another update, for those watching at home

I lasted five months in a small, unpleasant conservative little town and am now back south of the lake in New Orleans proper, which is home-home. I don’t need Google maps here. My friends are here. I’ve joined a writing group and I am making art again, tentatively, slowly. One of these days, I’ll have a show on Royal Street or Julia Street. I quit clenching my jaw and my back is better. My left thumb is no longer bloody from worrying the skin. I am carrying far less stress in my poor body now that I am home.

Life continues to challenge. Thanks to all of the hardships with Spain last year, I got the worst performance review of my career last month. My company seems to have decided that the relocation failure is 100% my fault and I am being punished for it in a myriad of sadistic unfair ways. I have had meetings with HR and have filed formal complaints. It doesn’t matter, nothing changes. My Spanish landlord stole the entire house deposit so now my paycheck is being garnished to pay back the 5600.00, with no adjustment for the Euro to Dollar difference from last year to now. I am in touch with a lawyer, sort of, but he won’t write me back. I have no hope of recovering any of the money she has stolen from me unless I fly back to Spain and get it myself, and I’m not going to do that. Also, someone stole a USPS package from me last weekend that was worth 130.00. No recourse, just gone. More money I don’t have wasted. Sometimes I worry one day I will start screaming and not be able to stop.

I’m determined to focus on what brings me happiness and on the parts I can control. I do nightly gratitude exercises. I sleep deeply. I keep a routine. I am writing every day. I’m making beautiful interesting things again. I will get through this. Slowly, various parts are moving back into their correct places like clockwork guts that got thrown way out of whack over the past two years. My checks won’ t be garnished forever. Debts will be paid off eventually. This is temporary, I keep telling myself. This is temporary.

That said, I am tired of struggling. I am really really tired of struggling. I would rather struggle here, though, than anywhere else.

Like I said in a previous post, I doubt I will make any international trips this year. I am quite literally eating beans and rice and laying low til this storm passes. I love being back in the city. I am happiest here. New Orleans is picky about who she lets live here, and I’m happy to say I’ve been welcomed back with open arms again. That is something to be grateful for, and I am.


I’m back in the US. Got a house a little outside the city for now and I am still waiting on my things to arrive back from Spain, so it’s a mostly empty, cold old house with paper plates and two folding chairs. But man, it feels good to be home. I had a little bit of reverse happy culture shock upon arrival in October – humidity again – finally, my skin is so grateful, all the lush, green vegetation after coming from basically a desert, industry all around, traffic is so easy and light, I can understand people in public spaces again, such a diverse selection of food at the grocery stores, and I can drive legally. I got a car again. I am near friends again, I know where things are. I’m home.

My clothes dryer actually dries my clothes, what few items I was able to bring back. I was able to see an optometrist and get the correct prescription for my contact lenses for the first time in over a year. I’ve had to go to the ER twice since I got back, nothing life threatening ultimately but it was scary, and I was able to communicate with the doctors and staff and understand what was happening. I think of that happening in Spain and it’s horrifying. I lived in fear of medical emergencies the whole time I was there. Expat health insurance required all payments up front, and the nearest hospital with English speaking doctors was at least an hour from my house.

I came home with two suitcases and my cat and the cat’s carrier. Altogether, the cases and the cat and her stuff weighed 200 lbs., way more than what I weigh. I carried all of that through three international airports. My back hurt for a week after landing. I’m still reeling, still recovering, still in tremendous debt, still repairing many aspects of life and relationships that were damaged from the whole debacle, but healing is happening.

Since 16 years old, I’ve wanted to live overseas. Last year at this time, it felt like a long-held dream was finally coming true. I’ve learned that Spain life is not for me, not the way I did it at least, and I learned that all is not automatically better in Europe – daily life, politics, health care, social life, work life, etc. Of course, this is mostly particular to Spain, but I think I prefer the US over western Europe in most aspects. I am surprised to learn this but I have learned it first hand. This life here in the US is the one I’ve chosen.

