Thanksgiving in Oliva, Spain

DF261B25-A375-4F22-BCAF-85E7004DF70AMy Thanksgivings are always inspired by childhood memories of Uncle George and Aunt Bobbie’s house. I think that’s true for my siblings as well. Mother was not an extravagant cook. She prided herself on how cheaply she could feed a family of five. Her beef stroganoff might include a piece of meat that expanded as you chewed it. This could lead to two impolite options. A single Cornish game hen stewed in orange juice was not a surprising family meal. In comparison Thanksgiving at Uncle George and Aunt Bobbie’s was a sumptuous no-holds-barred feast.

In my memory there is a Thanksgiving when a turkey, a goose, and a honey glazed ham graced the table. Vienna sausages, cocktail onions, sweet pickles, pickled watermelon, jumbo black olives, candied walnuts, hard candy, several kinds of cranberry sauce, stuffing with sausage, another one with oysters, and whatever was popular in Good Housekeeping filled in all the nooks and crannies on the table. Uncle George made his baked beans with ham hocks. Rich with molasses they were nearly black. For dessert their was mincemeat pie with apricot brandy, and a pumpkin chiffon pie with peanut brittle folded into the whipped cream topping. It was a kid’s dream, and a diabetics nightmare.


At breakfast two days before Thanksgiving Donna and I planned a Spanish Thanksgiving feast for two. The menu was traditional, but limited by our knowledge of what is available in Spanish markets. Donna’s clam dip is an essential holiday item. Cottage cheese is difficult to find. The canned clams that are available in Oliva’s markets are not recognizable. Cream cheese isn’t where you might expect it to be. Poultry seasoning will have to be made from scratch. Spanish celery is woody and hairy. The turkey breast was a special order.

Donna’s idea of a feast involves cooking for an army. My idea is to cook for two and avoid leftovers. The discussion is as follows: Donna says,  “But…leftovers are my favorite part!” I say, “Very few things are improved by reheating them!” The final word is Donna’s, “I like leftovers!” There will be leftovers.

We hit the Mercadona with a shopping list that was in our heads. An hour later we found almost everything we were looking for. We never shop side by side, but there was only one duplication this time. A pack of mushrooms was put back. Regular hairless celery was found. Two bottles of Spanish wine and a bottle of whiskey were put into the basket. The total bill was €63. In Spain that’s a splurge. We shopped for an army of two.

Politics will not be avoided at our Thanksgiving table. The sad history of the occasion will be cause for serious contemplation. Thanksgiving is a time for looking back.  We are blessed that our seasonal nostalgia comes swathed in privilege. All the more fortunate that we grew up surrounded by love, hard work, and strong values. Values that made questioning the world around us as natural as breathing. Silence about important issues isn’t celebrated at our table.  Most of all we will reflect upon our families’ blessings. We miss them. We celebrate as they create traditions of their own.


Ah, but the feast! There will be a turkey breast, cranberry and mushroom stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked yams, an excellent €5 bottle of Grenache, and a bargain Rioja. There will also be clam dip and Lays potato chips, pickles, olives, and dilled green beans, butternut squash pie filling for dessert, and Irish coffee. There will be leftovers!


Friday morning Donna will roll up her sleeves and make lefse for breakfast. They will be served with a side of sass. “I’m not sure you should be eating any of these. You do know they are leftovers. Hey! Go easy on that jam! I can’t believe you!” Blessed!!!



So, Any Second Thoughts?

0A26729D-912D-4D0B-8723-7E96A47250C5As a rule second thoughts should be resolved before any commitments are made. You ponder, soul search, research, and then go over it all again. Well, that’s my process. Donna’s process involves gut instincts and a clear sense of possibilities.  It’s, “We can do this!” “Should we do this?”  That comes later.

Donna tends to suffer from buyer’s remorse. I don’t. My role is to assure her, quite accurately, that her instincts have always served us well.

No one has ever created a house that is maintenance free. Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses are considered architectural masterpieces. They leak. Water, bugs, shifting ground, basic wear and tear, deferred maintenance, design flaws, and shoddy work all conspire to bring a house down. New, old, newly renovated it doesn’t matter.

When you put all of this in a foreign country the rent vs buy debate looms large. The generic advice is always to rent for a year, and then buy. There is merit in that advice, but very little romance.

Any discussion Donna and I had about renting was short lived. We knew we loved Spain and wanted to be there. We knew constantly rearranging furniture, something Donna has done in every VRBO we’ve ever stayed in, would get old. “If you rent a house, it’s never really yours! You adapt to it. It never adapts to you!”

