Hasta Luego

The Andalucians have a great way of saying goodbye when going their separate ways. Instead of actually saying “goodbye” or “adios,” they more commonly say “see you later” or “hasta luego,” or just “luego” for short. It seems much easier than actually saying “goodbye” and often saves one from the grief of letting go without any certainty of reuniting.  Needless to say, this expression came in handy as we concluded our 2-year adventure in Spain. We all agreed that having to say goodbye to our new friends was particularly hard so saying “luego” helped ease the discomfort. Meanwhile, my Irish friend taught us a much more direct approach of “I’m going to love you and leave you,” which I do love. 

I mentioned to George how everyone should have a pretend goodbye as it is a time when people seem to come together in an unusual way.  There is a noticeable effort to honor the connections made, reflect on memories shared and create hopes and dreams for maintaining the relationships.  Our goodbyes with others in Spain unfolded during a final churros fest, while reminiscing over a giant paella, and picnicking on the beach.  I visited my painting teacher, Annabel, in her home up on the hilltops between Almuñécar and Salobreña and participated in my last beach yoga class with Raquel.  Coffee and dinner dates with friends were more intimate than usual and we felt renewed strength in friendships that had ebbed and flowed throughout the two years.  Even our favorite master of helado (ice cream), “Jorge,” gave us our final scoops on the house!

We discovered how hard it was to extract ourselves from a community we had worked so hard to build and from connections that had become so valuable.  Moving temporarily to a new place in the world, and then having to leave it,  proved to be much more challenging than expected.  We each processed differently what it meant to leave our Spanish home. Quinton expressed anger while Davis’ sadness was evident all over his face and Hadley coped by avoiding the whole thing.  Meanwhile, George and I were planning our retirement in Spain. 

In addition to time with friends, we tried to appreciate our Spanish surroundings one last time.  We retraced our favorite walking and hiking routes, enjoyed our last swim in the Med and  we took one final look at those 13,000 years old aqueducts.  Challenging, for sure, was leaving behind the Spanish culture including the slower pace of daily life, everything coming to a halt for a 3-hour meal with loved ones, siesta, cheap avocados and smoked salmon, a healthy attitude about body image and a community willing to sacrifice individual wants for the benefit of the greater good as many of the Spaniards have done so well during COVID.

Alas, it was time.  It was time for us to conclude this unique and memorable period in our lives and return to what we knew beforehand.  It was time to take our kids back to where they feel the strongest sense of belonging.  It was time to rejoin family and be present with aging mothers and reintegrate into our prior community.  Despite our disapproval for America’s handling of COVID and our anxiety around the past and current racial injustices in the U.S., it was time to go home.  And as much as we envied our northern European friends who had moved to Spain permanently or semi-permanently, we knew it was a much bigger deal for us to make that choice, when our home was halfway across the world. 

To accomplish our extraction, we hired someone to transport Melegis, our puppy, we packed up our embarrassingly large collection of  luggage bags and we rented a car to drive to Madrid, stopping along the way to see the beautiful towns of Jaen and Toledo in the 100 degree heat.  To our surprise, our travel adventure out into the larger pandemic world felt safer than expected.  Airports were like ghost towns and we all stretched out on the planes due to the limited number of seats that were occupied. Taking off from Spanish and then British soil, we waved goodbye to a continent, uncertain of when we would be able to return next.  But we hope to keep our memories strong and our new friends close to our hearts. Thank you Spain for an unforgettable experience and to everyone who added so much joy and learning to our lives while we were there!

Honoring from Afar

As I sit here half a world away from our home in Seattle, I want to take a moment to honor Americans of every color, ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability.  I want to honor not just Americans but anyone who is trying to make America their home.  I want to honor those in America who are currently fighting for their lives or fighting for others’ lives as once again, the United States tries to make sense of the many challenges with racism and oppression.

Since September, I have been conducting therapy sessions with some of my clients online through telemental health.  Since March, something very unusual has happened.  My clients and I have all been going through the same experience, the global pandemic.  For the past couple of weeks, my clients have all been going through yet another similar experience, the impact of nationwide protests and violence in the aftermath of yet another incident of police brutality in America, resulting in another death of a black man.  As I read and watch the news daily, I feel deeply affected by the trauma but am aware that I am on an entirely different continent from my clients, my friends, my family, and my fellow citizens who are in the midst of it all.

I remember the first time I lived abroad and beared witness to the racism in America from afar.  I was living and studying in Sweden during my junior year abroad in college and the talk of Stockholm was the LA riots and the beating of Rodney King.  I remember hearing northern Europeans comment, question and judge.  Similar to back then, my initial reaction to current events was disgust, embarrassment, and of course, grief.  And once again, I am aware of the reactions of shock and disbelief from Europeans.  I have caught myself resisting returning home and tempted to convince my family that we could have a better life if we stayed in Spain.

I do remember one gem that came out of my process and conversations in Sweden; respecting how so much of America’s struggles stem from being perhaps the most diverse country in the world, thus its’ nickname, “The Melting Pot.” Recently, a close friend wrote to me, “I hope you don’t think of America and its issues (of which there are many) as a bad thing but yet enough to need to make this country better.”  Then, talking to a Danish friend about our upcoming departure from Spain, I heard myself explain that as much as we would love to stay, “our country needs us.”

