Monday, September 26, 2011

Reality is settling in

Tea with Big T (or as I like
to call her "T Grande")
Primer Mes (first month)
Today marks our first month in this country and as to be expected, we are coming down from the high. We had some good friends visit from the U.S. this past week which was both wonderful and difficult. Wonderful to see familiar faces and share the fascinating things that we are learning but difficult to figure out what to do, as we don’t know all that much yet. It was also a rough week for the boys at school so I spent too much time worrying about them when in reality I know they will be just fine in the long run.

Colin & Bill on the Tower
at the Alhambra
Our landlord was also in town briefly to pick up some things he needs both back in Singapore and also for his elder daughter who has relocated to Italy to continue school there so I’m glad Nat got a chance to meet him. Antonio introduced him to the bartender at Bar Kiki, our local tapas place and they really rolled out the red carpet for him (special wines, unique tapas - even shark) as folks were so glad to see him back in town.  
Arial of our house from the Alhambra

The Icelandic family’s elder daughter is sick again which has to be very stressful for them. Their younger daughter, who has been very quiet for the last month, has been spending extra time with us as of late and all of the sudden, English is just flowing out of her and she is working so hard to be understood and share stories. Very inspiring indeed. I expect she will put us all to shame in a few months’ time with her Spanish language skills. Nat and I continue to plod along.
Otoño (Autumn)
The weather just broke here and it is glorious Fall weather now (ie not too hot); beautifully sunny with a bit of cold in the air but much more pleasant for walking around in. The evenings are chilly so a sweater is necessary when going out and yesterday afternoon it rained so the locals moved inside restaurants for their meals while us tourists still enjoyed the outdoor terraces (albeit with a chill). I hope to start yoga in early October with a group of moms from the school and will try and get back to running now that it isn’t so sweltering.
Downtown Granada at sunset
They have started to pull the non-native speakers out for Spanish classes at school so hopefully Clark & Colin will start to feel a bit more comfortable with their language skills. They tease me incessantly about my pronunciation which I expect is valid so we will have to work extra hard to keep up. We've also been to the Parque de la Ciencias again, this time for an Escher exhibit, and had some Spanish neighbors over for Moroccan stew.
Pájaro (Birds)
Just when you thought things were going to be easy, they get difficult. It has been challenging to try and figure out how to get our i-phones to work over here but I left the job to my techy husband and after weeks of research, “jailbreaking” our phones and replacing the SIM cards, we finally have success. And a good thing too as I can’t seem to make an online bank transfer without a Spanish mobile number and I need to pay our rent. So different!

¡una fiesta de cumpleaños!
Clark’s 11th birthday is Monday and the boy who has never wanted a birthday party in his life has asked for a “surprise party” this year. Since he doesn’t really know many people yet and is too shy to ask, we’ve decided to invite his entire class to a local park for the afternoon (ie 6:00pm) and just see who shows up. Apparently this is fairly common and I expect anywhere from 10 – 50 people could come so we’ll have to remain flexible with our food and game plans. I’m thinking popcorn and watermelon as those are his favorites. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Tough times

Outside the school yard

School is not getting any easier for the boys. In fact, it's more difficult and now that the newness has worn off and they still realize that they have to go every day, mornings are getting tougher. Colin was in tears this morning when I dropped him off which has never happened before with my normally very outgoing and carefree kid. Painful for both of us for sure. Thankfully he was his usual happy-go-lucky self at pick-up. Happily, Clark has made some new buddies, both from international famlies so they speak English, which makes his life a bit easier.

Futbol practice

Local sports arena (boys in green & red)
We took the boys back to the local sports arena so that they could try out a futbol practice with the 20 or so other boys that had gathered. This is a new league just starting up after a 5 year gap, so there is much disorganization and confusion as to who can play, when the practice times are, etc... It was a lesson in humility for Nat and I to sit through the parent meeting only understanding a word or two (they talk so fast!) and gave us empathy for what our boys have to sit through in school all day long. Fortunately, I recognized a few other parents who speak English and we were able to get some help with translation.

Our house has the green umbrella
The biggest bummer was that we found out Clark was too old to play on this league as it isn't accepting anyone born after 2001. But by the end of practice he told us he never wanted to come back anyway due to a bullying incident (some kid kept flicking him on the neck and making fun of him because he couldn't understand anything. He finally got tired of it and poked him back so the kid pinched him so hard on his arm that it bled). Pretty harsh. These are the times it's not so fun to be here...

