Spanish Medical Adventure # 2

A raised bump on my arm stuck around longer than it should have. I take this seriously. Basal cell cancer has been a mini plastic surgery program for me. The left side of my face is tighter than the right. The two inch scar is almost imperceptible. I shared a photo of it before it healed. I thought I looked like a pirate. No one else thought it was funny.

There’s a similar scar on my left arm. If I forget where it is, I can barely find it. The one on my back is as dubious as the procedure was. The way I read the biopsy report is as follows: A slightly discolored irregularly shaped spot that had been viewed by several dermatologists over the last thirty years could have turned cancerous and killed me long after I was dead.

The bump on my arm wasn’t going to be ignored. I actually had Donna look at it. That’s like opening Pandora’s box, and an indication I actually knew what I needed to do. Medical opinions would begin to flow if I didn’t call a doctor within 24 hours. If all of my doctors in the states hadn’t disappeared, I’d be on a plane.

Finding a doctor in Spain is as easy as opening an app and plugging in a medical specialty and your zip code. A list of doctors pops up. If they speak English, there’s an ‘E’ next to their name. Very few doctors make appointments online. You have to call and there’s a 95% chance the person picking up the phone doesn’t habla ingles. If you’re lucky the phone gets passed around. It’s best to write a script.

Making the actual appointment is easy. Explaining what the visit is for means practicing how to say things like, “Yo tengo una mancha en mi brazo. Me han extirpado varios canceres de celulas basales en el pasado.” It’s all good until you get asked follow up questions. I just keep repeating myself.

Eventually an appointment is offered. The doctor who speaks English has appointments several weeks out. The doctor who doesn’t have an ‘E’ next to his name can see me tomorrow. Touchdown!

On the way to the appointment Donna assumes I’m seeing the doctor who speaks English. “No, it’s a bump on my arm. That’s a ‘Yes, or no.’ situation. The doctor just has to look. I figure there will be another appointment, or he’ll prescribe an ointment.”

Donna narrowed her eyes and said, “An ointment???” We’d both Googled pictures of basal cell cancers the night before. Of course we didn’t talk about it. It was understood I didn’t want to talk about it then either. “I don’t care what the doctor says. We’re keeping a close eye on this!” That was Donna’s last word.

I was ushered into an examination room and eventually the doctor arrived. He brushed aside my notes and in Spanish slow enough for a four year old to follow he told me I had a tiger mosquito bite. He had seen a lot of them. They are very common.

The doctor prescribed an ointment. I apply it twice a day. If the bump isn’t gone by then, I am supposed to make another appointment. Then he added that I could also put the ointment on the nearly invisible scars on my arm and face. Hmmm?

I thought about this on the way home. I thought about it when I applied the ointment. Then I thought about it again when the ointment appeared to be working. In the U.S. my doctor would have biopsied a bug bite. If your dermatologist can’t tell the difference between a bug bite and cancer, you are in trouble. That bump better be gone in three weeks!

Help Ukraine: Update

The Center…

It’s been over a year since we started volunteering at Help Ukraine: Valencia. For us and everyone else it was an immediate response to a humanitarian crisis.

Tanks were rolling onto Ukrainian soil. Bombs were falling. People were dying. Families weren’t safe in their own homes. Thousands were leaving the familiar and heading into the unknown. For many the unknown was Spain.

A year later Spain has authorized 170,000 temporary protection entry permits for Ukrainians. This provides immediate residency and work permits. 63% of those who have gained this protection are women. By age group 33% of the Ukrainians who have sought protection are under the age of 18. The Valencian community has welcomed 46,154 Ukrainians.

Other support has been slow to materialize. Only 15% of working age Ukrainians have found a job in Spain. Elsewhere in Europe the average is 40%. A 400 euro a month stipend has recently been provided, but without a job and a steady income finding housing is problematic. For too many people the uncomfortable choice is allocating insufficient and dwindling resources for food, or having some kind of roof overhead.