This week, I had the opportunity to meet virtually with several of my clients and came away feeling grateful to them for sharing with me their sadness, confusion, anger, and shame with regards to being a community member in the midst of so much racial turmoil and conflict.  I am particularly grateful that they all seem to want the same thing; to grow and heal and help others do the same.  I am proud to have so many people in my life who have the courage to stand up and fight racism and oppression, who want to understand what they have been taught by their culture and who want to be white allies.  As we prepare our family for transitioning home, I feel a heavy heart but coated with inspiration to get back and do my part, as an American, to grow and heal while helping others do the same.  I also maintain hope that one day, America will be the melting pot it was intended to be.




Lockdown Phases and Thoughts on Heading Home

I’m feeling a little bit like Jane Villanueva in the Netflix series, Jane The Virgin, with frequent writer’s block or like I have a developing case of ADD.  Lockdown in Spain has brought up so many feelings, experiences, reactions, worries, reliefs, desires and aversions over the past 11 weeks and every time I sit down and try to post something on this blog, I am hit with paralysis and exhaustion or a realization that I have already moved on to something new.  Alas, I am going to attempt to compile as many of these feelings as possible in some semi-articulate and captivating post.

The initial impact of lockdown on our family and our remaining time here in Spain has triggered some grief.  Just 11 weeks ago, we were relishing in how our kids were showing signs of growing attachments with friends, activities, and the Spanish language and culture.  They had come such a long way through more than a year’s worth of huge adjustments and hurdles, finding their sense of belonging in a new and unfamiliar place.  As lockdown took hold in March and our family’s isolation increased, their motivations to maintain their new attachments decreased and their desires to get back to American life with all its conveniences and materialisms took hold.  Thanks to the insight and support of my colleagues, I now understand they have been trying to ground themselves in what is familiar in this very uncertain time.

Further into lockdown, George pointed out to me one day that we had been here in Spain for 642 days with only 42 days left, only 6.5% of our total time.  What a way to wake me up to the many privileges we have had these past two years and to the need to be as present as possible for our remaining time.  “We will never get this time again,” George expressed to me with tears in his eyes.  I get it.  But do I really?  If I am honest with myself, I have been so caught up in the fears of the pandemic, the suffering of others, my grief over not doing enough as a community member, a social worker, and a parent, the academic success of my kids and their alternative ways of studying, not to mention their mental and physical well-being, my ability to be a compassionate spouse and our shared ability, as a family, to make this time in quarantine any fun at all.  Despite the many COVID articles and poems I have read about the importance of resting during this time and just enjoying being together, my expectations of myself and my family have gotten out of hand.  As resilient as I feel on the surface, I can’t deny my subconscious anxiety after having back to back dreams one night of accompanying Trump to an event while he turned into an Anaconda snake and volunteering to sit with a COVID patient while being denied any PPE.

To everyone’s relief I’m sure, my anxiety and expectations have deflated slightly in recent weeks.  Meanwhile, George and I are sitting deeply with the many paradoxes of traveling back to the US, as we wait to see if our flights to Boston on June 24th stick.  I miss our Seattle community terribly and I suppose a sense of belonging.  In addition, it is hard to rationalize being so far away for much longer from family.  Yet, I have such an aversion to returning to a culture and being governed by a system that feels inconsistent with my personal values and is ethically unacceptable.  Never before have I questioned so much my loyalty to my home country.  What does one do with that?  Despite feeling safest right here in Spain and wanting to raise my children in a more peacefully diverse part of the world with affordable higher education and healthcare for all, we feel pulled back to the place we know.  Are we missing an opportunity here to commit our family to what we believe to be a healthier lifestyle with cultural values more in line with our own?  While our fellow expats are making choices to stay permanently in Spain but are only a 3-hour flight from their home countries, I realize that the decision to move here permanently, as Americans, with family and close friends half a world away, is a much bigger deal.

As I resist focusing on the NYT front page report on COVID statistics (reminicent of a Holocaust memorial) and photos of violent protests all over the US, a few things help bring me back to the present moment: the warmth of the Spanish sun; Quinton preparing and sharing lunch with me on the terrace; celebrating Hadley and Davis’ 13th birthdays, re-familiarizing ourselves with the narrow walkways through old town and sharing a coffee with friends by the sea after our lockdown restrictions start to lift, Davis handing out awards in the family for best COVID cookies and cake, a Monopoly war and no screens on Mothers’ Day, Quinton’s growing self-discipline with regards to both school and fitness; Hadley’s initiative to lead the family on an 8 mile hike along the coast without a single complaint; and Davis getting 100% on a school assignment after working through so many adjustments with online learning.  All of this reminds me how life is a recipe made up of challenge and ease, good and bad, joy and the sorrow and rarely with one right answer.  More often, it’s messy with many angles, offering several lessons to learn from or at least to chew on.













This is the third time I have attempted this blog post.  It has been difficult to put into words the surrealism of our current situation and I have wavered between writing a brutally honest blog post or trying to join others in writing another positive and uplifting one.  Bottom line is, I have so much to say about what we are experiencing and feeling day to day that I don’t even know where the begin.  Thanks to the coronavirus, today marks three solid weeks of complete lockdown for us in Spain, second to the US now in highest number of cases and deaths.  I have never before missed exchanging Spanish kisses with another as much as I do now.

