That Voice

It’s been years now since I last heard your voice. It was a nice enough voice. I enjoyed hearing it say kind things, calling me by pet names, cooing while giving the cat belly rubs, stuff like that. It was a perfectly fine voice, and for some time there I believed that it would be a voice I’d wake up to for the rest of my life. But we know differently now, don’t we?

I’m not upset with the way things turned out. I do wish that I’d set you free sooner, so that we could both have moved on with our lives, but it seemed a waste to just give up, and before I knew it, a full-blown algae bloom of dissatisfaction was floating under our bridge. In the end, I called it quits. It was not pleasant for either of us, but it hurt you more, I think, the seemingly abrupt ending. I’m realizing now that we were living around each other, but our lives didn’t really touch. It’s no wonder that you didn’t see it coming. I should have cried out in the open, instead of going to bed early to shield you from what I considered signs of my weakness, my inability to try just a little bit harder.

I’ve heard that you are happy now, and that makes me happy, too. You deserve it. But I wish that your wholeness in some other town, in some other state, would take away the pieces you left with me – especially your voice.

On Saturday mornings, your voice made me feel guilty for not waking up early enough and getting to work on doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. On Thursday nights, your voice made me worry that I should be trying harder to force myself to go out to drinks with you and your coworkers on Friday afternoon, even though I was bored to tears when you guys talked work, and though I didn’t have anything in common with them aside from my (unused) master’s degree. Your voice belied a hidden desperation over my lack of appropriately sexy behavior, and dismay at my lack of culinary prowess and less than stellar housekeeping skills. Your voice frequently remarked on my insufficient paychecks, and need to apply myself and make more money, even when I was making more than most people in my profession in our area. It was most likely never your intention, but your voice often made me feel “lesser than.”

And it still does.

The part of me that hates myself wears your voice these days. When I feel fat, or lazy, or worthless, or am worried about paying bills, the voice that expresses disgust is yours. I know that it’s not really you, and when your voice pops up in my head, itching to make me feel lesser than once more, I calmly tell it that it has no place ordering me around.

I look forward to the day when this false guide will take its cue and leave. In the mean time, I remember pet names, and enthusiastic descriptions of food, and patient instructions for doing tasks you thought commonplace. The good voice will have to outweigh the bad for now. Maybe if I’m lucky, one day there will be no reason for any voice to stick around. We’ll see.

 

Whole30 Wild Boar Cabbage Rolls

I’m on Day 9 of the Whole30, and it’s been surprisingly easy (plus cost-effective – I’m saving so much money that I would have spent on pizza and wine). The hardest part for me has been, not completely unexpectedly, cooking more than I typically do. If you’re not familiar with the Whole30 reset, there’s tons of great information on the website. Without going into too much boring detail, it’s basically paleo’s stricter older brother: no alcohol, dairy, grains, soy, legumes, corn, sweeteners other than fruit juice (yes, this includes honey), and some other things that I’m forgetting because I never ate them to begin with. It’s a great way to get out of the habit of eating processed crap all of the time, and it’s been OK so far.

As I said, I’m no chef. I’m barely a cook. In the kitchen of life, I would be better doing salad prep. But making sure not to ingest any bad foods means that you need to have the good foods prepared and waiting for your hangry moments, so recipes were necessary. Last Sunday night, I made a decent batch of cabbage rolls that were not disgusting, and have allowed me to stay on target for the past week. The rest of the time I’m being boring and eating things like eggs, sausages, sauteed veggies, avocados, sweet potatoes – really, really basic food. Anyway, this recipe is being written for me, so I don’t lose it. It’s not the best recipe for cabbage rolls that has ever existed, but it’s done its job, and I think that with time, I can improve upon it. Please feel free to use this as a base recipe for creating your own edible concoction. Let me know what you do in the comments!