Food Distribution…

At ‘The Center’ lines and wait times tell us needs have steadily increased. I am proud to say what started out as a seat-of-the-pants grassroots response has adapted and become more efficient. Ongoing needs continue to be met.

There were days when volunteers dipping into their own pockets, generous donations from friends and family, and pure strokes luck kept shelves from being completely bare. There were days when needs were greater than our combined good fortunes.

Grassroots organizations depend upon inspired moments to keep moving forward. Good ideas need to be recognized and embraced. At ‘The Center’ the right people were there, and the right people showed up. Heavily discounted fruit and vegetables are purchased from the shop on the corner. A bakery provides day old bread. A partnership with a foundation was negotiated. The foundation provides three jam packed car loads of food every week. Donna and I walk to a bulk food store (Nasty Plastic) and bring back big bags of rice. Everyone is giving what they can. There’s a closet full of food for emergencies.

Most importantly a strong international team has been created. People who used to be part of the line have stepped up and shown us how it should be done. (Employers who aren’t hiring Ukrainians are making a big mistake!)

I’d like to say that in a little over a year some breathing room has been created. Uncertainty has always been baked in though. While politicians engage in geopolitical maneuvers and posturing, lives and futures continue to be at stake.

Tomorrow’s needs are unknown. With your help and support ‘The Center’ will be there and ready for whatever comes. A little more than a year on I have no doubt about that.

Valencia: Barrio del Carmen

Imagining what it would feel like to live somewhere isn’t the same thing as living there. Living there doesn’t necessarily provide a sense of home. For Donna and I home has become an interesting concept. Even on a 14 day French canal trip Donna packed everything she thought we needed to make our utilitarian rental boat feel homey. It wasn’t a sailboat that ‘tilts’. So, there was a vase for flowers. Home isn’t a place or building to us. It’s a feeling, and all the ambiance we can carry or collect.

We’ve been in Valencia’s Barrio del Carmen for a little more than a year. Our first apartment was a bolt hole. Our new rental feels inevitable. In Spain we still have a home in Oliva for relaxing. The apartment in Barrio del Carmen is our home base.

FINDINGS: Barrio del Carmen

Barrio del Carmen is a buzzing area of historic Valencia. It’s one of Europe’s oldest medieval quarters. That means it has narrow alleys, and a maze of streets. Getting lost is easy. There is always a new corner to turn, new shops, shortcuts, and restaurants to discover. Choosing a specific point of orientation is helpful. In the beginning we started in Placa de la Virgen and slowly worked out from there. These days we are doing a deep dive into the area around our apartment.


Mayan Coffees, Murillo 54, Valencia
If you can find Torres de Quart, you can find Mayan Coffees. It has a 4.8 rating, Max makes an excellent cup of Guatemalan coffee. Gladys makes a mean tamale. In season zumo de sandia (watermelon juice) is a must order.

1 Rato Mas, C/ de Dalt 21, Valencia
This used to be El Cafe de l’abad. New owners have added a bigger bar, a bigger menu, and better pastries. The coffee is still good. (I miss the former barista.) There’s morning sun. It’s also a nice place for cocktails in the afternoon. If we were true locals, we’d order beer for breakfast.

Q7th Specialty Coffee, C/ Quart 7, Valencia
This is a grab and go option. The proprietor just wants to make coffee…dammit. Donna gets the coffee. I head to Pasteleria San Nicolas (Placa del Forn de San Nicolas). It has the oldest oven in Valencia. Then we meet in Placa del Tossal and find a sunny bench. A well-made coffee, old school pastries, and people watching can make my day. (There’s a local who looks like 13th Floor Elevators’ Roky Erickson. I keep wondering if he’d sing It’s A Cold Night for Alligators with me.)


