Mid-Century Man

When April arrived, not only did it bring some showers but lots of visits with family and friends and occasions to celebrate!  George’s mother, Mumzer, and his two sisters, Elise and Joanie, and brother-in-law, Bill, all made the trek to Spain to spend a week with us and help us celebrate George’s 50th birthday.

The kids had great fun showing their grandmother and aunts and uncle around town.  We introduced them to churros (fried dough) and hiked with them to La Herradura (next town over).  I took Elise and Joanie to a painting class and yoga while George took Mumzer and Bill to Fragiliana and we all paid a visit to the biggest Roman aqueduct in town.  We celebrated George’s 50th with a superb meal and a very personalized Flamenco dancing performance followed by a surprise celebration with local friends at our favorite ice cream shop, Heladoria de Jorge!  And on his actual birthday, we had a tour of the Alhambra castle in Granada.  It was epic!

Mumzer and her team stayed in the house right next door to ours so we had lots of running back and forth and cooking in together, including a good old American barbeque on the available grill.  A long Monopoly competition took place (Hadley is determined but has yet to defeat her uncle Bill) and as always, there was lots of emotional processing together.  And on the day of their departure, there were tears shed but promises to return.

The day after George’s family left, our Seattle friends, Roger and Rebecca Jansson came through town for a visit with their two kids.  The sun came out for them and we tried to provide a similar albeit briefer tour, as we only had two days with them.  A tour of the castle and a long walk along the coast filled our time as well as several hours lounging and picnicing on the beach together while the kids had their first swim of the season in the Mediterranean (with wetsuits on).  It was really special for us to share our Spanish world with friends from home for the first time and we so appreciated their enthusiasm and supportive curiosity.

As our Seattle friends left for Granada, we hopped in the car for our spring break trip to Portugal.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of Davis

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. I wake up to Hadley’s alarm every morning. I am in the top bunk of our bunk bed, hoping and praying that Hadley will wake up and turn off the alarm. She doesn’t! My mom walks in and turns it off for us. I get up at around 7:00 to 8:00 because school starts at 9:00. I brush my teeth, get dressed and go downstairs for breakfast. The usual, eggs and hot coco.

When we are done with breakfast, Hadley and I walk down the narrow passageways passed the barking dogs and the small hobbit door, though the plaza and to our school. When I get to school, Hadley and I go into separate classes. I speak only Spanish for the next five hours. I sit next to all of my friends Lorena, Elias, Jaoquin, and Victor.

At recess we have a schedule: on Mondays we play badminton, on Tuesday we play basketball, on Wednesdays, dodgeball and Thursdays, soccer. On Fridays it changes every week.  

My favorite subject in class is math because the numbers are all the same in English and Spanish. But there are some differences such as division, which is done pretty much upside down and backwards.  Or maybe we do it upside down and backwards. 

At 2:00pm, the end of the school day, Hadley and I walk home from school.  On Mondays and Wednesdays we go to Basketball practice and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to soccer practice. On Fridays I have soccer games and basketball games are kind of  random, but they are usually on Thursdays or Fridays. Soccer is so popular here that when we have a basketball game, our team also has to play soccer.

Then it’s time for dinner. In Spain everybody eats dinner much later; some even eat around 10:00pm. My favorite place to go for dinner is “Ana Maria.” They have hamburgers, paella, salad and really nice workers. We will usually have dinner at home unless it is a special night. Sometimes for breakfast we go out to eat churros and chocolate. Churros are basically sticks of fried dough that you dip into hot chocolate and they are really good!

My day is very different than in Seattle. I really miss my days in Seattle but it’s also really fun here in Spain.

Lost in Translation

Amazingly, we have reached our 6th month here in Spain and as George pointed out in his Facebook post, the day has come when our kids have officially surpassed us in their Spanish skills as they are now translating for us and correcting our pronunciation.  In fact, most days I hear “Mom, nobody says it that way!”  Not only do I have my language corrected regularly but I am also quickly learning the correct Spanish social cues from my American children.  How awesome!  The differences in language never cease to amaze me though.  We recently learned in Spanish class how the Spanish version for “they lived happily ever after” is translated as “they happily ate partridge.”  So much history and culture ties into language that not everything can be directly translated which is fascinating to me.

