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.

 

From Siesta to Fika

For some, September is more of a time of renewal than New Years or the arrival of spring.  Transitions are very present as our kids return to school and start a new level of learning, faced with new goals and new challenges.  Many of us parents are shaking off two months of less predictable schedules and summer habits of overindulging in sweets or less monitoring of screen time. It’s also a time when my own kids show some hints of renewed motivation.  In preparation for Quinton’s first week of school, he declared that he is going to try to stay more motivated, work harder in school and get fit.  George is even encouraging each of us to embark on 100 days of doing “something.”  And of course, in choosing my own “something,” I came up with a long list of items.  Hmmm, perhaps I will try to implement them all and hope for at least one to stick.

The varying schedules that we are shaking off are from traveling for the month of August in northeastern Europe.  With no place to live in Spain for the month and with the Mediterranean humidity as it is, we decided to head north for a more comfortable climate and new experiences.  Not only did we cool down but we also discovered some amazing places, learned about some fascinating histories, and of course, ate lots of great food.

Our journey started in Poland where we spent time in 4 different cities, Krakow, Warsaw, Toruń, and Gdańsk.  We were sobered up right away spending our second day on a tour of Auschwitz, the concentration camp.  Exploring the Jewish Quarter, driving past Schindler’s Factory, and walking through the Jewish Cemetery, all in Krakow, were eye-opening, as well, and then we topped it all off with watching the movie, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. So we all sat with the reality of the Holocaust for a bit which was important and impacting.  Krakow struck me as a creatively charming city as well with several green spaces, a food truck culture, and bookstores and cafes lining the side streets with menorah-shaped iron fencing.  Pork fat is a common delicacy (we were even given lard to spread on our bread instead of butter) and though the sauerkraut was amazing, we were disappointed by how much bad gas it caused.

Poor Warsaw had to measure up to our first impression of Poland and was a little less interesting than Krakow with the exception of its charming old town.  We visited the Copernicus Science Museum, learned about the Warsaw Uprising, and went on a food adventure to try traditional poor people’s food in Poland (which again, was based in pork fat) only to find the eatery filled with Poles dressed as soldiers from World War II to honor the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

Following Warsaw, we trained to Toruń, a much smaller city, slightly northwest, and where George described the old town as “one big gingerbread house.”  The origin of gingerbread after the spices were claimed from Asia, Toruń has a couple gingerbread museums and one in which we had fun making our own.  But the best part of Toruń was  the gingerbread ice cream, which Davis decided was the best ice cream ever!  In addition, Toruń happens to be the sister city of Philadelphia, my hometown!

Finally we spent a few days in Gdańsk, where World War II all started, as it was the first place to be bombed by the Germans.  George and I got swept away at the World War II Museum, we visited the Malbork Castle (the largest castle in the world in terms of hectors), as well as Sopot, a nearby beach town with a long pier on the Baltic Sea.  REALLY GOOD fresh grapefruit juice and sorbet seemed to be a specialty and we loved discovering how Gdańsk has a tradition of eating something sweet before every meal.

Our next stop was Riga, Latvia.  It reminded us a little of Lucca, Italy, as we stayed in an apartment in old town looking down on all the nightlife and shops.  Roosters topped off most of the steeples, supposedly to ward off evil, and we had a great dinner one night where they used to serve beer to the Vikings and currently, they encourage you to eat with your fingers, just like in the Middle Ages and it was delicious!  George and I also discovered “The Most Romantic Café in Riga,” a delightful hole in the wall, where we exchanged greetings with a young Latvian couple who were taking a break from parenting as they were served 4 different pieces of cake to enjoy with their wine-just our types!  Finally, to appease the Americans in us, (mostly the kids) we indulged in a pancake/smoothie breakfast at an American restaurant followed by some go-karting fun.  George and I had eggs benedict served on a pancake-ummm, a one and done kind of thing for me.

After several shorter stops of 2-3 days each, we flew to Estonia for a two-week visit with our au pair, Merle, her sister, Kirsika, and her sister’s boyfriend, Jaak, who are all now considered “family.” Merle finally got to show us her country and from the moment our plane landed to when we left, she toured us around, educated us and shared numerous fun excursions beyond our expectations.