That said, we just heard that a dear friend of ours from the U.S. had emergency open heart surgery due to a newly detected aortic aneurysm which he had a 50% chance of survival on. And this is the fittest, most athletic (avid windsurfer, mountain biker and yogini), youngest (acting) guy around. Probably the most laid back guy I've ever met. In fact, in the 20 years that I've known him I don't think I've ever seen him even mildly upset. Thankfully he is going to fully recover and thanks to his good health, loving wife and strong support network he will be fine. But it is a reminder that you never know what life is going to throw you, so live every day to the fullest and tell those you love that you love them. Every day.

Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevade ski area
We drove up to the local ski area on our day off school to check out where might might be able to do some schussing this winter. About a 45 minute drive, the road was narrow and steep but easy to navigate. We checked out the ski village, which was much larger than we expected, had a picnic lunch and took a short walk along a telemarking trail and admired the view.

On the way home, we stopped by the home of some new friends from school (mom is French, dad is German, their 3 kids speak four !! languages) to go swimming in their shared swimming pool (piscina) which was lovely on such a hot afternoon.

Narrow alleyways make
for tight parking
Our car
We are fortunate to be able to be renting our landlord's car while we are here which makes our lives much more flexible and gives us access to travel. That said, there are few simple things, like renewing the car tabs, that are a little more challenging than at home, due to the language difficulty. Lucky for us, some lovely Spanish neighbors helped us make the appointment onine (Seattle, take note) and our landlord is going to be in town this week so will be able to help us take it in for its emissions inspection. Nat took the boys to a local "car wash" today for a quick clean-up and apparently they had fun riding through the electronic machinery and then putting in euro's to vaccuum out the interior. Until the vacuum clogged, they had to keep switching machines and they ran out of coins....

Beauty and Magnificence

The Alhambra from our terrace
I still can't get over the incredible views from our house and beyond. Granada is truly a magical city full of life, energy, art and fascinating people (as well as plenty of dog poop). We couldn't be luckier with such nice neighbors , new friends and access to the great outdoors which is right outside our door (and the consistant sunny weather sure doesn't hurt). Although we are facing small challenges every day and are being pushed outside our comfort zone, I am confidant that this was a good decision for our family and am still in disbelief that we are actually living here. Our 15th wedding anniversary is next week and Nat just promised to take me to Europe in celebration. Oops, already did.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The first week of school

Outside our front gate
La escuela (school) 
We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief now that the boys have a few days of school under their respective belts. Not that they are enjoying themselves much, or are even very happy to be there, but we have a routine, they are meeting new kids and it has actually gone surprisingly better than I expected. They say they are bored and can't understand anything but they are listening, eating lunch with their comrades, and slowly making friends. Poco a poco (little by little)... 

They had some pretty nervous faces walking in to the school on the first day but were in fine moods after school and we spied them on the playground during the day happily playing futbol (soccer) during recess. It probably helped that classes were only 3 hours on the first day and that they didn't stay for lunch. 

Sexto y Cuarto (6th & 4th)
Clark's teacher and the Principal
chat in Clark's classroom
Clark is in the Sexto (6th) class and Colin Cuarto (4th). Quite a few of the boys in Clark's class speak English as our school is incredibly international and many of the parents come from countries other than Spain (Germany, France, Italy, Denmark....) and several a combination of a few. Several moms who I met prior to school starting even had their kids watch out for our boys on the first day and I definitley felt that warmness directly. Overall, people here couldn't be more friendly and welcoming. We have already been invited on a "swim date" tomorrow, which is a day off school due to a local holiday (Granada only). Cultural differences are strange though, as our afternoon play date will start at 5pm.

Colin looking fairly dejected on Day 1
 School supply shopping was comical until we found a stationary shop where the clerk quickly took charge and ran around the store picking out everything on our lists for us. Same routine as Seattle and about the same price (about 60E/$100 for both boys).

Picked the boys up on Day 3 and they told me all about their 2 course lunch with pumpkin soup and fresh bread followed by salmon and potatoes (all organic, mind you). Dang, I'm jealous. And did I mention how lovely the lunchroom ladies are? Muy cariñoso (very loving). I hope to volunteer up there soon.

In the hallway
Futbol (soccer)
A fellow mom with 2 boys walked us over to a local sports arena yesteday to help us scout out a place that the boys might be able to play futbol. It is a lovely facility with lots going on and the artificial turf looks brand new. Don't know if it will work out or not as plans seem to change quite a bit around here but we will keep trying. There is also an informal group that plays on the (cement) school yard two afternoons a week but they don't seem that interested.