A friend recently sent me an article on “Three Good Things,” referring to a practice of naming three things each day that are going well as a way to maintain spirits and morale in one’s workplace or personal life.  It felt good to realize that members of The Brew Crew have been sharing three gratitudes each day, since we arrived in Spain, as a way of helping us appreciate each other and our surroundings during a time of so many challenging adjustments.  My current gratitudes are often repeated; having my health and my family, as my heart goes out to those who are living alone right now in view of the added imposed isolation.  Nevertheless, I do experience waves of uncomfortable stillness, anxiety about the unknown path of the virus, and grief over the loss of our remaining time here in Spain, as we had previously imagined it, that are sometimes hard to swallow.  When the State Department encouraged all Americans, who were traveling abroad, to return home immediately or plan to stay in their visiting countries indefinitely, we decided it was safest for us to remain here and we felt determined to ride it out, keeping faith that we can maintain our travel plans to the end.  But now, all of this makes me want to get home to Seattle faster, which saddens me.  In addition, the mental health professional in me wants to give voice to the heaviness that is hard to ignore.  Never before have I experienced such a visiting dread, making it hard to get out of bed in the mornings and finding something to motivate me in the midst of so much unknown.  Staying connected with others virtually has been critical and so helpful but this also has an exhaustion factor at the same time.  Do our neurotransmitters really fire as strongly when there is a screen between us and another human being?

The world is trying hard to appreciate the benefits of lockdown such as slowing down, reducing the use of unsustainable resources, and enjoying more family time.  Quinton has learned how to make tortilla omelets; Davis is mastering new magic tricks and Hadley is perfecting her Tik Tok dances.  I have never laughed so hard with my kids on the sofa sharing jokes and making videos and George is keeping us all fit, holding us to a daily workout in the parking garage.  As great as all this has been, there are certainly those moments when family time does feel overrated.  As a friend so aptly remarked and as many of us may be concluding through this lockdown, “we are not that family that knits together or has a family band” and we have had to work hard to respect each other’s space and alone time.

One of the most interesting differences for us, between lockdown in Spain and in the United States is the enforcement.  The Spanish police force patrols our streets regularly, ensuring that no one is out of their homes for anything other than an urgent trip to the market or in need of medical care.  We are allowed to relieve our pets but technically, not to take them on a walk.  Hence, our new puppy, Melegis, is our only access to the outside.  George and I both, have been stopped and questioned by the police on our way to the market and early on, Hadley and I ran and hid from the police after trying to play tennis in the street.   Just yesterday, the police drove by as I was doing jumping jacks directly outside our front gate so that I could stand in the sunshine, and was told to go inside.  Those without a good excuse are receiving fines and we have read that in Italy, the police are assigning 5-year jail sentences to those who have both tested positive and violated the restrictions.  Similarly, neighbors are not shy about enforcing the restrictions as well. The other day, as I power walked, about 50 yards from our apartment with not one else in sight, a Spaniard drove by waving his finger at me out his car window, shaming me for leaving my residence.

Our fellow Americans are shocked to hear such extreme methods of enforcement.  I believe much of  how countries are approaching this pandemic is culturally and historically influenced.  The United States was founded under the auspices of freedom and Americans are not used to being told what to do.  Consequently, the federal government doesn’t feel comfortable mandating behavioral restrictions on a national level-of which something many of us may be proud.  However, this approach may be costing the US more suffering than necessary during a time like this.  There is some value, it turns out, in a country having experienced a dictatorship, at one time; of having to follow mandates and unified regulations in order to survive.  This background leaves a bit of humility and flexibility to accept extreme measures for a country when it is necessary and beneficial.

 While Spain’s lockdown mandates are extreme, the country is also working hard to keep up the morale of its people.  The Prime Minister consistently speaks of collaborating and getting through this together.  Every night at 8:00pm, Spaniards stand out on their terraces and clap with gratitude for all the professionals who are working day and night to take care of the rest of us.  Recently, a parade of police and medical vehicles drove through our town and passed our apartment, blasting their sirens and giving a thumbs up out their windows as if to say, “we appreciate you staying in your homes and we haven’t forgotten about you!”

So, while the boys imagine what new hairdos they will be modeling in the coming weeks, and we perfect our baking skills and binge watch “Once Upon a Time,” we are trying to make the most of this time just to “be” with one another and do our part in this family quarantine.  We hold others, both loved ones and strangers, close to our hearts, in hopes that as many as possible can return to life as we knew it, before long.

Family Quarantine

This week, my biggest nightmares have come true.  To start, I have lost one of my dearest friends to stomach cancer after a mere 5-month battle.  So unfair to her to have her life cut short when she was still raising her two amazing, young children, while building a new career and working hard to navigate life with her amazing husband.  So unfair to us, her family and friends, for losing such a loving, attuned and insightful human being, who also made us laugh and stand by in amazement as she tried to integrate and accomplish so much all at once.  And, finally, so unfair to the world, for losing a woman who cared so much about the injustices as well as the beauty all around us.  It’s difficult to imagine my future days back in Seattle without her living a block away, going for a spontaneous walk together, helping each other out with our kids, feeling understood and cracking up at ourselves.  I will so miss you Lis.

