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 ( 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 ( 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 ( and enjoyed an incredible photography exhibit by Jimmy Nelson (, 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 ( 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:

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 (  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.



Cave Dwelling

It is now June and I can hardly believe we have been living abroad already for almost 10 months.  The time has flown.  George has been in London all week for a workshop on the Enneagram and I have had my first whole week of single parenting in a foreign country and we have actually fared pretty well.  Hadley spent time with a couple girlfriends early in the week and both boys invited a friend to hang out this weekend, so we are making progress socially!  Summer plans are in the works and I am starting to think about what next year entails (way to stay present, Meliss).

One recent discovery we made is the existence of cave homes (los cuevas), particularly those in southern Spain.  These are basically man-made homes carved out of hard clay and earth, into the hills or cliff sides, in a region with unique geological history.  Although the first caves to be found are thought to be as old as 400,000 years, the Moors (Arabs) were the first humans to build these cave homes in the 7th or 8th centuries and they are especially common in the Andalusian region (southern Spain) because of the relief they provide from the extreme outdoor temperatures.  In modern times, these homes are often occupied by poor communities, however, many have also been turned into rentals.  In fact, we found one on Airbnb in the town of Freila, just north of Granada, and recently stayed in it for the weekend with our British friends.

As we drove north to Freila, leaving the coast behind us, the landscape became mountainous and canyon-like.  The road started to remind me of Snoqualmie Pass in the winter with its’ enormous snow drifts on either side of the road, only a summer, red rock version.  Because we visited the cave home in the off-season, there were limited activities but the landscape surrounding us and the colors of the earth and nearby reservoir were captivating the whole time.  In addition, our friends taught us some new skills.  The kids learned how to flip crepes and we learned a new game called Mofia, similar to Murder in the Dark but without the physicality.  I imagined painting all our surrounding vistas (while having mistakenly left my painting supplies at home) and the kids ventured into the nearby turquoise reservoir for a swim.  I am determined to return for a mountain biking adventure.

George experienced some culture shock as he stepped into life in London for 7 days.  His first text conveyed that he felt “overwhelmed” by the pace, amount of people, and intensity of the sophisticated urban environment and by the fact that he could not only hear but understand surrounding conversations everywhere.  However, his workshop was well worth the trip and his professional goals were re-inspired.   In addition, his British, college friend, Mark, showed him a good time cheering on Chelsea and Liverpool for the futból finals and visiting the local sites.  In the end he seemed to have felt at home in London, reconnecting with his English roots.


Exploring with our Estonians

A couple weeks ago, we had visitors from Estonia.  Our au pair from back in the day, Merle, came with her sister, Kirsika, and sister’s boyfriend, Jaak; quite the travel trio with whom we have so much fun.  World travelers and curious souls themselves, they made sure we all had new experiences while we were together.

Merle found us hard-to-get-tickets for Caminito del Rey (the king’s little path), a breathtaking hike north of Malaga through a gorge and along steep rock cliffs, where hydroelectric power workers used to navigate through and hikers and climbers have risked (and sometimes lost) everything for the thrill.  The trail was originally constructed in 1901 but was rebuilt and reopened in 2015 so that visitors could safely pass and enjoy the scenery.  Wearing hard hats the whole time, we felt like we were walking through another world, looking down upon the raging river and passing ruined homes where the  workers used to live with their families.  And when we exited the gorge, we felt like we had escaped one of the many dangerous adventures in Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones.

We also visited the caves of Nerja (Nerja is another coastal town west of us).  Filled with stalagmites and stalactites these caves have some of the oldest neanderthal drawings in all of Europe dating as far as back as 42,000 years ago.   We, grownups, were a bit more impressed than the kids but it was still something new for all.  I continue to be intrigued with how George and I tend to feel more awe-inspired than the kids when we visit attractions.  Perhaps the kids’ limited life experiences prevent them from realizing what was possible before they existed or perhaps their attention span is just so short they have moved onto something else by the time their brain would have processed how unbelievable something is (and thus boredom kicks in faster).  Or perhaps it is just my kids.  I’m not exactly sure and other than articles written about helping your children learn to tolerate boredom, the internet is not much help with this.

After we were done with the caves, the 8 of us climbed into a tiny fiat, acknowledging that it was probably not the safest form of transportation into the center of town but with only a couple miles to go, we figured we could fly under the radar.  After constantly joking about the police catching us, sure enough an officer AND his partner pulled up right behind us and followed us for a decent few minutes.  Panic filled the car and we quickly ordered those who sat on laps and in illegal places to duck and hide, only to have the police car turn off at the next roundabout.  Just like in the movies and much to our relief, the two officers were clearly distracted by their own conversation or argument to notice the criminals right under their noses.  After our adrenalin dissipated, we parked in the center of town, emptied our clown car and enjoyed some spontaneous shopping, tasty tapas and a refreshing swim at the beach.

We of course couldn’t let the Estonians leave without seeing Frigiliana (where we have taken almost all our visitors) so we took our friends there for lunch on their last day and took even more photos of the beautiful town.  In exchange for the Estonians making the trip, we will head north in August to see their country.