And there is a particular breed of snide, smug, condescending metrosexual European prick that I’ve come to detest. The one at the airport Avis, in particular, in Madrid, the one that has illegally double charged my corporate credit card for a parking fee in December, two months after I left the country, a charge that I now have to fight and waste time on and pay late fees on while it is slowly, slowly maybe one day will be resolved because Spain, one more annoying, exhausting and frustrating loose end. Thankfully, there are only a few of those left and I’m handling them. Most of the fight is gone from me at this point and I’m not even trying to argue for reimbursement for questionable charges, I’m just paying them so they’ll go away and I don’t have to think about it any more. It’s not worth the stress.

I’ve spent Christmas break sleeping fully clothed on a mattress on the floor and dripping my faucets. All I want to do is sleep and read books. I have dreams about rain, about hurricanes. I feel like I could sleep for weeks. My neck has been stiff and sore for months, and my back stays cramped. I take a deep breath and my vertebrae pop, releasing a tiny bit of the stress that has built up in my body for 16 months. There were no gifts this year, no Christmas presents, I can’t afford them. Didn’t go see anyone, didn’t go to the city to see the lights and decorations. No decorations in the house, no tree, no lights – I’m not in the mood. I usually make a dark roux sausage gumbo, mulled wine and cheesecake from scratch – not this year. I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything or feel a certain way, and I felt resentful from the pressure to be cheerful, merry. Yesterday I just wanted Christmas to be over. I didn’t shower, was in PJs all day, read books, hung out with the cat and tried to stay warm or at least not cold. Wished some friends a Bah Humbug/Merry Christmas via text, counted my blessings, watched Trailer Park Boys til I fell asleep. Here’s hoping next year’s Christmas is happier.

I’ve been without almost all of my worldly belongings for a running total of 11 months now since last October. Almost a year I’ve gone without my photo albums, art, books, writing notebooks, most of my clothes, shoes, guitars, kitchen and bathroom towels, dishes, small appliances, my printers, rugs, furniture, heirlooms, electronics, everything I own and have collected over the course of my life. I’ve had to throw away or give away thousands of dollars’ worth of art supplies including all of my paints, food including an extensive spice collection, and bathroom items like toiletries and prescriptions and expensive lotions and face washes and first aid things. Twice. Both coming and going.

And much has been lost, damaged or ruined in this move. I can only claim damaged items with a monetary value, so my parents’ wedding photos that are irreplaceable or art I’ve done that was created at a pivotal, critical time in my life or 100 pages of poem drafts in a notebook potentially covered in mold now are deemed not worth reimbursement because they only have sentimental or personal value. There’s no recourse for items like these, the most important and most precious ones. But hey if they destroy my Ninja blender, best believe I’ll get a new one… as soon as I fill out a lengthy claim form, submit proof of purchase such as a receipt and photos of the damage.

I am ready to be settled in one place in a furnished home with a real office, not a folding table and a crappy back-destroying desk chair in a room that echoes. I am ready to have a sofa again. I had to leave my brand new sofa in Spain because it wouldn’t fit in the shipment, as well as a brand new NordicTrack elliptical – a loss of 3000.00 USD, which is a laughable pittance, a mere drop in the bucket of the total money I’ve lost in this move. I want to have a bed frame again. Tables. A never-ending limbo, this feels like, and I’m tired of camping in my own house, waiting, eternally waiting for my shit to show up. Again. I am tired of buying things I already own out of immediate necessity. I probably have 60 bath towels now. There’s a Goodwill down the street from me. They’re going to get a flood of donations once I unpack. Once the stuff arrives. Whenever that may be.