It’s true. You wind up trying to ignore an ugly couch sized painting that acquires an obscene nickname within the first week. The fridge is inadequate, and poorly placed. The rug looks like a dog blanket, and the drawer pulls look like clowns’ noses. So, we bought our house, its problems, and it’s surprises.

Without really understanding the torrential rains that come with Spain’s Gota Fria I knew the catwalk at the bottom of a run of roof tiles was problematic. The drain was too small. It was easily clogged, and difficult to get to. The plaster blowouts in the living room, and  leakage in Donna’s dressing room, were evidence of water infiltration problems. The exterior of the house needed painting.  There were blowouts on the front exterior wall that needed to be addressed. A crew was retained to repair the blowouts and paint the house.

While the tile in the living and dining room was being replaced a bathroom pipe sprung a leak. To address the leak fragile antique tiles had to be removed. This revealed lead pipes, and left a hole in the wall. Donna’s response was, “The pipes are lead? Did my grandbabies drink the water???”

Exterior mounted copper pipe was ordered and installed. Copper tile replaced the irreplaceable and irretrievably damaged blue tiles. The bank account took at hit. The end result is pleasing. Without the help of our neighbor, Kirsteen, the project  would have been a nightmare.

The house was scheduled to be painted before we arrived in October. Bureaucratic sludge put our project on hold. October came and went. Promises of “tomorrow” became promises of “next week”. Permission to occupy the street and put up a scaffold appeared to be the holdup. Permission was an unnecessary formality. Our house is set back. The scaffolding was never going to block the street.

The project started on November 20th. There was no fanfare. The crew rolled up, erected the scaffold, and started banging on the front of the house.

The houses in Oliva’s historic old town are constructed with “God Knows What”, and repaired with whatever is on hand. Paint doesn’t appear to want to stick to any of it. A short walk down Calle Antonio Maura reveals a dozen failed attempts.

Our house was built with bricks, rocks, blocks, and boulders. Paint prep requires scraping the walls down to solid material, filling the bigger holes with honeycombed bricks, creating a solid concrete base, and then applying architectural plaster. We hoped most of this work would be limited to the bottom half of the front wall. That was wishful thinking.

The drain on the catwalk below the roof tiles was the culprit. It was a decorative feature.  Moving up from the street there was a new plastic pipe. It was connected to a metal pipe. The metal pipe was connected to a clay pipe, and the clay pipe wasn’t connected to anything. There was a large gap between the drain and the rest of the downspout. Water flowed into the catwalk drain and from there seeped to the ground between “God Knows What” and the plaster. The blowouts were inevitable, and more extensive than anyone figured. D8A69454-73C7-41DD-9895-38FDB7383995

“So, any second thoughts?” The new floortile Malcom installed is perfect.  It’s just as Donna imagined it. The exterior mounted copper plumbing has decorative appeal and isn’t toxic. The copper tile covering the hole in the bathroom looks almost intentional. That I insisted on addressing the catwalk drain and having the house painted pleases Donna. It also makes my insistence look reasonable. Anything that makes a Taurus look reasonable instead of just plain stubborn is a good thing.

Rent or buy? Wrestling with a house’s problems and surprises is what makes it yours. You come to understand and appreciate what previous owners tried to accomplish. The house acquires a personality of its own. Sometimes you come to despise a house. Sometimes a house is just a way station. When gut instincts and best laid plans come together you can wind up loving a house. In this case a house that has always felt like home is being given a longer life. At our age we can see the beauty in that.


It’s Not Paella

IMG_2645Twenty-two professional chefs took on Spanish cuisine during the second episode of the Netflix series The Final Table. The contestants were asked to make Spain’s most emblematic dish…paella. The winners of this challenge made a textbook Valencian version. The middle tier contestants didn’t stray too far from that template. They made close to the earth versions informed by hunting and gathering. The chefs on the bottom created dishes that were deemed undone, not authentic, or too spicy. The chefs who got sent home brought their Mexican and Jamaican influences to the task. A decorative rock and too much kick were their downfalls. Judge Miguel Bose spat out a fierce declaration, “Paella is not spicy!”

Donna and I have eaten in some celebrated Valencian restaurants. They are known for their paella. The best of these was just down the hill from our place in Oliva. It was a traditional interpretation with the requisite rabbit, and chicken. Snails were gratefully left out. According to Bible de la Paella ditching the snails is perfectly acceptable. Snails, or not, paella hasn’t managed to become a dish we are likely to seek out.

We are not alone in this. In many cases what paella lacks in spice is made up for with the addition of feet swelling quantities of salt. One traditional recipe included instructions to make the broth a little too salty. I don’t use much salt when I cook. So, “a little too salty” quickly becomes “too damn salty” for me. The consensus view is that paella lacks a balance of flavors. I love the earthy smokiness the paprika brings out, but there is a brightness that is missing.