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 1 lb. of ground meat (I used wild boar, since that’s the cheapest thing they had at the food co-op)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1-2 jalapeno
  • 5-10 Baby Bella mushrooms
  • 5-10 baby carrots
  • small can of sliced black olives
  • 1 14-oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes (make sure there’s no added sugar on the ingredients list)
  • crushed red pepper
  • salt & pepper

Directions:

  1. Boil the cabbage. I’ve read various instructions on how to do this, and I still didn’t do it quite right. The aim is to boil it for long enough for all of the leaves to get soft, so you can gently pull them back and remove them, one by one. I just boiled it, pulled off all of the leaves that I could pull off, then put it back in the water and did it over again, etc. It took three full boils to get the whole thing apart. I’ve heard that you can cut out the core and boil it, and that’s a lot easier. I only have one giant knife, so I wasn’t really open to the idea of trying that technique without adult supervision. Whatever, it worked fine. Peel off the leaves and set them aside.
  2. Open the can of diced tomatoes, dump it in the blender, and add a lot of hot sauce, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Feel free to experiment. Regular cabbage rolls normally use some sort of flavorful tomato soup-like substance to cover the cabbage rolls while they’re baking or slow-cooking, and a lot of people just use Campbell’s tomato soup. Next time, I’d work on making this mixture a bit thicker, creamier, and more flavorful, but it tasted perfectly fine (and I like my food spicy, so the more peppers, the better).
  3. Dice up the onion, jalapeno, mushrooms, and carrots, and saute everything in olive oil.
  4. Dice up the black olives.
  5. Combine the raw meat with all of the sauteed veggies and diced black olives. I put it all in a big bowl and mixed thoroughly, until the entire mixture was consistent. Add
  6. Scoop out individual portions of the meat/veggie mixture into individual cabbage leaves. You’re going to just have to eyeball this one. Keep in mind how many cabbage leaves you have to fill, and portion out the mixture accordingly. I would estimate that each roll took about two to three heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture, but this isn’t written in stone.
  7. Roll up the cabbage leaves. Try tucking the ends in like you would a burrito, just to keep the mixture in there a little better.
  8. Gently place the rolls in the slow cooker in layers, then top everything with the tomato concoction you put together in the blender.
  9. Cook in the slow cooker on high for 5 hours.
  10. Enjoy! This recipe made me 14 cabbage rolls, so 7 days of lunches.

 

 

 

So Much For Fireworks

The sky was full of smoke. Lighters flickered at the end of the driveway, and adolescents let out a whoop and sprinted off, the universal signal that more explosions were on the way. “We’ll go to couples’ counseling,” I whispered, “this will all work out.” You smiled down at me for a second, then put your arm around my shoulder the way I hated, pulling me into an awkward, possessive hug, the kind that defined me as the little woman, the lesser half. I took a deep breath, an even deeper swig of beer. Your family gathered around me. They were my family then. I loved them as much as I loved fireworks – the bright colors; the cacophony of laughter; the genuine smiles, the kind that dazzle you into a chain reaction. Fire lit the sky. It was too hard to talk, so I just gave up and settled in.

In response to today’s Daily Post prompt, Autonomy

Anna’s Camino: Day 7 – Puente la Reina

The walk from Pamplona to Puente la Reina was one of the most exhausting I’d yet to experience, but the road offered its own rewards that day. I’ve already mentioned my brightest memories from leaving Pamplona in my last Camino blog entry, but there’s one more I’d like to recount, just to keep it fresh. The night before we left, the three of us girls went upstairs to the albergue’s communal kitchen and pooled our resources to have wine and snacks. While we ate and chatted, I filled out 30 postcards to mail back home, and since Claire also had some things to mail, we decided to try to find the post office on the way out of town in the morning. In the morning, we wandered around a little bit as we tried to find the post office, and one of our wrong turns led us to a little square with a statue of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. I took it as a sign, and as it turned out, it was to be the first of many that day.

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After visiting the post office successfully, we followed the yellow arrows back to the Camino. On our way out of town, we made a brief stop at the Church of San Cernin (click to learn more), a lovely 13th-century church possibly built over an old Roman temple. I was particularly taken with the church’s wooden floors, but still haven’t done the research to find out the reasoning behind the numbers. At the time, I assumed that the numbers coincided with tombs, but perhaps an expert can enlighten me in the comments!

