I just returned from Spain where I spent the last three weeks. I’ve fallen in love with Spain. I’ll miss the good food, beautiful terrain, rich culture and especially the wonderful people! But, what I will miss the most are the showers. That’s right, I said, “the showers.” Not the rain showers that fall mainly on the plain, but the bath showers.
The showers in Spain are luxurious! Water comes streaming out of the showerheads and massages your body with hot sprays of liquid love. Every day that I take a shower here in the “Good Ole USA,” I’ll reminisce of how wonderful it was to take a shower with hot, forceful water spraying all over my body.
We live in a third world country when it comes to showers. I’ve traveled and taken showers in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, and every one of those places has magnificent showers! Why? What is wrong with our showerheads here in the United States?
Things changed in early 1994 when, under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 1975, all showerheads manufactured in the U.S. could have a maximum flow no greater than 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) at 80 psi. The intent of the regulations was to save water and the associated energy used to heat water. The result is that we have to endure these low-flow showerheads that our government mandates that we have to use. And in my opinion, we don’t save any water at all because it takes twice as long to shower, thus using the same amount of water anyway!
We may claim to enjoy freedom here in the United States, but we certainly don’t enjoy the freedom of a hot shower with maximum water pressure. Now, where is my passport? I need a shower and that’s as good an excuse as any to return to Spain.
A four-star hotel in Galicia, Spain, has been my castle this week. I’m a volunteer helping educators from Spain improve their English skills. Pueblo Inglés, sponsor of this week-long program, picks up the hotel and food bill for Anglos such as myself. Transportation between Madrid and the resort is also covered. Galicia is one of Spain’s 17 regions. It’s green, lush, beautiful and, due to its position in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, this place is cool and comfortable in high summer.
There are 15 Spaniards, and 15 Anglos in this week’s program of intensive, total-immersion English-language experience. We Anglos are from Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, the United States and Wales. The goal of the program is to give the Spaniards experience and practice speaking English in many different situations and on a variety of topics with folks who speak different dialects of the Queen’s English.
It’s an incredibly wonderful experience to be here in Spain and to enjoy this beautiful country, the charming people, their fascinating customs, and their food. But, it’s also exhausting. Here’s the daily schedule:
- 8:15 Wake-up all
- 9:00 Breakfast
- 10:00 One-on-one conversation
- 11:00 One-on-one conversation
- 12:00 One-on-one conversation
- 1:00 Small group discussions
- 2:00 Lunch
- 3:30 Free time
- 5:00 Whole group activity
- 6:00 One-on-one conversation
- 7:00 One-on-one conversation
- 8:00 Whole group entertainment
- 9:00 Dinner
- 10:30 Socializing
We begin the day at breakfast, served continental style. When eating, we must always sit next to a Spaniard so as to encourage English conversation between the Anglo volunteers and Spanish participants.
One-on-one conversations are when an Anglo and a Spaniard are paired to talk. During that time we can find a place to sit and visit, or we can go for a walk. I prefer walking outdoors for the exercise (and to try and burn off all the calories I’ve consumed). Plus, I enjoy the countryside.
A Stroll through Galician Woods
Most teachers in this program are fairly fluent in English and it’s not too difficult to carry on a conversation with them. We’re encouraged to discuss things other than family and work so that the Spaniards can experience a wide variety of topics.
In small group discussions we’re given a choice of topics we can discuss. Most of the topics revolve around education. We also use this time to help the teachers with prepare a lesson in English that they must present to the group on the last day.
Lunch and dinner always consist of two different courses, a dessert, then coffee or tea at the end. At every meal there is as much amazingly-delicious Spanish bread as you want to eat and as much wine as you want to drink. (Everyone here drinks wine with their meals, so they find it peculiar that I do not.) We get to chose at the beginning of the day what we will have for dinner and lunch, between two items for each course. Fish is almost always offered as one of the choices for every meal because in this part of Spain they eat a lot of fish.
Meals always last one and a half hours, during which time you eat and visit. This is the most difficult time of the day for me. First of all, I find it mind boggling to spend so much time eating. And it is difficult to discipline yourself not to eat the bread and all the other food placed before you if you have to sit there with it on the table the whole time. I had asked the waitress to remove my plate because I did not want to eat all the fried potatoes (they were delicious!) they had given me. She explained that they were not allowed to remove the plates until everyone in the room had finished eating. Consequently, all the potatoes on my plate were eaten! (If only I were the queen and this were my castle.)
We have free time between 3:30 and 5:00. After such a large meal, all you want to do is sleep. Also, after a long day of talking constantly, you are quite exhausted and sleep comes easily and quickly.
Entertainment at night consists of some kind of presentation by an Anglo and then a skit presented by a small group of Anglos and Spaniards. Anglos are asked to prepare a five-to-10 minute presentation on something of interest about the country they are from. For example, I gave a presentation on the Monarch butterfly, the lifecycle and migration. The presentations are interesting because you learn about traditions or places from all around the world. The skits are quite entertaining and always funny. See what I mean with this group performing a madcap drama called the Dating Game.