The spicy Mexican/Jamaican version of paella that sent two chefs home on The Final Table looked and sounded delicious. What I am looking for when I am eating paella is not paella. The flavor profile I am looking for is closer to paella’s Louisiana cousin, jambalaya, or maybe even gumbo. A little bit of heat may be heresy if you are Miguel Bose, but I’ve always wished I brought a good bottle of hot sauce with me whenever I’ve ordered paella.

What happens when you create a paella/gumbo/jambalaya hybrid? It won’t be paella, and it won’t be gumbo, or jambalaya. It will be a rice dish. A gumbo is served over rice. Jambalaya tends to be soupy. A paella is skillfully cooked, rice and all, in one specially designed pan. Cooking a New Orleans style paella isn’t a big culinary leap. The ingredients are similar, and they share a similar heritage. You just can’t call the results ”paella”.

“It’s Not Paella” Recipe

Ingredients: 2 lbs boneless chicken thighs, 1/4 lb flat beans, 1 lb tomatoes peeled and seeded, 8 oz of spicy sausage (chorizo, andouille, or linguica), 1 1/2 lbs of clams scrubbed with a brush and lightly salted water, 1 small red pepper skin removed, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 medium sweet onion chopped, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp saffron, 1 cup Bomba rice, olive oil (I never measure olive oil. I watch the absorption rate and add more as needed.  I also want the oil hot, but not smoking.), 1 cup chicken broth, or clam nectar, 1 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, Italian parsley, 1 lemon, hot sauce

Other stuff: 1/2 cup fresh peas, 1/2 cup white beans, 1 lb clams, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, substitute 1/4 cup of sherry vinegar for 1/4 cup of water, 1 bay leaf, or 1 sprig of rosemary. If you want to confuse your guests use okra instead of broad beans.

Cooking Instructions: Where jambalaya and paella really differ is in the cooking method. No one is looking for that crunchy goodness the Spanish call socarrat when they are eating jambalaya. Maybe they should. That comes down to closely timed changes in cooking temperature.

Cut the chicken into uniform pieces. Place the pieces in a bowl and add a pinch of salt, and lightly coat with the salt and some cayenne. Chop the onions and reserve. Clean and cut beans. Slice sausage into 1/2”slices. Mince the garlic. Blister the red pepper over a flame, or in a cast iron frying pan. Place the pepper in a plastic bag. When the pepper has cooled peel the skin. Cut the pepper into strips. Remove the skin from the tomatoes by briefly placing them in boiling water. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the seeds. Roughly grate the tomatoes and reserve.

Heat the oil in a 14 inch pan until it shimmers. Fry the chicken. Move the meat to the outside of the pan. Gently fry the beans (okra) in the meat juice. Fry the onions, garlic, and sausage. You are sweating the sausage in order to color and flavor the onion. Move the onion and sausage mixture to the outside of the pan.

Add the grated tomato. Reduce it until the tomato water has evaporated. Gently mix in the ingredients that are on the outside of the pan.

Add the water and the chicken stock, or clam nectar. Add the saffron, and the paprika. Gently stir the last two ingredients into the broth. Add the rice when the water is rapidly boiling. No more stirring.

There are three stages in cooking the rice. Cook on high heat for the first 7 to 8 minutes. When you can see the rice go on to the second stage. Reduce the heat to medium or low for 8 to 10 minutes. During the last 4 minutes of the second stage add the clams by pushing them lightly into the rice. Arrange the red pepper on top of the rice. Cover the pan with a lid, or foil. Take the lid off the pan once the clams have opened. Discard any unopened clams. At the end crank the heat for 1 to 2 minutes to create the socarrat. (Note: Check the water absorption at every stage of cooking the rice. Adjust the timings accordingly.)

Garnish with Italian parsley, and serve with lemon wedges. Several bottles of good hot sauce should be on the table. It isn’t paella!

DinoPark Algar


It’s 8 AM and it’s already 80 degrees. The van we rented doesn’t have A/C. A dog ate the gear shift knob and everything useful on the dashboard. The sound of the diesel engine is punctuated by shock absorber squeaks and unidentified pings. Shifting gears doesn’t require sports car finesse. Anyone who knows my relationship with motor vehicles understands that I am in heaven! I only wish the dog who ate the gear shift was mine.

Seven of us are packed into the van and headed to DinoPark Algar. There we hope to find life-sized robotic dinosaurs, a paddling pool, a paleontological playground, and a 3D cinema. The weather channel predicts 97 degree weather by noon. I am hoping the theater has air conditioning!