This is the last time, though. This is the end. No more shipping everything I own overseas ever again. I would advise anyone considering moving to Spain from the US not to do it, not like I did, not under the same or similar conditions and circumstances. Go if you know people there already, are already fluent in Spanish, can leave most of your belongings in the US or else have hardly anything by way of possessions that you care about, go if you don’t mind being passive aggressively discriminated against and ripped off and scammed because you’re American, go if you don’t intend to drive anywhere, go if you have native Spanish friends and support already on the ground, people who can help you navigate the rental process and the NIE card process and banking and setting up utilities and everything that requires contracts (which is everything) and that takes months, required printed paperwork and appointments, redoing the paperwork at least once, and seems pointedly designed to cause as much stress as possible, and it’s infused with apathy and waiting and stupidity and endless frustrations.

I’ll never do it again. It was hell. Daily life, trying to do basic things like get the mail or deal with the goddamn pool or get internet set up and reliably working, was hell. And it was every day, every day something went wrong or there was some sort of problem and it was a constant circus of miscommunications and confusion and language barriers and everything took hours if not days to resolve if it ever even got resolved. There is a reason Spain cannot compete in global markets, why the country is still economically depressed. They can never keep up with the work ethic or proactive best practices in other cultures and they don’t take certain international regulations seriously at all. I’ve seen it first hand from a tech perspective. There is no quality control. There is no audit trail. It’s meh, whatever, we’ll do it manana, or not at all, or only whenever we get caught and are forced to comply.

I plan on doing one solo trip a year again, but I may sit out 2023. I need a break from airports. So I’m keeping this blog active, and I may post about national trips for a while rather than my international hiking trips. I’d like to see Yellowstone and the Dry Tortugas and some other national parks. I have a list. I’m thinking of spending Christmas in Key West next year. Driving, not flying. Not flying again for a while. Happy to stay put for now. Very happy indeed.

packing it in

I’m done. Spain and I didn’t work out. It’s over.

I’ve learned some incredibly valuable & brutal lessons with this experience. I am grateful for it, even (especially) the painful parts because that’s what is making me grow.

It’s so beautiful here. I got to travel a bit around the country, take a road trip to Granada, go to Barcelona and Segovia and Pino Alto. I’ve been all over Madrid and the outlying areas west of the city. It’s a lovely country full of lovely people and I wish I had known last year what I know now. I would have made some very different choices.

I read recently that 40% or so of expat assignments “fail.” The biggest reasons for their failure is lack of support in the host country, lack of ongoing support from their company/social network, and the general feeling of isolation. I’m not going to list the reasons this assignment didn’t work out. The reasons are legion and some are highly personal. The bottom line is: I called it. I am tapping out. I am moving back to the US next month.

Living somewhere is much different than traveling there. This seems obvious to me now. I uprooted and disrupted my entire life to get here at a heavy personal cost (every kind of cost: financial, emotional, mental, social, spiritual). I’ve lost many cherished belongings along the way, valuable items like my artwork have been damaged, and I’ve spent tens of thousands of non-reimbursable dollars. I’ve suffered worsening depression, ongoing isolation, extreme anxiety, panic attacks, disassociation, migraines, sleeplessness, frustration, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of absolute defeat when faced with trying to accomplish any small sort of thing, like logging into my home security account (still can’t!). It would be different if these snags and issues had an end date, if they were just part of the getting “settled in” everyone likes to talk about. But there is no end. They are every day. Every day there is a problem. Every single day. This has been my life for nine months. It’s just the way things are here.

I can’t remember the last time my heart felt light. The last time I laughed long and hard, felt true contentment or joy or even just peace, when I wasn’t worried. I worry 24 hours a day. To the point where I am scared for my health. It’s been going on since this whole relocation process started: daily stress, worry, headaches, constant administrative hassles, arguing with people, forms to fill out, more forms, exhaustion, frustration, personal expenses that never end, every time I turn around someone else wants me to pay them for something ridiculous like, I don’t know, the mail.