Estonia is a very young country, having only gained full independence about 30 years ago.  Impressive is how they obtained independence, through peaceful demonstrations of unity with the other Baltic countries and through singing, yes singing!  The Singing Revolution (https://singingrevolution.com/) refers to a series of events between 1989 and 1991 that contributed to the independence of Estonia when hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered and sang together to represent their determination to become free from Russian occupation.  The Baltic Way or The Baltic Chain in 1989 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltic_Way) was a historical day when Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians all held hands across the three countries at the very same moment to represent their unity and independence from Russia.  For the ultimate demonstration in 1991, when the Russians drove their tanks into Tallinn, Estonia to take over the TV tower in order to maintain some control, the Estonians held hands again, surrounding the TV tower and resisting pressure from the Russians which lead to the Russians surrendering.

We spent our first night in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, having a personal tour of the old town and for my birthday, we ate at a restaurant that reenacts the Middle Ages. The entire restaurant was lit by candlelight and we were served traditional Estonian food; goose liver pate, onion jam, lentils, salmon in nut sauce, turnips, barley, sausages made of wild boar, elk and bear and sauerkraut followed by rose pudding for dessert. Just another Monday night meal. The following days in Tallinn were spent visiting an open air museum, a powerful memorial honoring Estonians who were taken off to Siberian prison camps, the famous TV tower where the Estonians won independence and the Creative Hub where old warehouses from Soviet times have been converted into cool new restaurants and shops. We also went to the new Fotografisca museum (https://www.fotografiska.com/) and enjoyed an incredible photography exhibit by Jimmy Nelson (https://www.jimmynelson.com/), a British photographer known for his photos of indigenous people from all over the globe.

Following our city tour of Tallinn, we ventured to the southern countryside for a few days. Merle gave us a tour of her hometown, Rõuge, we hiked through a cranberry bog (in snow shoes so we didn’t fall through), visited a sandstone mine, and camped for a night in Tentsile Tree Tents, tents that are suspended off the ground and hung between 3 trees, like a hammock (https://tentsile.co.uk/). How fun!  Following our camping adventure, we had a rush of adrenalin driving a couple kilometers across the Russian border.  A very rural border surrounded by woods, we didn’t have to go through any formal border crossing but we were not allowed to stop the car, get out to walk around or even take photos.  Apparently, there are cameras everywhere set in the trees and border patrol hiding in the woods who will take you in for questioning if they catch you holding your camera up to the car window!  Yikes.

Probably the newest experience for our family was adapting to the sauna culture, widespread in most of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries. Typically, these families would all sauna together in the nude; brothers, sisters, parents, in-laws, etc., but our Estonians were nice enough to accommodate our American comforts by wearing bathing suits. We experienced sauna at a community spa and at the neighborhood lake but the most fun was riding down a river on a boat with a sauna on board so we could sit in the hot sauna and jump into the cold river and repeat and repeat. Davis won the prize for Sauna Master as he repeated this activity more than any of us. Somehow his body of skin and bones could tolerate more than any of us going back and forth between the extreme water temperatures.

Hadley probably ate all the blueberries at Merle’s family farm and became known as our Kiiking Master. Kiik means ‘swing’ in Estonian and the sport of kiiking was invented in Estonia in the 1990’s, which involves a person increasing the momentum on these type of swings with the goal of passing over the spindle. Hadley didn’t quite make it over the spindle but she jumped on these swings any chance she got and increased her momentum each time. Hadley is also our little shopper. As much as she seemed to be enjoying the outdoors in Estonia, I woke her the next morning at our campsite to hear her say “You woke me up and I was dreaming of Target!” I guess you can take the girl out of America but you can’t take the American out of the girl.