A spray bottle full of ice water and some frozen dishrags will hopefully keep 5 yr. old Oscar, and 3 yr. old Linus suitably lukewarm. Google thinks it will take us 56 minutes to get DinoPark. Google doesn’t take wrong turns, narrow winding roads, farm equipment, or slow going vehicles into account. I believe I was heard to say, “It’s a stick. I’m in first gear. If we go any slower, the van will die!” ”Die” wasn’t the best word choice.

Oscar knows the names of all of the dinosaurs, even the ones I can’t pronounce. He knows what era they lived in, and dismisses my claim that most lived during the “Splendiferous” era and farted glitter rainbows.

It becomes a race to see as many dinosaurs as possible. It’s a slow race. Linus isn’t one to hurry, and Oscar wants to soak up every detail. The adults are dragged along, and suitably impressed. I am intent on finding out if the 3D theater is air conditioned.

While everyone else was still finishing their  frozen treats the theater opened its doors. I located the A/C units immediately. With a cursory wave I entered the building. Once inside I texted, “It’s cool!!!” The film was a well-crafted pre-teen adventure with enough humor to amuse the grownups. I was prepared to see it twice just to sit in a cool room.

After the 3D theater experience we headed over to the splash pool. Extra coats of sunscreen were applied, and those who dared splashed about. I sat in a lounge chair under a tree. Donna frequently reminds me that my father was a bacteriologist and I should be more wary of germs. No reminder is needed when it comes to wading pools full of children. Donna and her daughters splashed about. So did Oscar, and Linus. I did not. I don’t believe Oscar and Linus’ dad, Ben, did either. Given the squeals of glee in and around the pool I assume the water was just fine.

On the way home we made an unscheduled stop in Polop. It was a “Just pull over!” moment. Luckily there was a bar in the square around the corner from where we parked. It was open. The food was good, and the drinks were cold.

We were ready to climb back in the van and head home. Across the street was a wonder that equaled DinoPark for me. A discarded piece of Spanish ironwork behind a metal fence was artfully propped up and photo ready.

It was our first real tourist adventure this time around, and there’s nothing quite like taking an adventure in a packed van with no air conditioning. It took me back 30 years!


The Rain In Spain

E181E173-3857-4430-898B-6D4CFAF4B19BThe news from 5,487 miles away went from interesting to alarming, “Muy probable GOTA FRIA.” became, “The level of threat for EXTREMELY HEAVY RAIN has been raised to red, which means the National Met Office assesses the risk as extreme.”  Well O.K. then, but what is a Gota Fria???

This is what has to say. “A Gota Fria is a meteorological phenomenon common on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, most particularly that of the Valencian Comunitat.” That’s us!!!

“When a Gota Fria occurs all of a sudden you can experience a sustained storm of 3597D933-C1FF-473B-82BA-EA2DF86BCA77considerable power – a deluge of quite simply staggering amounts of water.” At this point I was paying complete attention.

A Gota Fria has been likened to standing under a power shower…or being inside of a washing machine!” I also read that winds can range from 60 to 120 mph. Not to worry though, a Gota Fria only lasts from 4 hours up to 4 days – non-stop.  The map included in the latest Urgent Update had our house clearly within the red zone.9A4D6F22-E668-410C-B3F9-7C4FA6EE17D3

At this point I was going through our house’s vulnerabilities. As a Seattle native I know a bit about rain. In a nutshell, water is going to do whatever it takes to find a way into your house. I’ve seen a waterfall flowing over a fireplace and threatening to turn a sunken living room into a wading pool. I’ve seen a lively stream spout from a concrete foundation and bubble across a basement floor. I recall my sister’s three story house and the never ending saga of trying to find the leak.

The tile roof on our Oliva house has always given me pause. Tile roofs are not unlike cedar shake roofs. A drip from the ceiling gives you no indication of where the leak in the roof is. My next worry was the glass ceiling above the main floor sun room. Where would all that water go? Yow! Pulverizing rain might overwhelm the drain running from the top terrace into the floor of the sun room. I imagined furniture being swept on a freshet and jamming up against the front door. Then too, there is the roof drain at the corner of the house. Discolorations on the flat part of the roof told me it was inadequate. It wasn’t completely handling average rainfall. The top terrace? I should have waterproofed it in March.

Stuart Hamilton

Then the rain hit! From my perch on a couch 5,487 miles away I read posts from Oliva. David Hale posted a picture of Noah’s Ark. A photo from La Drova showed a raging stream threatening to collapse a garden wall. Photos of buckets under drips in lounges, and water flowing down walls were common. New roofs were leaking. Leaks that had been repaired two and three times were leaking. Roads were closed. Gale force winds were driving rain under seventh floor deck sliders. Saturated towels were pulled from window sills and doorways. They were wrung out and stacked in piles. All of this for five wild days.  Our neighbor, Ian, wrote, “The rain in Spain…falls mainly…here!”