As I recounted in the last entry, we stopped for coffee and a quick trip to the farmicia, then finally headed out of town a little later than planned. From Pamplona, the Camino takes pilgrims through a number of small towns, including Cizur Menur, where Natalie had memories from her earlier Camino of a wonderful hospitalera who was a foot expert. We had tentative plans to try to find the lady, just to say hi, but it didn’t work out. Instead, we kept walking, following the road uphill to the famous Alto de Perdon, “The Mount of Forgiveness.”

As we neared Alto de Perdon, even though we were walking up into the hills again, the landscape sort of stretched out all around us. The city had fallen away, and again it was easy to get lost in the greens and grays of the surrounding landscape. There were windmills everywhere! There had been a little rain to begin with in the morning, but as we climbed uphill, the wind began to whip, and the day started to get a little more gray than before.

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Gorgeous flowers – including my favorites, poppies.

I pulled the hood of my rain jacket tighter around my ears, and kept a close eye on my footing as we climbed up toward the famous metal statue that crowned the highest elevation of the day’s walk. Natalie walked ahead, and Claire was quite some way behind, and for some reason, I decided to just stop and look around. Ever since seeing Francis that morning, I’d had this feeling that I was missing something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. Then I saw something I’d been looking for for days – my first poppies of the Camino. Ever since starting out, I’d kept an eye out for my favorite flowers, hoping to catch at least a couple of them in bloom, even though it was late in the season. Up until this point, I’d seen tons of crocuses, but not a single gorgeous red bloom. They’ve been important to me ever since visiting Assisi, Francis’ birthplace, and seeing them here, on this day, seemed particularly important.

Ever since seeing Alto de Perdon in the movie The Way, I’d expected it to be a very special and inspiring place, but in reality, the popular site wasn’t everything that I’d expected. Even at the time, it took a distant backseat to the poppies I’d seen just a few minutes earlier, and the rest of my walk that day was so beautiful and weird that afterwards, the hilltop sculpture was just a blip on my mental screen.

Walking downhill was a huge challenge for me that day. The ground was a little slick, but even worse, this portion of the Camino was just loose rocks. My knees were protesting the downhill climb, and I slipped often enough to start to be very nervous about the rocks. Natalie was much faster at this than I, so there ended up being at least a half-mile between us, maybe more. Claire and I passed each other throughout the afternoon, but for a good portion of the rest of the walk, I felt pretty isolated by the landscape. There were other pilgrims, but I don’t remember them. Mostly, I remember relishing the freedom, and singing at the top of my lungs for much of the afternoon.

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I particularly loved this welcoming roadside Madonna.

In Uterga, I caught up with Natalie at a great little albergue called the Albergue Camino del Perdon, where we had a seat, took off our shoes, and shared some food. We had a beautiful bowl of soup, and I ate one of my favorite slices of tortilla along the entire Camino. A sweet, well-loved neighbor dog came over to see if we needed any help clearing our plates.

Eventually, Claire ambled up, and we enjoyed sitting a little while longer. It was getting late, though, and we still had a ways to walk to get to Puente la Reina. The rest of the afternoon passed in a bit of a blur; my legs and feet were really starting to feel the strain of the day, and I got slower and slower as we walked through Muruzabal, then Obanos. At one point, I was right behind the girls, walking a suburban neighborhood. As we walked by house after house, they chatted ahead of me, and I just walked with my thoughts about 10 feet behind.

Suddenly, I heard an insistent whinny come from over a fence, and a beautiful white horse stuck her head out in my path. My companions kept walking on, immersed in their conversation. This gorgeous horse and I spent a good ten minutes communing over the fence, putting our foreheads together, me giving her ear scratches, her giving me little snuffles along my forehead. It was a beautiful little stretch of time, and if I could have visited for longer, I surely would have. But I didn’t know where I was supposed to meet up with the girls, so it was important to hurry on after awhile. It felt like a magical moment, though, and just another sign that Francis was walking beside me that day. Later, I asked the girls why they hadn’t stopped to say hi to the horse. “What horse?” they asked. Weird.