Although it’s close Central Market isn’t where we shop everyday, but our favorite vendors are there. That can change from day to day. How today’s products look and smell, and the day’s prices guide our purchases. If a vendor has tiny Alpine strawberries, they are getting fresh produce. The fishmonger who is still cleaning after everyone else has left for the bar usually has the best fish. If the bakery smells like freshly baked bread, the loaves are still warm. The vendor who doesn’t display prices is charging too much for product that’s approaching its pull date.


Bar Richard, Carrer de Pinzon, 9, Valencia Reservations are necessary. It’s a small fish bar. I recommend going for lunch. By dinner popular items might be sold out. If you order oysters on the half shell, you’ll only get two apiece. Go with people who don’t like oysters, and eat theirs.

El Molinon, C/ de la Bosseria 40, Valencia
This is where you go if you want a taste of Northern Spain without leaving Valencia. Cider on tap, and fabada will make you feel like you’re in an Austurian village. (Thanks, Oscar and Susan!)

L’Angolo Der Grillo, C/ Santa Teresa 23
Donna always orders puttanesca con bucatini. Everyone knows it. My son, Aubrey, raved about the carbonara. This is real deal authentic Italian food. Donna made a point of having lunch at the owner’s brother’s restaurant in Rome. How good is l‘Angola Der Grillo’s service? The waitress waved me down in the street to tell me Donna left her sunglasses at the restaurant the night before.


Celler Bouquet, C/ de Baix 29, Valencia

This is one of those places you usually find when you are lost. It’s wall to wall wine. There’s a well-curated hard liquor selection. The proprietor knows every bottle in the place. If we are looking for a limited pressing made with heritage grapes, Celler Bouquet is our first, and usually only stop.

When exploring reveals places that become familiar, home might be right around the corner. The next discovery is waiting for you.

Fallas 2023

Valencia’s Fallas Festival is an annual World Heritage recognized event. It runs from March 15th to March 19th. (It kicks off on March 1st. There is a lot of preliminary activity, but a lot of it involves locals.) Fallas is held to celebrate St. Joseph. It has pageantry, marching bands, giant groupings of statues (ninots), loud fireworks displays (mascletas), cheek to jowl crowds, random explosions, floral offerings to Virgin Mary, helicopters overhead, spring break revelry, burning statues (La Crema), and more explosions. Locals and expats alike either love it, or head out of town with their dogs.

It is possible to customize your Fallas experience. The big mascleta occurs at 2 PM in Plaza de Ayuntamiento. The focus isn’t a visual display. It’s about rhythmic ground shaking, chest thumping explosions. If you enjoy being compressed by teeming crowds and want to feel the full effects of a mascleta, the Plaza is where you want to be. You can hear the mascleta all over town though. Three blocks away at the back of the crowd is good enough for me. Sitting on our balcony a kilometer away with a book and a glass of wine is Donna’s preference. Renting one of the hotel rooms overlooking Plaza de Ayuntamiento is an option if you book in advance.

There are over 700 ninot displays erected in Valencia during Fallas. Regional towns have displays (and mascletas) as well. The displays are in place by March 15th. They are judged on the 16th. An aimless walking tour of Valencia’s historic center and its outskirts is all that’s needed to find ninots. They are beautiful, usually satirical, and sometimes ribald. They are built to burn.

The origin of the word ‘Fallas’ is ‘torch’. It came to mean ‘bonfire’, a Spring ritual burning, and then Valencia’s major festival. On March 19th the ninots are torched. There is a schedule, but burning three-story sculptural assemblages requires fire trucks and bomberos. There are over 700 assemblages to burn. La Crema is supposed to start at 10 PM. The big event in Plaza de Ayuntamiento is scheduled for 11:30 PM. That might happen. Be prepared to wait. The people are friendly, and the atmosphere is festive.

I chose to watch the ninot in Plaza Santa Ursula go up in flames. It’s 200 meters from our apartment. I watched it being constructed. Watching it burn would complete the cycle. Donna chose to walk back to the apartment and skip the burning.