A Gota Fria parks itself and doesn’t stop raining until it’s all rained out. This one set records. It was the largest Easter Storm in 73 years. The normal April rainfall in Oliva is 31mm. In one 12 hour period Oliva experienced 107mm of the kind of rain that makes people recalibrate what torrential means! 7BE264C0-280A-4C27-A6BB-2B90C36E80EB

At this point our unspoken question was, “How did our house fare?”  An email exchange from Malcolm, Oliva’s intrepid Mr. Fix-it, included three photos. None of my worst fears were realized. The floors were dry. There was leakage under the inadequate drain on the roof. The bedroom under the top terrace leaked. Not where I expected it to, or very much. The main bathroom ceiling got the worst of it. What I had written off as signs of poor ventilation was something else.  It was the lower terrace. Our Scottish neighbor’s observation that the red waterproof paint doesn’t do the job was dead on accurate.



Overall, Donna and I are pleased. Our house in Oliva survived a 76 year weather event and sustained power wash with minor leakage. The current weather forecast calls for sun and temperatures in the 70’s. Summer is right around the corner!IMG_9262

Jesus in the Streets

Oliva, Spain, 04/07/19


When the theater production of The Passion of Christ left the stage in Placa de San Roc something changed. The Roman guard was fierce and unhinged. He could have been a counter protester at a peace march. Teenagers swaggered. Some faces were tear streaked. Others were solemn. Some in the crowd were carried along with a sense of buoyancy. Their grins almost out of place as the cross carrying Jesus was whipped over and over again. Then too there were cell phones.

At first the cell phones distracted from the authenticity of the production. Then they began to lend authenticity. If Jesus was being marched to his death today, we would dutifully record it with our phones. Just as we recorded the burning of Notre Dame. What then of the story being told?

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As I watched Jesus viciously whipped and saw the sweat of exertion cover the body of the Roman guard the story became visceral. The experience was not easily shaken off. This was not the accumulated history of Christianity.  I wasn’t witnessing the story of the Father, or the Holy Ghost. This was the story of a man. A man who was a friend, a storyteller, a man of wisdom, and a son.

History had to be subtracted. Jesus never built a cathedral and started opening franchises. He never built an army to kill in God’s name. He didn’t preach the killing of the Indian to save the man. He didn’t conspire to hide abuses committed by priests. Jesus didn’t condone turning religious enterprises into profit centers and money laundering operations. Mankind did those things. The core story didn’t change, but its hero and it’s interpretation became malleable.

I used to study in the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library.  I was an English major, but I studied in the Art History section. When I was tired of English I’d pour through Art History books. One of my favorite finds was a book about how depictions of Jesus changed throughout history.  When the societal need was caring for the poor, Jesus was careworn and shown among the downtrodden. When Jesus was elevating and protecting the status of the powerful, he dressed better. Through the ages Jesus lost his Middle Eastern looks and became almost Aryan. Jesus had become an all purpose nostrum as useful to the conman as to the faithful.

As for Jesus being a unifying figure, the number of Christian denominations is daunting. Each promises to be the true path, and will split hairs to prove it. So, what has become of Jesus?DE181DAD-256E-43EA-ACF5-8BEF8EFD914C

Stripped to it’s human core the story of Jesus remains unchanged.  Jesus was a Jew who began a ministry. He used parables to teach about the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke up for the poor and oppressed. He did not adhere to the orthodoxies of his faith. As his ministry began to grow, religious leaders began to question him. During Jesus’s final days he rode a young donkey into Jerusalem. This reflected an oracle from the Book of Zachariah in which a humble king entered the same way. Later in the same week Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. His conflict with the elders escalated. By challenging power and authority Jesus became a threat. He was tried, found guilty, and executed. Mary wept. Martyrdom followed. It’s the story of unyielding belief, and the conviction to pursue those beliefs at all costs.42B3E30A-1BCF-4541-9D34-95A126849CF5

The story of Jesus has undeniable power. At the very least it is a story with staying power. On Calle Antonio Maura it was easy to imagine that Jesus walks among us. It was just as easy to imagine that given the chance we’d crucify him again. The power of a story is not merely in the answers it provides. It’s real power lies in the questions it provokes. The story of Jesus is still worth telling.