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My sweet horse companion.

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Sidewalk Camino marker. In cities and heavily-populated towns, there would normally be something a little more permanent than a spray-painted yellow arrow, though the arrows were often there, too.

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Political graffiti, though sometimes crass, can play an important role for getting newbies up-to-speed.

By the time we made it to Puente la Reina, it was already late afternoon. Luckily, we were just ahead of the last wave of pilgrims for the day, so there were still some open beds at the municipal albergue. I was so worn out! I barely had the energy to shuffle in the front door, then let Natalie and Claire talk with the hospitalero to see if there was any more room. I didn’t want to sit, in case I couldn’t manage to stand back up again, so I leaned against my pack, against the wall, and half-heartedly struggled to untie my shoes until it was my turn to show my ID and pay the guy. I believe it was five euros for a bed.

The albergue was pretty bare bones, with the same crappy metal bunk beds that they’d had at Zubiri, except that this time, it seemed like the bunk beds had been made for little kids, since there was barely enough room to sit up when you were on the bottom bunk. I didn’t really care, though. I was excited to have a bottom bunk, and once the late pilgrims came in, I was even more excited to just have gotten a bed. A few people were given sleeping mats to crash on the floor. One of the funny things that I remember from that particular albergue is that there was a group of pilgrims from Israel, all old men who played in an orchestra together, and spent the night bantering and telling jokes. They ended up irritating Claire the next day with their insistence that she stop walking and take their picture, but for the time being, they were an entertaining bunch.

After we’d showered, washed clothes, and had everything hanging out to dry (with not much hope in that department, since it had been a humid day, and promised to drizzle overnight), we decided to explore the town a little, and find something to eat. I don’t remember if we found a decent pilgrim meal or not, but I do remember how family-oriented the town was. It was the first of many towns that would impress me with how beloved, well-dressed, and well-behaved the children were, and how the family units all came out to eat and socialize together, mother, father and kids, or grandparents and kids. I didn’t take any pictures of the little ones, since that would be creepy, but I did take a couple of shots of the girls and myself on our way into town.

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Natalie and Claire (of the gorgeous hair), walking through Puente la Reina.

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Sunset in Puente la Reina. This picture marks the day that I first realized that my depression and anxiety were beginning to wane.

What’s Going On?

Hey there, folks! If you’ve been waiting for the next installment of my Camino journal, never fear; I’ll have a new post up tomorrow. Things have been rather hectic as of late. There’s a lot going on in my life, and it’s mostly all very positive. Thought I’d drop by for a second to let you all in on the current goings on, as well as to humbly ask for some good vibes over the next week or so as I embark on some small changes that are going to lead to big rewards eventually. So what am I up to, you ask? Here you go:

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You might not know this (and you’d probably never expect it, since I’m super sloppy here on the blog), but I’m currently enrolled in the University of California San Diego’s Extension program, and studying to obtain a Certificate in Copyediting. Just finished my second of four required courses, and found out yesterday that I got an A! It was a difficult class, so I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve always loved copyediting, though, and as boring as it might seem to some people, I’ve been having a great time familiarizing myself with the minutiae of copyediting via The Chicago Manual of Style and The Copyeditor’s Handbook.

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My studies at UCSD aren’t my first foray into copyediting; I’ve actually been proofing and editing documents of all kinds for most of my 15-year career. When I decided to study copyediting to make my skill set a bit more “official,” I also had it in the back of my mind that one day I’d like to become a freelance copyeditor. Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking it over, and it feels like the right time to get going. I’m going to be putting together a new site in the coming weeks that highlights my skills as a copyeditor and marketing strategist. I’ve been working a lot on coming up with a name, budgeting for various fees, and creating a plan to get the business underway without costing an arm and a leg. You’ll see more on this soon.

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Via Wildland Trekking. Check out their amazing array of hiking and backpacking tours! There’s something for everyone, in amazing locations all over the world.