The burnings are a point of contention. Most ninots are made out of polystyrene. Saving the planet is a frequent theme. Spewing toxic black smoke into the atmosphere isn’t environmentally friendly.

Efforts to address this glaring inconsistency have been made. There are prizes for ‘sustainable’ ninots made out of organic materials. I saw women stuffing explosives into paper mache heads. Watching that display go up in gray and white smoke could have been interesting. There are choices.

Marching bands and pageantry are nearly constant features of Fallas. Every neighborhood elects royalty. They are followed by their court and a band whenever they are out and about. Our apartment is on one of the roads leading to Plaza de la Virgin. That’s where a three-story Virgin Mary is constructed. She starts out as bare scaffolding. A two day parade of costumed participants dress TheVirgin in a flower cloak. She is not burned. She is deconstructed.

From our perch above one parade route we determined the marching bands know the same three songs. They play them on the way to the plaza, and they play them on the way back. Every night after the last band passes there are fireworks. Our bedroom is above a dead end street. It’s a great place to toss M-80s. At 4:30 AM the last round of explosions stops. Happy drunks start wandering down the street singing. At 9:00 AM the first M-80 goes off. You either love Fallas, or you leave town. In 2024 a coin will be flipped. I’d sure like to see what happens when paper mache heads stuffed with gunpowder catch fire.

Requena: Exploring the Valencia Region

We started our tour of Valencia Region towns in Requena. With 10 euro ‘unlimited’ rail passes it’s easy to go somewhere on a whim. A Google search indicated there was a “sample our artisan sausage” event in Requena from February 10th through the 12th. Wine and olive oil tastings were also being offered. We did a little more reading. Despite not being sure what exactly we were getting into we said, “Why not?”

Requena is situated at 2,270 ft. It’s colder than Valencia. That’s something to keep in mind when Valencia is sweltering. In the winter it means packing sweaters. Donna eventually bought gloves. I brought a hat and ear warmers. I didn’t use them. “Hace frio!”, was how every conversation with locals started.

In February the Muestra de Embutido Artesano y de Calidad is held in Requena’s Recinto Ferial Municipal at the fairgrounds. It’s a ten minute walk from the train station. You just get off the train, walk down the hill, and turn right at the fountain. From there you just follow the paseo.

Locals will tell you the sausage fair is crowded. They will also tell you it’s a place to meet friends and family and drink. All of that is true. Watching twenty-somethings twirl around in traditional dress while not spilling a single drop of wine from their raised glasses was a highlight. So was trying a legendary local sausage called Perro. It’s a blood sausage/head cheese hybrid flavored with a touch of cinnamon and cloves. Not having tried it before…I think a little more spice would have improved my sample. We bought some small press olive oil and headed for Requena’s historic Barrio de La Villa.

Barrio de La Villa was declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1966. It makes Requena a destination even if there isn’t a fair or festival in town. Gothic churches, several museums, the Jewish Quarter, the Palace of the Cid, and the Caves of the Villa are all just a short walk from each other. Our timing is notoriously off. A lot of the aforementioned attractions were closed, or closing, when we visited. Time to wander La Villa’s narrow maze of streets was welcomed. We did make a visit to the Museum of the Art of Silk. The self-guided tour was a colorful and informative diversion, and it got us out of the cold.

You don’t have to wait around for the sausage fair to find artisanal sausages in Requena. There are carnicerias and embutido shops throughout the city. Specialty food shops feature local products. The grocery store had a wide range of Requena wines lined up and ready for purchase. We bought a couple of bottles!

Finding a restaurant that wasn’t fully booked was a challenge. It was Friday night and there was a sausage fair going on. Go figure. Spaniards eat a lot later than we do. An early 8:30 PM dinner reservation at Cocina de Pilar got us in the door. The lamb was tender. The greens were fresh. The Bobal-Garnacha-Syrah blend was delicious. The Crema de Catalana was as good as it gets, and a little bit more.

