Brain Workouts

Gosh, the time periods between my blog posts are getting longer and I am missing writing.  Life here is starting to feel a little more like home with increasing commitments, not enough time in the days along with constantly helping the kids navigate rewarding and challenging experiences.

Back in February, we made a special trip to Austria where we met George’s British college roommate and went skiing.  For anyone who desires to ski in Europe, we can tell you exactly where to go!  Arlberg is a region of the Austrian alps, which consists of 8  Austrian villages all linked by lifts and slopes and surrounded by glorious, vast, endless mountains, enabling one to ski in one direction for many miles in a day and then bus back.  We ate lunch in a different village each day and had some of the best meals I have ever had, especially when skiing.  The wait staff everywhere wore their traditional Austrian garb, lederhosen and all, and one restaurant even had a slide that you slid down to the bathrooms!

It snowed like a blizzard our first day out, which was the first snowfall they had had since Christmas (how lucky were we).  Hadley fell on the ice and injured her wrist before we even touched the slopes but after confirming no breaks, George’s roommate took us on a great adventure down and around the mountains and despite not being able to see 5 feet in front of us, we knew we were surrounded by magnificent peaks.  We hit some challenging runs with the kids (perhaps not the best parenting moments) but we all managed to get down in one piece and feel some pride from our accomplishments.  No one wanted to leave but our wallets would not allow us to stay even one more day and once again, it was actually very pleasant to return to the sun and the sea.

The month of March included celebrations for Quinton’s 14th birthday (he got to ski all day in the Sierra Nevadas with his class), the championship game for Hadley and Davis’s basketball team and taking a papermaking class with Hadley and Davis.  We also took a day trip to Granada to apply for our Familia Numeroso.  This is an identification card that families with 3 or more children can apply for, which offers discounts in Spain for  purchases such as travel and provides us points to get into preferred schools.  We had to bring lots of official documentation with us which brought on a bit of PTSD from our visa application process.  Minutes before our number was called to approach the counter, I said to George, “now, don’t freak out if we have forgotten something,” knowing how hard it is for him when we are missing even one document, which is very common with Spanish bureaucracy, only to realize seconds later that I had actually left my entire wallet, including my Spanish ID, an hour away at home!  Needless to say, George and I had to make a second trip to Granada that same week.

Our international community is growing which has been exciting and we are using our Spanish with a bit more ease while there continues to be plenty of days when we just can’t get the right words to come out of our mouths.  And as always, our new relationships here are forcing us to step out of our comfort zones, which turns out to be great for our brain development!  A recent BBC article explains how the best friends for our brains are the ones who are different from us.  Spending time with others who are different can strengthen our creative thinking because diverse relationships force our brain to work harder at processing.  “Diversity gives our brain a powerful workout,” says Julie Van de Vyver and Richard Crisp of Durham University in “Crossing Divides: The Friends Who are Good for your Brain,”  and our kids are learning how making friends all over the world can be a good workout.  This is taking time, however, for them to grasp.  They have expressed concern that investing in friendships here will just make it harder to leave, and of course, they can’t imagine quite yet being able to call up a friend abroad when they are forty years old and traveling to their country on a business trip.  But George’s relationship with his British college roommate, which has sustained many years and many thousands of miles, has been a valuable model for a great investment as well as a good workout.

It’s not just the strangers we encounter or new friends who challenge us, but our own spouse and children do as well when we are all navigating a new experience together but processing it very differently from each other.  In a parenting podcast that  I listened to the other day, the narrator pointed out that the purpose of marriage and relationships is not happiness and bliss but transformation;  they change us and force us to grow.  The joys and challenges of our daily lives here are doing just that and although some of our interactions and conversations can be really difficult, especially in our new surroundings, there are glimmers of growth that come out of them.




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