It Takes Guts to “Get a Life”

My vacation in Spain last year left me with a long-lasting after-glow. While there, I talked quite a bit with people I met from England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  They were all in their mid-30s to mid-50s. Their stories inspired me.

John and Lisa

This couple exited London’s “rat-race” and their stressful professions to travel the world and figure out where, and how, to live a more fulfilling life. They settled on a resort community on the Costa Blanca. This location is the complete opposite of England’s culture and climate.

John and Lisa found an opportunity to start a business that would give expression to their life philosophy. It started with buying a hotel. To me, this was a bold move and quite a commitment for new owners inexperienced in the hospitality services industry.

In 2013, their hotel became a yoga retreat. From what I saw, John and Lisa have created a flexible lifestyle for themselves. It doesn’t mean they work fewer hours — after all, it’s a business, and a new one at that. But, as part of a day’s work, they lead guests in activities they enjoy themselves, like yoga and hikes. How sweet is that??!  They oversee the menus and have an amazing chef who creates gourmet vegan meals. Healthful, fresh juices are prepared twice-a-day as a between-meals treat. They enjoy it all along with their guests!

John and Lisa went all-in with their life philosophy and they “walk the talk.” This couple’s bold move is a success. They are thriving and growing, right along with their business.

La Costa Blanca shoreline

La Costa Blanca shoreline in Albir

La Crisalida Yoga Retreat

La Crisalida Yoga Retreat

Gail (not her real name)

Gail is a single woman in her late 40s – vibrant, fit, and focused. In fact, she had focused for years on the corporate ladder. She was in a high profile, fast-paced division of a large multi-national corporation in London, earning a lucrative salary. At some point, she began to feel unbalanced and unfulfilled.

When we met at the yoga retreat, she was resisting the demands of her job. Her boss expected her to create a blog in her role as an industry leader, even though maintaining it would encroach on her personal time. She and her colleagues were expected to attend to the incessant beep, buzz, and ring of their corporate-issued devices. The pressure to do so outside of regular work hours was intense.

Gail pondered key life areas, like a romantic relationship and motherhood, and decided they mattered to her after all. She had sacrificed these things in her climb up the ladder. Because of her age, the window of opportunity was closing fast.

When we met, Gail had worked out her exit strategy. I asked her what was next.  She said, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to be a foster mum.” I didn’t expect that answer. Transitioning to a full-time “foster mum” as a career??!  To me, that was extraordinary; in fact, it shocked the hell out of me. I expected to hear about a conventional change in profession, or a move to a smaller organization.

Gail told me about the foster parent application process and the upcoming training. She is unconcerned about diminished income, and is saving enough money to make the transition within a year. Gail has a calling to be a parent, whether she has a partner or not. She has a lot of love to give, and wants to give it to children. Gail’s big transition was to fulfill a key life area that matters most to her – parenting.

Jess and Family

I met Jess and her husband at breakfast, where we were all staying at a B&B. It was a brief, but fortuitous meeting – at least for me. First, we were the only native English-speaking guests at the breakfast table. Second, I was interested in starting a blog, and Jess already has one. Our conversation probably lasted all of 15 minutes, but it made a lasting impression on me.

Jess and her family are from London, and moved within the Eurozone to warm and sunny coastal Spain. She and her husband have portable work and can support the family from anywhere. The family later relocated inland, away from resort areas, for full immersion in Spanish culture. This major change was a strategic move.  Jess and her husband want their kids to be bilingual and bicultural. Cost of living was also part of the rationale for change. Almost anywhere in Spain is cheaper to live than London, which means more resources for family travel. The icing on the cake? Jess’s business is a world-wide lodging resource for travelers; and when her family travels, they check out those lodgings featured here.

This is how you create the lifestyle you want!

glass

Les Cols Pavellons is close to the Garrotxa Volcanic Nature Reserve. The property offers guests zen décor rooms with glass floors and walls. This beautiful setting brings the outdoors in.

Dany / Thijs

Dany and Thijs quit their jobs and moved to Valencia, Spain from the Netherlands. One of them was a Type A kind of guy, in a high-stress profession, who was on the verge of becoming a nervous wreck. What’s the antidote for a Type A personality? Immersion in yoga and meditation. If geography could also improve his outlook and resources, then cheaper, sunny Valencia was the answer. Dany got on board with the plan and together they moved to a place in the sun.

Dany and Thijs figured out the lifestyle they wanted to have and conceived a business to make it happen. That business became an award-winning B&B.  They leveraged their talents to create a welcoming and artsy environment for their guests. And, every year, they reward themselves with extensive travel in the off-season. As one of them told me, “I don’t worry about the future.”