Our spiritual life is a journey. The fastest way to cut a journey short is to announce our arrival, and with that arrival stop questioning. The question that bubbled up to the surface as I followed The Passion of Christ up the hill past our house was, “Where do we find Jesus and his works?” Is he in corporate boardrooms, in gilded temples, or in the streets?

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Houses With Names

Findings: Oliva, Spain

A house is not a home until you have had visitors. It’s not a Party until a wine glass gets broken. The sound of rain is comforting unless you are sitting beneath a blue tarp. Over planning is wasted energy if you aren’t ready for things to defy expectations. Under planning requires the letting go we tell everyone else to practice. Arriving at our destinations is a miracle. GPS can send you down a dirt track towards giant mud puddles. Being followed by a black Mercedes makes the GPS detour seem universal.

E02A719D-6D63-4450-8681-8056E61ADB2C Coffee and pastry are better with a view of the Mediterranean. If Veronica makes the pastry the view is just a bonus. Home prices in the Valencia region increased by 4.5% in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period last year. Almost a third of the 78,8322 buyers were foreign.

Old men still break into song at Mel de Romer in Oliva. We prefer Gumbo to Paella. Hueva de Sepia won’t be what most people expect it to be. El Pelut will accommodate a large unexpected group with grace, but don’t push your luck. In the right hands cupcakes can become an Art form.

There was a barbershop quartet of snorers in our house, but I only heard the trio. Our light switches are well placed. Taking a bath in a turquoise bathroom is unexpectedly luxurious. A shower in the same bathtub is unexpectedly cramped, and somewhat finicky. Our neighborhood dogs are friendly. Gas for the burner lasted longer than I thought it would. 563FE2B3-31D1-4B3C-8D13-3298362F7A72

The children of Oliva will not be going to school during Holy Week. There was a celebration in front of Honey Dukes. The teachers dressed up like clowns. On Sunday a re-enactment of the Passion of Christ will wind past our house and climb up to the Castle. There will be Roman soldiers, whips, fake blood, and a crucifix. Jesus will grab a pint at the local pub before making his climb.

A healthy dessert of pineapple and melon might be served with mounds of whipped cream, and three scoops of ice cream. Eight and ten year olds will be delighted. Fish soup should be viewed before ordering. If it’s off you can tell when you walk through the door. Politics are more bearable when you are 5,000 miles away, and crucial discussions are conducted in another language.

Living is Spain is better than visiting it. Life has a way of putting you exactly where you are supposed to be. A view is not a luxury. A view of water is preferable. Warm sand is good for sore backs. Houses might need names, but for now “Home” will do!

“The beach is the thing, if bees don’t sting.”


Buying a Dream

13683EFE-B186-46D9-93F4-61CA973E61F6I resisted writing about any kind of “how to” until all the paperwork for our house in Spain was finalized, and the keys were in our hands. Once we crossed those thresholds there was painting to do, drips and drops to stop, and a wall that required stripping back until we reached solid concrete and stone. There was an aircon/heater that needed to be installed sooner instead of later. Then there were all of the things that make a house a home. Our settling in process has always been a whirlwind!

Now that we are mostly settled, and another to do list is ready for our next visit, there is time to reflect. This is to say the rental car has been returned, and our laundry has been done. I don’t think there is anything we’ll be lugging up the hill in the next 48 hours. So, how do you buy a dream?

1. Create Wishlists…

Having the decision makers in your family go off to their own corners to put their wishlist on a piece of paper is essential. If you don’t write wishes down the chances of them coming true are diminished. Donna likes to illustrate her wishlists with photos torn from magazines. I just type out a list. We are both pretty specific.

After our lists are written we compare notes. A view of a body of water, two bathrooms, the ability to walk to restaurants, stores, and bars were items of immediate agreement. Agreeing on the number of stairs we could live with, apartment or townhouse, and what constituted easy access to public transportation were areas we agreed to have open negotiations on. “Location! Location! Location!” That was always going to be a part of the process.

2. Go Online…


We tracked real estate markets in several countries and cities for at least two years. We looked at market analysis of Spanish real estate that was written with the British ex-pat in mind. We joined three ex-pat community Facebook pages. House Hunters International was binge watched just to get a sense of various locations. We cast a wide net and began pulling it in.

In terms of helpfulness, House Hunters is basically a wash. Watching a couple pretend to buy the house they already bought is 99% entertainment. Prices are reflective of the scriptwriters’ fantasies. “A dog trainer, and a professional blogger are looking for their $1,500,000 waterfront dream home, but might be willing to stretch the budget.”

Ex-pat Facebook pages on the other hand are a goldmine. Asking any question can be a little like opening Pandora’s box.  People aren’t shy about sharing their experiences. If you are a member of the group, you can pm other members once the moderator inevitably shuts a discussion down. Using community Facebook pages to find the top three real estate agencies, lawyers, electricians, plumbers, and general contractors was extremely fruitful. Looking back I’d say the feedback we received on these pages was biased, but pretty darn accurate.

