Monday, November 28, 2011

We are officially legal!

I felt this topic deserved its very own post.

For those of you following our escapades from the beginning, you should be able to appreciate this very large milestone. Today we drove ourselves to the local Ministerio del Interior in Granada and picked up our official "residence cards." After spending hundreds of dollars, filling out mountains of paperwork, sending fed ex's around the USA, a last minute trip (for four) to the Spanish consulate in San Francisco and a little luck with important people in various places, we are now LEGAL to live in Spain (until 5 October 2012). 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving thanks

We are thankful for:
Karb - having the opportunity to live in Granada and for all my friends, both old and new
Nat - sunny days in winter, tapas and a healthy, happy family
Clark - food and playing with friends
Colin - legos and Wii

Boys enjoying sparkling cider
with fresh pomegranate juice*
Thanksgiving Day marked our 3 month anniverary in Spain and is a special time of year for me for several reasons. It's always been one of my favorite holidays, focused around family and food but Thanksgiving Day also marks the anniversary of my dear Mother's passing (16 years ago, after years of fighting lymphoma) so is always a timely reminder of the short time we have on this planet (she was only 54 when she died).

Thanksgiving dinner #1 at a fellow American's
house (he is married to a Spanish woman)

We've had a couple of Thanksgiving meals this year. The first one was last Thursday when a fellow American invited us over for a last minute dinner as he and his Spanish wife had just spontaneously purchased a turkey that morning as they thought that it was actually Thanksgiving Day (turns out it's the fourth Thursday in November, not the third). We happily accepted and enjoyed a lovely turkey (cooked perfectly well in a toaster oven!) He inspired us to offer up our own feast on the actual day so Nat ordered a bird from the local carnicerius and we strategized about menu options and offerings. We decided to call this "Turkey and tapas" and make it an afternoon gathering as dinner here doesn't start until 9 or 10pm and it was a school night.

My kitschy Americano appetizer
(creme cheese stuffed olives)

Nat supplied the turkey, stuffing, & vegetables
and friends brought side dishes and desserts
We extended the invitation to all our new friends, neighbors and fellow Americans, including one random couple from Seattle that we heard were in town this week. Surprisingly almost everyone we invited showed up, plus a few more. My most excellent chef husband roasted a 4 kilo turkey with all the trimmings and guests brought some lovely additions including homemade applesauce, roasted red peppers, marzipan and chocolates. I think we had over 43 people stop by (including kids) and with many spills and one broken wine glass I would call it a success (the last guests left at 11pm, apparently you never put an end time on a Spanish invitation). All in all, a perfect example of the spirit of Thanksgiving and what we are thankful for: friends, relationships, diversity, gratitude and acceptance. 

Colin's futbol kit
Eat your heart out LVR!
High-end futbol kit
When the boys play soccer in Seattle, the season is about 2 months long and they each get a simple soccer jersey and socks to wear at the games. Big difference here in Spain, where futbol is King. Just got the "kit" for Colin's Rayo Eneais team and inside the high-quality sports bag we found 2 sweat suits (one for games, one for practice) a windbreaker, wool cap and down jacket with hood! We're now just waiting for the team jersey with his name enscribed on the back. Even if he doesn't get to play in a game (still waiting for residancy status), it's been worth it!

Handyman and plumber
* We've had an abundance of ripe
pomegranates (granadas) in our garden
If my landlord is reading this, know that you chose the right tenants! Both my husband Nat as well as the upstairs neighbor are extremely handy around the house and enjoy a project so are forever fixing some litle thing. Nat has spruced up the fireplace doors, re-wired 2 phone transformers (which we think an electric surge blew), inserted a new shower head and replaced the tubing in the downstairs bath and is forever putzing with something. The most exciting news however, is that he called a plumber and we now have hot water in the kitchen! (this has never been working and also makes the downstairs bath tricky to use as we can't get much hot water there). Note on customer service to my fellow Americans: Nat called on Friday morning at 11:00 and the plumber was here 10 minutes later. He spent a few minutes determining the problem, left for an hour and then returned with a new part which he quickly installed. Total bill? 35 euros. Not bad and will help offset our electric bill for heating water via electricity ($$$) upstairs. Nat has also rototilled the garden and harvested all the ripe pomegranates. Yum!