The reason I want to be a little economical with the business plan is because I’ve got another exciting adventure coming up. I’m turning 35 in November, and it’s a big deal for me. It’s time to move fully into my power, and make my intentions known to the Universe. The Camino kicked off this inner journey, and I want to make my 35th birthday very special, a physical manifestation of this great spiritual leap. That being said, I’ve decided to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim during my birthday week. I won’t be going alone, so don’t worry about my sanity. I’ve been talking with a tour group that does small group tours with an experienced guide. They provide all necessary equipment and safety measures, so my only responsibilities between then and now will be to get into fighting shape (those packs are heavy, and the days are long), buy clothing, and save up for the cost of the tour. It’s a bit more than I should be spending right now, but I’ve weighed the financial expenditure of going against the emotional cost of not going, and have realized that I’d rather fight my damnedest to get there than give up on a dream. I can’t imagine a better way to see the Grand Canyon OR a better way to spend my 35th birthday, so I’m just going to make it happen. Also, this will be a great excuse to make sure I’m stocked up on all of the clothing I’ll need for my next Camino (aiming for 2017).

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Via the Jazz Half Marathon site.

Talking about getting into fighting shape, I’m also training to run a half marathon in late October. I’d been talking about my pre-35 goals, and one of them was to get back into running, which I used to love. I even ran a marathon a few years back, but health issues and life have set me back a bit. I was so surprised and excited when my friends signed me up to run the Jazz Half Marathon in October, and even paid the entry fee! I’m going to run the race for charity, to raise money for oncology and hematology patients at the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. Expect a fundraising link here on the blog pretty soon – you’re definitely going to want to help those adorable smiling faces!

On top of this, I started working as a hotel front desk agent in February, and I average 40 hours a week at the job. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do, and I genuinely love being here and helping people. That being said, there are a lot of other ways that I could be helping the hotel to achieve its goals and make guests even happier, so I’ve been talking with my manager about expanding my role here at the hotel to make use of my marketing skills. We have a meeting on Friday to talk things over a little more officially, and I’m hoping that it will lead to a raise. Your good thoughts appreciated as I move forward with all of these big new projects!

Anna’s Camino: Day 6 – Pamplona

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The scallop shell appeared everywhere on the Camino. After growing up on the Atlantic coast, I’ve never been much of a fan of nautical references, but this particular symbol really grew on me. This is the sign for the Albergue de Jesus y Maria, in Pamplona.

I’ve got mixed feelings about Pamplona. Before going on the Camino, I’d never aspired to visit the city before, and my experience there wasn’t exactly negative, but it wasn’t stellar, either. I wasn’t sad to leave, let’s put it that way. That being said, it was still an experience, and it deserves a mention. I did have some interesting interactions there, and met one of my Camino friends there in a very funny incident.

Not long after reluctantly leaving Zabaldika, we walked past a beautiful little farmyard, complete with turkeys, chickens, geese, and a cute little goat! I really wanted to pet the goat, but one of the geese flew to the top of the fence and made menacing noises at us after we’d stopped to admire the yard. Claire shooed the goose away with her umbrella, but the moment was over, and we moved on.

Once you get to Trinidad de Arre, from there to Pamplona grows to be more and more urban. It’s not exactly like walking through the suburbs the entire way, as you’re on a beautiful trail with nature all around, more like walking through a great park. We were all interested in checking out the mill museum in Trinidad de Arre, but it wasn’t open when we walked through. Instead, we visited first church when you walk over the bridge, then stopped to read a little bit about the mill processes on a sign down by the river. We hurried through, mostly because by that point, everyone had to pee, and there wasn’t a bathroom in sight. No one wanted to walk further into town if we we’d have to backtrack to get back on the Camino, so we just kept trucking along.

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The mill town of Trinidad de Arre. At the top are various shots of the Templo Santisma Trinidad, and below is the bridge leading into (and in our case, out of) town. At the back right of the bottom image, you can see a large sign and a small person. That’s the Camino – from there we headed to the right.