3. Boots on the Ground…

How long a person should live somewhere before buying a house is open to debate. I believe it depends upon your overall process. Doing your research and trusting your gut works for us. Everything else felt like procrastination.

After we narrowed our search to coastal Spain we took a road trip. We hit every beach town between Alicante and Malaga. It was a giant neighborhood review. Locations that looked great in photos were not always so inviting in person. Some inviting locations were just too far off the beaten path. Our list got a workout.

Our list eventually lead us to Oliva, Spain. We didn’t get there on our road trip. A month long return trip was planned. That trip included seeing 18 properties in the space of a week. After two weeks of 14,000 step days we had a good feel for Oliva, and its real estate market.

4. The Real Estate Agent..,

In Spain the real estate agent represents the seller. As a buyer you pay them no commissions. The agent can only show you houses their agency has listed. The cute house next door to the one your agent showed you might not be one they can show. Seeing it will require finding someone from another agency.

While the real estate agent doesn’t represent you that doesn’t mean an ethical agent can’t be very forthcoming about the properties they are showing. That’s where our Facebook research came in handy. Our agent came highly recommended. She knew the market. She knew the condition of the properties she was showing. She knew highly recommended craftspeople, and how much it cost to repair things. Her reputation had been made by the support she provided after the sale was made. That last piece is critical.

5. The Attorney…

Since the real estate agency doesn’t represent you in Spain the broker’s role is fulfilled by an attorney. A person could try to file all of the paperwork by themselves. It’s written in Spanish legalese. Checking for previous titles, leins against the property, certificates of occupancy, writing and filing your Spanish will, and setting up your bank, water, and electric accounts, and dealing with bureaucrats is something best left to an attorney.D921A2D5-8C14-4DA0-8BFF-3E46FE8C7218.jpeg

Again, the Facebook community was quick to share their stories, good and bad. One local attorney was recommended over and over again. She was a good find and our process was incredibly smooth. Her 1,500 euro fee was well worth it. All that and she ends all of her email correspondence with “Besos!”

6. Fees…

In general buying a house in Spain will cost you another 13 to 15% in taxes and fees. Word on the street is that fees can be higher if you don’t have an attorney representing you. That was a discussion the Facebook moderator cut short. Similar observations were sprinkled throughout the site. At any rate there are Notaries to be paid, purchase taxes of 10%, national tax number application fees, filing fees, the expense of your Spanish will, and attorney fees. To be on the safe side we added  16% tothe purchase price. It’s never a bad feeling when you wind up with a little extra in your pocket.

8. Work Crews…

No matter how well a house is inspected there will be surprises after the ink has dried. The first house Donna and I bought together had a river running through the basement. Our house in Oliva has been relatively surprise free. Finding an honest and reliable worker who is willing to give you solid advice on how to fix things yourself, or give you a bid for their own work is indispensable. The real estate agent who provided support after our deal closed, and The Oliva Tattler helped us find that worker.

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I got up early and banked the fire. Then I made a cup of coffee. Outside crowds of Spanish children and their parents made their way up the street to the school. I looked around at all the work Donna and I accomplished. A slow smile spread across my face. “We have a home in Spain!”  I checked the copies of the lists I keep on my phone! There were at least seven items I could cross off.

Making wish lists works!!!


It’s Typical! It’s Complicated!

The dreams kept marching through my sleep. The dream started with an old clay tile coming loose on the roof of our Spanish dream home.  If I walked on the tiles, they would break like eggshells. If I left  them alone, the  house would  spring leaks. Somewhere in the middle of the dream our house morphed into one of the nightmares we considered buying. A caved in roof hung over two squash blossom filled garden beds. Our friend Tona’s kids helpfully skittered across the roof bringing me the wrong tiles. Welcome to our dream home!

The truth is we could be daunted. Simple cosmetic fixes have already turned into more complicated projects. The front room’s exterior wall is what locals call “blown-out”. Somewhere in the continuous cycle of soaking up water and drying out the paint and plaster chose not to stick to the wall. Years of temporary fixes finally cried, “Uncle!” Malcolm the Builder recommends chipping it all off and doing it the way it should have been done in the first place.

In our first twelve years together Donna and I lived in eight houses. We’ve remodeled six houses together. Remodeling is basically undoing the dreams of everyone who owned the house before you. The pink granny’s house became a Southwest inspired tract home. The historic Craftsman was an exercise in lovingly bringing back period details. To do this we wound up gutting half of the main floor. The Seattle house had us shrinking our Herron Island remodel and building a backyard cottage. We are nuts!