For lunch the next day there was a choice between eating, or catching the last tour through The Caves of Villa. We chose eating. Somehow we managed to get the last two-top at Restaurante Dona Anita. The meal was a culinary tour of local specialties. A smooth mixture made out of potatoes, olive oil, eggs, and garlic was served. It’s called Ajoarriero. We couldn’t figure it out, but we ate all of it. It must have been good. Then came sausage skewers with fried potatoes and eggs, and a rich pork stew with more sausage. Dessert was an apple tarte tatin. You could have rolled us down the hill.

The fair goers rolled home all night long. The singing was bright and hovered near a tune. I slept through a lot of it. We caught an early train back to Valencia.

We have to thank our vacation rental host, Eva, and the people of Requena for their hospitality. They provided all the warmth we needed. We’ll be back!

Se Vende: The House in Oliva

Just because we found our dream house doesn’t mean we won’t sell it. Our pattern has been to find the house of our dreams, return it to its former glory, and then move on. There was a farmhouse in Sultan. A stunning craftsman in historic Snohomish. A metal garage to transform on Herron Island. We have stayed in our Seattle house longest. That feat required building a backyard cottage. Family members aren’t surprised when we move, or that our new dream requires lots of trips to home supply stores. It’s what we do.

The beauty of our house in Oliva, Spain was not having walls to remove in my future. The open kitchen fantasy would require knocking down a stone wall that is two and a half feet thick. The thin brick wall upstairs gave Donna her own dressing room. It’s not that moving walls wasn’t contemplated. I just didn’t have to be as emphatic when discouraging notions about wall removal.

The house in Oliva is definitely a dream house. It matches a recurring theme in Donna’s dream journal. Valencian beamed ceilings, rustic Spanish charm, and a view of the Mediterranean ticked all the right boxes. A view of the castle ruins from the terrace was an extra. That the walk up to the castle figures in local festivities was a surprise. Having traditional processions pass your house goes beyond dreams.

We didn’t visit the beach before making an offer on our house. The beach is stunning, and it’s stunning all year round. We visited a lot of Spanish beaches before landing in Oliva. Oliva’s beach is the best of them. It’s beautiful. It’s sandy. The waves are perfect for body surfing. There aren’t any high rises, or tourist hordes. The cafes are low key and run by locals. When our favorite pastry chef, Veronica, and her husband opened Juanmi we were thrilled. The beach in Oliva is a family affair. It was a perfect escape from getting our dream home to match our dreams.

Putting traditional tiles in the living room and dining room was the first order. Refacing and painting the house’s exterior was up next. Oscar and his crew did it right. Getting rid of leaky lead pipes and replacing them with copper wasn’t a choice. The result was healthy water and an opportunity to add copper touches wherever we saw fit. A new washing machine and hot water heater were added. Hot baths and a clothes washing cycle that doesn’t take hours were the rewards. Our recurring joke is that we get our house the way we want it, and then we move.

The house is a house. The people we met and became friends with are the real treasures. Open and friendly locals, expats from around the globe, helpful neighbors, and an always interesting mix of people make Oliva a fascinating and lively place to live.

All this and you might ask, “Then why are you selling your house there?” Reading the rest of this blog might suggest some answers. I go back to a quote from the poet Antonia. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was ‘Yes!’ What else could it have possibly been?” Life isn’t meant to be a series of unexplored possibilities. There’s always a new dream waiting around the bend. So we try leave things better than we found them, and then go around the next bend. “They were always a little around the bend.” will probably be carved into our tombstones.

Love you all!


The overnight snow that was forecast hadn’t fallen, or it refused to stick around. It was cold enough, and we were prepared. The cold has been the damp kind that comes with being by the water. We packed the warmest clothing we had in Spain. There were gaps. Hats, gloves, and ear muffs were needed. They weren’t difficult to find. New items were added as the cold seeped in.