Luckily, at some point the park-like trail actually leads straight into a legitimate park, and Natalie spotted a public recreation center with an open sign. Bless her, she was brave enough to ask the lady at the front desk if we three could come in long enough to use the bathrooms, and we were allowed to pass through the little revolving gates that would typically take a token to enter. After that, the walk into Pamplona was pretty smooth sailing.

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This was the first time that I noticed that the word for “bathrooms” that I was seeing most often was “aseos,” (which translates to “restrooms”) not “banos” as typically taught in the U.S. Another common sight was “servicios.” It made me realize how confusing it must be for ESL students to have to distinguish between “bathroom,” “powder room,” “washroom,” “restroom,” etc. The word “komunak” is Basque, and means “common.” Just guessing, but since this was a unisex bathroom, I believe the English translation in this case would be something like “communal.”

One thing I noted was that a lot of people were out in the park with their dogs. At the beginning of the Camino, near Orisson and Roncesvalles, all of the dogs I saw were working dogs – border collies, mostly. Here in the city, I saw mostly border collies, schnauzers, King Charles spaniels, and a particular sort of dog I’d never seen before that looked kind of like a cross between a border collie and a Bermasco sheep dog. I later found out that this was the Spanish water dog. I didn’t take any pictures, but here’s what a Spanish water dog looks like:

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Via Photography on the Net‘s thread for Spanish Dog Lovers, as posted by briarlow in 2006. You should click through to see the puppies!

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Seeing the Pamplona city walls was almost surreal after having had our fill of nature for days. They were imposing, to say the least, and it was easy to see how walls like that could make enemies turn tail and run in less technologically advanced times. When we got to the walls, I was too tired to keep walking, so I just sprawled out in the grass and looked up at the way the sky met the structure for a while. A big dog came over to sniff me, and the girls started laughing as I narrowly avoided getting piddled on!

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At The Abbey, Neil had advised that we walk this particular route to get into the city so that we could enter through the French Gate (Portal de Francia), and though I hadn’t been around to hear this conversation, Claire was excited to get a photo there. We all took turns having the others take a photo, while we were at it, which took a little longer than expected since there was a fair amount of foot traffic entering the city that way. We hadn’t planned it, but we’d entered Pamplona on a local holiday. The streets were flooded with people, and there were lots of protestors, too. I was already tired, but the crowds overwhelmed me, wearing me out even more.

It took awhile to find our albergue, even though in hindsight it’s right in the middle of things. The Refugio Jesus y Maria was an abbey at one time, and now houses around 100 pilgrims in two large, multistory bays. We were some of the first to check in, and got bunks close to the front of the building, WAY on the other side of things from where the bathroom was located. I really wanted to wash clothes, though Natalie and Claire had sightseeing plans in mind. Since clean underwear were a priority, I gathered everyone’s things and offered to sit in the laundry room and wait for a washing machine to open up. While I was sitting in the laundry room, reading and waiting for a machine to open up, an Aussie pilgrim and his older friend (Ron?) came along and struck up a conversation. The Australian man taught me a couple of new leg stretches, since my calves were still seizing up daily after I’d stopped walking. I taught him a hip opening stretch that had helped me a lot. Then the friend (let’s call him Ron, shall we?) asked if I’d be kind enough to throw his socks in the wash with our clothes if he paid for the washer. I enthusiastically agreed, and the men went off to dinner, while I waited for my chance to do some washing.

Little did I know that what should have taken an hour or two was to become an all day affair. Long story short, since it turns out that writing this has made me angry, all over again – the washers at Jesus y Maria are awful, and laundry etiquette is not the same the world over. Since the washer instructions were rather strange, and the timers didn’t seem to work that well, I set my phone alarm for every ten minutes, and spent the afternoon walking back and forth to check out my washer. During that time, my laundry was removed from a washing machine that was still running not once, but twice. Both times, I found sopping wet laundry pulled out of the washing machine, with new laundry in the washer, using up my final minutes. Language barriers being what they were, and realizing after I complained that the people responsible thought I was being silly, I decided to just give up and do it the old fashioned way. I rinsed and wrung everything out in the sink, commandeered a drying rack, and hung it all up to dry.