Progressions seem to be taking place in other areas of our lives here as well.  A significant change that has recently taken place is Quinton’s school.  Unfortunately, he was not learning enough at the Spanish secondary school.  In fact, he was left to his own devices in some classes if he didn’t understand enough and the teacher didn’t understand him.  His mood was going downhill and he was becoming more reclusive, so we visited the international school and within days, he was enrolled.  George and I are both sad that the Spanish school didn’t work out as we had hoped for him but the international school has high standards, caring teachers, and the majority of students are still Spanish and the cost is a tiny fraction of what private school costs in the US.  Quinton’s mood quickly shifted and he seems more motivated around learning.  We are crossing our fingers!  Meanwhile, Hadley and Davis are having more and more positive experiences at their Spanish school, working hard at their studies and feeling more courageous to talk in Spanish to their peers and teachers which is a great relief.

On the sports side of life, Davis was recently invited to play on the more competitive soccer team.  This requires much bureaucracy to make him official, especially as an American, but the coaches are encouraging us to go through the process and Davis is quite excited.  Both Hadley and Davis’ basketball team was undefeated so they were recently presented with medals.  Unfortunately, only two other players were there to receive the medals, along with Hadley and Davis, and this occurred after playing two soccer games.  Cross training at its best!   In addition, the schools selected certain students to participate in an athletic event.  Both Hadley and Davis were selected from their school and Hadley finished first in both her individual running event as well as the girls’ relay event, running around the track in the local stadium.  Apparently, she is a runner!  Now if we can only get her to run some more.

We left the coast last weekend and headed for the snowy mountains where we skied for a day in the Sierra Nevadas.  The crowds were crazy but we managed to find and ski on the more remote parts of the mountain so we didn’t have to wait in lift lines.  The biggest difference was the absence of trees as we were at an elevation of about 11,000 feet.  We felt quite at home though, driving back in bumper to bumper traffic, as we have often experienced leaving Crystal Mountain in Washington State.

More and more of my time has been devoted to painting, I have found a fantastic yoga class and our international community here is slowly growing.  We have recently connected with folks from Sweden and Ireland in addition to more Brits and Spaniards.  We also had coffee recently with another couple from Seattle who is moving permanently to Almuñécar, reminding ourselves, once again, how it’s such a small world.  This perspective has helped shift my beliefs about community.  In the past, I have always thought that I needed to live near my closest friends and feared that if I moved away or spent time away, I would lose them or my surrounding community would have to substitute or match friendships from afar.  I now have much more trust in the reliability and sustainability of my community at large.  I feel just as devoted to and close to my Seattle and American friends, despite not seeing them in person or talking as often, and I feel more confident that my community is my community wherever I decide to live in the world.  And as the kids continue to miss their friends and family members back in the US, we are trying to instill the same confidence in them.

 

Parenting Abroad

We often hear about people “studying abroad” or “working abroad” and I think that “parenting abroad” deserves academic credit and a spot on someone’s resume just like the first two.  It definitely belongs in the category of life experiences that people choose to pursue for extreme personal challenge.

Those of us who are parents of adolescents are well aware of the challenges we face with our kids even in the comfort of our own home, culture and country.  Navigating their social environment and developing their personal identity become their primary goals in life.  They are no longer only seeking our approval, as their parents, but the approval of their peers as well.  Although the details of my memory are vague, I do remember the somatic experiences quite well; the discomforts of insecurity, the hormonal and emotional waves, the feelings of devastation when my self-esteem was shaken.

