Fall is Here!

Much time has passed since my last blog post and I guess it’s reason enough to say that’s because we have gotten busier.  Adventures, more time with locals, and truthfully, not wanting to compete with the kids for the wifi, have kept me away from my computer more but as I lie in bed now with a head cold, it’s never been a better time to write.  However, I regret not being able to include any photos with this post since our wifi is having issues so stay tuned for photos at a later date.

A couple weeks ago, we had our first airplane trip within Spain to the north.  We visited San Sebastian and Bilbao and met some friends there who also happen to be living in Spain (Barcelona) for a year with their children.  How different it was from the south-almost pacific northwest-like with the pine trees and rain much of the weekend.  We rented a home in San Sebastian that looked over at the beaches in France and experienced “pintxos,” or small bar bites similar to tapas.  You grab a plate, help yourself to samples from any or all of the dishes laid out on the bar and when your plate is clean, you follow the honor system and report to the bartender how much you ate and therefore, owe.

We explored, in the true sense, as Google Maps was no help at all when it came to finding a restaurant that you could not drive to but was well worth the frustration.  Our friend, Amy, and I hiked a part of El Camino de Santiago that went along the coast while the kids took a surfing lesson (which sold the boys to the sport of surfing).  On the drive to Bilbao, in the pouring rain, we stopped in the town of Gernika, where the Nazis dropped an experimental bomb during the Spanish civil war (killing hundreds).  This event inspired Picasso’s famous painting of Guernica and the town has consequently become a symbol of peace.

One of my very favorite sites along the drive to Bilbao was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (try pronouncing that word), basque for difficult castle or “The craggy fort.”  As we hiked the 231 steps up to a castle (or church) on the islet, we were transported to another world in another time.  The site looks like it is straight out of Lord of the Rings (turns out Games of Thrones was filmed there) and one is instructed to ring the bell at the top three times for good luck.  Bilbao, itself, provided an impressive visit to the Guggenheim art museum and a restful night before we flew home the next morning.

Since our return to Almuñécar, we have continued to work on our Spanish (both George and I have made our first dinner reservations over the phone in Spanish), hosted more visits with neighbors, both adults and children, in our home, and made use of our temporary rental car to see some of the more immediate surroundings.  I volunteered at Hadley and Davis’ school last week, helping to make bocadillos (sandwiches on baguettes) and selling to the children to fundraise for a class trip.  In addition, I am enjoying experimenting with Spanish cooking, which, more truthfully, turns out to be Span-erican dishes.  In addition to my daily avocado and tomato salad (my current addiction) last week I made Huevos Rotos which the kids gobbled up-basically, hashbrown potatoes with some added veggies of your choice with a fried egg on top.  Here’s a recipe in case you are tempted:

http://spanishsabores.com/2012/01/23/huevos-rotos-spanish-broken-eggs-recipe/

Along with a more familiar routine, our family roles are becoming clearer with time.  George is the explorer, I am the connector, and the kids like to advocate for us to chill out at home.  Even though the competition is tough at times, it is a good balance overall.

 

“Being” in Spain

Its Saturday morning and I am reading my book on our rooftop terrace overlooking the castle next door, listening to the birds chirp and the Spanish conversations between neighbors.  My book is called Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and is about trauma exposure response and how to care for oneself when caring for others, as a healing professional; a book I have had on my reading list forever, it feels like, and I am finally finding time to read it.  I know, nothing like a light-hearted read for a lovely morning in Spain.

I notice how hard it is for me to focus on my book when all I can think about are things I could or should be doing with my time here in Spain.  I should be talking to the locals in Spanish, I should be enjoying the sites, I should be volunteering somewhere in town or at the very least, I should be engaging my kids in some unusual activity that they would never be able to do back in America.  A familiar sense of guilt fills my gut.  At that very moment, I come upon a section in my book on “guilt” as one of the many signs of trauma exposure response and funny enough, a common self-judgement for Americans when one is not feeling productive.  I want so badly to relax and restore myself and yet, I’m terrified of missing out on something and having more time pass before I take the opportunity to get involved in helping others in a part of the world that I have been dreaming about getting involved and helping for so long.

George joins me on the terrace and we proceed to attempt some understanding about what turns out to be a shared experience.  Part of what we are adjusting to is the culture of slowing down.  In reference to my last blog post, Spain may not be our best choice to live for its substance use and partying habits but it sure is the best choice for challenging us to experience a different pace of life.  The locals chatt away outside their homes and on the streets (about what, I haven’t been able to figure out yet), businesses close for hours in the afternoons, and to-go coffee mugs are non-existent (our Spanish teacher literally laughed at me when I brought my own coffee from our house).  Family meals are a priority in the afternoons when kids return from school and babysitters are a rarity as kids of all ages stay up late with their parents to spend time together.  We ran into a neighbor late morning on a Friday and when I asked if he didn’t have work, he responded “of course I have work, I’m home for desayuno” which is the late morning meal.