I seem to remember there being a dryer, and that Claire very nobly took over looking after the clothes and making sure to snag the clothes dryer later that evening, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I seem to remember looking down from my bunk at a triumphant Claire holding a bag full of dry clothing, and breathing an inner sigh of relief. If it’s a fake memory to make me feel good, so be it. I’ll take it. I was most concerned about Ron’s socks, and in the end, he wasn’t unhappy, so a few hours’ stress turned out to be pointless.

At some point, the three of us went to grab food, and wandered into – of all things – an American-style burger joint. I was tucking away a burger and cheese fries when Natalie suddenly exclaimed “I think I’ve been here!” It turned out that of all the random places we could have chosen, we’d happened to walk into a place where she’d eaten a meal a couple of years before, on her last Camino.

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Cool event poster.

Afterwards, the three of us did a bit of sightseeing. On our way back to the albergue, I suddenly got an uncharacteristic craving for a sugary soft drink. I didn’t care, I just needed sugar. It was weird, but I figured it had been a long week, and a treat was fine. We stopped into a little corner store and grabbed drinks, then meandered back towards the albergue. Just as we were getting to the front door, we saw a small crowd gathering, and walked up to see what was happening. A teenage pilgrim that we’d seen from time to time over the last day or so had fainted on the street, and her friends were trying to revive her. I’d only taken a sip of the soda, so I quickly handed it to her friend, to give her a little boost in case her blood sugar was low. A man caught my hand and said, “God bless you.” It was a strange moment. On one hand, I missed my soda. On the other, I wondered if it was supposed to be her soda, all along.

Even though everything on my body hurt, I still hadn’t found the right opportunity to visit the farmicia and stock up on pain meds. I had a few Tylenol PMs left that I was using for pain and sleep, but I was about to run out. Since we were now in the big city, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to find a pharmacy, but it was not to be. It was a holiday, so everything was closed. In my very limited Spanish, I asked the hospitalera at the front desk if there were any pharmacies that would be open. She asked what I was looking for, so I said the only thing that came to mind, “pain pills,” meaning Ibuprofen or something similar. Out of nowhere, this guy pops up beside me. “Pain pills?” I realized I’d seen him a little earlier in the day. He reminded me one of my best friends, down to the black eye, which looked like he’d been hit. My first thought, as uncharitable as it was, was that whatever happened, he probably deserved it (mostly because the friend that he reminded me of has got a mouth and a way of letting it get him into trouble). In short, I liked Nestor at first sight.

That first conversation was short, but funny. I clarified that I was just looking for some Ibuprofen, and he looked disappointed. Turned out that he had been searching for an open pharmacy, too, though I’m not sure what for, exactly, because as we parted to our opposite bays, he yelled to come by his bunk if I wanted anything stronger than Ibuprofen. I laughed and said he should come by mine if he wanted a Tylenol PM. There were about a hundred people in the albergue, and we didn’t meet again in Pamplona, though the girls and I saw him looking for a pharmacy the next morning and speculated on what had caused his facial injury. (I wouldn’t see him again for another week or so, at which point he told me that he’d been mugged in Barcelona before starting the Camino. I felt awful for my prior thought process, but took it as a reminder of my dad’s favorite saying: “To assume makes an ass out of [yo]u and me.”)

For the most part, I slept in a new town, in a different albergue, every night of my Camino. That’s 30 places, give or take. I can say without pause that Jesus y Maria was my least favorite. There are several small reasons – laundry, the guy in the bunk next to me having a terrible head cold which I then caught, the distance to the bathroom – but there’s one MASSIVE reason: it echoes. The building was once a church, and though walls have been built in new places to give it a shape suitable to be an albergue, it still has the marvelous acoustics that you’d expect a church to have. With two two-story, loft-style bays, each with over 50 pilgrims, the sounds can be maddening to a light-ish sleeper. As I’d mentioned before, I was doing pretty well at putting my ear plugs in, my sleep mask on, and calling it a night. But between the guy next to me gargling his own phlegm all night, the people on the floor above me having sex (or at least a round of noisy heavy petting), the hundred squeaky bunk beds, and at least three thunderous snorers on my bay, I slept poorly, and was glad to get on the road the next morning.