Our trip to Denmark was one of seeking connections to Donna’s roots and her fondly remembered Danish grandmother. Childhood visions of a woman who read Donna’s fortune in tea leaves, whose hair hung below her knees when it was unbraided, whose teeth rested in a glass of water.

Donna’s father’s highest compliment was that a person was tough. His mother-in-law earned that compliment. Donna’s mom scrubbed the house from top to bottom before her mother came to visit. She wouldn’t smoke in front of her. Donna was suitably impressed. Kindred spirits perhaps. I once asked Donna if her parents spanked her as a child. Her answer, “They threatened, but they couldn’t catch me.”

After hitting a row of Copenhagen’s vintage stores we headed to Tivoli Garden. I was wearing a heartier version of a coat I had in high school. Green wool, horn buttons, a hood, and there was plenty of room to layer. It was a great vintage find. We saw what Tivoli had to offer with only a single trip to a gift shop, and a visit to the slot machines to warm up. Donna was heard to say, “Well, this puts Zoo Lights to shame.” I took way too many pictures.

We headed to Figaro for dinner. It’s Tivoli’s seafood restaurant. We ordered the seafood platter and dug into fresh cold-water seafood. There’s a difference when sea creatures haven’t been swimming around in bath water. We were going to leave a pile of shells!

At dinner we conversed with a young couple from Jutland. It was one of those free flowing comfortable conversations. World events, weather, and world views were shared along with oysters. Lark’s first adventure with a fresh beach picked tennis shoe-sized oyster didn’t leave her wanting more. The couple departed with hugs. Contact information was shared, but the blog host now offers an “Oops!” where actual contact information used to be. A paid email feature is now available. Yeah, I’m bitching a little here. (

When we got back to the hotel Donna emailed her nephew Ralph. His father’s genealogy records are now in his generous hands. Donna found out her grandmother, Hannah Laurasena Peterson, was born in Jutland. She arrived in the U.S. in 1891 at six years old. In the course of her life she had five children. Donna’s grandfather, Andrew Nelson, died from tuberculosis. Hannah lived 82 years. Her hair reached below her knees. She read tea leaves. Her accent was thick. She made time for her spunky granddaughter, if only to prove she could get her to sit still. She kept her teeth in a glass of water on the nightstand.

The snow finally arrived. It was warm enough for the flakes to be big and wet. Rain was sure to follow. We headed out for a big cup of coffee and a pastry. Then we’d search for a sewing kit to fix a loose button on Donna’s coat. Copenhagen delivers!

A Day In Spain

Our Wednesday ritual in Valencia includes a cup of what we have heard is the world’s best coffee (Kimbo) at home. Then we head over to Cafe de L’abad for fresh squeezed orange juice, more coffee, and tomato toast.

We have become recognizable regulars. The barista makes a fine cup of coffee. She has also been extremely kind when subjected to our stumbling, but increasingly confident, efforts to speak Spanish.

We have rudimentary conversations now. She told me the current exchange rate is favorable for her upcoming visit to Algeria. Her eyes lit up when she shared the date she is flying home.

After our latest breakfast at Cafe de l’Abad we headed over to the Help Ukraine-Valencia shop. Valencia shuts down in August. There was a plan to shut Help Ukrainian-Valencia down as well. An ad-hoc plan was made to keep it open on Wednesdays. Word on the street is that during August we might be the only game in town.

The line outside the shop demonstrated the need that exists. It also told us it would be a busy day. We’d be living on the edge of running out of food.

Generous donations from Fabian, Lisa, Rachel, and Lorrie gave us a head start. Wael’s food supply gave us a solid foundation. The proprietor of the corner fruit and vegetable shop gave us a box of potatoes, and 6 kilos of oranges. Yuliya hit the store several times. Martha and her son made a grocery run. Donna and the Sheriff of Mariupol brought back a rolling cart full of eggs. Then they went back for milk, coffee, tomato sauce, pasta, and vegetables. A man who makes regular donations came in with bags of designer t-shirts and a wad of cash. The ear worm of the day was, “Coming in on a wing and a prayer…”

We more than doubled the number of people we typically serve on Wednesdays. By my estimate we supplied food for well over 250 people. We didn’t send anyone away empty handed. The word is out though. Next week we’ll have to dig deeper and scramble harder.

