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.

Dumpster Diving With Donna

Hydraulic Tiles…

When I say dumpster diving with Donna I don’t mean I actually climbed into a dumpster. I stood next to a dumpster and tried to maintain quality control. Donna found the hydraulic tiles she’d been dreaming about. Any tile worth saving was going to be saved!

Hydraulic tiles were first created in Spain during the mid-1800s. They are produced by hand using cement-based raw materials. It is a decorative tile made by compressing these materials in a hydraulic tiling press. They are durable and colorful. Spanish building contractors think the old stuff is junk. Newer modern versions are popular. That’s why our tiles were in a dumpster.

My initial thinking was to fill up our little rolling grocery cart with one load of the ’best’ tiles we could find. Good tiles were put in the cart. Cracked, chipped, filthy, solid color, and questionable tiles were set aside. That process lasted until the first cart made it up to the terrace of our tiny Valencia apartment.

When we took the first load of tiles up we set off the overweight signal in the elevator. It’s a two person elevator. The tiles weren’t going to take the stairs. One of us had to get off the lift.

As the process progressed we got faster and less discerning. Tiles were unceremoniously stuffed into our cart and some heavy duty shopping bags. On the terrace we placed tiles in rows of six, swept them off, and hosed them down. Eventually there were ninety-nine tiles lined up. Donna said, “We just need three more.” She paused for a second and added, ”Or…nine!” At this point in the process my answer was, ”Three! Only three! Three!”

Below the Apartment

We had started attracting some polite notice. There was one wry grin and several averted eyes. A kid driving his Vespa nearly crashed when Donna popped up from the depths of the dumpster. Dropping your jaw and doing a double take at the same time is a tough maneuver on a scooter that’s going too fast on wet pavement.

Of course we brought back nine tiles! As we lay in bed figuring out which muscles were going to ache in the morning the last thing I remember saying was, ”If you decide to make another dumpster run at 6 AM, I’m not going.”

Simple Pleasures

If you expected 2022 to bring anything back to normal, I expect you have been disappointed. It’s been a strange year to write about. From our privileged perch in Spain the humorous complaints we have compiled seem petty. Sharing wonderful experiences while bombs fall in Ukraine feels like crowing. Writing about good deeds large or small feels like joining the virtue signaling competition. My typing finger has been idle.

We met with some fellow expats in Valencia to rearrange a garage that will become a makeshift distribution stop for Ukrainian refugees. Lots of hands made quick work of it. Afterwards the organizer, Graham, shared a few stories. One of them stuck with me.

Graham was visited by a woman who came to Spain as a refugee from Kazakhstan. When she met with Graham she brought a wad of cash, military grade night vision binoculars, and two pounds of rolling tobacco. It wasn’t a combination he expected.

The woman was a voice of experience. She found when a person has been displaced, is cold, hungry, and somewhat disoriented, rolling and lighting a smoke is a greatly appreciated pleasure. Graham added that kicking a tobacco habit during an armed invasion of your country probably doesn’t make much sense.

Thinking about those two pounds of tobacco reminded me that simple pleasures are often the best. El Cafe de l’abad is right around the corner from our bolt hole apartment in Valencia. They serve the best cortado I’ve ever had. In Central Market we bought clams that reminded us of the ones we gathered in Washington State. They made an incredible Bucatini Alle Vongole. That was washed down with a bottle of Merseguera wine.

The Merseguera was an unexpected pleasure. Plantings of this grape are few, and centered in the vineyards of Alicante, Valencia, and Jumilla. It was a grape we’d never heard of. One sip had Donna exclaiming Merseguera could turn her into a white wine fan. Two bottles are chilling in the fridge. Luxuries of course, even at 5 euros a bottle. The memory of that first sip will linger. Lingering memories are the point here.

The woman from Kazakhstan’s story reminded me that so many are denied simple pleasures. Necessities are denied as well. It seems that when a person is displaced, cold, hungry, and somewhat disoriented a simple pleasure would be a sweet reminder of better days. Not hope, but perhaps it would provide a moment of respite.

Simple pleasures…coffee, tobacco, chocolate, familiar foodstuffs. When the bus leaves El Carmen and heads to Poland with supplies for Ukrainians we’re going to ensure a few simple pleasures make the ride.