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One of the coolest things I saw in Pamplona was an advertisement.

We stopped at a couple of churches as we walked out of town, which put us off-kilter in a way that can only happen when you all have unspoken mental schedules and they don’t coincide. There was never an unfriendly moment between Natalie, Claire, and I, but as we left Pamplona, I felt a little more tension in the air than had been present in the days past. If I had to guess, I’d say that no one slept well, and since Pamplona had been something of a promised oasis earlier in the trip, it felt like a bit of a bust. Or maybe that’s just me. Who knows?

The one bright spot as we were leaving town was needing to pee (me – always) and seeing a beautiful little cafe right next to an open farmicia! Cafe con leches and gorgeous baked goods made everyone’s spirits rise, and afterwards, I hopped over to the pharmacy to ask about getting some pain killers and something to help me sleep, since I was about to be out of Tylenol. The pharmacist spoke English, listened to my requests, and brought a few things to the desk. I was soon the proud owner of a box of 600 milligram Ibuprofen, a tube of Voltaren cream, and a box of the best non-habit forming sleeping pills a girl could ask for (and forget the name of later). From that point on, I took my melatonin & tryptophan supplement every night, and slept the sleep of the people who walk way too far in one day.

That night we’d reach Puente la Reina, where the dwindling sunlight looked like burnished copper, and the church ladies pray to a Jesus with a heart of full of rainbows. For now, all we had to do was keep walking.

QOTD: “It’s Got Nothing to Do with You”

It's got nothing to do with you if one can grasp it.

Here’s a confession for you: I’ve never been huge David Bowie fan. Shocking, right? Of course, he was my first sex symbol. I remember watching him (and those leather pants) in Labyrinth at around 5 years old, turning to my mother, and asking “Is that what sexy means?” Don’t remember her reaction, but if she was anything like she is now, I’m sure she blushed furiously and wished she could melt into the carpet. Seriously, though, how does anyone not fall in love with Jareth at first site?

Other than that, though, my only real exposure to Bowie was through the radio hits, which, for the most part, I could take or leave. Sounded good, had great lyrics, just missed whatever that certain something is that reaches out and snags your heart strings. Yeah, I’m a heathen, I know. Don’t write me off entirely, though, because I’m about to tell you something important: I’ve recently discovered a Bowie song that means something to me. One that I play over and over, and listen to when I need an emotional boost (which is all the time, lately, it seems).

The song is “Up the Hill Backwards,” from the 1980 Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album (which also features “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion”). The song was released as the 4th and final single from the album, hitting the radio in March of 1981. The song did not receive critical success, only reaching 32 on the chart in the UK, and not making a splash at all in the US.

At late bloomer, as always, I first heard the song about a month ago, at the end of the movie Adult Beginners, which tells the story of a 35-ish guy who loses a tech fortune and moves in with his sister’s family, acting as a nanny while he gets his life figured out. The movie rang some bells for me, but it really hit home when music started playing over the last scene, and Bowie’s voice told me, “It’s got nothing to do with you, if one can grasp it.” To be honest, it felt like a home-based Camino moment. I instantly started crying, and then spent the next hour listening to the song on repeat.

I’m working the morning shift at the hotel today, and on my walk to work, I was thinking over some current life issues – work, relationship, self-worth, future adventures, that kind of thing. It occurred to me that there’s so much that’s out of my hands. I can’t control how others feel about me, or if they care about my ideas or feelings. I can’t control how others live their lives. I can’t control the weather, or housing prices, or the stock market. The world goes round. Shit happens – but beauty happens, too. Pushing back against the Universe causes undue stress. It’s time to realize that, while I can be a force of good in the world, and that I can effect change by doing my best, the things that I worry about, that my vanity and pride hone in on and stress over for far too long – these are the things that have nothing to do with me.

In life, as on the Camino, it is my job to breathe deeply, think kindly, and keep moving forward. In this way, and only this way, will I truly be at peace with myself, and an example to others.