Booking tickets
Nat rototills the garden
My neighbor Anna and I have literally spent hours booking tickets to get ready for our Moroccan adventure over the winter holidays. Something that would take about 10 minutes at home, has stretched in to hours (with calls to our banks in both Spain and Iceland for assistance!) To get bus and ferry passage, one must insert all passport numbers as well as a myraid of other information and sometimes the internet throws you out mid-way or some glitch requires a new transaction. When we purchased our flights, even though we bought them at the exact same time, my transacation must have been 1 second ahead of hers so my tickets were slightly cheaper and she had to start over. And there was an enormous fee to send funds from Spain to Morroco to our secure our deposit so I think we will be using cash from now on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Colin is 9 and a beautiful Fall hike

Colin and his muchachos

Fiesta de cumpleanos de Colin
Scavenger hunt
Colin turned 9 on Saturday so we hosted a birthday party for 9 at our home in Granada. To try and keep the "boy energy" level at bay, I planned a "scavenger hunt" in and around our very interesting neighborhood, the Albayzin. We came up with a list of 20 silly things to find and take a photo of including smallest car, church steepleArabic hookah (smoking apparatus) and largest dog poop. My first mistake was having the party start so late in the day as it was starting to get dark by the time folks arrived (oddly several kids arrived a half hour early which certainly isn't very Spanish and caught me by surprise). The second was agreeing to take 4 energetic boys out and about solo on a busy Saturday night. Colin immediately tripped and fell running down a narrow alley paved with cobblestones but thankfully there was no permanent damage. As we had a limited time frame (one of the parents needed to pick-up his kids early), we made a quick outing of it and never did end up sharing photo's but it was a fun time nonetheless.


Birthday crisp with 9 candles

American style pulled pork sandwiches
 After the game and a little Wii time, Nat served up a delicious meal of American-style pulled-pork sandwiches and I made a peach apple crisp, both Colin's favorites, and we sang "Happy Birthday" in four different languages (Spanish, English, Icelandic and Chinese).

El campo (the countryside)
Fall hike
Stone in-laid walking path
One of the perks of the boys' school is that every month the parent group hosts a weekend "outing" where anyone is welcome to join in a group hike or bike ride. The first one took place on Sunday and about 60 (!) people showed up to do a 9 kilometer loop around a beautiful bit of countryside in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The route is typically planned for all ages and there was everyone from infants in backpacks to 60 year olds. We all met a local gas station and caravaned out to the trailhead which was about 45 minutes away. The entire group then gathered for the walk and we spread out along the trail, meeting for short rest stops along the way.  

Colin in front of bull ring
The fall colors were spectacular and we even saw a few patches of snow along the windy, stone-inlaid road. But the most interesting vantage culminated at the turnaround point or the "Plaza del Torres" (plaza of the bulls) set high up on a mountainside. We had lunch near this old bull ring where apparently young bulls are trained to fight in the ring. And on the return loop home the group I was with attempted to take a shortcut and got a bit lost in the woods so ended up doing some pretty difficult trailblazing on the return. All in all, it made for a very adventurous day which is the name (and nature) of this blog!
Spanish bulls

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reality check

Mamá y sus hijos
Daily life
Lest anyone think by my accounts that all is fun and games over here, I thought I'd make a more raw account of the day to day challenges we face, trying to keep our small family happy. Thankfully the tears and trantrums have subsided when it is time to go to school each day (even on Monday which is typically the hardest day of the week) but that is not always the case after school. Each boy has a list of things they need to work on after school (homework, reading, piano, math facts, etc...) and 4 days a week Clark goes to either deportes (a sports class) up at the school or a fencing class at the local sports center and Colin to futbol practice twice a week (games are on the weekend although we have yet to participate, still not "certified"). As you can imagine, this isn't always what they'd like to do after a full day of sitting in a classroom not understanding a thing. And I must admit that I am not always cheerful and supportive at the end of the day. It can be emotionally exhausting to keep the boys motivated and happy. Thank goodness my husband is both low-maintenance and extremely helpful in keeping the home fires burning (literally and figuratively as he keeps a fire burning in the fireplace in the kitchen that heats our house and the food cooking on the stovetop).  