Bok Choy Slaw

Sunday dinner at Seattle’s Corson Building inspired this salad. Their salad was endive based and included a dressing. I used bok choy and plain rice vinegar instead. I sliced everything fairly thin and ditched the oil. It’s a light, refreshing, palate cleansing salad that pairs well with meat dishes and oysters.


Two cups thinly sliced baby bok choy, five radishes sliced thin, 1/4 cup English cucumber sliced thin, 1/8 cup shredded Murasaki sweet potato, 1/2 unpeeled apple cut into thin triangles, 1/4 cup dried cranberries, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 tsp coconut sugar

Slice bok choy, radishes, cucumber, and apples and put them in a serving bowl. Peel and then shred the Murasaki sweet potato (discard the skin). Add dried cranberries, rice vinegar, and coconut sugar. Gently stir ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. Gently toss ingredients before serving.

Quotes for New Beginnings

I am not usually a big fan of quotes taken out of context. Context matters. It is something that has been dispensed with though. We have entered an age of context and content free news cycles.

In journalism classes they used to claim 15 minutes of reading the newspaper provided more information than a hour of television news. That was back when television was providing a nightly headline service. Television news is less than that now, and social media serves as its Pong-like echo chamber.

We grasp at nouns as they bounce past. “Guns, abortion, Supreme Court, beer, vaccines, masks, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Biden, windmills, sports, and weather…” The audience fills in the blanks with whatever it is they think they already know. There is no consensus. There is no news. We are fed static designed to fan the flames of outrage and stoke divisions.

A new year requires a little sand thrown into the gears. There have been sign posts on our journey. I have selected 10 of them to reflect upon.

#1. ”In the beginning was the Word, and the word was, “Yes!” What else could it have possibly been?” ~ Antonia

#2. ”There may not be one Truth – There may be several Truths – but saying that is not to say reality doesn’t exist.” ~ Margaret Atwood

#3. ”There can be no doubt that the average man blames much more than he praises. His instinct is to blame. If he is satisfied he says nothing, if he is not, he most illogically kicks up a row.” ~ Golda Meir

#5. ”A life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” ~ Anais Nin

#6. ”Our age not only doesn’t have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which proceed and follow them.” ~ Flannery O’Conner

#7. ”You can’t take it with you, and even if you did, it would probably melt.” ~ Dorthy Parker

#8. “If the future is to be open and free, we need people who can tolerate the unknown, who will not need the support of completely worked out systems or traditional blueprints of the past.” ~ Margaret Mead

#9. ”You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding.” ~ Marilynne Robinson

#10. “It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.” ~ Coretta Scott King


After two years of far-flung adventures and Covid interrupted lives the elder Hale siblings and their spouses gathered in Astoria, Oregon at the Bowline Hotel. It was an overdue celebration of Christmas and family.

The siblings have been celebrating Christmas together in some form or another since Martha arrived in 1952. In 2020 there was a chaotic Facetime Nose Flute Gathering. It was suitably, or unsuitably, ridiculous depending upon a person’s ability to tolerate whatever noises were being produced. We gathered.

Hale Family Christmas Nose Flute Extravaganza, 2020…

When I look back Christmas gatherings are what I remember most vividly. Pre-Christmas evenings with our borrowed cousins, the Kinney’s, where conversation and noses buried in books come to mind. Christmas at Uncle George and Aunt Bobbie’s were colorful explosions of food and light. The tree was flocked. The lights were whatever was flashy and new. The food was gourmet before any of us knew what that meant. Uncle George Farr told quiet tales of growing up in Liverpoole, WWI, and PNW logging camps. Aunt Dee giggled when I did impressions of Lawrence Welk’s tap dancers. Peanut brittle would be folded into whipped cream. Oysters might be added to the stuffing. The apricot brandy Aunt Bobbie put in her mincemeat pies was breathtaking.

There were never any turned up noses from the Hale kids. Every time our mother cooked it was an adventure. At Uncle George and Aunt Bobbie’s we knew the adventure would be delicious. Those Christmas dinners have given us all a lot to live up to.

Mark, Leland, Martha, 1952…

I really don’t remember much about Christmas presents. A family game that involved being the first one to say ”Christmas Gift” was more exciting than watching wrapping paper pile up. Of course there was the orange short sleeved shirt from Aunt Dee. It had brown windmills and clipper ships on it. I got out of wearing it to church by pairing it with a plaid sports coat, striped tie, and fuzzy electric blue mohair socks. An early version of a self-winding watch from Uncle George lasted a week before it wound itself to death. It probably wasn’t designed to be worn by teenaged boys.