Ok, relative to that, maybe being locked up in my house and forced to homeschool my children aren’t quite nightmares but are challenging at best.  We are on day 3 of family quarantine here in Spain and day 1 of the country’s official lockdown.  Everything in our town is closed except food stores, pharmacies, gas stations and hospitals and no one is allowed on the roads for anything other than urgent matters and to walk your dog.  Our two neighborhood parks are locked up with iron gates and chains and the beaches are even roped off.  We are left with nothing but our empty garage-converted-workout gym and our new puppy to entertain ourselves… oh, and each other.  When I mentioned how crazy it is to have all this quality time with our kids but without the ability to do anything we would normally do together, George so eloquently pointed out that we get to “be” together… the hardest thing for humans to do.

What I find most disturbing is the lack of warmth between strangers out on the streets.  When I have gotten out to walk the dog and pass by others, there is almost an effort not to smile, wave or say ‘hola’ anymore, seemingly as not to invite any interaction that could put us at risk.  I can’t help but associate this experience with our fine leaders of today who are modeling such an independent, “go-it-alone,” approach.  We can only hope this virus does not succeed in making social distancing and disconnecting from each other the new normal.

With age, I have evolved from a being more introverted, less social person to someone who gets energy from being with others and thrives on connection.  When our family has spent a quiet weekend at home, its not uncommon for my anxiety to rise from the increase in isolation.  Needless to say, this quarantine is brutal for me.  I am grateful, however, for living in the digital age and having an alternative way to stay connected with others and to hold each other close even if through a screen.  A mixed blessing of screen time, I guess, and perhaps a chance for us, anxious screen-time parents (ASTP), to let go a little.

Our New Family Member and “Tagine”

It is the beginning of a new decade and I am severely behind in my blog writing and documenting our continual adventure abroad.  Although it is already February, I must backtrack a bit in order to cover some of the most relevant experiences we have had.

Unlike last year, we celebrated Christmas right here in Almuñécar and staying in Spain allowed us to slow down a little, as a family, and reintegrate some family traditions that we all missed last year.  We bought and decorated a tree, Hadley and Davis built a gingerbread house, and we hung our stocking by the chimney with care.  I even convinced Hadley and Quinton to attend midnight mass with me.  But Santa came a couple days early this year.  We were invited on a walk at a nearby village with some friends and as we strode through the orange groves and along a river, we discovered an abandoned and malnourished puppy, about 10 weeks old, sitting alone up against a tree and crying for attention and love.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in Spain for people to abandon puppies and even throw them into a river or dumpster.  We know several friends who own multiple dogs due to direct rescuing efforts but we never expected to encounter one ourselves.  After all our family conversations and decisions about not getting a dog in Spain (despite some strong pleas), one might wonder if the plan was out of our hands.

We scooped up the puppy, took him straight to our local veterinarian and found a temporary home for him since we had plans to travel right after Christmas.  Turns out, he is an Andalusian Bodega Terrier (similar to a Jack Russell Terrier), bred to chase rats around wine barrels in cellars.  With the help of the vet’s colleague, who cared for him while we traveled, the little guy cleaned up well, was brought back to life with some love, care and food, and we welcomed him into our family when we returned from our travels.  Melegis (named after the town in which we found him, Mele for short), while having a lot of hunting instincts and puppy energy, he is also very apt to snuggle under the covers or on our laps and in fine Spanish form, he loves to sleep late and start his day much later than the average puppy.  I’m afraid now that owning a small dog is now part of the list of life experiences that I swore would never happen to me along with having twins and driving a minivan.

Before our bonding with Mele began, we headed off on a family adventure to Morocco on the day after Christmas.  We traveled for 10 days as a family, starting with a layover in Porto, Portugal, followed by our first night in Marrakech.  Culture shock hit immediately as our family was escorted to our Riad (Moroccan hotel) down a dark, dusty, poverty stricken dirt path, surrounded by aromas unlike we had smelled anywhere else.  However, as soon as we entered our Riad, we were warmly welcomed by the host and served mint tea and cookie bits.  To help ease ourselves into Moroccan culture, we bused to the west coast the very next day and spent two nights in Essaouira.  Here, we had our first Moroccan couscous and chicken tagine (the first of many tagine meals actually), took a family surfing lesson, watched amazing sunsets and laughed together until it hurt.  It was a great start to our trip, for sure.

On our third day in Morocco, a guide, Khalid, picked us up and drove us East for a four day/three night excursion through the Atlas mountains and the Sahara Desert.  We drove through the Tichka Pass, stopped to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aït Benhaddou, where movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Gladiator were filmed, and made our way through several villages until we reached the Erg Chebbi dunes for a camel trek, about two hours from the Algerian border.  After carefully learning how to mount and dismount our camels, which I couldn’t do without screaming due to the unpleasant sensation of nearing a front flip when my camel bent down, we enjoyed a relaxing stroll through the dunes and tried out sandboarding while admiring the sunset.  When we reached our traditional Nomad tent site, we were served mint tea and a tagine dinner (yes, tagine again) followed by entertainment of the evening; a drumming session under the stars.  Unfortunately, we did not last very long that night due to frigid temperatures and some of us being on the verge of sickness. But it was all very memorable, nonetheless.