I admired what he said, and wondered what it would be like to not worry about the future….

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

Turia Gardens

Turia Gardens

So, how was I inspired?

It takes courage and intention to “get a life.”  It takes a certain amount of introspection and honesty about your priorities to figure out if change is necessary, and what it would mean to you (or your family).

As a practical, somewhat risk-averse, single woman, I am my own safety net. About a year ago, I realized my job had begun to feel like a real grind. I was in an energy-draining loop of home-to-work-to-home (and maybe a tennis match in the evening). And, that was not the healthy life I pictured for myself after battling breast cancer!  Having a balanced life was something I always talked about, and mine was feeling anything but.  I decided I would “get a life.”

Now, I am working out my own “rat-race” exit strategy. I’m putting my energy toward being creative and other things about which I’m passionate. And, my eyes are wide open for opportunities to enjoy life and make a difference.

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The Best Pork Comes From Happy Pigs

I stopped eating pork many years ago, and I can’t even remember why.  For the last six years, though, it’s because of my diet. Pork is on the “Avoid” list. My body has become very sensitive to pork, and reacts badly to it.

Before I left for vacation in Spain, my friend, Mazie, and I were on the hunt in D.C. for a special Spanish jamon (ham) called Iberico de Bellota. On a tip, Mazie found Iberico de Bellota at Canales Deli in Eastern Market. It cost $67 for less than a half pound.

I asked Mazie what was so great about this particular pork. She said the pigs are raised to forage on acorns, and the meat has an extraordinary taste. She insisted I try a piece of the precious ham. I agreed to taste just a sliver, and took a chance on the pig’s acorn diet. I ate the sliver and fully expected to suffer in short order.

Expected to bloat. Didn’t happen.

Expected severe stomach cramps. Didn’t happen.

Expected to become violently ill. Didn’t happen.

(I was both relieved and impressed!)

This is what I’ve learned about the pigs. “Bellota” means acorn. These pigs are raised in a region of western Spain on pastures with oak tree groves. Certain pigs are selected to finish their lives foraging a pasture for herbs, wild mushrooms, and grasses, and, especially, acorns. The pigs are allowed to do what pigs naturally do — dig, roam, and forage for their food. They are considered “semi-wild,” and the Spanish government strictly regulates the Iberico de Bellota bloodline for quality and integrity.

In contrast, pigs raised in crowded industrial livestock operations nose-to-tail with other pigs suffer. I’ve read that pigs raised in this unhealthy environment are so stressed they often eat each others’ tails. I’ve also read that these industrial operations often supply pork to U.S. supermarkets.

Know this, if you find Iberico de Bellota cured ham in the U.S., it came from a very special, healthy and happy pig.

Iberico de Bellota ham comes from the pig’s hind leg.  It is hung and cured for at least two years, complete with the pata negra, or black hoof. The black hoof distinguishes Iberico de Bellota from other hams, like Serrano. It has only been sold in the U.S. since 2008, sin pata negra (without black hoof).

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Carving slices of jamon Iberico de bellota outside a tapas bar in Madrid.

Jamon for sale at Mercado San Miguel (Madrid)

Jamon for sale at Mercado San Miguel (Madrid)

Jamon Iberico de bellota for sale at Mercat Central (Valencia)

Jamon Iberico de bellota for sale at Mercat Central – Valencia

Now, about the ham and its taste… The color is more magenta than pink, like the typical American ham. The meat is nicely marbled with fat. I rolled it around in my mouth before chewing and experienced an almost buttery texture. Instead of cutting away the fat, I ate it. As for the taste? It was sublime.

My first taste of Jamon Iberico de Bellota was before I went to Spain. Madrid’s gastronomy is very pork-centric; so I was happy to know I could experience that part of Spanish cuisine, and easily find the ham there. From what I could tell, it is the most expensive ham in Spain, though it is still much cheaper there than here in the U.S. It is so precious, in fact, that a native of Madrid, now living in Baltimore, has a guy in Madrid who vacuum-packs his Jamon Iberico de Bellota so he can stuff as much of it as he can inside the clothes he packs in his suitcase when he returns to the U.S.

By the end of my travels in Spain, I *got* it.  This pork is special. It is the only brand I will eat, although sparingly, and on rare occasions. The exception was my last night in Madrid:  I was the happy pig. I tore up a plate of tomatoes and a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota meant for two to share!

No shame or consequences!

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