Spanish life leaves much to be admired but it also challenges an American who prides oneself on productivity and purposefulness.  It presents a tension for us between slowing down, enjoying leisure time and being lazy.  It feels like we are on holiday because we are not working in a traditional sense but working to build a different kind of daily life.  Though, with a hungry mind and a dwindling bank account, we both think we should be productive and providing so it creates some angst.

With further reflection, it presents questions such as ‘am I making choices because of what I want to be doing or because of what I think I should be doing.’  George points out that if we were home, we would be running around a million miles an hour, driving from sporting event to sporting event, working on obligatory house projects, squeezing in social obligations all to end up exhausted by Monday morning when the kids return to school and we return to work.  These activities serve and stimulate us, no doubt, and I don’t believe there is a right or wrong here.  However, clearly, the Spanish culture is trying to teach us the value of being more than doing.

The question for us is, can we manage to slow down enough while we are here to truly appreciate this different way of life and if we do, will we be able to maintain it when we return to our American culture?   The guilt festers… as I type this, I feel guilty for the privilege I have to be able to reflect and write about this publically.  As we start to discuss with the kids what we want to do today, George says, “ok, but let’s finish this blog article first so we can accomplish something today.”

 

 

La Fiesta de San Miguel

We just survived a three day fiesta right outside our front door.  La fiesta de San Miguel is an annual festival that honors San Miguel, one of the three archangels who is known for fighting off evil.  Our house was right in the center of the fiesta.  And I do mean the center.  A bar with table and chairs were set up right in front of our house and our front stoop served as a social gathering spot for the locals.  The weekend-long event included flamenco and Zumba performances, live music (both traditional Spanish as well as hip hop cover bands), lots of eating and drinking, neighbors conversing and kids playing.  Davis participated in a fútbol tournament and the kids had their first paella while we tried our first migas, a traditional Spanish dish made from leftover bread soaked in water, garlic, paprika, and olive oil and comes out tasting a bit like couscous.  Most notable was hearing the music (and vibrating bass) until 3am both Friday and Saturday nights and until 11:00pm on Sunday night.  Once again, the Spanish proved how good they are at enjoying life.

The fiesta gave us an opportunity to get to know our neighbors better and practice our Spanish (none of our neighbors know English).  One neighbor, in particular, an elderly man, insisted on treating us to some food at the neighborhood community center where we sat for an hour and talked with him and others about the differences between Spanish and American culture.  He then lead us down the street to watch the San Miguel procession (men and women carrying a statue of San Miguel through the neighborhood followed by a local band).  Despite our limited comprehension of each others’ languages, we managed to have a great time together and appreciate each others’ company.

Our Spanish learning continues although George and I are slowly weaning ourselves from our formal class schedule while the kids are increasing theirs.  Quinton now has Spanish class two hours per day, four days per week and we are hoping Hadley and Davis will receive the same soon.  All three kids have started basketball and Davis has also joined a fútbol (soccer) team to which some of you may ask “wasn’t the point of getting away to have a more simple family schedule?”  The answer is “yes” but unlike home, these activities are a 10 minute walk from our house and on different days.  Plus, they provide more opportunities for the kids to interact and communicate with the locals.

While the fiesta was radically different from home, the fact that our kids have gotten sick at the start of school feels very familiar.  All three kids have missed school in the past week due to a cold or fever and George and I are struggling to maintain our energy.  I guess eight weeks of change, adjustments and acclimatizing is finally catching up with all of us.  We may also be impacted by the recent shift in climate as it has cooled enough in the evenings and mornings that complaints of being “freezing”(!) have been expressed.

Finally, we are appreciating more of what it takes to be an outsider and to try to belong.  Davis said recently, “the longer I am here, the more I appreciate home.”  As the kids realize how difficult it is not to be able to communicate freely with their new friends, they have been reflecting on what it must be like for some of the foreign students in their American elementary school to adjust to a new school, community and language.  They also remain curious about our choice of location.  During the fiesta, Quinton asked why we chose to come to a country where people drink, smoke, and stay out all night (as a contrast to typical Brewster activities.)  By all accounts from others, we are in the most difficult phase of transitioning but hearing the kids reflect and share their insights makes it all worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courageous

There’s no other word for it.  Walking into a brand new school by yourself, not knowing a single other kid, barely understanding a word of the spoken language, standing alone several times a day while other kids talk and laugh, and sitting in class, praying someone will say something that will give a clue as to what is happening.  This is what our kids have been doing these past two weeks and George and I are in awe of them.  Those first days are always the hardest but poco a poco (little by little), they are exchanging words to identify common interests, receiving invitations to play or hang out, and being waved at to walk home together.  They have such a hurdle to cross and we can tell their little minds of sponges are hard at work everyday.