Alhambra tiles
I am hoping that the boys are learning some good values and coping skills via this experience such as patience, what it feels like to be an outsider/foreigner (empathy), how to get by when times are tough, survival in general and they are certainly not in harms way. It’s been tough on them though and I truly hope they appreciate this experience some day, even if its not for 10 – 20 years. And the parental guilt hopes that I am not doing anything damaging to their young psyches at this delicate age.

Sometimes things are pretty challenging and I get a bit lonely and depressed and wonder if we can last here until next summer and sometimes I am ready to stay here permanently, there is so much excitement, newness and "life" abounding. Oh, the ups and downs!! This is a wonderful practice for me in patience and "being present" which I am supplementing with my weekly yoga and Tai chi classes. (I've even found a group of women who are going to start weekly meditation classes).

Colin as a ghoul (boys helped
out in the "Mansion Encantada"
at the recent school party
Clark has been having trouble with a boy at school who is picking on him most likely because he is new, foreign and doesn't understand the language. Tough times for sure but we are working with the teachers to try and find a solution. Clark has been lucky that his best buddy speaks 4 languages (!) which is both very impressive and helpful when it comes to translation. He has already had several sleepovers at this friends house as well as had him over to our house overnight, even mid-week.

Colin has finally started to have some play dates over outside of school and even though they can't communicate fully there is the international language of video games (ie: Wii) so that helps get them started. He has yet to be invited to anyone else's home from school but I'm sure that will come and he has a birthday party invitation for this weekend (he seems to be strangely attracted to twins, just like in Seattle, as two of his best buddies are fraternal twins).

As for myself, it is slow going making good friends and although I have met many wonderful people, they all have very busy lives and their own social networks so I have barely been out without my family in tow so will have to start organizing some social gatherings to help get me out and about (I just discovered baños árabe - think Olympus day spa Seattlites -near our home so hope to make an expedition there shortly). For those of you who know me well, I am very social so miss my girlfriends terribly (if you are reading this, send me an email telling me about your happenings as you already know what I am up to!). Nat has found a few mountain bike buddies and also enjoys the company of our upstairs neighbor Olafur.

"Bloody finger" cookies made by a fellow
mom, Nat and the 6th grade students

Food for the kids has been a bit of a challenge as meals here are not like at home. For starters, breakfast is small and right before school, lunch is at 2pm and dinner not until 9 or 10. And to top it off, the food here is different, particulaly from a kids perspective. Although you can certainly find American cuisine like hamburgers, pizza and nachos, they really aren't like what we eat at home. Hamburguesas are often pork, the pizza has weird, globby cheese on top and the nachos have articifical toppings. And although I am not very picky, some things are downright strange like the "tostada" the boys ordered in a small village one day which was some sort of French toast with a face on it - an oily chorizo for the nose and peppercorns for the eyes. So we are eating lots of pasta (with red sauce or pesto), potatoes and sausages, cereal, hot chocolate and a new favorite: nutella. And of course, plenty of pork. Oink, oink.

Clark and Nat prep fresh pasta at home
One of the perks of living here, is of course, being able to travel to exotic locations that are so far away from the Pacific Northwest. And as our budget for living expenses is currently a bit less than at home, we are using the extra funds to do my favorite thing: travel. We've just made plans to visit Nat's old buddy (and high school friend) Alison who lives in Firenze, Italia with her husband and two boys. Their family is one of our early insprirations for making this adventure happen as they moved to Italy (from Seattle) some 6 or 7 years ago and after years of listening to the excuses why we couldn't do such a thing (not enough $$, don't speak the language, don't know anyone there, what would our friends think....) I finally got over myself and made it happen.

(NOTE TO READER: whatever your dream, you can make it happen too. I am lucky to have very inspirational friends who have done amazing things from starting their own businesses, to moving across the country, to building their dream home, to running for office to name just a few. No excuses. Start with affirmations or meditation, write it down, just take one small step in the right direction and see what happens. You might just be surprised (see my first blog post).  