Birthday Surprise

I have so much to write about at the moment, I don’t know where to begin, but considering yesterday was a near-perfect day, I think I need to jump ahead and share.  Yesterday, our 11 year old twins turned 12 (well, actually, they didn’t turn 12 until 3am today since they were born around 6pm Seattle time).  We started the day serving Hadley and Davis American pancakes, although they are slightly different in Spain since there is no such thing as true maple syrup here.  Here, we eat them with strawberry jam, lemon curd, and Nutella.  And if we eat them the British way, they are more like crepes.  While we took in our first nourishment for the day together, the kids made it very clear that we were not to plan anything or publicize their birthday with their Spanish school community at all.  “We want to celebrate our birthday in English!”

After breakfast, George and I insisted that we walk the kids to school, much to their dismay.  They have gotten too comfortable, as of late, with their independent commute, so much that they feel utterly embarrassed when we decide to join them on a whim.  They demanded that we say goodbye halfway only to have discovered that we had taken a detour and met them at the entrance of their school.  You may imagine that we were smothering them slightly but it was critical that we got to school as we needed to find another parent to confirm plans for a secret celebration after school.  I took a huge risk and against their wishes, I went ahead and planned a surprise party with four of their closest Spanish classmates.  Now remember, Hadley and Davis have yet to initiate any social time with Spanish peers.  Their social comforts are growing at school and on their sport teams but they maintain a certain amount of timidness and fear of acting in any way that would make them stand out and be noticed.  So, needless to say, any encouragement and strong urging we have imposed upon them, to initiate with Spanish friends, has been rejected.  I was facing the possibility of “being murdered” as Davis just inserted into this post.

George and I anxiously left the kids at school, delivered the clues for a scavenger hunt (starting with strict instructions for Hadley and Davis to go to the school secretary after dismissal) and then sat at the location of the second clue, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t curse our names and march home to get on their screens in defiance.  Relief fell over me as they finally approached the statue of the pulpo (octopus) where they were to find clue number 2.  They seemed like fairly good sports so we gave them the next clue and sent them on their way.  After visiting our Spanish teacher and collecting the third clue, they found four Spanish classmates waiting for them at a nearby pizza place where they were sung to by and received gifts from their friends and then fed by the waiter whom we enrolled earlier to help with the plan.  The bonus was they were on their own without the embarrassment of their American parents hanging around with scary Spanish skills.  The embarrassment, however, was waiting for them at the final location, a dessert café where Hadley and Davis have become regulars.  As the 6 of them arrived and joined us at a table and their birthday cakes were served, an awkward silence filled the café (no one else was there since it was siesta time) and I must have been shot down by Hadley’s lazer eyes every time I opened my mouth to try to speak Spanish.  “S-T-O-P,” she mouthed to me.  George and I knew we needed to keep our visit short.  As soon as the last bite was taken, we excused them to run off and play fútbol in the plaza until they returned to their respective homes.  So off they went not to be seen again for another hour.

After a moment (literally) to catch their breath at home, Davis went off to fútbol practice while Hadley accepted an invitation to swim in her friend’s pool (the best birthday present EVER for her!) .  Afterwards, we met our British friends for dinner at the new Indian restaurant in town (Chicken Tikka Masala is one of our family’s new favorite meals).  We returned home with just enough time to open presents and phone grandmothers before we all crashed.  Once in bed and just before their eyes sealed shut, Davis told me he was glad I invited his Spanish friends to his party and Hadley reported having exchanged social media contact information with her friends.  The adrenalin in my system drained and I continue to feel relieved that I have lived to write this post.



Exploring Eastern Spain

The East coast of Spain seems to be less popular than other parts of the country.  Rick Steves, for example, does not include much about the East coast in his travel books.  However, my friend, Melinda, and I got to explore a bit of this area last week as we rented a car and spent 4 days driving to Valencia and back.

Our first stop was Cabo de Gato, a national park on the southeast corner of Spain of which we got a mere taste (definitely need to go back) but saw some white flamencos in the distance.  We spent our first night in Cartegena, a small coastal city in the Region of Murcia.  The gem of this stop was the view from our Airbnb apartment which was a Roman theater right next door that had only been discovered and dug up in early 2000.  We couldn’t believe our luck (especially having reserved our apartment at the last minute)!  In fact, this city is an interesting mix of an upscale marina and office buildings with an old town of numerous construction sites and archeological digs.  We considered spending some late night hours at “La Escuela de Calor” (direct translation: “The School of Heat” with hard rock blasting from inside) but chickened out as our 40 something selves felt more called to our beds.  We did experience a hardcore coffee shop, though, and watched a military parade the next morning.

Our next stop was a half hour north to San Pedro del Pinatar for Las Charcas mud baths, the largest saltwater lake in Europe, with warm waters, high salinity and healing mud.  Even though it was a little chilly and windy while we were there, we managed to partially cover ourselves with mud before rinsing off and quickly lying in the sun to warm up.  After some tapas and a free Kahlua and cream shot (Spanish restaurants often gift their customers with a free after-meal drink), we hit the road for Valencia.