None of what I just wrote communicates the comradery within the shop and in the lines. Keeping people hydrated as they waited in Valencia’s hot soggy heat was a priority. Bottles of water were received with smiles and lots of “mucho, mucho gracias” delivered with Ukrainian accents. Passing out mini-popsicles to people who had been in line for more than hour was met with delight. We need to figure out how to pass out cold slices of watermelon!

Of course there was a bittersweet moment too. On Wednesday the woman who had dreamed so fiercely about going home to Ukraine and sitting in her kitchen came to say good-bye. I followed her out to the sidewalk and grasped her hand. We hugged. Her face was firmly set with courage and determination. Without warning tears fell unwanted from her eyes. She gathered herself back together and went off to face an uncertain future. I will carry her in my heart. Donna will find a cathedral with clear energy and light a candle.

After closing up shop and finding ourselves unable to agree on lunch plans we headed to Valencia’s Central Market. (We are after all decadent Americans.) As luck would have it The Central had a very short line. We climbed up on stools and ordered two glasses of Merseguera wine, local mussels, and tempura zucchini blossoms. We should have ordered something new, but why mess with familiar perfection.

The Central…

As Donna and I were sopping up the broth the mussels were served in a gentleman dining across from us went wobbly. His daughter propped him up. His wife fanned him with her hand. He was trying to tell his daughter he was fine. He wasn’t, and she wasn’t having any of it.

My Eagle Scout first aid training kicked in. Too much heat! His cap needed to come off. His collar needed to be loosened. Donna passed her fan over. A bag of ice was provided. Our waiter was using Donna’s fan to cool the customer down. The head waitress called 112.

There was no panic. There wasn’t any gawking. There was complimentary joking about the restaurant’s great service. A local character came up and started waving a scavenged fan. Someone brought the character a cup of coffee. He left without paying. He had done his part. No one was bothered.

There is a lesson in all of this. When a person is ready and willing to help without strings attached it’s an acknowledgment that we are all in this together. Every one of us will need help along the way. Knowing it will be there and will arrive without fuss is something you can lean back into. It feels good!

Help Ukraine, Valencia: Stories

Peace March…

A refugee’s story doesn’t always get laid out on the table. Sometimes they are revealed one piece at a time. Letting them out more quickly threatens to break a dam of closely held feelings. The tasks at hand are getting oriented, adapting, and surviving in unfamiliar territory. The pull of home is strong. A life has been left behind and with it people, places, and comfort.

Sometimes a story bursts forth. It’s been held like breath in a tunnel. The first shaft of light lets it go.


At the end of a shift at the Help Ukraine, Valencia shop a middle aged woman arrived. She had a lot to say. The woman came to Valencia at the urging of her daughter. Her house in Ukraine was still standing. Everything surrounding her house had been reduced to rubble. The bombs had stopped. Her house was empty.

“Someone will move into my house and take it! That leaves me with nothing. I don’t want to be stuck in Spain relying on others!

My daughter tells me to stay, but I will go home! I want to sit in my kitchen and drink tea.”

Back of the Sign...

The Sheriff of Mariupol:

The Sheriff tried to teach me the proper way to fold a plastic bag. I laughed and said, “Nunca!” He smiled. Then he got busy. The Sheriff never sits still. There is always something that needs to be done, done again, and redone.

One day I looked over his shoulder as he shared a video from Mariupol. Somewhere in the translation I missed that it was a video of his home. All I could see were fallen doorways and brutal piles of rocks.