The Dating Game
I’ve made many friends and wonderful memories this week and look forward to doing it again soon. Check out the Pueblo Inglés opportunity and find a world of friendship for yourself. The castle isn’t bad, either.
I’ve been in a real funk lately. I get that way sometimes. I’ll feel sorry for myself because things are not going exactly how I would like them to go.
Yesterday my perspective changed. I met Linda.
While flying to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport from Raleigh, North Carolina, to meet up with a friend, I sat next to Linda on the plane.
We started talking and I asked to where she was traveling. She explained that she was going to Colorado Springs, Colorado. I mentioned about the fires there and she said, “Yes, I know. My mother’s house burnt down last night. A neighbor helped her escape before the house caught fire.” She went on to explain that her 85-year-old mother was still grieving the recent death of her husband who died a long and painful death from colon cancer.
As we continued talking, I learned more about this Linda. She and I are the same age. She is completely blind in her left eye, has partial vision in her right eye and is, by all definitions, legally blind. She has difficulty walking because she suffers from kidney disease and will eventually have to go on dialysis. She is unable to drive a car and is dependent upon her husband and the kindness of friends to get her where she needs to go.
Linda was a bit nervous about flying by herself. She had always traveled with her husband, but he was unable to accompany her on this last-minute trip. She explained that she needed to have a wheelchair to get around the airport.
Linda told me that she went totally blind eight years ago. Last year the doctor removed a cataract from her right eye just so he would be able to check her eye for Glaucoma. There was no expectation that it would improve her eyesight. But to her amazement and pure joy, when they removed the bandages she could see light and blurred images. She said it was wonderful to hold her five-year-old granddaughter and see her face.
Linda was thankful that she was able to visit her dad before he passed. She stayed with him everyday for the last three months of his life while he was in the hospital. She watched his body diminish and consoled him in his pain. She said she was so happy to have spend those last weeks of his life with him.
Linda said that when she was diagnosed with kidney disease, a friend of hers told her that her life was over. She doesn’t see it that way. She says now is the time to start living your life. And here is Linda: blind, hardly able to walk and with, I am sure, pain and other health problems, helping her parents with their struggles. How much easier it would be for her to lament her own situation.
I continued with Linda when we departed the plane, then walked alongside her as she was pushed in a wheelchair until we arrived at the gate for her connecting flight to Colorado Springs. I sat with her until she was called to board the plane. We hugged each other and said goodbye. She thanked me for staying with her and calming her nerves.
Linda, you gave me a gift yesterday. You changed my perspective. I am going to live my life and be grateful for my problems and challenges.
I have a very unusual butterfly in my back yard. I call him Skippy. What makes him unusual is that he’s been in the same area of my garden now for three weeks. The same exact area. That’s unusual because butterflies are not territorial. But Skippy has staked out a ten-by-twenty-foot area outside my back porch door where he stays most of the day.
Skippy, the Silver-spotted Skipper, sunning himself on rocks
He likes to nectar on the purple verbena planted in a pot nearby and the white clover in a patch of grass. He loves the warm rocks to sun on. He perches on the crepe myrtle bushes that are just starting to put out leaves. Occasionally he hides in a clump of mondo grass.
Purple Verbena, Skippy's favorite nectar source
When I step outside my porch and enter his zone, he flies around me to let me know that this is his place.
Skippy's world at my back door
Skippy is a Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus. These butterflies frequent roadsides, fields, and backyard gardens throughout North America. Skippers dash quickly from flower to flower, as if they are skipping around the meadow, thus the name, Skippy. (Read more about this species at http://insects.about.com/od/butterfliesmoths/p/Eclarus.htm.)
Skippy resting on Mondo Grass
You ask how do I know that Skippy is a male butterfly? Female butterflies usually are busy looking for host plants and laying eggs. Their host plants include legumes, black locust, honey locust, false indigo, bush clover, and tick-trefoils, none of which I have in my garden.
We had a cold snap and some stormy weather a few days ago. I was afraid I’d seen the last of my little Silver-spotted Skipper. But this morning as I stepped out from my back porch, there was Skippy flying around my head saying, “What do you think you are doing here? This is my place!”
Last summer, I took a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to visit some friends, as well as to escape the intense North Carolina seasonal heat. I am originally from the Mountain West and for a few years lived in Utah, so always enjoy going back to connect with family and friends and to delight in the open vistas and mountain views.
Some of those friends, Lisa and Peter, took me to eat at Café Rio in American Fork, some 35 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City. My husband and I purchased our very first home in American Fork in 1983. Back then it was a small town. There were no shopping centers and among the few restaurants in town were McDonald’s, Schlotzsky’s and a Chinese take-out. Our home was part of a new subdivision of starter homes located at the end of a cul-de-sac and was surrounded by beautiful farm fields. Our home faced east and we had a lovely view of majestic Mount Timpanogos from the living room window.
Mount Timpanogos from American Fork, Utah.