We returned by camel early the next morning during a beautiful sunrise over the dunes. After leaving the dunes, our excursion by car continued through more villages, past palm groves and shepherds walking their goats. Khalid took us to a family’s home where they weave and sell carpets and George and I gave the kids a memorable life lesson on unsuccessful bargaining.  After leaving their shop with too many carpets, We stopped at the Todra Gorges where we enjoyed a short trek and then spent the night in the Dadès Valley. Our final day took us through the Rose Valley  and Skoura where we toured the amazing Kasbah of Amirhidil (one of the largest original homes in Morocco) before returning to Marrakech.  Unfortunately, by the time we returned to Marrakech, we were all taken by illness and spent most of our days there in bed.  But we managed to get in a guided tour of the Medina, including a visit to the Bahia Palace and a walk by the snake charmers in the main plaza, and Hadley and Davis and I had henna tattoos drawn on our hands.  Transition day sent George and the kids back to Spain in time for school to start and brought my friend, Tara, from the States, to join me for a watercolor painting retreat and the rest of my Moroccan adventure.

After a day in Marrakech together, Tara and linked up with a German couple, Hans and Birgitta, who was also attending the painting retreat, and we all drove south together to Taroudant.  After navigating an 8 hour drive through the winding and slow but scenic, mountainous road (which only took 3 hours on the return trip), we arrived at our retreat center, a newly built eco lodge owned by a British woman and staffed by a group of gracious Moroccan men and women.  This was our base for a week from where we explored the town and painted medina walls, Moroccan men in their traditional cloaks and desert landscapes with reds, greens and blues unique to the culture and the area.  We learned additional tools unique to watercolors and to look for shadows in everything! In between our painting sessions, we had a personalized tour of a Berber village where we witnessed a woman making straw mats and Moroccan bread and a Moroccan man throwing pottery after which we were served homemade couscous with veggies in a private home. We were encouraged to eat the couscous with our hands, a messy proposition for sure but Moroccans seemed to have mastered it.

We also had a tour of the private home of Claudio Bravo, a famous and very wealthy Chilean painter who died in 2011 and left his estate to be converted into a hotel and viewed by visitors.  The stark contrast between his lavish estate (including his huge mausoleum, in which he was buried) and the surrounding poverty-stricken Moroccan neighborhood was undeniable.  But we did enjoy sitting by his meditation pool and painting.

After the painting retreat, Tara and I continued our journey together north with a night in FesFes is another busling Moroccan city with the largest Medina on the African continent and the oldest university in the world.  We had a hilarious tour by our guide, Hindi, who cracked jokes constantly, commented numerous times on Tara’s eyes, and helped us spend our money on pottery, beautiful leather bags from the tanneries and fresh cinnamon.

We had front row seating on our bus ride to go further north from Fes to Chefchaouen which lead us from a dry, brown landscape to the lush, green mountains that resembled a cross between Tuscany and Ireland.  I couldn’t help notice the increasing Spanish influence as we passed groves of olive trees along the hillsides and noticed that the souvenirs for sale were the same as those in Almuñécar shops.  Our final leg of the bus trip took us up and up before we came upon “the blue city” nestled in the mountainside with a bright royal blue color shading the entire town-what a site!  Sure enough, after disembarking the bus, we walked through pedestrian streets covered in different shades of blue and eventually, came to our guesthouse and were greeted and checked in by the children (no older than 10).  We spent the next couple days hiking up to the Spanish mosque, strolling and painting (many of the shops even sold a vast selection of pigment powders with which to paint), and enjoying some of the best couscous and veggies so far (the carmelized onions and chickpeas did the trick) and of course, more tagine, maximizing our remaining days of leisurely travel.

Finally, it was time to get back to Spanish ground.  We made our way there via taxi to the Tangier Med Port, ferry to Algeciras, and bus to Malaga where we pretty much collapsed at the Holiday Inn Express.  What a memorable journey with Tara it turned out to be!  We appreciated each other as great travel companions as well as fellow artists and students of Moroccan culture.  We learned so much, returning with shifted perspectives and vanished stereotypes of the Muslim community (more on that note in the following blog post).




The Immaculate Conception and Other Lessons in Christianity (amidst a family adventure)

The Spanish are quite keen on holidays and fiestas and this past weekend was a double holiday of Constitution Day (December 6th) and the Immaculate Conception (December 8th), hence the long weekend which the Spaniards refer to as “el puente” (the bridge).  Constitution Day is in honor of Spain’s current constitution which was written up after the ruling of Franco in 1978-recognizing the solidarity and unity of Spain and all its regions and marking the end of a dictatorship.  The Immaculate Conception is the day when The Virgin Mary, herself, was conceived (not Jesus as many may think).  When she was conceived (the old biological way), she was immediately absolved of any original sin (that we are all born with apparently) by the merits of her future son as predicted by God.  Pretty impressive forethought.  This leads me to wonder, how, on earth, Mary was chosen.  Well, apparently, her dignity and humility while believing in her own goodness got God’s attention.  Ok, so rather than going on and on about my religious learnings in this very moment (thanks to Google), as someone who has grown up mostly agnostic, I kind of want to honor Mary, for just a moment, for her ability to be all that: have dignity, be humble, and believe in herself!  Wouldn’t it be nice?