5a1d5a83-e525-4113-8206-b2f1c2bfbdf1Our house in Spain didn’t start its life as a human habitation. It was at one time in the distant past a horse stable. This means it is authentically rustic. There isn’t a smooth wall in the place. The walls swoop and dip showing past blowouts and genuine rocks embedded in the below structural grade concrete. By this I mean the concrete is a combination of 90% beach sand and 10% cement. At some point I expect to find a horseshoe buried behind the plaster. We aren’t undoing dreams here. We are tweaking things while addressing deferred maintenance.

dfc5db71-38fa-4880-8784-9c03d6fc631bDonna is in her own special version of heaven. I’ve been painting. Painting…and having elaborate dreams reminding me that somewhere down the line squash blossoms will glow in the sun. Well that…and thank God we didn’t buy one of those gloriously marvelous wrecks!a7225161-89dc-47ae-a414-d834291e011e

Closer To Home: Methow Valley Ciderhouse



IMG_9773Heading to far off places in September makes a lot of sense.  It’s the end of the season, rates are lower, and the multitudes have gone back home.  For retired teachers traveling in September is the realization of a deferred dream.  It also gives you a place to put the energy you had always put into your classroom.

There is a distinct smell in the air when the end of summer comes rolling around.  It creates that Sunday afternoon feeling for people who work in education.  It’s a signal telling you it’s time to gut up.  You won’t take a deep breath again until the last kid walks out the door in June.

Donna and I have been escaping the country for the months of September, October, and part of November ever since she retired.  It has been liberating, but we haven’t experienced a Pacific Northwest autumn for awhile.  We had almost forgotten what we were missing.

The corrective action was a series of karmic accidents.  For a brief instant in my youth Richard, John, Carl, Ric and I formed a band called Hale’s Angels. We practiced the hits of the day and performed two of them at our Sophomore talent show.  We were slated to perform everything else we knew in the lunchroom.  We were out in the hallway when a pie fight erupted.  The event was canceled.  I have never been sure what the greatest disappointment was…not playing, or missing pie fight.IMG_9962Fifty-two years later we decided to have another go.  We were practiced and scheduled to play at our 50th High School Reunion.  The thing about schedules is they have a tendency to slowly, quietly, and inevitably expand.  The extra minutes kept adding up, and in the end the Hale’s Angels figured not playing would only disappoint the four of us.  The folks who came to dance were not to be denied.  Watching them out the dance floor proved that point.  Everyone could still bust some impressive moves.  Nothing less could be expected from Franklin Quakers!

A tentative plan was made for the Angels to regroup up at the Methow Valley Ciderhouse in late October.  Richard, our percussionist and former bassist, is the Ciderhouse’s proprietor.  The rest of Hale’s Angels surviving members couldn’t make it, but Donna and I decided we were due for a road trip.

Some casual figuring told us neither one of us had been to Winthrop for 35 years.  Our eyes told us this was a huge mistake.  Highway 20 is one of Washington State’s natural wonders.  In autumn it’s a feast of yellows, golds, and reds.  The highway ends at Methow Valley Ciderhouse, and Winthrop.

Richard and his wife Lynne are the Ciderhouse’s owners, cider makers, and marvelous hosts.  In no time at all we were sampling their entire menu of ciders.  All of the ciders are made from apples grown on their property.  It was difficult to pick a favorite.  That meant it was necessary to order another King Cougar, and a Town Deer.  While we were sipping a crowd of celebrants arrived in Steampunk attire and decided to settle in for cider, brats, ribs, and sides.

The musical entertainment, Jerome and Sara, weren’t slated to perform until later in the evening.  So, there was just enough time to explore the Riser Lake Loop with Richard, Lynne, and their dogs Trip and Bree.  Autumn in the Methow is worth the drive.

IMG_9781Later in the evening Jerome and Sara played us back to the days of yore.  This means they played the stuff Hale’s Angels listened to back in high school.  Old pop songs have become folk music. After Jerome and Sara were done for the night I borrowed a guitar from a local folkster.  Richard and I played a couple of tunes.  In the following lull the folkster belted out Me and Bobby McGee.  Donna belted out Mercedes Benz and Sara joined in.  The Methow Valley Ciderhouse then experienced an impromptu flash mob Hootenanny.  Magic happens up at the end of Highway 20!

We took the route through Wenatchee on the way home.  Traveling to far off places during the autumn still has its appeal, but there are plenty slices of heaven closer to home.

Thanks to Richard and Lynne, and the folks up at the Methow Valley Ciderhouse!