Shit List: Because Not everything’s pink sunsets and wine

I read on Huffington Post’s Contributors Guidelines page that they “love posts that focus on solutions rather than simply problems, on what is working rather than only what is broken.”

That’s lovely. Truly, I appreciate the mentality. And for months I have avoided an official “Shit List Blog” because I thought, “well, if Huff Post likes it like that, I guess I should too. Who does it better than the Huff Posters!?”

But I can’t hold back any longer. Snark and irreverence channel through me too deeply, and I’ve just got to talk a little shit. It’s true, I’m basically living my own version of Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love, but not everything is pink sunsets and drinking wine in vineyards. And I’ve got some things to get off my chest. Without further ado, here’s my list of everything that I find challenging, that makes me curse out loud and that makes me shake my head and say “I did NOT sign up for this shit.”:

1.) So, I don’t speak Spanish. I mean, not really. I’m learning quickly but in the meantime I limp by with my little words and toddler-esque verb usage. For someone who has a lot to say, a lot to ask and a hunger to know what makes a person tick, it makes my insides simmer to sit wordlessly amongst a group of people. Wide-eyed and vapid and smiling sweetly, like I’ve been brainwashed into submissive silence.

Eventually, when I’ve lost the thread of the conversation going on around me, my mind wanders, probably to something meaningful like “Hmm, I can see his nose hairs from here.” Ninety-four percent of the time, this is when someone does the nice thing of asking me a question. To which I respond with a “HUH?” and a deer-in-the-headlights expression.

To clarify, the person asking the question either RAISES THEIR VOICE or repeats themselves as quickly and with the same garbled vernacular as the first time. My heart racing, I say, “Aaah,” as if I suddenly understand.  I feign enlightenment by nodding too profusely and making shifty eye contact, usually to be followed by a moment or two of awkward silence. Eventually, the others continue on with what they were really talking about, which is when I start breathing again and go back to analyzing nose hairs.

2.) It’s hard work to live here. And by that I mean that the people of this village—including the man whose bed I share—work their asses off, pretty much every day. It’s engrained in their cellular memory. They grow their own food, work the land, cut firewood to heat their houses, care for one another, keep their homes immaculate and have “day jobs” to boot. Their backs are strong, their hands are like oars and they seem to live forever. I admire the hell out of this.

But lemme be clear, I can out-lounge just about every person I know. I will Netflix and chill until I have bedsores. Remember that meme that said “I like the outdoors in that I like getting drunk on patios”? Well, about 78% of the people I know sent me that meme. That’s a lot of people! Look, I’m working on waking up every morning like a spring-loaded billy goat wearing shiny new shoes, ready to take on the world. But old habits die hard and Making a Murderer was culturally significant. I truly couldn’t miss it.

3.) Chickens aren’t cute. I’ve read those blogs by young moms who have professional photographers at their childbirths, casually coordinated family outfits (not matching, exactly, just all the same tones) and only feed their family organic food. These moms raise chickens to teach their toddlers about the cycle of life and they gather eggs from a shabby-chic coop. The kids carry monogrammed baskets and they’re all wearing brightly-colored (and tone-coordinated) wellies.

I confess, these moms and their expertly crafted if not entirely authentic depictions were what I had in mind when I volunteered to gather the hens’ eggs every morning. I thought, “Yeah, this is whimsical and farm-y. I’m so healthy and wholesome in Spain!” I searched for something monogrammed to wear with no success but climbed the steps to the coop anyway. And I can now report with full certainty that what those glossy women with their Pinterest-inspired chicken houses are revealing is not reality.

Chickens are filthy. They peck at you. Their feathers flutter down and get stuck in their own pools of poo. Hay gets stuck to their eggs by some unnamed fluid that I don’t want to think about. They’re smelly and noisy and we are not friends. Chickens, I repeat, aren’t cute, whether your wellies are shiny or not.


4.) Efficiency, or the lack thereof. Go to the grocery store in Spain and you’ll feel like you’re being followed for your entire shopping experience. Not because anyone’s actually following you, but because everyone just kind of bumbles around aimlessly and always seems to want to be in the same square foot of space as someone else. Entranceways and exits are Spanish people’s favorite place to stop and visit. Stores, governmental agencies and other places of commerce that you may want or need to call into to accomplish something are open for about 37 minutes a day, and that’s kind of a moving target. And I have learned to distinguish with my friends whether or not we’re starting on Spanish time or American time, because not clarifying can lead to bewilderingly long periods of waiting.