My daughter, Jennifer, played with the two boys her age who lived across the street. During the week, after I got home from teaching school and the boys’ mother returned from her work, we would sit on our porch steps and visit while we watched our little children play in the street together. We could only let the kids play in the street during the week because the boys’ father drove a flatbed semi-truck for a lumber yard during the week and on weekends would park his truck in front of their house directly across from ours.
While at the restaurant enjoying my tasty burrito, I looked out the window and recognized the familiar view of Mount Timpanogos. As I continued to gaze through the window, I realized that I was sitting just a few blocks from where we used to live. The farm fields were now filled with shopping centers, restaurants and more houses.
I asked my friends to humor me and see if we could find the house. I had to call my husband to get the address. (He remembers details like that.) I typed the address into Google Maps on my iPad and, sure enough, we were just three blocks away.
As we drove into the neighborhood, I hardly recognized the old home. It was no longer at the end of a cul-de-sac. The street continued into another neighborhood where a farm used to be. In front of the house were two huge trees. We had minimal landscaping back in the day—certainly no trees.
I looked across the street and could not believe my eyes! There was a flatbed semi-truck parked in front of the neighbors’ house. Could it be the same family? I had to knock on the door to make sure. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was the dad who answered the door. I hadn’t seen him since 1986—the year we moved—but I knew it was him. “Is that you?” I asked, calling him by name. “Yes. Do I know you?” he replied, not recognizing me.
He still had his hair, but it was graying, and he had acquired that middle age bulge. His wife not only did not show her age, but she was much thinner. (I won’t talk about how my looks have changed!) We had a nice, short visit and caught up on our kids. My former neighbor said that she still worked at the same place in American Fork. (It was already apparent that her husband hadn’t changed jobs in nearly three decades.) All three of their boys—they had another son after we moved—lived nearby. In fact, they have a granddaughter.
I couldn’t help but admire how they kept their house all these years. They remodeled and finished off the basement. They built a deck (with a gorgeous view of the mountains) and landscaped, even expanding their property to include an adjacent lot. They created a beautiful home and raised their boys. They seemed happy and content and with their lives.
I’ve reflected often since that visit about the many changes in my life from the time we moved from that house in American Fork 26 years ago. I’ve worked at a university, eight different public schools, a school supply store, school district office, and now I am running my own business. (I also was a stay at home mom for two years.)
David has worked for four different companies and has had two different businesses. We have lived in two different states, Florida and North Carolina, in six different towns, and in 10 different apartments or houses.
I ask myself, “What would life be like if we had never left American Fork and still lived in that same house?” Or, “What would life be like if we had never left Utah? Would life be better? What if…?”
Then I start thinking about all the experiences and adventures we would have missed had we stayed in Utah:
- Would we have found a doctor who was able to properly diagnose Jennifer’s neck tumor and save her life at age five?
- Would I have given birth to my son, Zachary?
- I have had numerous work experiences such as teaching kindergarten, Headstart, ESL, and technology. I also had my own early childhood education workshop business when I lived in Florida. I worked in the school district office for two years in Lee County, Florida. I do not believe I would have had the variety of teaching and training experiences if I stayed in Utah.
- We had a beautiful pool home in Florida that we enjoyed for many years.
- I would have missed out on taking my children to some of the most beautiful beaches on earth, DisneyWorld, Butterfly World, Corkscrew Swamp, Ichetucknee Springs, Key West, the Dry Tortugas, and numerous other fun places unique to Florida.
- I have had many opportunities to serve in both the community and my church.
- And what about all the opportunities I have had to travel in the United States and abroad because of the work my husband has been involved in over the years including New York City; Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon; Boston, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; Miami, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Columbia, South Carolina; San Antonio and Dallas, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; Huntsville, Alabama; Los Angeles, California; plus Hawaii, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica and Spain.
- I learned about butterflies and how to plant gardens to attract them. I actually began rearing butterflies and this has become my life’s work.
- And of course, I have met and made friends with so many wonderful people everywhere we have lived and visited.
A caterpillar plods along, eats and after awhile it feels a bit uncomfortable. It must shed its old skin to make way for a new skin in order to allow the caterpillar to keep growing. I suppose I am much like a caterpillar. I get to a point in my life that I am not satisfied, I am bored, or I am in pain, so I feel the need to cast off the old situation and create a new life circumstance.
Monarch caterpillar shedding its skin
When the caterpillar is ready to change into a chrysalis, it makes a silk thread to hold onto while it sheds it skin for the last time. There is a point in this process that the caterpillar must let go in order for the old skin to fall away. This is critical for its survival.
Like the butterfly, we are all on a journey. On this journey we encounter endless turns, shifts, and conditions that cause us to change. All change is good – even if it may not seem so at the time. Change is what life is made of and it is necessary to grow and learn. At our journey’s end we are inevitably transformed – not at all the same as when we started on the path.
And hopefully, somewhere along this journey when I decide what I want to be when I grow up, I will transform into a beautiful butterfly!
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” —Maya Angelou