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.

Ingredients:

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

Gathering

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! (bowlinehotel.com)

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.

Granada: A Little Piece of Home

Plaza Larga: 2021, 2018, 2016…

We spent a month in Granada in 2016, and again in 2018. If Paris is where we fell in love with France, Granada is where we fell in love with Spain. Fairytale views from Calle San Luis #12 had a lot to do with that. So did finding our favorite produce stand, butcher shop, and bakery. The Albaicin’s spider web streets surprised and delighted. A cafe, bar, plaza, tienda, or spectacular view might appear around any corner. It took about a week for Granada to feel like another piece of home.

Other adventures led us to happily put down roots in Oliva. Twists and turns in our storyline don’t bother us. Like our friend Marina says, “Problem? Solution!” The twists and turns always take us somewhere interesting. It’s a matter of not allowing problems to create more problems. So, here we are again in the Albaicin. Our produce lady’s pears are beautiful!

We had barely checked into our room at Montes Claros when Donna asked, “Does Granada still feel like home to you?” I was standing on the balcony looking at a very familiar view. In truth it felt like we’d never left. It was like meeting an old friend. Getting reacquainted wasn’t necessary. It was just a matter of catching up.

A tapas crawl with fellow expats, Scott and Patty, jogged our memories. A purchase of a beer, wine, agua con gas, or a latte with ice brings meatballs, bread with cheese and onion jam, or eggplant with honey to your table.

Our evening’s final destination was the frequently closed La Polleria. Spain’s new dessert craze is genitalia shaped waffles dipped in a shiny glaze of chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. The girl behind the counter smiles sweetly and asks, “Dick, or pussy?” It seems as if the former is more popular than the latter. Donna stood outside on the sidewalk shaking her head and muttering, “That’s just nasty.” La Polleria makes an indecent waffle.

The Botanical Garden…

What does a person do in Granada? We wander around. There was breakfast on the Plaza de la Romanilla. While we were eating lunch on the Paseo De Los Tristes a bass player knocked out a killer version of Take Five.

The next morning we had coffee at a cafe with a spectacular view of the Alhambra. Then there was stronger coffee and cookies in the Arab Quarter. Of course we shopped. We also looked for a hole in the wall falafel shop. In 2018 we spent an hour discussing world politics with the shop’s owner. His falafels were better than those claiming to be the world’s best. Falafels and politics are always open to debate though. We never turned the corner that brought us back to that falafel shop.

The corner we turned took us to the University of Granada Botanical Gardens. What we would call a gentle drizzle had locals pulling out umbrellas and wrapping coats around their heads. It seemed like perfect September weather. We peered at kaffir limes, Chinese oranges, hops, mugwort, and prickly pears.

Then we found the Botanico Cafe across the street. The food coming out of the kitchen looked good. The pasta pockets filled with Gorgonzola and pear were even better than expected. The puttanesca with buffalo mozzarella was excellent. That the kitchen baked us a fresh batch of the apple crumble they had just run out of? Perfect!

The old saying is true. “Home is where the heart is!” It’s always a case of following your heart through the twists and turns. Your heart usually knows where you are going better than you do.

Fallas, Valencia 2021

Valencia’s Fallas is said to be the biggest celebration in Spain. It has art, music, pageantry, politics, religion, fireworks, and fires. From an expat’s point of view there are also contradictions. That’s what makes it a human endeavor.

To wrap my head around Fallas I have to look back to the grand community celebrations of my youth. In Seattle the biggest celebration was Seafair. It was an all stops pulled out citywide party!

Seattle’s neighborhoods built floats, crowned royalty, participated in parades, had backyard feasts, and watched the hydroplane races. At night after the races were over we walked down to Lake Washington’s Andrew’s Bay and watched fireworks.

Fallas is a little like that. Neighborhoods build impressive monuments instead of floats. Instead of watching boat races people watch polystyrene monuments go up in flames. The neighborhood parties feel familiar. Fireworks are a constant instead of a grand finale. That’s where the similarities end.

We have been told Fallas was started in the Middle Ages. Artisans and carpenters burned items that were no longer useful to prepare for a new season. At some point that evolved into building monuments to express the outrage politicians inspired. Setting the monuments on fire was a way of saying, “We’d rather burn something big, beautiful, and expensive than pay you another cent in taxes.” That’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Getting this outrage past censors during the Franco era meant being slyly creative and using common archetypes. Politicians who fit neatly into stereotypes are still fair game. It’s a celebrity roast made out of polystyrene. The burns aren’t punchlines. They are incendiary torches and kerosene.