The Sheriff saw memories…the door that wasn’t there, a warm greeting, steam from a pot on the stove. He wiped his eyes and went for a walk.

Far From Home…

A Soldier’s Family:

A handsome and very busy 4 year old found a plastic sword on the shop’s toy shelf. His swordplay was carefully choreographed. I’ve seen the same moves outside of our window in Seattle, Washington. I don’t know what young boys are watching, but they all make the same moves and sound effects when they imitate it.

This 4 year old stopped slaying imaginary dragons every few minutes to check on the baby in the carriage. He’d wave and smile sweetly at his sibling.

Busy 4 year olds are exhausting. You never know what they are going to get into. I let this kid’s grandmother know I thought he was delightful, and very intelligent. She smiled in agreement. Then she turned on her phone to share her small family’s experience.

She played a video showing her beautiful cottage home. The soundtrack was a constant barrage of artillery fire. The small group of volunteers who watched that video swallowed hard.

Then with great pride the woman showed us a photo of a young man in full battle gear. He was standing in a Ukrainian field cradling his rifle. It was her son. We looked around the room to his wife, infant, his 4 year old son, his mother…

There were no words. There were tears in our eyes, and a clear understanding of the cost of war.

Help Ukraine, Valencia! New refugees arrive in Valencia every week. More are finding their way to Help Ukraine, Valencia. The mission is to provide food, clothing, basic necessities, and welcome. If you can help, please message Donna. She’s accepting donations from the U.S. through Zelle. Thanks!

Help Ukraine, Valencia

At last count there were 80,000 displaced Ukrainians in Spain, and 20,000 in Valencia. More Ukrainians are arriving every day. They arrive with all their worldly possessions stuffed into a backpack, or a suitcase. Some of these refugees will find their way to the Help Ukraine, Valencia shop.

Donna and I volunteer at the shop on Wednesdays. It’s right around the corner from our apartment. We sort clothing, keep the food shelves stocked, and make “runs to the garage” (usually to store donated winter clothing). We are meeting people and making connections we never expected to make. Ukrainian volunteers, fellow expats, and Ukrainians both young and old make Wednesdays a lively part of our week.

With our own eyes we see our donations, the donations of friends and community members come into the shop and leave in the arms of Ukrainians who have sought safety in Valencia. We share smiles and laughter. A quiet thank you is always the last thing we hear as people head out the door.

A mother and three children came into the shop last week. The sisters were older, very polite, and self-sufficient. The three year old boy was being cautious. I brought him a toy car to play with. He played with it for awhile and then handed it back to me. I set it down on a chair. He came back to it again and again. Then his sisters discovered a box with brightly colored plastic dinosaurs and farm animals in it. They called him over and he practically dove in.

When the family was gathering together to leave Donna gave the three year old a blister pack full of dinosaurs. Everyone got coloring books. Sets of colored pens were offered, but only one set was taken. Sharing was expected.

As the family was leaving I noticed the car still sitting on the chair. I grabbed it and handed it to the three year old. He handed it back as if I was making a mistake. I handed it to him again. He looked at his mother for assurance, then back at me. I gave him a thumbs up. His mother nodded. A smile spread across his face. He held the toy car in the air and said, ”Vroom! Vroom!”

The Garage…

Despite spontaneous shopping trips to the stores across the street, and community members delivering bags of groceries all the volunteers knew we were running out of food. We knew that before we opened the doors in the morning.

As this humanitarian crisis and insane war continue the needs will grow. At the end of the day with equal measures of hope and sadness we locked up the shop knowing the food shelves and cupboards were bare.

My thinking about giving continues to evolve. At the core I believe giving, making sure everyone is fed, and lending a helping hand are essential in a society that values its peoples’ success. I thank my own parents and the Tulalip tribal community for these teachings. In my heart I call the names of the elders who held fast to these values.

My message here is simple. Give what you can, when you can, and where you can. May we all prosper!

Help Ukraine, Valencia donation information below.