In 2021 a spur of the moment idea had Hale siblings and spouses checking in to Astoria’s Bowline Hotel. We met in the lobby and ordered craft beers and cocktails from The Knot. The bar menu featured items that could have easily graced Uncle George and Aunt Bobbie’s table. Donna is still talking about the roasted mushroom tart with soft cheese and pickled shallots. Their roasted mussels will be attempted at home. As family caught up sea lions barked and a rainbow arched across the Columbia River. Time and distance melted away.

We walked to one of Astoria’s celebrated fish and chips joints for dinner. Then it was back to our Bowline suite for presents and room service delivered cocktails. We could have been young, or old. Not meeting the dawn together was the only thing that proved we are a tad past our prime. We would gather again in the morning and sample The Knot’s tasty breakfast offerings.

Christmas memories are made out of shared laughter, recollections, conversations, and just being together. After our far flung adventures and covid protocols gathering with siblings and their spouses felt like a precious luxury. No matter what is being celebrated it is the gathering that brings it home!

Thanks to Bowline’s staff for their gracious hospitality! (

Notes From Spain: Things I Miss

The first item on Uncle Brewer’s list of collected wisdom was to avoid making top ten lists. He proceeded anyway. There is family tradition to uphold here.

Some things are difficult or impossible to get in Spain. Our friend Ron misses chunky canned soups. Everyone who travels to the U.S. brings back a stash of goodies. Before stepping on the plane they know which restaurants they are going to visit. Their order has been visualized. Their list is prepared. They are ready to go!

Things I Miss…

#1. Burgers: Pork and breakfast sausage spices don’t belong in burgers. Flaccid disks of meat don’t cut it. Ian swears by the horse meat burger at the local burger bar. That’s never going to happen. I want a charbroiled Angus burger with all the trimmings. The one I want is at the steakhouse five minutes from our West Seattle house.

#2. PNW Salmon: You can get salmon in Spain. It’s usually farm raised Atlantic salmon. It’s pink and mushy. We are spoiled. We have experienced Pacific Northwest salmon. I find myself dreaming about salmon smoked by Tulalip Reservation’s finest artisans. When Dean Pablo posts photos of his smoked fish I know exactly how good it is!

Uncle George and Aunt Dee…

#3. Vegetarian Pizza: We make a monthly run to Beacon Hill’s Bar del Corso for pizza. Their vegetarian pizza might include fiddlehead ferns and chanterelle mushrooms. In Spain they throw frozen corn on their veggie pizzas. It’s downhill from there. We know what we like, and we are picky.

#4. Zyrtec: I thought Spain would cure my hay fever. My itchy eyes and runny nose say otherwise. Zrytec is the only allergy medicine I tolerate. It’s probably available if you ask for cetirizine, but who can remember that? I’m going to stock up on the name brand stuff.

#5. Absorbant Bath Towels: Spanish towels squeegee the water off your body. They aren’t soft. They do the job…sort of. Sandpaper would do just as well.

#6. High Thread Count Sheets: We found bamboo fiber sheets that Donna almost approves of. We bring sheets back from the U.S. every time we come to Spain.

#7. Liquid Smoke: A bottle of liquid smoke lasts forever. Adding a couple of drops to your baked beans, stew, or chili recipes is sufficient. Half a drop in your Bloody Mary is probably too much. You have to mix up a batch. I haven’t found liquid smoke in Spain. I’ve looked!

#8. BBQ Sauce: We are used to having a couple dozen brands of BBQ sauce on the grocery store shelves. In Oliva there’s a store brand that tastes like a store brand. I’d make my own if I could find liquid smoke.

#9. Canned Green Chiles and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup: These are my lazy cook staples. They don’t make anything that’s actually good. They turn leftovers into some sort of twisted comfort food.

#10. Pants/Trousers: I’ve got thick stumpy legs, no butt, and a variable waist size. The immediate challenge in Spain is finding pants I can get my feet through. If I can pull the pants up, it looks like I’m wearing tights. Even then the butt is saggy, and the waist is too loose. I wind up looking like I’m made out of spare parts. (Brits call their underwear “pants”. They wear trousers on the outside…most of the time.”)

Of course when we are back in the U.S.A. we’ll miss things about Spain. The beach, 2 euro bottles of wine, and sitting in the sun enjoying a 4 euro breakfast for two will top that list.