5.) I just wanna slice of cheese, please. Sitting down for every meal at a scheduled time with family is the norm here, and that can be comforting and heartwarming. But as my friend Steven said, “sometimes I just wanna eat a piece of cheese while I stand in front of the open fridge door and have that be my lunch.” Three courses plus cleanup for lunch and dinner becomes a major part of one’s day. Throw in second breakfast and snack time in the evening—both of which are completely official meals and have names and everything—and I’m left wondering if I can get anything else done in a day besides shoveling food down my face. A person needs to bathe for God’s sake! And earn a living! And did I mention that I have a heater to tend to!

6.) The heater’s a summamabich. As a Florida girl, battling the cold and adjusting to wearing layers of clothing is enough of a challenge. I mean gloves, scarves, hats. It’s a lot to keep track of! Not to mention aching little toes longing for a hot bath and frozen nose-tips. Upping the ante here in my chilly little village in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees is that most people heat their homes with wood-burning furnaces. We’re among those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate the significant amount of money saved by using a wood-burning heater. “It’s enough to travel to the United States,” my man told me with a tone that is reserved for moments when you’re trying to say “I know I just won this argument” when no one’s actually acknowledging the dispute. You see, I’ve never actually verbally disputed the big summamabitch, but I suppose one might take note of my lack of enthusiasm for the work involved with keeping it going.

First you have to cut the wood. Sort the wood. Gather the wood. Then you drop it off in one location and cover it with tarps. When you run out of wood stored just outside of your home, you go to the spot with the tarps and load a bunch into a trailer. Then you bring it home and sort it again. When you’re ready to start the heater, a whole new process begins, and it goes something like this: Clean the heater of yesterday’s ashes. Dump the ashes in the almond tree orchards. Close your eyes and purse your lips as half of the ashes come whipping back into your face. Make five or six trips between the heater and the woodpile to gather an assortment of wood. Breathe deeply and make friends with the splinters in your fingertips and the woodchips covering your clothes, hair and somehow gathering in your knickers. Stack the wood intentionally and thoughtfully inside the heater. Pray to Jesus, Mary and Joseph that you will be successful. Light a match. Burn your finger. Curse your childhood in Florida and never having to build a fire. Blow. Pray. Shuffle around some sticks at the bottom of the pile. Finally get the summamabitch started and relish in a moment of pride and satisfaction. As the night goes on, periodically load more wood into the furnace and try to ignore the eerie bodega looming behind you like a black hole teeming with boogie men.

Okay, so I’m being a little wimpy, I know. But this is the girl who actually tried to load the wood and start the heater in heeled boots, big earrings and a button-down shirt. It only took once to learn the extent of my ignorance, but the point is, I’m on a learning curve here.

7.) I’m on a learning curve here. Everything I’m doing, almost constantly, is new and totally different from the life I’ve led up to this point. I know I haven’t joined the Inuit tribe or decided to, like, get hitched to a dude in Timbuktu, but all the little stuff can really add up. I have to use fully activated brain power for so much of my day and that can whittle a person down to a polka dot!

Still, I am grateful for the challenges and know that each and every one of them is good for me (except for the grocery store thing, that’s annoying through and through). And I am grateful too for the big meals, toasty-warm house, fresh eggs every day (there’s a difference, really), and every other little thing I’m bitching about here.

But it sure does feel good to get this off my chest, whether Huffington Post likes it or not.






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  1. February 13, 2016

    Katie, I am enjoying your post. You make me feel. as if I am there! Some of the “old” Indie group shared dinner last night and when I asked about you, your Mom told me of your latest adventure. You go girl! Hopefully you can keep me in the link and I can savor future posts. A fellow foodie and her husband just returned from an extended stay in Italy and she described the ritual of making olive oil. Since you mentioned the making of same and prolific dependency on it, maybe you could feature that ritual in an upcoming post. Anyway, you sound well on your way to establishing yourself as a farm to table journalist, which is quite in vogue! Keep it up and please keep me in your travels! Fondly, Julia

    • admin
      February 16, 2016

      Julia! It’s wonderful to hear from you and I am so grateful for your supportive words. It’s a slow process to get started but I feel like I’m making headway. As for keeping you posted…to be honest, I haven’t yet figured out how to send out an email when I post something new nor have I decided to start “advertising” on social media. I think I will investigate that now…

      And Olive Oil! I was in St. Pete during the olive harvest and missed how things went down, but arranging a visit to the little factory in the pueblo is high on my list. This coming Saturday I’m attending and will write about a traditional pig slaughter. Hard words for some of us to hear–and no doubt it will be tough to watch–but it’s a community event steeped in tradition and sustainability and I’m looking forward to it.

      Thanks again for reaching out. I would love to hear about where you are and what you’re doing!

  2. Carrie
    February 24, 2016

    I guffawed like a billy goat throughout. I’m inspired to write my own shit list now, stay tuned.

    • admin
      February 26, 2016

      Do it! It’s cathartic!

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