There is a religious component to Fallas as well. It’s where unity is built. In addition to building monuments to burn, a Flower Virgin is created. Thousands of celebrants in traditional regalia make their way to Valencia’s Plaza de la Virgen. They are accompanied by hundreds of marching bands. In the plaza the Flower Virgin is built one bouquet at a time. She is several stories high and magnificent. The Virgin doesn’t get burned.

The contradictions? This year’s Fallas featured monuments addressing the environmental crisis. Seeing them go up in big plumes of black smoke was jarring. Donna hit the internet while they were still burning. Torching polystyrene is not environmentally friendly. Thinking about 2021’s close to 800 burning Fallas monuments had us contemplating environmental impacts very seriously.

Of course Seattle’s hydroplanes and the beloved Blue Angels’ airborne maneuvers are hardly environmentally friendly either. We gasp and point with glee. Then we write it off as a once in a year event…a drop in the bucket. High horses are only great if we see things more clearly from our perch. Environmental concerns require all of us to rethink our habits and rituals.

Fallas 2022?

Fallas is usually held in March to celebrate the coming of Spring. Covid pushed it to September this year. Valencia deserves a lot of credit for demonstrating how a massive citywide celebration can observe covid protocols. Streets were closed to automobile traffic. Barricades and close monitoring kept plazas from being overwhelmed by celebrants. Masks were worn and the Civil Guard was quick to remind those whose masks had slipped. None of this felt forced. It was a point of civic pride.

The question remains, “Will we return in March 2022 to experience Fallas again?” My thinking is to see if there is a way to experience Fallas in a smaller way. I enjoyed the Seafair celebrations of my youth. Hydroplane fever was a given, but watching family members and friends participate in Seafair events developed civic pride. Backyard BBQ’s, potlucks, and beach parties were where community bonds were formed. Part of me is saying, “Go small, or stay home.”

Spanish Medical Adventure

Spain’s healthcare usually winds up being ranked as some of the best in the world. The US healthcare system has Norway calling the US underdeveloped. Access and expense are generally cited as the US’s downfalls. I’ve had enough medical adventures in the states to be grateful for very good, although expensive, medical insurance. I remember laying the bills from a single medical misadventure on our harvest table. Every surface was covered. I counted twelve billing entities from one Seattle hospital. Fortunately, access has never been a problem for me, but I shudder when I think about the numbers on all the bills I have received.

The morning we headed off on our Spain by Train tour I discovered a cyst on my back had become inflamed. I figured it was sunburned. Maybe a spider bit me. As is my family’s predilection, I ignored it. It hurt, but I don’t talk about things like that. If I mention feeling sick, I’ve crossed over into sick as a dog territory. I still won’t talk about it.

I blame this on my mother’s Christian Science beliefs. Amateur medical remedies that made things worse and hurt like hell probably has something to do with it too. My kids inherited this unreasonable stoicism. I don’t know why. Watching me be stupid should have persuaded them to take a different course of action.

The inflammation on my back kept growing until it looked like I was growing a breast on my right shoulder blade. Donna hit the dreaded internet for medical answers. You never know what’s going to pop up. Did some hairy Mediterranean spider lay eggs in my back? Could we expect baby spiders to burst forth and scramble towards the nooks and crannies of the room? Donna raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s a carbuncle.

The medical treatment prescribed by Dr. Google was simple. Applying warm compresses four times a day and slathering the area with antiseptic cream would either cause the inflammation to subside, or bring things to a head. The inflammation didn’t subside. Donna watched for red streaks and counseled medical treatment. I didn’t want to spend time in COVID tainted waiting rooms, or search the internet for physicians in the next town. Besides…it was getting better wasn’t it?

Donna tentatively agreed that whatever was happening on my back was getting almost imperceptibly better. She began photographing it to reassure herself. Gradually the lump shrank down to the size of a golf ball. Medical treatment was advised again. My response? “Not until we are back in Oliva.”

In the meantime correspondence with my daughter, Alyssa, revealed one of gardeners she supervises had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. He made a short visit to a Seattle area hospital for observation. It wound up being a $4,000 bee sting. That is outrageously normal.

Donna didn’t wait for me to make a doctor’s appointment when we got back. Thirty minutes after dragging our suitcases through the door she was on the phone. I was going to see a doctor at a local clinic.

I had no worries about getting substandard care in Spain. That’s just something we’ve been taught to think. When Donna had a dental emergency a few years back she visited a specialist in Barcelona. The care was expert, successful, and inexpensive. I’m still blown away by the dentist’s office. It was a BMW compared to the ‘53 Ford station wagon our West Seattle dentist worked out of.

After hiking a mile to the clinic in Oliva we found their sign, but no door. We took a trip around the block and finally asked for directions. A locked door with no signage was the not very promising entrance. We had passed it several times. I was buzzed in and walked up an even less promising staircase. At the end of a dim corridor I found the clinic. It was tiny. The waiting room only had room for two plastic lawn chairs.