This is no way to live. I hit a breaking point on September 11th and so I am putting an end to the madness: I am moving home. I am entering my plea: Home. Where there are sanitation services, reliable utilities (most of the time, better than here), where I speak the language and I know people and I know how things work and I can see my friends and maybe, one day, relax again. Only work 8-9 hours a day instead of 10-12. Be able to access medical care and know what the laws are. Have a valid driver’s license. Have an actual life again, one that I like. One that makes me happy. Get my shine back. The truth is, I’ve been through hell here in rural Spain and the fight is gone from me.

A final note: some people I’ve told, they understand or at least accept my decision. Others don’t. They are angry for me, at me, even. How dare you squander this opportunity, you’re throwing your future away, you’re crazy for not staying, keep suffering for another year, eventually it has to get better. I also hear underneath these objections traces of “I want to live vicariously through you, don’t take my dreams away.” People of course are welcome to their opinions about my decision. But until you’ve gone through anything like what me and my husband went through in the past year, the nightmare we endured, your opinion carries little weight. I appreciate the concern, I know it comes from a place of love, but you just don’t get it.

Leaving here is now a matter of survival. Staying is not an option. I don’t know how to speak any more plainly. My life choices are not up for debate, and they’re not subject to committee approval. This is my choice. You can disagree with it, but I don’t want to hear about it. It’s done.


So part of my job is risk mitigation. I don’t talk very much about my job, or at all really, on this site because I like to keep my personal and professional lives well and clearly separated. But I was thinking yesterday after work & after I published my last blog post on hating Spain (I don’t actually hate Spain, it’s a lovely country) that I can treat the causes of my unhappiness like I treat security risks. A lot of my aggravation can be boiled down to three main topics: Car/traffic, social isolation/house, and the language barrier.

What if I treat these like risks to my happiness?

Because they are. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they have long graduated from potential risks to actual issues, in progress, heavily impacting my daily life.

The other stuff, the problems with logistics/mail and making appointments and how things (don’t) work here, that is Just The Way Spain Operates and well beyond my control. Those I have to begrudgingly accept. No sense fighting the tide. The things I can control and the things that are giving me the most grief have about a 75% overlap.

This is very good news! 🙂 This means I can take action to mitigate the main issues that are hurting me, greatly reduce my stress and – best of all – increase my overall happiness and quality of life here in Spain.

So that is what I am doing. I am moving into the city, and I am giving up my car. Whew. Already feel better just thinking about it. Having a car in central Madrid is ridiculous, it’s like having a car in Manhattan. It only makes sense if you are a 90 year old half-blind billionaire with a driver. I just don’t need one, and it’s not worth the hassle (or the never-ending parking tickets).

I’m looking forward to being around people again, people who speak Spanish all day long. I’ll pick the language up much faster in the city with such an increase in exposure. I will get out of this IKEA-junked villa, away from the massive power bills and the random water cuts and horrid commute times, and I will downsize my life to an apartment and walk all over the city instead of driving. It’s time.

A Bad Spain Day

Yesterday I had A Bad Spain Day. It’s really been the whole week, but let’s focus on yesterday. Yesterday, I had an appointment three villages over to get a minor medical procedure done. In and out, the whole procedure takes less than five minutes. Well because of traffic, it took me nearly an hour to get to the doctor’s office. I have learned to take what Google Maps tells me and multiply it by 3 to get an accurate estimate of how long the commute will actually take here, so that’s what I did, and I made it on time. An hour. For what should have been a 20 minute drive.

Why an hour? Aside from the usual nightmare traffic, I had to park a 10 minute walk away in this village because the parking in Spain is scarce and complicated (multiple zones with their own rules, time limits, and half the parking pay machines don’t work). So I parked, I took a photo of the business directly across the street from my parked car in case I could not remember where I parked, and I started walking. (Yes I should have dropped a pin. I will never make this mistake again.) I hiked up a foothill or two, through the city center, around some construction and eventually made it to the doc, did the thing, even filled out paperwork in Spanish (my language skills are improving!) and paid and left. It was very cheap. The same procedure costs me 75 USD back home; here it was 6 Euro.