Living in Spain and adding a peer group that speaks a different language, wears different clothes, and holds different values has given my kids an additional social layer to navigate.  The differences between themselves and their Spanish peers create some confusion for them in their already challenging path of identity development.  They struggle on a daily basis with whether to try to be more like their Spanish peers or follow their own cultural instinct and sometimes, it does not feel worth the effort to try to understand a different language and learn new free time activities in order to try to fit in so they opt out and resort to spending time at home.   They have a natural desire to want to be noticed, to draw interest, be included and fit in and yet, at the same time, they do not want to draw too much attention or to stand out.  As Quinton mentioned recently, “it’s annoying when one minute I feel invisible and a complete outsider and the next, I feel like the center of attention and kids are high fiving me in the hall and calling me by name whom I have never seen or talked to before… there is no happy medium.”

This leads me to the parenting role; the role that requires parents to find the perfect balance (if there was one) between pushing our kids to step out of their comfort zones and supporting and comforting them.  George and I feel like we are on a constant learning curve for the following:  encouraging our children to keep in touch with American friends while not interfere with building new friendships here, challenging them to try new experiences without over-filling their schedule (as being less busy was one of our goals here), allowing them to keep up with technology trends, valued by their generation, while not allowing screen time to help them escape, supplementing school work to keep them caught up academically without over-emphasizing school work (as learning Spanish is our primary goal here), holding them accountable to school and sport commitments while also acknowledging some of the struggles with cultural differences that make it difficult to learn, and stretching them to engage more socially and actively in their free time while also giving them down time of their choosing after a 6 hour day of  being stretched linguistically and socially.  And knowing that each decision we make, to work towards this balance, will have an impact on their growing sense of identity.

In addition to finding this “perfect” balance, we are navigating an emotional roller coaster on a daily basis.  One day is “the best day ever!” and the very next “couldn’t be worse.”  There is always a new challenge to be explored be it the teachers’ style which is very different from the US or overhearing the Spanish kids talk about you when they don’t think you understand them.  George and I often have a pep talk with each other to prepare ourselves to absorb whatever energy might come through the door and to be fluid and flexible with their moods and needs.

No matter how much we insist on our kids stretching themselves more socially and interpersonally, we have to remember that it is always easier for us, as well, to spend time with expat, English-speaking friends or to relax in the comfort of our Spanish home.  It takes a thorough effort to put ourselves out there and start Spanish conversations with neighbors and acquaintances and trust that we are not going to burden them with our fumbling language skills or limited cultural knowledge.  We have also learned that one year is not long enough to achieve the level of comfort and confidence that we aspire to having here.  I now understand the many people who told us that after one year, we will just start to feel like we are adjusting.  I also am trying to trust, what others have said, that we will see and hear the impact of this experience on our kids and their sense of identity, not now and not when we first return to the US but in the years to come.

 

 

 

Holiday Travels Part II

As I sit down to write this post inside our home on a sunny Saturday morning, I am in a turtleneck, sweater, down jacket and scarf with a portable heater blowing directly on me.  Winter here has proven to be just as cold inside as outside since the Spanish homes do not have heat and are not built for cold (and  becoming less comfortable with climate change).  I am appreciating more than ever before how not having the relief of a warm, comfortable home in the winter time impacts our well-being.  It also gives me pause to think that so many people in the world live this way winter after winter.

Backpacking through northern Italy, in the cold over the holidays, was challenging but we did have heated Airbnb apartments in which to rest and relax.  What a concept, staying in different “homes,” as if they were our own,  rather than in hotels (which don’t accommodate families of five very well).  It makes all the difference for us and it’s fun to try on different home designs.

Italy’s reputation for amazing cuisine held up well with us.  You know a country has good food when you eat your first meal in a train station and exclaim “this is the best pizza ever!”  Well, this was where our journey began and ended; in the chain restaurant of Rossopomodoro in the Milan train station (we didn’t realize it was a chain until we ate New Year’s Eve dinner at the Rossopomodoro in Venice and then excitedly returned to the same place in the Milan train station on the way home).