Nuestro español (our spanish)
Here are the children of the Albayzin
And shall I mention again that our Spanish sucks? We really need to put in more time. We're each working with our tutor un hora y media (an hour and a half) every day but it is definitley slow going. Can never remember all the damn verb endings and am always grasping for vocabulary. And problem is, I like to talk, but can't communicate my thoughts without words. Muy difícil (very difficult). 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beaches, biking and bread

La playa (back to the beach)

Playa del Salon in Nerja
We had so much fun at the beach last week that we drove back on Saturday for a last beach day before school starts on Monday. This time it was the seaside town of Nerja which we had heard about thru several sources. Highlights of this beautiful day included wonderful swimming, sand play and watching a "hen party" of local Spanish girls dancing on the beach all day long (they even had the bride-to-be dressed up like a chicken). We wandered up to a local neighborhood restaurant for tapas and refrescos before returning to the big city.

It was fun watching Colin and Colin dig a huge pit in the sand right next to a woman who was sunbathing topless. Still clueless.

La fiesta de cumpleaños (Our first birthday party)

10 kids help celebrate Eir's birthday
Our Icelandic neighbor Eir turned 9 last week, during the height of her sister's illness so her party was postponed a few days. The festivities included a wonderful mix of eclectic kids - 10 children, 6 girls, 4 boys from the US, Spain, Iceland and French speaking Canada and a fun fishing game played out the upstairs window to catch bags full of candy. We sang "Happy Birthday" in 4 languages and shared delicious treats baked by the mom and dad. We also met another neighbor who lives in our plaza; a young Irish family with an 8 year old girl who will be at the same school as the rest of the gang. (We really need to start meeting some Spanish speaking people so we can practicar nuestro espanol!)

Parque de las Ciencias (Science Museum)

Skipping rope on rooftop terrace (note
the Alhambra in the background).
My neighbor Carmen and her two boys introduced us to the local Science Museum this weekend which has wonderful exhibits and is a terrific meeting place. We spent several hours there and have only just touched the surface but I bought an annual pass so we have a year to enjoy its privilidges. There is a local exhibit by Escher there at the moment but we didn't get that far. There are also many interactive exhibits and an amazing lookout tower where you can view the entire city.

Mi marido (my spouse)
Nat bakes two types of bread
My husband Nat has had more more time on his hands than he is used to so he has already been mountain biking, learned to bake bread (from our Icelandic neighbor Olafur) and is setting up a dreaded Facebook account (!). Never thought I'd see the day...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

To the Mediterranean and beyond

Making connections

We love the outdoor cafes
I am starting to realize that I am a bit of a “Euro-wannabe.” Watching all these sexy, Spanish women walking around with their gorgeous high-heels (on cobblestone streets, mind you) with their beautiful dresses, skinny physiques, pushing baby buggies, smoking cigarettes, looking cool and oh, so international. But I never will be something that I am not. Besides the fact that I am truly “middle-aged,” I have a strong American accent, wear schlocky clothes, no make-up and practical shoes. Better to just accept who I really am and make the best of it. I drink a lot of vino and eat plenty of bread and gelato so I won’t be getting any skinnier. But I did do a 2 minute headstand the other day, in the same room that my two energetic boys were playing some radically addictive computer game so I must be reaching a zen state at some level.

Spanish dryer - Oma will be proud
Our wonderful Icelandic neighbors had a sick daughter. They went to the hospital twice and had multiple tests done to figure out what was wrong (she has since recovered). How stressful. A sick child in a foreign country. Not being able to communicate on an intimate level. I am reading fellow Seattleite and travel writer Rick Steve’s book, “Travel as a Political Statement,” and it has some great points. When it comes down to humankind, we are all equal. We all love our children with the same intensity. Pretty important items to consider when thinking about peace on our planet.

Rio Genil
Exercise equipment along the Rio Genil
There is a lovely river that runs from the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, through Granada and the surrounding countryside. Along it is a very flat bike route that leads out to a nearby village, Pinos Genil, which we rode out to on Sunday with the boys (think Burke Gilman for you Seattlites). It was a relaxing day, although perhaps a bit hot in the afternoon sun but when you stop for an hour lunch/siesta in the middle, it wasn’t too exhausting and there were some lovely parks and play areas to stop and play at along the way.