So then I go to walk back to my car. I stood outside the doctor’s office and googled the business where I parked. It gave me an address. 12 minute walk. Fine, seems a little longer but I’ll just follow the directions. Keep in mind the humidity is around 10%, the sun is in full blaze and I’m wearing old sandals and I forgot to bring water. (I am always, always thirsty here, and my skin is like paper.)

Well, naturally, the directions were wrong and they took me clear across the other side of the village away from my car. The business had moved but they left their old signage up. I called them. They didn’t speak English and they laughed at me when I tried to speak Spanish to them asking for the old address. I wandered the streets in the sun for nearly two hours, trying and mostly failing not to panic, up and down steep, slippery sidewalks and panting. I went into a Farmacia and, using Google Translate, explained I was looking for this storefront and showed the lady the photo. She gave me the same address as Google did, which was no help, but at least she tried. My next step was polizia, but living in New Orleans for 20 years trained me to avoid police at all costs unless I am actively dying and maybe not even then. It was a last resort I ended up not taking. I got nearly 10,000 steps once I finally found my car again.

How did I find my car? I went into Google Timeline and retraced my steps from the parking spot, locating a business near the car and then googled the business name and entered directions for it. Another 12 minute walk back across town in the heat, sweating, thirsty, near tears and very frustrated. By this time, it was 1PM and I had a work meeting at 1:30. I made it home and only 3 minutes late to my meeting, driving through countless roundabouts, waiting for endless streams of pedestrians to cross, complete gridlock in the city center, and then around construction zones and around parked busses and then nearly had an accident merging onto another roundabout when a woman cut me off because I wasn’t speeding fast enough for her through a 20KM pedestrian zone. (The drivers here are horrible.)

And none of this, none of this stressful hours-long ordeal was surprising or new. I was laughing in my car on the way home, of course this is happening. Of course I’m going to be late to a 1:30PM meeting from an 11AM appointment “20 minutes away.” OF COURSE, BECAUSE SPAIN.

Suffice to say the charm has worn off. It’s been 8 months and I’m entering the “this shit sucks” phase of ex pat life. When I see cobblestone “streets” that can barely fit one car down them, I am no longer inspired to take photos. I am grumpy because I know driving on them is going to be awful and stressful and Google Maps is not going to be accurate at all and I’m likely going to get lost. I am not charmed. I am annoyed.

This ex pat situation is not easy. Often, it is not fun. It is an Experience(TM) for sure. I’m not even going into the complete fiasco that has been DHL trying to deliver a package to me for FOUR DAYS now and fucking it up because they entered the wrong postal code and tried to deliver it to some sketchy barrio in south Madrid Tuesday. I’ve already paid for the package and it was supposed to be here Monday. Multiple customer service requests, emails, missed phone calls and in one instance, me cussing out a chat bot (not my finest moment) later, it is again out for delivery today. I have no hope that the package will ever make it to my house. I will be shocked if I ever receive it. I will be further shocked if I receive it and they don’t try to shake me down for more money upon delivery. Everything here is COD. I have to keep cash in the house to pay the mailman if get mail from the US or else he takes the mail away and I have to go pick it up at the post office, which is not open on weekends, and weirdly does not charge me if I go there to get it. Hm.

Today I am focusing on the long term goals I’ve made. Home ownership back in the US. I’m on Zillow checking out places I’d like to live once I return. Meanwhile, I have to go run all of my garbage myself two towns over and hope I have water service when I go to take a shower later. Because sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the water cuts off with no warning for hours, at least once a month. Usually at the most inconvenient time. Not that there is an especially convenient time to lose water service to your house for hours.