While waiting I determined this was a four person operation. There was the receptionist, a lab technician, a physical therapist, and a general practitioner. Everyone who came out of a doctor’s appointment made their way to the receptionist and settled their bill. The receptionist was the cashier, and the office’s entire billing department.

Without filling out any forms, showing identification, or providing proof of insurance I was ushered in to see the doctor. She looked at my back and asked, “Is it painful?” I shook my head. Without further discussion the doctor went for it. I was standing in the middle of the room with my shirt around my neck. Then the doctor asked, “Again?” I nodded my head. Yeah, that hurt!

“I am going to give you antibiotics. It’s usually seven days. I am going to give you ten because…”

“Es mejor.”

The doctor smiled and off I went. I stopped at the reception desk and pulled out a credit card. The appointment and the procedure cost thirty euros. Eight days later the lump on my back had gone from convex to concave. There were no signs of infection. I wasn’t expecting a harvest table full of medical bills. There would be no $4,000 bee sting sticker shock. Taking a cat to the vet in the US will set you back more than 30 euros.

What I paid for was medical care stripped back to the basics. I wasn’t paying for several billing offices. I didn’t use my Spanish insurance. So I wasn’t supporting claims departments, managers, or a CEO. I wasn’t paying for a fleet of lawyers, or liability insurance. My antibiotics cost two euros. I am healing, and I don’t feel like I got robbed. It wasn’t the leather seats, wool carpet, and wood steering wheel experience, but I am not complaining.

There is an old saying that assures us we get what we pay for. It has convinced us that paying more surely must be better. When it comes to medical care in the US a new saying is needed. Something like, “They’ll take everything they can get, and a whole lot more!




Ajo Blanco

Ajo Blanco, L’lamber, Barcelona

A translator will tell you ‘ajo blanco’ means white garlic. Ajo blanco is not really white garlic soup though. The recipe calls for a single clove of garlic with the green germ removed. The key ingredient is blanched almonds.

The version we had at L’lamber in Barcelona was what you might call a refined version. That is if you consider adding water a refinement. The traditional version of ajo blanco has the consistency of a smoothie.

I read at least a dozen recipes before attempting my own version. What I found is that ajo blanco pre-dates the introduction of tomatoes in Europe. The recipe has had several tweaks over the centuries. I would add a few of my own.

The restaurant version we tried included smoked anchovies as well as the traditional addition of green grapes. I ditched the smoked fish and the grapes. ( I would have loved to use fresh Dungeness crab like Danny Hook suggested. It’s not available in Spain.) I used clams instead. Then I added Pink Lady apple cubes to the recipe. I used threads of dried mango as a garnish.

What I made was too thick. I thinned it out by adding small amounts of water and splashes of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar cut the sweetness of the apple and brought out the apple flavor.

I chose to cut the recommended amount of bread in half. Some recipes eliminate the bread altogether. That turns ajo blanco into a gluten free option.

I subscribe to the ‘Taste as you go Improvisational School of Cooking’. In this case Donna enthusiastically approved of the results. Nothing beats a cold soup on one of Spain’s simmering summer days.

Ingredients:

1 cup Marcona almonds pre-soaked overnight and strained

1 1/2 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed and cubed

1 clove of garlic with the green germ in the middle removed

3-4 tsp sherry vinegar

1/2 Pink Lady apple peeled and diced

1 cup of cold water

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Apple cider vinegar to taste (1 tsp at a time)

Salt to taste (a pinch at a time)

Garnishes: smoked anchovies, Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, dried mango threads, muscat grapes, cubed apples soaked in Cava…

Directions:

Add 1 1/2 slices of cubed stale bread (crusts removed) to the blender.

Pour the cold water and sherry vinegar over the bread and let it sit for a minute.

Add the almonds, olive oil, cubed apple, and garlic to the blender. Blend until the mixture is milky and smooth.

Chill for an hour before serving.

Add seafood, and garnishes. Drizzle the soup with olive oil.

Tweaking the Recipe: Add salt a pinch at a time. Add sherry vinegar 1 tsp at a time. Add apple cider vinegar 1 tsp at a time. Add water a little at a time to thin. ( I have a heavy hand when it comes to vinegar. I add it one splash at a time to taste. 1 splash = 1 Tbs )

Ajo Blanco Antonio Maura, 8 Style…

Our Pandemic Tour

Bars and beaches are crowded. Diners, drinkers, and bathers aren’t masked up. The people threading their way through packed streets might be wearing masks. Not everyone is. We are seeing a lot more faces than usual.