We're also planning to head to Morocco with our Icelandic neighbors during our 2 week winter break, back in time for the Jan 6th arrival of the Three Kings, apparently a very big deal over here. The current thinking is meeting up with a guide in Tangier and travelling across country to Marrakesh where we will fly back to Spain. If nothing else, this will certainly be a wonderful adventure in the middle of our current adventure.

cumpleaños de Colin
As Colin's 9th birthday is Saturday, we have planned a small party including a "scavenger hunt" in our neighborhood, the Albayzin, and I plan to pair the spanish speaking kids with those in other languages. Then afterwards, we will have whatever families can make it over for American style pulled-pork sandwiches and fruit crisp with ice cream, a few of Colin's favorites. Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Alpujarras

Shepherds and their flocks still wander the area

Local hike in Capileira
The Alpujarras are an amazing mountain range in the Sierra Nevadas just a couple of hours from our home in Granada. We had heard about them before we arrived and finally got the chance to check them out on another extended weekend (Spanish holiday on Tuesday). Our landlords very nicely left us some recommendations of places to check out so with list in hand, we started driving to the northeast. (Check out the book "Driving Over Lemons" by Chris Stewart for some interesting local background on the area).

Our room at Alqueria Morayma
First stop was just outside of Cadiar at a lovely rural hotel called Alqueria Morayma, owned by some of our neighbors in the Albayzin and fellow parents at our school that we haven't yet met. It was a beautiful country inn with all the charm you could imagine including a lovely pool (closed for the season, although a mouse had had a nice final last swim), restaurant, walking trails and plenty of outdoor seating. We relaxed in our charming room with ceiling built of granite blocks and photographs from the 50's of folks enjoying the Sierras. We drove to the local town of Cadiar before dinner to buy the boys a snack (remember, dinner isn't until 9 or 10) and found the local pizza joint with teenagers hanging out front and discovered that just the week before they had replaced all the water with wine in all of the local fountains as part of an annual fiesta. Darn, one week late.

Nat among the barrels at Barranco Oscuro

Vinter corking bottles
 The next day we set out in search of Barranco Oscuro, a local winery that our landlords told us produced some of the best wines in Spain. Having no idea where to go, we got a simple hand-drawn map from someone at the hotel with a few clear turns drawn on the back of a receipt. Unfortunately they had us going derecho (right) instead of izquierda (left) but somehow we still managed to find this very remote location after a few wrong turns down empty rural roads. Once there, we still weren't sure we were in the right place as nobody was about, save for 3 lone perros (dogs). But we wandered around a bit more and came upon a man working in one of the buildings and after a bit of chatting (all in Spanish mind you), he directed us to an older gentleman working hard to replace wine caps with corks. This turned out to be the vintner himself, Manuel Valenzuela, who had us wait about 10 minutes while he finished his task and then proceeded to give us an hour of his time explaining the process of wine production, gave us a tour of the facility and then poured us tastings of many of his vintages (again, all in Spanish). We did a lot of head nodding and certainly didn't understand everything he said but with our familiarity with the wine production process it truly helped the context and we now understood that his wine was totally organic (no sulfites) and was very deliciouso! We left with a kiss on both cheeks and a few bottles to enjoy later, the cava which we watched get its label and then asked Manuel to sign. A very special morning indeed.

Outside the ham tour

Pigs curing in salt
The next stop was Trevelez, the highest pueblo (in altitude) in Spain, where we had an amazing lunch at the local restaurant Piedra Ventana, followed by a tour of the local ham company, very famous in these parts. Again, the tour was completely in Spanish but with a lot of pointing, gesticulating and nodding, we understood quite a bit (although I don't think the boys were too impressed).

Our room in Catifalarga
The view from our room in Capileira
Our home for the next night was in another rural hotel, Catifalarga in the hilltop town of Capileira, a most beautiful tourist village. In the morning we took an amazing kid-friendly hike just up the valley from our hotel in Capileira and after a delicious pizza lunch at a unique piano bar in the nearby village of Mecina, we walked from the small village of Ferreirola to another pueblo called Fondales. It was about a 30 minute hike among olive trees, natural streams and interesting rocks. Both were gorgeous and very unique to the area. All in all, a very romantic getaway, even with kids in tow. (Thank the lord for audiobooks and ipods).

A house in need of renovation in Ferreirola
Searching for gelato in the tiny village of Fondales