September 14 – 17: St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Zubieri, Spain

2214A6BD-5E3B-40D2-9DCA-ACA4F1B8F86F

Main street – St. Jean Pied de Port, France

September 14: St. Jean Pied de Port, France

This ancient capital of the Basque region nestled in the Pyrenees is a welcoming place to start, The storybook village is crowded with pilgrims from all over the world, excited to begin their adventure.

We stay at the Beilari, one of the many albergues in town, except that this one comes with a recommendation. Albergues are hostels run exclusively for pilgrims, who show their pilgrim passport and receive a stamp (a lovely souvenir by the end of the trip).

All 22 guests are greeted warmly, settle in and later we all congregate around the long, wood dining tables. Our host serves us a glass of port and asks us to introduce ourselves, say where we live and why we are doing the Camino. We are from the U.S., France, Malta, Brazil and Australia and we immediately feel a deep connection to each other.

We set the table together as our host tells us that for this night only, we are a family and will share a home cooked meal together. Impressively, he repeats this all in English, French and Spanish and tells us that he plans to learn German during the off season.

We are told not to set alarms and the next morning awaken to the sounds of a Gregorian chant. After sharing breakfast, we head out together on our first day.

September 15: Orisson, France- 7 miles, 3 hours

It’s a strenous, uphill walk, so we plan to stop in the albergue in Orisson before continuing through the Pyrenees tomorrow.

We sit outside all afternoon, delighting in the travel stories from our newfound friends from the U.S., Switzerland and Australia, even though traveling through India on a motorcycle and hiking in Nepal are not on our bucket list.

Before dinner we are asked to, once again, introduce ourselves, which seems to give you as much insight into others as it does to yourself. I fall asleep wishing I could have given all 38 new members of my new one night family a group hug.

September 16:  Roncesvalles, Spain- 9 miles, 5 hours

This is so much better than our 2016 experience; it’s not raining, the trail is better and the rooms at the monestery have been renovated.

It’s a long, uphill climb, but the scenery is breathtaking and the only sound you can hear is the occasional cow bell. I have a sudden urge to run through the hills, twirling around and singing the words to “The Sound of Music”, but suddenly remember the Camino golden rule: never take an extra step that is not necessary.

There are two bunk beds to a cubicle and we are sharing it with a French couple that speak no English. My French friend and I soon find something we have in common; we both keep hitting our heads on the top bunk, laugh and high five each other.

We enjoy another home cooked dinner, then a big group of us gather to toast a U.S. couple celebrating their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary.

September 17: Zubieri- 14 miles, 6 hours

Of course, things could always be worse. Last time it rained, but today it’s hot and the shale, tree roots and loose rock make the path unrelentingly difficult as we trudge uphill and then descent, over and over again.

At our albergue Palo de Avellano, we meet an older couple who left from their front door in Germany and are now heading home.

Two Tylenol and one power nap later, I am ready for a glass of wine. At the bar, we are invited to join a woman from Holland sitting alone and then run into a couple from Texas.

At dinner, we’re seated next to five men from Denmark who met when they were six years old and travel together once a year. We laugh and talk, almost forgetting that it’s lights out at 10 pm.

Advertisements

Following the Yellow Brick Road; Why I Am Walking the Camino Again

Photo Following the Yellow Brick Road

The 2011 movie “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen, sparked a resurgence in the Camino. His son, Emilio Estevez, who also wrote, produced and directed it, has compared his story to “The Wizard of Oz.” Sheen is Dorothy, Oz is replaced by Santiago and the pilgrims that Sheen meets along the way seem to have something in common with the tin man, scarecrow and the cowardly lion. The yellow arrows that mark the way along the Camino are today’s yellow brick road.

Walking out of the theater that afternoon, I remember Mr. Wiz* vowing to walk the Camino someday. I thought nothing of it again, until 2016, when I accepted an invitation to join him on a 500 mile walk through Spain.

Then an unathletic version of myself, I was not about to miss out on an adventure. I started training and had found my sport; I could walk! Standing on that mountain as I tested out my first pair of hiking boots, I felt positively giddy. No matter that it was the 4-foot, plastic mountain in the center of the REI shoe department; I was hooked.