Our own act of courage was temporarily suspending our American phone numbers and adopting new Spanish numbers.  “The final thread to home was cut” as George said.  In addition, our Spanish is now basic enough that we need to exert more courage to talk to strangers in public and practice our new language skills.  Though I feel much less intimidated than I did as a kid, it still takes courage to initiate conversation when you don’t know how far you’ll be able to get.

The weekend before school started, George and I were granted a date night out while the kids stayed with some friends.  After a hike to the Roman aqueducts, we spent the evening at The Bikini Bar followed by a visit to The Blue Bar (neither of which sound like places where George and I would typically hang out).  The Bikini Bar is a tapas bar (not to be confused with topless bar, as my mother thought I said) on Bikini avenue, where we had one of our best Spanish meals yet and enjoyed our first plate of olives after always believing neither of us liked olives.  The Blue Bar was an outdoor bar on the very top of the tallest hotel in town, overlooking the beach, with a blue glow light and soft techno music in the background.  We sat on a sofa and watched a lightning show in the sky and drank our agua con gas (seltzer), which no one else drinks around, here by the way.  It was a very relaxing night thanks to our friends who hosted a sleepover for 6 kids.

We had a few days of very stormy weather and discovered our home has leaky windows (the price you pay for an old, traditional home) but the sun is shining again and the heat and humidity persist and probably will until October.  I know I said the coffee is good here but admittedly, I miss my tall sized lattes.  I thought I had finally found a place that satisfied when a waitress asked me if I wanted a pequeño or grande cafe (small or large).  Turns out that their “grande” is a tea cup instead of a small juice glass.

On a more surreal topic, George and I have decided that the ghosts of our deceased fathers are both here with us in Almuñécar!  Davis’ school teacher, Paco, is unnervingly reminiscent of my father, physique and mannerisms alike, and George has passed a man daily who resembles not only his father’s physical appearance but his Bostonian dress code as well.  Both encounters have sent shivers down our spines.

I am watching the sunset on our rooftop patio and thinking of our family, friends and colleagues back home and how much we miss everyone.

 

Domingo

The Spanish do it right.  Unlike Americans, they still consider Sundays (domingos) as the day of rest, literally.  It is as if the entire day is siesta; everything is closed, no one is walking the streets (and I mean no one), and it sounds like the only outing is saved for church.  What happened to that tradition in the States?  I remember, as a child, all the stores were closed on Sundays but no longer.  Sundays have become equally an errand or sports day as Saturdays and if store or business owners are lucky, they’ll open at 11:00am.  We no longer take one full day per week to recover from our busy working and family lives; we just keep going.  However, the Spanish still honor that important routine.  Much to be admired.

It is official!  We are now approved residences of Almuñécar!  We bused to Motril yesterday, a nearby town, to get our visa approvals and extensions for the year.   Our appointments went more quickly than expected so we spent the rest of the day walking around, exploring the old town of Motril as well as the shopping “mall” to satisfy the kids, where they dressed in Spanish style.  We visited the sugar mill museum (Spain is home of one of the first sugar mill industries that started in the 1500’s).  Unfortunately, they didn’t have tastings at the end of the exhibit like Theo’s chocolate museum in Seattle.  Then, in full disclosure, George and I left the kids to relax with their screens (!) in McDonalds (!!) while we continued to explore and walk the streets.  How terribly American but desperate of us.  Finally, before we returned to Almuñécar, we happened to pass by Elefante Azul, the blue elephant car wash (clearly, the brother car wash of Seattle’s Pink Elephant).

Last week we visited Hadley and Davis’ school, and met some of the staff.  Turns out they are expected to be the only two native English speakers in the school this year.  We decided to separate them to help minimize the amount of English they speak but they will share a 45 minute recess/snack period in the middle of the day.  Hadley’s teacher greeted her with a hug and kisses on each cheek (no waivers necessary) and Davis’ teacher, Paco, reminded me so much of my own father, standing there with his hands in his pockets, his rounded belly, rattling off some humorous, intellectual Spanish comments to Davis.