Officially masks, social distancing, and using sanitizer every time you enter a shop are required. On the train anyone whose mask has slipped below their nose is reminded to pull it up. In local markets security personnel are vigilant. Those cups of fresh fruit you just bought are to be enjoyed outside.

Spaniards for the most part are following covid protocols. It’s a mixed bag among tourists from other countries. When you hear accents from some of the big brawny Northern countries, you don’t expect to see masks. (This is not a scientific fact. Louder voices could account for this being more noticeable.)

Just outside of the zones filled with maskless throngs social distancing is possible. We are sticking to that territory. We’ve pulled out our stash of highly rated masks and are wearing them. We pay the 5% terrace surcharges and eat outside. Museums and cathedrals aren’t drawing big crowds and are strictly managed. If we see long lines, we keep moving.

I keep reminding myself that Seattle isn’t just the Space Needle, The Market, and Starbucks. Each of us finds our favorite haunts and they become loosely kept secrets. Some of them stay strictly local. Some of them are discovered and survive with their souls intact. Staying healthy means directing our energies into finding those places. We’ll let you know what we find.

Pintxos San Sebastián…

In the meantime rain and thunderstorms are being forecast. The reaction to the slight drizzle we witnessed has us hoping for thinner crowds. A little thunder should make people scatter.


Poco a Poco

Is that our house above the woman on the right? Next block up???

Every time I grab a paint brush to touch up our Oliva house the neighbor smiles knowingly and says, “Poco a poco!” Donna thinks it’s because my projects cause his wife, Maria, to get after him. It could be, but I don’t think Antonio’s advice is just a method of keeping chores at bay. It’s also a realization that racing to complete every task an old house creates is an exercise in futility.

The test wall on our lower terrace suggests Antonio knows something I don’t. I painted it a year and a half ago and believed I solved the peeling problem. Paint appeared to be sticking to that wall, and I was proud. Then I scraped away a rough spot. Paint started peeling off in sheets. I quickly scraped off everything I could and threw on another coat of paint. The meticulous prep work I engaged in last time didn’t do a damn thing.

“Poco a poco!” has me keeping paint brushes in the freezer. There’s exterior patching compound above the washing machine. Every color of paint I need is stored on top of Donna’s closet. When the mood strikes me I patch walls and paint for ten minutes. So far that’s keeping me even.

There was some catch up though. You can’t leave a Spanish house alone for a year and a half and expect to find everything just as you left it. Someone wrote Indira’s name on the front of our house. Someone else bounced a soccer ball against the wall until the paint wore off. Those two things weren’t going to wait. The outside of the house got another coat of paint. Eventually I tackled the rest of the terrace walls. I’ll give them nine months, and then have another go.

Some jobs require expert labor. When the hot water heater died we called Mi Electro. They replaced it with a larger one. The electrician had to beef up a hollow brick wall with strips of metal. I got to paint and patch that wall again. Longer showers are worth a little bit of work.

Bringing in Oscar and his work crew was always on our agenda. They did an impressive job on our house’s exterior. We’d been creating a job list for them for quite awhile. The back wall in our atrium was slowly crumbling. Adding a shelf in the atrium below the kitchen window would create a pass through for food and drinks. Adding a railing on our interior stairs was deemed necessary. It’s a steep narrow passage. This exchange with my daughter, Alyssa, was typical, “Dad, I was trying not to ask, but you are putting a railing in the stairway aren’t you?” (Honey, that wasn’t really a question.) Then there was the spectacular first step into the main bathroom.

The step was too short. Overshooting it meant launching yourself into the bathroom and desperately trying to regain balance in midair. At least five people besides myself performed that maneuver. Donna admits to an almost. I am the only one who admits hitting the bathroom floor with both knees and sliding to a stop against the bidet.
“No, I’m fine! I’m fine!!!” “If you say so, but I doubt it.”

The thing about Oscar and his crew is that there is no ‘Poco a poco.’ There is a brief consultation and then half a wall gets carried out to the streets in buckets before 10 AM. Cement is spread. Plaster is applied. A marble shelf is installed. A new bathroom step is built, tiled, and grouted. Clean up occurs. Oscar sends the railing guys back to the shop because the railing just isn’t right. It gets installed in a week, and it’s perfect.

Donna will tell you it’s no surprise I have adapted to the ‘Poco a Poco!’ lifestyle so quickly. It’s what I have always done. You could ask my sister, Martha. At home it gets called procrastinating and puttering. Of course at home we like to believe “putting your nose to the grindstone” improves your looks and sense of smell. It does neither, and lacks the measured dignity of moving so deliberately it makes all the rush around types want to scream. Sometimes they do, but in the long run it has never made me move any faster. ‘Poco a poco!’ suits me fine.

Don’t Hurry, Be Happy!