Following one of the ancient paths that pilgrims have traveled for thousands of years to the cathedral in Santiago, Spain where the remains of St. James are said to be buried, the Way of St. James evokes physical, spiritual and mystical qualities. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk) can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine). A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there is such beauty in the incongruity of it all.

Standing on line to receive our Compostela (the certificate of completion) at the end of the trip, a fellow pilgrim mentioned a national pilgrim organization. Members of our local chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino all seem to have that same sparkle in their eyes; they are interesting people of all ages that are united by a sense of adventure and purpose. And when family and friends have heard all your stories and seen your photos more than once, this is the group who is always anxiously willing to share it all again.

This band of spirited souls with a zest for life understood my newfound feelings. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.

So, accepting Mr. Wiz’s invitation once again, with my hair cut short, nail polish removed and no makeup packed, I will venture out with a couple of outfits in my backpack and see where life takes me this time. These are not requirements; you make your Camino your own. This is just my way of not letting a more complicated version of myself get in the way of the simple pleasures that the Camino is known to provide.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Plug Me In  

Photo Plug Me In

One thing led to another and now I am the proud owner of multiple devices that need to be plugged in, as part of my daily beauty regimen.

It all began quite innocently. Times were changing and the big move from a bubble hairdryer to a blow dryer seemed the right thing to do. The electric toothbrush was all my dentist’s idea. The Waterpik would water floss my teeth to better health, so said the dental hygienist. The ex-foliation brush was prompted by my esthetician; who doesn’t want their skin rejuvenated?

I’m sure that Mr. Wiz* can hear the strange sounds coming from behind the closed bathroom door; the hums, whirrs, buzzes and the occasional ear piercing shrills when two or more warning alarms signal that their units need recharging. Though he never comments, he does sometimes appear wide-eyed as he asks me if I am all right. And while I’m happy with my little gadgets oscillating and vibrating away, I’m sure that there are new products that are reminiscent of a day spa in space.

Imagine that your smart refrigerator takes one look at you via its touch screen and alerts your iPhone to call and make an emergency appointment with your hairdresser and cosmetologist. Sensing this would make an ideal date night, Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant that is now a member of your household, calls your husband and your favorite restaurant to schedule a reservation. When his car’s GPS notices that your husband is driving to a local florist, it contacts Siri, who intervenes to assure him that an important event has not been forgotten and flowers are not necessary.

You might as well utilize your facial mask complete with LED light therapy and thermotherapy (hot and cold settings) and your skin toning device that helps tone and firm body skin and contour the body using metal spheres to channel electric waves through the skin. You have an extra few minutes so you decide to do a quick scan, place your iPhone on your forehead and analyze your skin’s hydration, pore size and formation of fine lines.

While some of these devices are directly from Allure magazine’s beauty technology update and some are directly from my imagination, you get the point. If we let ourselves, we will become obsessed with every bell and whistle that hits the market.

And naively, all I was going to hint for was the gift that keeps on giving; a small generator so I should never experience life without my four little gadgets when all-around me, alien contraptions are infiltrating our world and stimulating our body and our economy.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Baby and Business as Usual

Photo Baby Business

A newborn baby, two business professionals, and one how-to book. Luckily, Big A* weighed in at 10 pounds, 1- ½ ounces at birth, so there was more to work with and less of a feeling that he was breakable. As we were getting ready to leave the hospital, the nurse could sense my uneasiness and repeated his care instructions twice while I frantically took notes.

I told myself then and there that if I was able to soothe the temperament of an irritate Bloomingdale’s buyer throwing a tantrum over pricing, I certainly would be able to care for a baby. Yes, the best approach for me would be to stick to what I knew (business) and adapt those principles to being a mom:

Organizational Skills
Much to his grandmothers’ dismay, Big A traveled with us starting at four weeks old. After figuring the number of travel days, diapers and formula would be packed into a carton and checked on to the flight. This would alleviate having to shop in an unfamiliar city.