We merely scratched the surface of Valencia, touring the Silk Exchange, visiting the art museum and central market, walking the city’s fabulous city park and picnicking under a bridge during a downpour.  We also took a Paella cooking class since paella originated in Valencia, as food for the poor.  As most areas in Spain, Valencians make their paella with their own local delicacies which forced us to expand our food horizons.  I tasted my first rabbit and Melinda had her first snail.  In addition, I learned how to prepare and cook miniature artichokes!  Our class was lots of fun as we were the only Americans among Brits, Spaniards and Austrians.  Melinda engaged the Brits in a “what’s up with Brexit?/what’s up with Trump?” conversation while I had the pleasure of sitting next to one of the Austrians; a 20-something die hard skier who was a twin of Ed Sheeran.

After breakfast at our favorite Valencian coffee shop, We drove south again until we arrived in Granada.  Melinda was eager to see Granada so I toured her around Plaza Nueva and the outside of the Alhambra before we returned to Almuñécar that night.  The next day, I took Melinda to Malaga for her flight back to the States.  What a gift it was for me to be able to share our Spanish home with an American friend and explore new areas together.


We just completed our first European family road trip by car.  On April 14th, the first day of Semana Santa (Holy week leading up to Easter Sunday), we drove West across Andalucia (southern region of Spain) to Seville with George’s sister, Elise.  Before I continue, it’s important to note that Semana Santa is probably the biggest holiday in Spain and everyday there are religious processions, the first of which took place the day we arrived in Seville.  Seville is one of the epicenters of it all so you can imagine how our entry into the city and finding parking went.  Once we did though, we worked our way through the crowd amidst the first religious procession of the week only to land at our Airbnb which allowed us to stand on our balcony and watch the procession of the Virgin Mary go right on by.  George was giddy with excitement like a little kid.  “Can you believe that?”  was all we heard him say for hours and even days following.  The procession continued throughout the evening in our hood, forcing us to walk circles around old town for quite some time before we managed to intercept the Virgin Mary so that we could get back to our Airbnb.

Day two in Seville was short and sweet as we had my mother and my sister’s family to meet in southern Portugal.  About 3 hours later, we were settling into a beautiful little villa in the town of Carvoeiro in the Algarve region of Portugal (southern coast) and as it turned out, we were in for a surfing-themed vacation.  Portugal is one of the hot spots in the world for surfing so everywhere we looked, there were surf shops, surfing hotels and a surfing fest/competition on our last day.  The kids and their cousins even had a day of surf lessons and played in the waves in the town of Lagos.

Though our time was limited, we managed to explore a few different towns, eat some amazing Mediterranean food, and relax together.  Little did we know, there was a diesel strike in the whole country while we were there.  George and my brother-in-law had to drive almost all the way back to Spain just to get fill up the cars.  Some of the highlights of the trip included the amazing limestone cliffs along the coast, practically playgrounds for climbing and crawling around,  beautiful seashells, watching experienced surfers in Sagres (the most southwestern point of Portugal), getting lost in the Portuguese pottery shop, and discovering the importance of sardines (Davis even tasted them…for a 50 cent euro), Algarve storks and cork trees in Portugal.  Some favorite dishes of the week were octopus salad, risotto with cod and spaghetti with clams.  I’m excited to have found another way to feed my kids fish without them knowing it!  The sound of the Portuguese language was new to most of us, almost resembling the sounds of Russian and Polish and we worked on our pronunciation all week of “thank you” in Portuguese which is “obrigado/a.”  They seem to use this word more frequently and for more purposes than I recall in any other language.  My mom, sister and I painted together and the kids played a mean game of Monopoly and lots of Hide and Seek.

Our final day together before family flew back to the States was bittersweet as we honored my late father on what would have been his 80th birthday.  He was a surfer while growing up in California, and we could not get over how we spontaneously landed our final night (his birthday) in a surfing hotel just opposite the surfing competition (this was our plan B after our originally scheduled Airbnb did not work out).  He must have been there with us in spirit!

After a difficult goodbye with our relatives , we concluded our road trip with a brief drive through Lisbon and then pretty much a straight shot back to Almuñécar, including a late dinner stop in Córdoba.  Exhaustion and grief engulfed us as the five of us tried to navigate our car through the charming, very narrow streets of old town Córdoba to find dinner, only centimeters away, at one point, from resembling a scene from Mission Impossible, getting stuck between the street walls.  A delicious Spanish meal and atmosphere at Bodegas Mezquita Cruz del Rastro gave us the energy we needed to complete our journey back to Almuñécar.

Our time with American friends and family these past couple of weeks has made the kids very homesick.  The ease with which they could converse, the comfort of being with those whom they know care for and love them and their envy of these friends and family’s ability to return to what they know and love are real humps to get over.  And now that we are back from our travels and visits, the challenge is finding more courage, once again, to interact with a less familiar community and step into a classroom where a less familiar language is spoken and values are shared.