To honor this double holiday weekend, the Brew Crew ventured out to visit the Spanish region of Galicia, mainly Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia.  This is the land of cheese shaped like breasts, where the seafood is the best in Spain and where car rental business owners express hugs (“abrazos”) when saying farewell.  The Northwest region of Spain reminded us of our hometown, Seattle, with all the fog, mist, rain, evergreens and lots and lots of moss.  Quinton felt right at home as he commented, “ah, I love the mist!”  Our trip started off a little bumpy as George mistakenly rented a car in Santiago, Chili, but we recovered, jumped a taxi and located our fabulous Airbnb, blocks from the old town.

Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral, mark the traditional end of the pilgrimage of St. James, one of Jesus’ apostles who brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula.  The story goes that his remains are buried in the cathedral.  Today, people from all over make the same pilgrimage (Camino de Santiago) on foot or bicycle, for spiritual and personal growth.  Like most of the old towns we have visited in Europe, Santiago’s is ancient, charming and impressively preserved and I continue to be amazed at how safe I feel getting lost alone in all the dark and narrow streets.  After a day exploring the old town of Santiago, we rented a car for the day (in Spain, this time), drove out to the Atlantic coast and explored a series of fishing towns scattered with beautiful chapels and played on the beach.  As we pulled up to a short boardwalk that lead to big, crashing waves and a lighthouse in the distance, the kids let out a big sigh of relief and excitement and I was quickly reminded of how much the Brew Crew feels at home near the sea.  After some wading in the frigid waters, a few cartwheels on the beach and collecting some seashells, our excursion continued until we arrived in Finisterre, another “end of the earth,” as once believed by the Spaniards, where we watched the sunset on the dramatic rock cliffs of the famous lighthouse.  It is also where many hikers and bikers end their pilgrimage beyond Santiago and burn their clothes to signify purification and starting anew.

There is something about traveling together again as a family that feels strangely empowering.  Despite the emotional challenges of living with 3 teen/tweenagers, when we come together to face unfamiliar surroundings and to be presented with new situations to navigate together, we are forced to work as a team and to rely on each other in ways that we normally take for granted.  Believe me, it’s not all kittens and lollipops, but these experiences remind each of us, I think, that we have each other when everything else feels unpredictable and uncertain.



Food for Thought: Thanksgiving in Spain

During our first Thanksgiving in Spain last year, the Brew Crew decided to indulge in the Spanish tradition of eating Paella in a restaurant rather than spending all day in our kitchen cooking up traditional American meals that we have had for years.  This year, we had an itch (ok, I had an itch) to cook up some favorite dishes at home and share our holiday tradition with some non-American friends.  However, Thanksgiving is giving me more pause than ever as I try to understand where this holiday truly comes from and what it truly represents.  I recall my mother sending me a NYT article in 2017 titled, “Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving is Wrong.”  I was impacted by the article then but feel even more impacted now looking in from afar as we live outside of the United States.

I decided to embark on some actual research of my own on the American Thanksgiving holiday (time that I would only have living here in Spain, of course).  I was quickly reminded of the historical controversies, the actual “Day of Mourning,” the genocide and oppression that happened during the beginning of the New World, and the fact that a turkey was not even a menu item as we often see depicted in historic paintings.  To add more fuel to the fire, I have been saddened by The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act and Trump’s attempt to get the legislation thrown out.  Even the new movie, Frozen II, has attempted to remind us, in a timely manner, of the violent history between white folks and indigenous tribes.  As I notice my somatic reactions while researching, I feel like the wife of the nazi general in the film “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” when she finally discovers the truth of what her husband does for work and that the smokestack on the property behind her house is not for burning wood or trash.

Some of our friends whom we invited to our holiday meal happen to be vegans.  Knowing this, I planned a menu of mostly vegetarian and vegan dishes and one that takes the focus off of “the bird” as center stage.  But I can’t help but ponder what my friend mentioned… it being difficult for her to “celebrate” such a meal when animals are forced to suffer similarly to how the Native American Indians have suffered.

Finally, our American holiday traditions fall in significant contrast to the Spanish culture with which we have become so familiar and possibly speaks to differences in values as well.  While once a year, we spend lots of energy and time cleaning and decorating our homes and creating the perfect centerpiece only to feel exhausted once our guests arrive and overwhelmed by the pile of dishes in the sink once they leave, the Spanish devote their energy to connecting and conversing with each other in a public, neutral location that takes care of all the cooking and cleaning (this is partly due to the expense of eating out in America compared to here in southern Spain).  Plus there is no time limit to their gatherings and no one is trying to make money off of turning the tables as many times as possible in one afternoon or evening.  And did I mention that they do this every Sunday?