Hotels seemed only too happy to accommodate my request to remove items from the minibar refrigerator in order to make room for formula and would wash and sterilize the baby bottles for me each morning.

Groundwork
There was always a new toy in his restaurant bag to keep him busy. To keep him entertained in a museum, he’d pick out a postcard of a painting in the gift shop when we’d first enter, then happily spend his time there trying to match the paintings on the wall to his postcard.

Meetings
As he got older, we would share our schedules and upcoming events during dinner. When a family meeting was called, we knew that one of us was requesting time to focus on a subject, discuss it and make any necessary decisions together.

Record-keeping
Keeping a journal as he grew up did not take all that much time and is so special to me now. Photo albums! – need I say more?

Research
When important decisions came up (such as curfews), it was hard for us, as the parents of an only child, to be well-informed. At his school, I would seek out moms with a big family and ask for their input.

We weren’t surprised when, at age seven, Big A asked Santa for a briefcase. It was necessary to house his ever-growing business card collection. When Mr. Wiz* became a member of our building’s condominium board, 9-year old Big A would accompany him to every meeting with a pad and pen.

What made us realize that we had a professional on our hands was when, at age 10, Big A called a family meeting to discuss an allowance increase. He came to breakfast that Saturday wearing a shirt and tie along with his pajama bottoms, passed out typed copies of his presentation and spoke eloquently of how, now in fourth grade, his popularity was based on the number of Pokemon cards he was able to purchase and how an allowance increase combined with a slight increase in chores would change his world. The Board met in closed session and accepted his proposal unanimously.

Now, Big A is an accountant for an international company, loves to travel, still is always ready to wear a jacket and tie to dinner and continues to be the joy of our lives. I can honestly say that motherhood was the best job I have ever had.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 When You Just Gut to Rehab

Photo Gut to Rehab

Our elderly neighbors ran up to us and hugged us tightly. “…We heard you are moving north and we hate to see you go. Are you heading to Minnesota? …” “… No…” I said “…Just to the north side of the building…”

Back then, it was a win-win situation. Mr. Wiz* was eager to renovate and Big A* and I didn’t want to move, so we compromised. We moved three times in the same Chicago condominium building, buying and renovating units that were in their original condition.

There’s a price you pay for the privilege of transformation:

– A deep, intimate and complicated relationship with your contractor that, for the moment, takes precedence overall else. He is your lifeline to the construction-free world that you long for. You hunger for his voice, delight in his every word, sulk when he forgets to return your calls and look forward to his visits with unbridled anticipation.

– Those sleepless nights, as you review your decisions over and over again. Did I hear the salesman say, under his breath that it was just a representative sample? Do I really want my appliances to look like NASA space modules, communicate with my smartphone and plan my meals without me? Is brown the new black or is black the new brown?

– We came up with a sophisticated privacy system to counter the lack of doors (yelling “…Don’t come in! …” seemed to work), took turns vacuuming the paper protecting the wood floors (which also served as a means of communication) and washed dishes in the bathtub (still not sure why the new sink had backed up).

Even though we felt as if we had done our homework, we came up with some useful ideas that seemed to be missing from the how to books:

– Designate one person in your household to handle all communications with your contractor. This will eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

– When working on drawing up a contract, offer as much detail as you can. We prepared spreadsheets by room with the headings entitled “Demo, Construct, Electric and Cabinet and Fixtures.” Names and model numbers of any items to be purchased were also included.

– Remember that if you veer off the signed contract in any way, a change order must be written and signed by both parties.

– Affix sticky notes directly to any areas that are still in need of completion. This will bring attention to the work that is still outstanding and get it done in a timely manner.

Each time the work was completed and I had found just the right spot for my most cherished possessions, I couldn’t imagine packing them up and moving. But, pack, unpack and relocate them again we have through the years.

It’s that rush of excitement that comes with the visual culmination of all your plans and design ideas created into something new that never gets old. Funny how, at that moment, any unpleasantness is never recalled.