We also learned last week that Quinton was finally admitted to his school (we had to wait to see which school had room for him).  He will be part of a bilingual group that moves around classes together integrating some English, mostly for the benefit of Spanish kids wanting to learn more English, while still getting lots of exposure to Spanish.  This will surely all be an experiment to see how the kids do among these different approaches to learning.

Our sense of connection has increased as we befriended a British family with three kids (ages 14, 11, and 9, two boys and a girl).  The kids have instantly bonded over their English backgrounds and happen to share much in common in the areas of sports and Fortnite as well as their introductions to Spanish schools and the language.  They have moved here for two years to take a break from the hard working lifestyle outside London and to learn about a new culture and language.  Despite our enjoyment with each other, we will have to balance our time between them and new Spanish friends in order not to default to speaking English too much.

Today we are experiencing our very first stormy day; constant thunder rumbling in the distance.  We have welcomed the weather realizing how much we miss our Seattle rainy days.  How nice it is to have a day of rest.

 

 

 

Sol y Nieve

The Brewsters are spending an awful lot of time these days body surfing in addition to a new sport: medusa catching (medusa means jellyfish in Spanish).  Literally everyone at the beach has a net that the kids use to catch medusas while they are swimming and then bury them in the rocks.  Not very animal friendly but it gives a feeling that everyone is in it together protecting each other from the stinging in the sea.  By now, 4 out of 5 of us have been stung and for some, on multiple occasions with scars to show for it.  But I think we can say with confidence that none of us are allergic to jellyfish.

Our most recent adventures include finding some Roman aqueducts nearby, going to the infamous Friday market where you can buy practically anything and visiting the Sierra Nevadas last weekend which is known for its “sol y nieve”(sun and snow).  We decided to escape the heat for a bit and took a bus to Granada and then up to the mountains where we hiked, rode the chair lift and gondola, threw some snowballs and enjoyed the culture of a Spanish ski resort in the summertime.  The resort is built entirely into the hillside which provides an amazing view of the sunset over the Granada valley.  Our trip home included a layover in Granada so we were able to walk around the city for a bit and grab some dinner.  The kids are relieved that we are not living in a bigger city but George and I fell in love at first site with Granada and can’t wait to return.  The international scene, University energy, and old European architecture were captivating.

We returned to Almunecar to find that we are ready for school to start.  There is only so much beaching and hanging with your family without knowing a single other soul one can do.  The kids are ready to make their own friends (even if they can’t communicate with them yet) and we are all ready to create our own daily structure.

Not Belonging

This week we are in full on language school; three hours of learning Spanish each day, as a family, with a half hour break in the middle.  It is grueling for sure, especially for the kids, as you can well imagine, but the mouthful exposure is helpful and we’re convinced it will be a benefit to the kids for when they start school.  Plus, it has been enlightening for me and George to witness our kids’ different learning styles and attention spans in the classroom.

Our break time has included helado (ice cream) or churros (sticks of fried dough) and cafe con leche (coffee with milk).  And yes, the coffee is pretty darn good here!  This week we tried a typical Spanish snack, toast with olive oil and tomato spread which is yummy as well.

But just like a mouthful of anything takes time to digest, it will take time for our brains to make sense of a new language.  George came home from the crowded beach the other evening (the beach becomes wall to wall sun umbrellas after siesta is over) and shared how crazy it is to hear so many conversations taking place right around you and to not understand a single word that is being said.  I want to clarify that everyone here has been nothing but kind to us but without the language skills, it is hard to initiate and build connection with others.  It presents the discomfort of not being a part of anything that is happening around you… of not being able to share thoughts, laughs, and experiences even with strangers, and therefore, of feeling isolated.  It presents the sense of not belonging.

One of the kids asked me the other day why there isn’t just one language in the world that is spoken.  I hear their craving for commonalities and ease in interacting with others.  They refuse to believe, at this point, how less interesting the world would be with one language.  I can’t deny my own desire for what and who is familiar and known to me.  We stretch ourselves to explore a new part of town or try a new food but find ourselves returning to what we know for comfort; pizza dinner, American movies, even Fortnite-God bless us!

The kids’ understanding of culture (language, behavior, food, mealtimes, scheduling and gathering norms) and what makes individuals feel like a part of a group is limited but is about to evolve.  Yesterday, George heard kids’ voices nearby so we walked down the street from our house and found an enclosed turf futbol court where a bunch of Spanish kids were playing.  They invited Davis and Quinton to play and the boys came home an hour later.  Ah, connection!