Road trip to the Mediterranean
Playa de Salobreña
We took our first official “road trip” to the Mediterranean sea, or more specifically the seaside towns of Salobreña and Almuñecar, both under an hour from our house. Both were lovely and it was great fun to swim in the warm salt water and sip refrescos by the seashore. We ate at a pizzeria across from the beach run by a Swedish couple who moved here 4 years ago for the better weather and outdoor lifestyle. The owner Anna was so friendly she even gave us a card with her mobile number in case we wanted tips on where to go hiking in the nearby Alpujarras.
La playa de Almuñecar
On our way back in to the Albayzin we got stuck. Literally. They put up a barrier in the evenings in our neighborhood so that cars cannot enter without a special pass. When we arrived at the entrance late at night there was a large metal spike blocking the road which we could not pass without a special card. (We later discovered we had this card, already in the car, we just hadn't been told about it). Several hours later we got the car parked safely back in to its very small parking spot in an underground lot near our house (think “can of sardines”). Antonio & Laura’s Skoda Octavia is a wonderful car. A red station wagon with plenty of room and lots of get up and go (note that 120km/hr is not unusual here). Feels like a bit of an upgrade for us this year. First road trip went so well we are hoping to take a longer one to Tarifa soon (windsurfing mecca for those in the know).

Colegio de Educación Infantil y Primaria Gómez Moreno
On the playground at Gomez-Moreno
School starts on Monday so we walked up on Friday morning in hopes of introducing the boys to their teachers and showing them around the school. Clark has ended up in a classroom with 25 kids in the highest grade at the school along with our neighbor Asa, (class is determined by birthdays and as both of our boys have Fall birthdays they have moved up a year) but Colin and Eir will be in separate 4th grade classrooms with only 14 kids each. A highlight of the morning was meeting the lunchroom ladies who serve hot organic lunches every day at 2:oopm. Everyone was truly warm and friendly and open to us crazy new international types.
Playground fun
Like the US, it appears that parents supply the necessary items needed for the classroom. We just got the list for Colin’s class (all in Spanish). Thank goodness for Google Translate! The boys are both nervous for Monday, as am I.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mistakes and misadventures

Every day is an adventure over here. Whether doing simple shopping or venturing out to a new area….
Free tapa with every drink
·         Just discovered that I have been using bleach instead of laundry detergent in the washing machine. It’s no wonder Colin’s new red shirt was looking so mottled.
·         Nat bought hamburger buns at the mini market the other day except that when he brought them home he discovered they were actually donuts. And that was only after toasting two of them. Doh.
·         The bacon we cooked recently was not a hit and tasted suspiciously just like the pork cutlet from the night before. On the flip side, a tapa is served (free) with every drink purchased.
·         The boys have started watching cartoons in Spanish and just found Phineas and Ferb (one of their favorites in the US).
·         One of the canaries has died. Very sad to watch it shiver and struggle for 18 hours or so before succumbing.
·         I’m still getting lost but at least now I can eventually find my way home.
We were fortunate to arrive in Granada just in time to enjoy the last day of the season (último dia) at the local waterpark, Aguaola (see: which we visited with our Icelandic neighbors. They were kind enough to take the boys ahead on the bus while we finished up with our Spanish lesson in the morning and then we met them there by car (see below). It has definitely been the highlight of the boys stay so far.

We live on top of a hill in a neighborhood that is very difficult to drive to, particularly because you are only allowed to drive on certain streets. You must go up one way and come down another. We decided to venture out by car the other day to drive to a local waterpark that was about 20 minutes away by bus. It took us an hour. Each way. And not because we didn’t know where we were. Well, we knew where we were but we didn’t exactly know where we were going. And when coming home, we knew exactly where we were but couldn’t figure out how to get where we wanted to go. 

Poco a poco
That is our motto when it comes to learning español. Poco a poco. Little by little. Los verbos son muy difíciles! Every day we practice speaking with our tutor and then do some written homework (deberes).

The boys have had a few “play dates.” I took Colin over to a neighbor’s house the other day who has a 9 year old boy and they bonded over the Wii. Then I dropped both boys off at another neighbor’s house where 4 (count ‘em – 1 -2 -3 -4) girls were playing. I hope I am forgiven for this one as they weren’t too happy when I left (update: they were happily playing hide-and-seek when I picked them up an hour later). Yet another neighbor just stopped by with news that his 11 year old son is looking for playmates (and thankfully not from that magazine—yet).

We sent the boys out solo for the first time to buy us bread at their favorite panaderia (bakery). They came home with a fresh loaf of O bread (pan) as well as some sort of chocolate covered pretzel thing. The bread was gone within the hour and the pretzel several hours later. I’m certainly not losing any weight over here.