For those of us that can see the light at the end of those dust bunny filled tunnels, we’ll continue to move through life glancing affectionately at the Home Depot circulars, drawing up design ideas on cocktail napkins and searching for the next place to hang our hat.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

The Interview

Photo The Interview

One last chance to check for a trace
Of breakfast crumbs on your face

Remember to exude confidence
Be yourself; don’t get tense

It’s stiffer competition than I’d bargained for
I don’t think I can take much more

My pulse is racing, my hands are clammy
What must it be like for the interviewee?

My panic is soothed by a warm embrace
And the smile on my 4-year old son’s face

“…The snack was good, the playground is great
There’s a water table and a hamster named Kate…”

Relieved and exhausted, I’ve just made it through
His first kindergarten, private school interview

 

Up early and dressed for success, it’s another busy day. There’s an early morning Spanish class and a late afternoon tennis lesson. When is the piano recital? Who is your lunch date with? Will there be time for a nap? Without an iPhone, it’s hard for you to keep track, but then again, you cannot read or write yet. Thank goodness that you are able to maintain your stress levels by humming a few bars of your favorite Mozart concerto (fresh in your mind after hearing it repeatedly while still in the womb). Welcome to the life of a preschooler.

Baby boomers may have been partly responsible for originating this phenomenon. Known for their competitive and goal-centric nature, they left nothing to chance and methodically plotted out their children’s lives. As with any faction, there are always varying levels of methodology, from those that implemented a more natural and laid-back approach to those that put the “hell” in helicopter parents (a term for parents that aggressively hover over every aspect of their child’s life).

And from those seeds that were planted and meticulously tended to, the millennial was created. Born between 1980 and 2000, they are also known as the Me Generation. They have an air of confidence about them and are sometimes blamed for being a bit too self-absorbed. Given the fact that they are the first generation to have so much technology at their fingertips, they are not entirely to blame. According to Forbes Magazine“…No generation has been as publicly reviled, praised, misunderstood and analyzed as the millennials. And, with good reason. By 2025, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce…”

We’ve created a generation that works hard, plays hard and is a powerful force to reckon with. Sure, maybe our tactics may have been a bit over the top, but by the time our preschoolers hit the college campus, they learned to tolerate our unrelenting attentiveness to every aspect of their lives. And, if they could tackle that, they could handle anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Two Seniors

 

Photo My 2 Seniors

This is how I remember it happening. It was a Friday night and I couldn’t stop pacing the room. Big A* had just left me a phone message that we might be receiving a call from his Jesuit high school to report that some students were moshing at tonight’s dance. As I hurried to look up the definition of moshing (a style of dance which involves pushing or slamming into each other), JC* called to tell me she had a blind date. I quickly gave her a rundown of safety tips, but she was more interested in what dress I thought she should wear and said she would check in later.

Back when Big A was still in high school and JC was moving to Chicago to be nearer to us, their lives seemed to collide in a parallel universe for a few short months. Contrary to popular opinion, high school seniors and senior citizens seem to have more in common than most people think.

Though one goes to bed too late and one gets up too early, their main goal in life is socialization. Having completed intense research in order to track their activities during the course of one week, I discovered that these two, party animals remained neck in neck for number of hours of communal involvement.

More in-depth investigation uncovered interesting findings. While playing rugby, Big A and his teammates would scrum, which involved players packing closely together with their heads down in an attempt to gain possession of the ball. This was not too far off from a similar strategy of a group of senior women in their attempt to gain possession of 50 percent off sale items during an outlet mall visit.

Another rugby analogy presented itself in the form of the traditional sharing of food at the end of each game. The host team would stand to the side and invite the visiting team to serve themselves first, then the ravenous players would all attack the table. Again, not too distant from the sight of a group of early bird diners and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. I rest my case.

We shopped for two microwaves and settled both into their new digs; a dorm room and a senior community (which, soon gave way to a condo when JC announced that her new neighbors were too old). In my attempt to seek out some sort of a generation gap, all I actually found were grandmother and grandson shopping together at Gap Inc.

Much time has gone by, but these two still share a special bond. I can rest assured that when I am out of town, they will take care of each other, which they did recently when they enjoyed cocktails and dinner at one of the new, hot spot restaurants and took in a Gypsy Kings concert.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.