While our Estonian adventures continued… Merle was kind enough to keep the kids overnight while George and I traveled back to Tallinn to attend the Andrea Bocelli concert and then we reunited with the kids in Tartu, the second largest city and a university town. The drive back to Tallinn included a visit to the Upside Down House (see photos as they are the only way to describe the disorienting experience) and once we returned to the city, the kids spent a morning skim boarding on the beach, Kirsika made us some yummy smoothie bowls and we got a little bit of chill time. Finally, we had a one-day excursion to Helsinki, Finland. This Nordic city has the most modern architecture that we had seen yet and Quinton’s friends, from camp earlier this summer, lead us around a famous island fortress followed by sharing a delicious dinner and some scootering around a lake.

After a fun two weeks, we said our goodbyes to our Estonians and hopped a cruise ship (our first and hopefully last) overnight to Stockholm, Sweden. This was a particularly meaningful part of our trip for me, as I spent my junior year abroad studying at The University of Stockholm 27 years ago and I have not been back since. I tried to take in the surreal-ness of our visit as we walked around Gamla Stan (old town), visited the Vasa Museum (a giant Viking ship that sank in the main harbor and was then recovered 300 years later) and walked the university campus. We sang our way through the ABBA Museum (a new addition to Stockholm’s cultural offerings) and had a fun two-day kayak and camping excursion in the Swedish Archipelago with two other great tourists and our lovely guide, Erika. We were pleased to learn how Sweden is committed to environmental protection and advocacy probably more than any other country and we took full advantage of Fika, a Swedish tradition of taking a break from work and responsibilities to sit, have a cup of coffee, a Swedish pastry, and most importantly, be in relationship with others. Watch this video for a fun description of Fika: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRIeytEXGhQ

We are grateful to our Swedish friends, whom we actually met in Spanish class in Spain, for putting us up in their beautiful guest home outside of Stockholm. Their island home provided us with a very comfortable place to relax and a dock from which to swim off of into the Baltic Sea as we recovered from our city excursions.

On the second of September, we flew back to Spain, moved into a new apartment, and helped prepare Quinton for a quick turnaround to start school. As we begin our second and final year in Spain, we have new living quarters and one new school with which to familiarize ourselves but we have established friendships, favorite coffee and food spots and familiar routines which is bound to offer us another enriching but slightly different experience.

 

 

 

 

Summer in Almuñécar

We are definitely entering a new era in our family.  I just dropped off my 12 year olds at the local water park to meet up with friends and be unsupervised (except for the many lifeguards on staff) and my 14 year old just traveled by airplane all by himself, returning from his own 2 week adventure.  My kids are definitely becoming their own people and I am becoming less needed, all good stuff as long as my anxiety doesn’t get the better of me.

Speaking of anxiety… need I say more?  I will try not to be yet another liberal American expressing serious concern for the state of the union right now and I truly don’t want this blog to become a political one, but gosh.  Everytime I catch up on the US news, I ask myself if we have chosen the perfect time to be an expat and live away or if we have chosen the worst time, neglecting our responsibilities as US citizens to lend a hand and a voice.  It can be easy, living abroad and having some distance, to shrug off the stress that we read about and to thank God that we are not there right now.  But the social worker in me feels like we have jumped ship and left many to suffer.

I hate to say it but living in Spain makes us sometimes feel like the American values and lifestyle are a bit backwards.  Our home country is pushing out immigrants while Spain is welcoming refugees by the boatfulls every day, only minutes away from where we live.  CNN has recently published an article on how one should never hug in the workplace while Spanish professionals with trusting relationships hug AND kiss on BOTH cheeks every day.  American parents worry themselves silly about getting their kids to bed on time and keeping to a strict routine while just the other night at 1:00am, we were dodging baby strollers and kids with ice cream cones or lining up at the candy booths all to spend valuable festive family time together.

