Puente Palo

Walking along the acequia

Fantastic views and interesting clouds

By Sunday evening there was no doubt that I was sick.  The bubbly ears and scratchy throat could no longer be ignored.  The weather changed overnight and Monday and Tuesday brought lots of rain.  It was cozy inside our house with the wood stove going.  At our house in Oregon we were more aware of the weather.  We could hear the rain beating against the windows and at times when the wind was strong, it was as if the entire house shook.  In our stone house here, the wind can blow and we are not aware of it at all.  I like the solid feeling that the thick stone walls provide.  

The view from our living room this week.  Isn't this a perfectly shaped tree?

On Wednesday the weather cleared and we were greeted by a snow line only a few hundred meters higher than our house.  Mulhacén was magnificent - blindingly white against the deep blue sky.  

We knew that snow was forecast for later in the week so decided to take advantage of the clearing to go out and stock up on groceries.  The road down the mountain was not as eroded as we had feared after the heavy rains, but perhaps our expectations have just been lowered.  We stopped in Orgiva for mail and a few materials at the hardware store, then went half way to Granada to the Mercadona supermercado.  We loaded the cart and, nearly 200 euro later, were back in the car headed for home. I was drugged up and not feeling too badly, so we stopped in Lanjaron for some lunch and re-stocked on cough drops and ibuprofen at the Farmacia.

The view from our road coming home on Wednesday.  Our property is down the hill to the right.

Thursday was Thanksgiving. Turkeys do not seem to be readily available here, but I had purchased a chicken at the Mercadona and managed to put together a festive meal of roasted chicken and vegetables.  We enjoyed a quiet day - the only Americans on the mountain, so a holiday all our own.

This has been our longest spell of dreary weather.  The break mid-week was welcome, but for the most part we have had a week of rain and fog and grey.  The land here needs the moisture and the ski area opened today with so many excited about the snow in the Sierras.  I am reminded of the long winters in Oregon and am ready to wake up to bright sunshine and blue skies.  We run the generator each day because there has not been any solar power to charge the batteries.  We worry about how long the wood supply will last, but recognize that once the sun returns, and I am healthy again, we will not keep the fire going all day long.

A break in the rain today and we went out to our yard to admire the colors.

We think of friends and family; this week Sam's mother turned 92 and a dear friend celebrates 85 today.  Some of the kids were together for Thanksgiving while another worked, and the fourth is contemplating a move.  Life moves on "at home," and we watch from afar.  We hold our families and our friends close in our hearts, while voicing our gratefulness for this time in our lives.  We are thankful to be here now and we look forward to every opportunity to share this experience with others.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Finding More in Life by Having Less

We first visited Spain in the fall of 2008 and for months after that I would escape to my memories of our trip through photos, blogs and podcasts.  

I recently stumbled on this post that I wrote in February of 2009.  I didn't remember writing it, but re-reading it now I am stunned.  

My soul found its home on that first trip to Spain; I'm thankful that I was able to bring it back here to stay.

February 9, 2009
I went for a run at lunch time, and while running I listened to 2 podcasts from Ben and Marina put together a number of podcasts while visiting various places around Spain. Ben is British but has lived in Spain for over 10 years now and Marina is from Spain and they met, married and now have a baby in Madrid. Today's podcasts were both done in the Alpujarras, south of Granada. The first was recorded in Lanjaron, the first village you come to when driving up into the Alpujarras. 


This village is known for its spring water and we drove through there in October on our way to Ferreirola. The second podcast was done outside of Orgiva at the home of Chris Stewart. Chris left England in the 1960s and settled on a farm outside of Orgiva. He has written several books about his experience - the best known is called Driving Over Lemons.

The 45 minutes or so that these podcasts lasted provided the mini-vacation that I needed. I had listened to them before going to Spain last fall but hearing them again, and being able to picture the places mentioned, allowed my mind to hear the water trickling from the springs, and through the irrigation troughs built over 500 years ago by the Moors - I could smell the damp moss and ferns that flourish around the springs, I could feel the hot sun pinning me against the barren hillsides and I could hear the goat bells echoing across the valley.

Mineral water fountain outside the village of Ferreirola
When we were in the Alpujarras it was the highpoint of our trip, and now, looking back, it provides one of my most soothing mental hide-aways. I hope we can return there someday. I dream of living there in one of the villages, among other expats from England, Holland, Germany and probably the USA (although I don't think there are many Americans there.) Some of the white villages of the Alpujarras have stayed more Spanish than others and all retain the strong influence of the Moors who built the villages.

A younger Laura at peace in Ferreirola

I really believe I could be content in those mountains, rarely needing to venture out. 

Everywhere is a feeling of ease, and peace, and slow, conscious living. I long for that environment and to be surrounded by people who wanted more from life and found it by having less.