I’ll write a more comprehensive post about all of the What the Fucks I’ve encountered here in Spain later. I made a list last night. 30 Things I Hate About Spain. The list is growing more today. I’m in a bad mood. I am pissed off I can’t even get an optometrist to contact me to make an appointment so I can get new contact lenses. I am wearing the wrong prescription and have daily headaches and vision problems and eye pain and no one will write me back so I can translate it to English and request an appointment. I am pissed off I can’t get a vet to write me back about getting my kitty’s shots and annual check up. Everyone says “just call.” NO. It is not 1995. The internet exists. Email exists. I don’t speak Spanish well enough to “just call.” DHL called me five times this week and no one on the other end spoke English when I answered, I tried to explain in broken Spanish and got hung up on, and so I gave up trying to explain an address to them that they have already fucked up twice.

It seems like every minor task, every mundane, should-be-simple chore like going to the eye doctor or getting my annual check up or updating a delivery address is a massive ordeal involving multiple phone calls, WhatsApp messages, fighting horrific traffic for hours, multiple mistakes to fix (a mistyped email address with my home security company, a fat-fingered postal code with DHL, the list goes on, and it happens more often than not and always takes days to resolve if it even gets resolved), and no one is in a hurry to do anything, there is zero sense of urgency, and everything takes at minimum half a day. I am EXHAUSTED. Everything is a fight, is unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming, I can’t depend on basic services like the mail or water to work consistently, and I have very little help.

I’m not in love with Spain today. Not at all.

I know eventually I’ll reach an equilibrium and take the bad with the good and appreciate my time here with a better perspective, but I’m not there yet. Right now I am tired and right now I am feeling very fed up. These things, these inconveniences and headaches and so on, they are fine if you are on vacation and they’re tolerable, even quirky, for a week or two or hell even a month, and they make a great story to tell once you return home and are comfortable, where things makes sense and generally work correctly. But for multiple years? Living like this? It wears thin.

So long for now

I’ve kicked off two book-length writing projects about our move to Spain and they are progressing nicely. I’ve also picked up an ambitious translation project to help me learn Spanish.

Happy to report our stuff finally showed up last week – eight months later – so the house is looking and feeling more like a home.

For now, I’m suspending content development on this site in order to focus on my writing projects. If/when my books get published, I’ll post an update about it here.

Life is good in Spain. We’re exceedingly fortunate. Work is going well. We figured out how to run the pool. I got a portable A/C for the house. The cat is fat and happy. Yes, life is good.

Hasta pronto.

The reservoir

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went to a reservoir park.

We spent an hour hiking around. There is a quartz line running down toward the beach about 30 ft long, and big chunks of white and rose quartz all over the ground.

Great spot for rock hounds like us.

Great spot in general. I’m looking forward to going when it gets a bit warmer.


This thing has a name: expat burnout.

It helps to put a name to it. And it helps to know this is common. Even expected.

Today I had a chat with a friend/work associate of sorts in Barcelona that made me feel somewhat human again. I needed that social interaction. We’ve been hermiting probably too much and it’s time to go out into this world, meet some people and practice our Spanish.

And, whoa, this afternoon I gave this favorite a listen. It’s been a dream of mine since I was in high school and heard about Miles Davis and specifically this album (on vinyl, still have it, in the shipping container in Louisiana) to listen to it while in Spain. So here we are. 🙂 Dreams do come true.

Writing down the worst of how I feel – it helps me to name it, then drag it out like a thrashing, recalcitrant demon into open daylight, examine it dispassionately and then let it go. Acknowledging that yes, this shituation is pretty fucked up and yes, I feel sort of lost and my husband and I have been through a prolonged ordeal together throughout this move, and yes, we haven’t been our best selves all the time like when I burst into tears at the grocery store because I didn’t know we had to weigh our own produce and put the little sticker on the bag for the checkout lady but it will get better, it has to get better, let’s make sure it gets better for us by supporting each other and taking some risks and meeting some new friends and BE here, really try to be here.

It helps.