All of this to say that I find myself reevaluating what is really important about our Thanksgiving holiday and wondering how we can best celebrate it in a way that is consistent with what we believe to be good and true.  Then, of course, we have to figure out how to teach the complete history of Thanksgiving to our kids.  To start, the kids are not big fans of turkey meat anyway so that is easy, but hosting and sharing our home with friends with the goals of providing for them both nourishment as well as relaxation is a big part of our American and family culture (whether it’s the turkey that puts them to sleep or the televised football game that releases their built-up tensions of seasonal competition).  I love the idea of saving my energy for the relational aspects of the holidays and I also realize I do love to cook and to provide a meal and setting for others as a way of contributing to those relationships.  And, I wonder if we can we do this without celebrating either the countless deaths of earlier generations or current day animals.

In the end, we did arrange furniture, made a centerpiece of sunflowers and I cooked until late the night before.  However, George and I still got a long walk in on the day of, we bought pre-cooked roast chickens, thoroughly enjoyed the company of a small group of friends (thanks to a small apartment, we were forced to keep the guestlist short) along with a plethora of vegan desserts!  One of our guests, a 15 year old Spanish/German/British boy, made it all worthwhile as he referred to his last minute invitation to join us as “a dream come true!”  My gratitude extends not only to those who fill my life with love and friendship but to some awareness of what is good and true, and of times in our American history that must never be repeated.



Highs and Lows of Adventures-including some deeper reflections (beware) 

I’m going to start this by saying electric assisted mountain bikes are the best!  We rented 5 of them over the weekend and went for a family bike ride up into the hills.  Considering most bike routes around here start with going up and up, it’s pretty cool to have an electric boost. At the same time, we had to keep pedaling so we still got a good workout-the best of both worlds.  To keep the kids entertained along the way, I taught them how to crack open almond shells (thanks to my painting teacher who taught me), so we sat on the road and ate fresh almonds right off the tree.  This made up for my crushed fantasy of grabbing a fresh avocado or mango right off the many trees around here (one that no one would notice was gone, of course) because they are too hard to eat and enjoy that soon anyway.

In addition to our fun biking adventure this past weekend, we also enjoyed meeting another Seattle family (from Ballard, in fact) who is traveling around the world for the year.  The kids met each other on Instagram, initially. They already had plans to visit Spain so we invited them to come see us on the southern coast so we could all meet. While the kids took off, elated to have hangout time with fellow Seattleites, the grownups talked for hours, comparing notes and stories and discovering the benefits and challenges of both traveling to so many places as well as living in one location. We wish them grand adventures and safe travels as they continue to explore the world.

Halloween was a sad day for us this year. As we no longer have elementary school kids living with us, and Halloween is much less celebrated here in Spain, for the first time, no one had any interest in dressing up or trick or treating. Davis ran off with his friends for the evening, George and I had a dinner date with Hadley and watched the new Ghostbusters movie, and Quinton attended a sleepover although not just any sleepover; one that involved a large group of teenagers, a hotel room, and alcohol, or so we were told. EEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!! I was aware the drinking age in Europe is 18 (up from only 16 in Spain 2 years ago) but it was official, we were now faced with this stressful time in life when we were having to be fearful for our child’s safety, set some firm limits, possibly deprive Quinton of having a good time with his friends and most likely, be deprived of sleep for the first time since we had babies. I couldn’t help but think that if this was happening at home in America, we would (along with other parents) most likely close the situation down before it even started and we would try to creatively distract the kids with a trip to the movies. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read a text from a German parent that read “ I don’t think they will get drunk.” How naïve could she be?

Additional conversations with European parents, and several hours and deep breathes later, George and I realized we could act out our American parenting style, fear-based of course, or we could consider the additional cultural values in which we currently live, sit our son down and turn the situation into a learning experience. After laying out the imagined scenario, we helped Q think through his wants and needs, we strategized together about different action plans, offered our support and availability at any hour of the night and we sent him on his way. He texted me at 3:40am to say he was going to sleep and asked to be picked up at 11:00am. I slept before and after the text. The whole evening and sleepover turned out to be much more benign than anticipated and I am glad we did not parent out of fear.

On a more personal note, it never occurred to me, before we left Seattle to live in Spain, that several of our friends might experience hardships while we were gone.  I have a belief (however invalid) that if I think that something difficult might happen, then it won’t happen because I simply can’t predict the future (I have been freed of many potential plane crashes living by this belief). But this past year, I never thought to say to myself ‘I sure hope no one experiences a family or health crisis while we are gone.’ If only I had, then no one would, of course. Time would stand still in Seattle, until we returned.  If I had been mindful of these possibilities before we left, then maybe I could have prevented them from happening to anyone. Yup, that’s my delusional thinking that my thoughts control the universe.

In addition, as a #2, AKA The Helper, on the Enneagram, a popular self-awareness tool often used to support personal development, I struggle with feeling helpless and sometimes even worthy if I am not physically present or actively supportive when someone else is struggling. Therefore, it is crazy hard for me to be so far away when close friends are suffering.

So here I sit, in Spain, far, far away from the people I love who are suffering. The challenge is that I have to learn to be with my discomfort of not being physically there to help. I need to trust that my efforts to stay in close contact remotely and be of support from afar are enough for now until I can once again, be with them. Although this has made being present in Spain more challenging, it has made me more appreciative of our Seattle community and the love we share with our friends in both joyful and hard times.