When we returned from Croatia, my aunt Deirdre was here visiting for a week.  We had a great visit, painting, hiking, and cooking together.  She even got Hadley in the kitchen with her and she took me to all these little foodie shops in town that I had yet to discover.  Meanwhile, Quinton left on his own to spend two weeks at a rural retreat center north of Granada with 50 other teenagers from all over the world, as part of a program called Diverbo (www.Diverbo.com).  Diverbo offers programs for adults and teenagers who want to participate in an English or Spanish immersion experience.  In this case, Quinton volunteered as a native English speaker to help his Spanish peers strengthen their English fluency.  His job was to be social and conversational, making sure that his Spanish peers only spoke English the whole time.  George and I chose this experience for Q and lets just say, he was not very keen on the idea.  But by the third day, we received silly photos, including one of him dressed up like a girl (it was Wacky Wednesday and the boys and girls dressed up like each other) and a text from him that read “I hate to say this but thank you for sending me here.”  He made fabulous friends from all over the world, practiced some leadership skills, and is hoping to return in the future.  Phew!  Another parenting risk we took which paid off!

Our sweet Spanish home is practically all packed up and we are looking at the final days of occupancy before we head to northern Europe for the month of August.  We are getting moments of family time in between packing, hanging out with friends and finding relief from the heat at the beach.  One night we were altogether at the top of a ledge that looks out upon the whole town and we were each engaged in some artistic project.  Quinton and George were talking photography while Q was taking time lapse photos of the sunset, I was painting, and Hadley and Davis were taking selfie videos and photos of each other.  And speaking of artistic talent, George and I attended a tribute concert the other night for Michael Jackson!  A group of Spanish musicians, actually, came together years ago and they tour all over Spain to perform Michael Jackson’s music and the main singer dresses, sings, and dances so much like the man, himself, that it was a little eerie.

We did manage to get a day of adventure in yesterday, running a couple errands in Granada and driving an extra hour north to see Montefrío, “one of the world’s most beautiful villages,” according to National Geographic.  Well, it did not fail to impress as you can see from the photos below.  You will also see the numerous photos of the Spanish landscapes which, for me, are like photographing a sunset.  It just keeps getting better and I find myself with way too many photos.  I realize this may not be true for everyone and you may think I am crazy for taking so many photos of “dead grass and trees,” as Q put it, or hillsides spotted with olive trees and more olive trees but I have to get it out of my system and post some of these.  Probably the main reason I love the scenery so much is that my painting teacher paints the Spanish landscapes with such imagination and color and she has taught me to see the world through a new lens, so I kind of get entranced.

Our trip ahead includes Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden.  We return to Almuñécar on September 2nd, move into a new apartment, start school and kick off our second year in Spain.  We’re looking forward to many more adventures, growth and learning ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Croatia

I have to begin this post by sharing that a week ago, I paid less than 6 euros (<$6.72) for 6 months worth of prescription medication and that was an entirely out-of-pocket expense (no health insurance).  I know, right?  I was in shock the whole walk home from the pharmacy, wanting to tell everyone I passed on the street.  After the shock and elation wore off, the sadness kicked in (and continues to linger) that this is my reality; my reality as an American.  It is tempting to go on and on about our disastrous healthcare system in the United States (as I did when I first started this post) but I have decided to relieve my readers from having to sit through that and get back to our current experiences.

The most recent and significant experience the Brew Crew had, which kicked off our summer, was 10 days in Croatia and we were lucky enough to have two families from Seattle make the trip to meet us.  I have to admit, I was a little weary about this trip beforehand because of the apparent tourist crowds and we are not even fans of Games of Thrones but since one of our friends has Croatian family history and visiting a slavic country is unique in itself, we were game.  We did get a taste of the crowds during our one day in Dubrovnik where literally there was a rope in the middle of the entrance to the old town, dividing the lines of tourists from coming and going, just like in a theater or a museum.  But the old town did prove to be charming as the architecture and flavor of the place takes you right back to ancient as well as recent war times.  An unmarked passageway lead us to a bar and swim hole set up on the rocks just outside the city walls, the walk along the top of the city walls was truly dynamic and a must do and the turquoise Adriatic waters were so inviting.