After some nourishment in Milan, we jumped on a train and headed to Lucca on the northwest coast of Italy where we spent 6 nights and enjoyed Christmas.  Lucca is a charming old town surrounded by a big stone wall (which took 100 years to build) upon which you can recreate.  Inside the walls are winding, mostly-pedestrian streets, and 100 churches are scattered throughout.  I had pasta that melted in my mouth, the kids became addicted to spaghetti bolognese and George was in his element of endlessly exploring.  Our highlights were climbing church steeples (one with trees on top), riding a 5 person bicycle around the wall, and our half day trip to see the leaning tower of Pisa.  The tower was pretty awesome but even better was waiting for the train to return to Lucca when an Italian girl, also waiting, turned to George and asked his permission to give Quinton a kiss.  While Quinton sat on a bench looking down at his phone, barely aware of what was happening, George shrugged his shoulders and said, “sure!” and with that Quinton got a big smooch on his cheek leaving some bright red lipstick to show for it that matched the color of his face.

Following Lucca, we spent 2 nights in Florence.  Due to the shortness of our stay, we mostly strolled the city to admire the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Duomo, and replicas of famous statues of naked men.  In fact, we decided that Italy is full of penises.  Between the statues, penis pasta for sale in all the stores and the name of our wifi network in Venice, we felt surrounded.  Ok, a slight tangent.  In Florence, we stayed in an apartment situated on the Piazza Santa Croce where Michelangelo and Danté are buried inside the Basilica.  We also took a cooking class and learned how to make pizza and gelato, which was great fun!

From Florence, we spent a fun 4 nights in Venice including New Years Eve.  Highlights include our family gondola ride, our island tour of Murano (glass blowing), Burano (colorful homes), and Torcello (oldest of the Venetian islands dating back to the 5th century), eating pizza covered with octopus, clams, mussels, and shrimp, and watching fireworks on New Years Eve on the waterfront by Piazza San Marco.  Finally, when George and I had a free moment on our own, we treated ourselves to a visit to Caffè Florian, the oldest cafe in the world.

Our final excursion took us up into the mountains for two days of skiing above the town of Brixon and with a spectacular view of the Dolomites.  Much to our surprise, we found ourselves in German country.  This part of Italy used to be part of Austria but after Italy won the war, the Italians claimed the land.  So it is Italy but inhabited by friendly Germans everywhere.  We managed to stay warm just enough to enjoy our skiing and eat lots of strudel (apple and vegetable) and yes, more spaghetti bolognese.  Davis found his “Hot Love” (vanilla ice cream with hot raspberry sauce) which he ordered frequently during our stay.

Now that we are back in Almuñécar, we are appreciating familiar surroundings, trying to remember to say gracias instead of grazie and working off our Italian bellies.

 

Holiday Travels Part I

Feliz año nueva!  As we start off the New Year here in Spain, we are hoping all our family members, friends and colleagues have enjoyed a pleasant and stress-free holiday season.  We LOVED receiving holiday cards from some of you!  Just as I had anticipated, I turned my back for a second and it was suddenly 2019 and Hadley is quick to remind us that we are almost half way through our year abroad.  The passage of time continues to amaze me and Eckhart Tolle is currently teaching me in his book, The Power of Now, to remove time from my mind in order to be fully present.  Now, that’s a challenge!

December was a busy month for the Brew Crew.  We started off with a trip to Barcelona to visit friends and see the sites via one night in Malaga to see the famous Christmas lights.  Our friends in Barcelona were fabulous tour guides as we visited La Sagrada Familia (the amazing cathedral designed by Gaudi and always reminded me of a sand drip castle), joined a guided tour of the old town, took a stroll along the beach, and learned how to make paella from a Spanish woman in her apartment.  Looking forward to a cultural experience, we showed up to her class of 12 people, all of whom were Americans.

Probably the most interesting aspect of Barcelona for us was learning about the Catalonian history, language and culture and their fight for independence from the rest of Spain.  Oh, and the fact that the Christmas markets were loaded with booths selling little figurines of famous people squatting with their pants down and pooping (including Theresa May and Donald Trump).  Apparently, the Catalans place one of these “poopers” in their nativity scenes at Christmas time to represent their appreciation for good soil to grow their crops.

We then returned to Almuñécar for the final two weeks of school before winter break.  On the last day of school, we threw on our backpacks and flew to Milan, the first stop on our two week tour of northern Italy and the beginning of a family holiday adventure (stand by for Holiday Travels Part II).