The Start of Year 2

So far, our decision to stay in Spain for a second year has paid off.  Longing for some comforts and connections back home certainly continue but it seems as if we are each hitting our strides and already appreciating the additional time on this adventure.  Hadley and Davis are having a positive experience so far with their new school and classmates and Quinton is very busy both with school and friends and is increasingly focused on his learning and study habits.  The biggest indicator is that Hadley has actually expressed that she is now glad we are staying for a second year because she likes her school and classmates, is more comfortable speaking Spanish and “now I don’t have to go home and tell everyone how miserable it was and how I never talked in school!” George is great at reminding the kids that this is exactly what it is all about… living through a challenging and sometimes very difficult experience and sticking with it long enough to eventually feel rewarded by the hard work.

Speaking of hard work, Quinton is getting a true taste of the British curriculum at the International School this year.  He is currently taking 12 courses including multiple science and English classes and an online world history class (a credit that he needs in order to return to American high school).  The course load is intended to cover a 2 year period in preparation for the GCSE exams which his classmates will take as part of the British educational requirements for university.  Meanwhile, Hadley and Davis are attending a bilingual Spanish school so even though most of their school day is in Spanish, they now have teachers who can speak English and some classes are half and half, English and Spanish.  This doesn’t seem to be lessening their Spanish exposure as much as helping them feel more included.  Finally, all three kids are playing basketball again and Davis is also keeping up his futból, although we are still waiting for him to get approved by FIFA to play in official games.  FIFA monitors expat players very carefully and requires almost as much documentation as our visa application process, trying to ensure that players aren’t coming to Spain just to take advantage of futból training.  Our process with FIFA began last February and we are hoping and praying to see Davis competing in an official league game, versus just practices and friendlies, in the coming weeks.

George and I are continuing with our Spanish class twice per week while I am trying to maintain a regular schedule of yoga and painting.  In addition, we are getting back to work!  While George has acquired new clients back in the States and will be doing some business traveling this year, I have stepped into the world of telemental health and am working with a handful of my old clients remotely via video calls.  This has proven not only to instill more structure in our daily lives but has also helped integrate our two worlds in the US and Spain.  For so long, one or the other has felt dreamlike but now we are starting to be able to hold both realities and trust that exist simultaneously.  And like the kids, George and I are enjoying being on the other side of last year’s challenges.  Our days now feel like there is less of an urgency to integrate and more like we have a natural rhythm of living in this Spanish community.

September and October, so far, have been much drier and warmer than last year.  It has definitely felt like an extended Spanish summer but without all the humidity and the tourist crowds.  Along with the good weather came several visitors.  My college friend, Fish, came through town for a few nights followed by our Seattle friends, Kurt and Gary for back to back weekends and finally, my mother and sister came for a week in honor of my mother’s 80th birthday.  The three of us spent 5 nights at a nearby hotel in Motril and took painting classes from two local professional painters, Annabel Keatley (Annabelkeatley.com), my teacher in Almuñécar, and Klaus Hinkel (Watercolours.es) from Frigiliana.  We also explored the Salobreña castle and had fun driving the tiniest Fiat up the narrowest road to the top. I am so grateful for having a shared interest in painting with my mother and sister at this stage in our lives.  What a great way to help my mother celebrate her 80th!

Another celebration that took place this month was our 20th wedding anniversary which felt like a milestone.  George and I spent the day beaching it, hiking, and catching the new Downton Abbey movie.  We even contributed our own love lock to the iron banister up on the Holy Rock.  Then last weekend, I surprised George with a candle light dinner on the rooftop terrace of our old house while watching the sunset.  The kids jumped to the occasion, served the dinner and prepared dessert for which they joined us, of course.  It was a great way to commemorate 20 years of partnership and adventure!

Other events this fall have included Beach Clean Up Day with the kids and watching Davis play in a futból friendly in a neighboring town new to us, Vélez de Benaudalla.  We also had the opportunity to participate in the Fiesta de San Miguel (remember last year’s fiesta that was set up right outside our front door?) but with the luxury of being able to leave when we were tired of the loud music and not being kept up all night long like last year.  In fact, reliving some annual events like this one has added to our sense of belonging and settledness here.  It really takes a whole year to find ones’ way and place in a new home and this second year is giving us an opportunity to try things on differently than the first time around.  It took me 13 months to finally find the best packaged coffee in town and we are still discovering new restaurants!

Our new home this year is an apartment located at the very bottom of the hill that we used to climb everyday to reach last year’s Spanish home in old town.  It is a good blend of greater comforts (more modern kitchen and bathrooms, individual bedrooms for the kids, an actual bedroom for me and George versus a walk-through room) and more traditional living; we still have a view of the castle, a Spanish terrace with morning light and sweet smelling jasmine and sounds of motorbikes whizzing by at all hours of the night.  We are directly next door to the botanical garden and even closer to the beach.  While the apartment provides us with a bit more space to ourselves, we have been pleasantly surprised to learn how easily we can live in a much smaller home than we are used to in the US and also live with so much less.   The real trick will be to be able to maintain this way of living when we return to American culture.