Then it was time to escape the crowds!  We did so with the help of Huck Finn Adventures, whose local tour guides, Darija and Valentino, took us on our own customized and personalized trip to the islands and national parks for 6 nights.  We visited Sipan and Lopud islands where we sea kayaked in the beautiful waters, hiked in the heat and biked to and from the beach, which took me back to childhood days at the New Jersey shore, riding in swimsuit with my beach towel around my neck only this ride was on a very old concrete path (probably from the 12th century) along the Adriatic Sea.  We ate our dinners each night in Sunset Cove (with a beautiful backdrop) and our three families shared a three floor guest house (one floor for each family) which met all our needs.

We were driven about 6 hours inland for the second half of our trip to Korana Village with a short stop over in Split.   Split provided great burgers at Mama Burger and an entertaining walking tour amongst the Roman ruins and palace.  Once in Korana Village, we stayed in guest houses owned by local families and ate home cooked Croatian meals each morning and night (Huck Finn Adventures makes a real effort to support the economy of the locals by hiring them to serve their guests).  We spent one day at Plitvice Lakes National Park, strolling along the boardwalks and admiring the 16 terraced lakes joined by captivating waterfalls.  We also spent a day river kayaking down the Mreznica river which was an unexpected blast.  Little did we know until we were floating in our kayaks that there were actual rapids just feet away from us with no clear sign of how far we were plunging.  But our inflatable, sit-top kayaks kept us safe as we bounced from one rapid to another.  We even had the challenge of getting out of our boats and jumping 5 or 8 meters off a rock since those rapids were a little advanced for us in our kayaks.  A great challenge for all!  And when we returned each night to our village the neighborhood river provided a great swim hole for the kids.

We ended our trip with a couple nights in Zadar (more Roman ruins and a very cool “sea organ”) and then said our much avoided goodbyes and flew out of Split.  How much fun we had reconnecting with friends from home, laughing and confiding as if we were never apart.  And traveling with Huck Finn was the best choice of all, we agreed, so someone else could make all the decisions while we were allowed to focus our energies on catching up and spending time together.  Only 3 of the 13 of us got hit with some fast moving violent travel bug and our learnings included that cash is king in Croatia and that almost everyone speaks English, once again accommodating the foreign language-impaired Americans.  Thank you friends for making the trip and thank you Huck Finn for taking such good care of us!

 

 

 

 

Transition Time

It is feeling very much like transition time again as the school year winds down and the hype of summer is in the air.  While some of you back home are graduating (or promoting) your own kids, Hadley and Davis just graduated for the second time, getting ready to begin middle school (instituto, as they call it here) for the first time this fall.  And we thought they were ready last year!  We will also celebrate Quinton’s completion of 8th grade on our own as there is no graduation from middle school in Spain.

In between our travels this summer, Davis will attend futból camp here in town and Quinton will head off on a two week adventure of his own at an overnight camp just north of Granada.  Hadley is still trying to decide how she will spend her time.  One American family, who has been here for three years, just returned to the states while our British friends just purchased a puppy and are settling in with no exact plans for returning to the UK.  So where does that leave us?

For months now, we have been plagued with the dilemma of whether to return to the States in August as planned or to stay for a second year and earlier this spring we made the decision to stay.  This decision was in no way an easy one (it plagued us for months) and to be completely honest, has not necessarily been received with open arms by all 5 of us but George and I decided we wanted to do more than just scratch the surface here in Spain.  Our Spanish skills are just starting to take off (more for some than others, of course) and our new community is establishing such that we are not quite ready to disconnect from it.  And now that some language and friends are in place, we really want the kids to reap the rewards of all their hard work adjusting and learning this past year.  George and I also feel that the aspects of this experience that have been challenging or uncomfortable deserve more time to work through.  Ideally, our family would return with a sense of satisfaction and hopefully, some confidence and pride in how we have grown and in what we have learned.  However ideal, to work closer to this, we need more time.  Also, another hope, as a result of this decision, is that there is more time for our American friends and family to come visit us (hint, hint!).  Of course, this means postponing access to the comforts of home and those we love, which is hard.

While imagining our second year ahead, I am reminded of the multiple ways to live like an expat.  Some have used this town as a base while they travel around Europe every chance they get, dipping into many different cultures and communities.  Others never leave town. Rather, they insert themselves deeply into the local community and perfect their Spanish.  Both approaches have lots to offer and the nature of our personalities has forced us to try to straddle the two.  The part of us that values global perspectives is grateful for our opportunities to travel while the part that values community and a sense of belonging just wants to grow our connections, contribute to our local surroundings and work on our language.  Finding a balance is tricky.  But I do believe a second year here will not only allow us to continue to explore but will help us insert ourselves locally with more confidence and further appreciate the benefits of embracing change.

 

 

Shoe Shifting Grows Empathic Intelligence

George and I attended a school meeting a few weeks ago and had a valuable opportunity to be in others’ cultural shoes, i.e. “shoe shifting.”  The meeting included a group of 6th grade parents, our two classroom teachers and the director of the school and was about graduation and final events of the school year.  Considering the importance of the information in the meeting, I requested, a few days in advance, that the English teacher be present to help translate for us.  Over the course of the school year, George and I have had some individual meetings with our teachers without a translator but as you can imagine, a group meeting is a whole ‘nother beast as the parents talk way too quickly for us to follow the conversation.  I had been warned by Hadley before the meeting that the English teacher was out of town and therefore, not available to help.  So, we attended the meeting anyway and hoped and prayed we would get by on our own.

Before I continue, I want to give some cultural context to these school meetings.   The teachers and director start but their voices are quickly overtaken by the mothers’, batting back and forth suggestions, ideas, and decisions about the graduation ceremony and the end of year fiesta.  The parents talk over one another and the school staff can barely get in a word.  On top of that, imagine another mother answering her cell phone and proceeding to have a conversation at full volume.  Chaos at its best.

In addition to the chaotic energy of this particular meeting,  we felt the heaviness of the language barrier.  Because Andalusians “eat their words” (compared to Spaniards in other parts of the country) and speak very quickly, even those with steller Spanish skills can get lost.  We were officially lost with very little hope.  I started to feel uncomfortable and was searching for eye contact with the teachers and director.  Can’t they see that we don’t understand?  Surely, they will stop and ask a parent with any English skills at all to help us out.  Or, perhaps when the meeting is over, they will distribute written information so we can at least take it home and use Google Translate.  Nope.  Nada.  We were on our own.  Throughout the meeting, my discomfort evolved into anger.  I even felt on the verge of tears at one point as the social worker in me wanted justice!  Meanwhile, George, also felt a strong sense of not belonging but was more inclined to blame himself  for not progressing enough with his Spanish or inserting himself more into the Spanish community.  When the meeting was over, we managed to slowly exit the room without a single parent or teacher checking in with us or asking us if we needed help understanding what was going on.  We were pretty much invisible and this was 9 months into the school year, so we were known, well enough, as the family with limited Spanish skills.  Plus our teacher even knew that we needed a translator.

Then suddenly, the light bulb went off in my head.  Ah… this, I thought, is exactly how people in America, who don’t speak English or who appear different in one way or another from the majority, feel all the time.  Not belonging can trigger both anger towards the majority and self-criticism for not fitting in.  My emotions evolved once again but this time into empathy.  I thought of all the immigrant and refugee families in our American schools, trying desperately to fit in, be accepted and included while feeling stuck by the language barrier (not to mention, without enough financial resources to learn English).  In addition, as we often feel here in Spain, I thought of their exhaustion from struggling with a language and cultural barrier every day.

As we left the meeting, I reminded myself that this is partly why we have chosen to live here.  The key word here is “chosen,” recognizing that not everyone gets to choose.  Part of me wants to offer the school feedback, to help them increase their awareness of what expat families might need during their time of adjusting and integrating into their school.  The other part of me wants to respect their community for exactly how it is and take full responsibility, myself, for making even more efforts to insert myself and speak their language, because I can.  Regardless, I feel grateful for this learning.  To experience what it is like to be a member of the minority culture (even temporarily), to feel excluded by not having access to information or having my basic needs acknowledged is a sobering one and an experience that I hope will stay with me for a long time as I return to American life.