Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Rock of Gibraltar and Tarifa, one more time

Airstrip separating Gibraltar from Spain
Pillars of Hercules
We spent our last week in Spain visiting our favorite beach near Tarifa one more time as well as stopping off for an afternoon in the British-centric Rock of Gibraltar. We were fortunate to immediately find a tour that showed us the highlights of the place on an extremely muggy and hot day. These included St. Michael's cave as well as other boy-friendly attractions like tunnels, cannons and the ever present free-range monkeys (very friendly as long as you let them approach you). Our guide Paul gave us very interesting background info and history on the area and we ended the day eating fish and chips at Roy's Cod Place.  

Watching Spain vs. Portugal in the
Eurocup semi-finals
Clark monkeying around
The next few days were spent at the beach. Although it was almost windy enough to sail (lots of kiteboarders), Nat surprisingly wasn't tempted to get out on the water but we did build the requisate sand fort complete with 100 year wall and the boys spent loads of time in the pool, on the beach and in between the two. We watched the Euro-cup semi-final (Spain vs. Portugal) in the hotel bar along with 30 or so other rapid fans rooting for Spain (Spain won!).

Roman ruins of Bolonia
The next day we went to nearby Bolonia, which is an amazing place with Roman ruins next to a picturesque beach with white sand dunes along the southern coast of Spain. Gorgeous place, although the boys would have been happier staying at the pool.

The next few weeks will be filled with more travel before our return home to the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Although we're looking forward to the familiarity of home, it's certainly difficult to say goodbye to the life and friends we have made here.

Onward to Paris, the Alps and Amsterdam, and then Seattle....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Another tribute to Opa

O•PA  (MASC.) –S, –S




Cooking yet another paella

Oma and Colin the Younger
We just returned from a wonderful visit to Concord, MA to honor Nat's beloved father. Although the occasion was very sad, we had some wonderful cousin time, enjoyed their beautiful historic home and surrounds and spent time catching up with relatives and friends we don't get to see too often. As the Old North Bridge is right across the street, we also got in a litle bit of American history. 

Boys with Thoreau statue
at Walden Pond

Cousins: Schuyler (13), Colin (9),
Lava (11) & Clark (11)
We also got some down time to swim at Walden Pond, my sister-in-law and running buddy, Sarah and I, took some lovely runs thru the nearby countryside of Estabrook Woods and Great Meadows and the Brace siblings cooked up a storm (a new paella pan was even purchased at the local kitchen shop).  

Joyriding in Opa's tractor
Clark dumping grass clippings
in Oma's enormous compost pile
Uncle Stokley's famous pie
When you visit Oma, the first thing you do is "the Gulag" or chores she has set aside for your visit. The boys had great fun driving Opa's ride-on lawnmower and spent hours getting the yard spruced up.


Enjoy life! Make every moment count. Disfruta la vida! Hacer que cada momento cuente.
Opa knew how to make the best of his time on this planet. Whatever he was doing, he did it with his full attention and focus. Whether studying rocks, hiking in nature, building furniture, spending time with his grandchildren or enjoying a delicious meal, he savored every moment.

Take care of your body.
Cuida tu cuerpo.
It’s the only one you have and hopefully it will last you a long time. Opa had a lifelong enjoyment of physical exercise and kept his body in excellent physical shape. Besides exercising outdoors, he went to the gym regularly and worked out with a personal trainer. He enjoyed good food but knew how to balance it out with exercise and proper sleep.

Don’t judge others.
No juzgues a los demás. Acepta a los demás como son.
Accept people for who they are, not who you want them to be. Everyone has their own unique gifts and strengths and Opa always focused on the positive.

Enjoy nature.
Disfruta la naturaleza.
Opa enjoyed being outside in whatever capacity he could – whether walking, hiking, cycling, rowing, running or skiing.

Don’t worry about what other people think.
No te preocupes por lo que piensa la gente.Opa never wasted time worrying about what other people thought, he merely followed his own passions and pursuits.

Be open to new experiences.
Tienes que estar abierto a nuevas experiencias.

Opa didn’t start running until his 40’s and soon became a marathon and ultra-marathon runner. He started building furniture after he retired from MIT in his mid-60’s. He was always open to trying new things, be it food, wine or travel.

Take the time to slow down and smell the roses. Tómate tu tiempo para oler las rosas.
Opa always took the time to notice the plants, trees and flowers that surrounded him.

Give of yourself to others. Ayuda a
los demás.Opa assisted others by helping them train for a marathon, mentoring them at work or in his shop, and was always willing to offer a helping hand.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Winding down

Clean fish tank
Colin in the pool at friend's
abuelos (grandparents)
Well, our year in Spain is winding down as we only have a month left in our adopted country. After our week in Concord, we'll return for the last week of school and spend our final week in Spain relaxing, heading back to the beach, packing up the remainder of our things. Then it's on to northern Europe for few more adventures before heading back to the Pacific Northwest.

We'll fly to Paris on June 30th where we'll spend 4 nights before heading to Switzerland with some Seattle buddies to hike in the Alps near Zermatt for 5 days in "hut-to-hut" style which means hiking between mountain accomodations. Hopefully having friends along for the boys will motivate them to keep walking. Although we haven't done any formal training, as we have spent the entire year walking all around our hilly neighborhood I am hoping that we are in fine shape. After that, we'll take an overnight train to Amsterdam where Nat's brother Colin has lived for the past 25 years. I'm excited to spend some quality time in such a lovely city as we have a full week to get out and explore. We haven't been to these locations since I was pregnant with Clark and it will no doubt be a different experience with 2 energetic boys in tow.

Boys enjoyed the piscina (pool)
Hacienda de Hans
Fun in Pinos Genil
We enjoyed some lovely tapas and pool time this past weekend at the gorgeous hacienda of a friend who lives in nearby pueblo of Pinos Genil. He happens to be the grandfather of Colin's buddy Nelson who lives in Hood River and we met him last summer while we prepared to move to Spain. Turns out he lives in the same area that we were about to move to and also eerily coincidental, he works in Geology and knew Bill Brace (Nat's dad) thru work and reputation. A small world indeed.

Jardin de Nat
Overabundant cherry tree

Early crops
Nat now puts countless hours in to his blooming garden and the hard work is starting to payoff. We eat fresh lettuce nightly and have also sampled basil, chard and will soon have cauliflower and pumpkins. The enormous crop of potaoes might drive our landlord crazy later this year...

Buen amigos
Xavi and Colin
It's going to be very hard for the boys to say adios to their new best friends. Clark bonded from the beginning with Kylian, whose mother is French, Dad is German and who at age 11 already speaks 4 lanugage fluently. Their family reached out to us early on as new arrivals and have continued to be wonderful weekend companions ever since. And Colin gravitates towards our next door neighbor, Xavi, whose family is Spanish and who goes to the same bi-lingual school so is already fluent in English. They have spent countless hours playing video games, collecting InviZimals trading cards and sharing books.

Eurovision 2012
Another fun learning was the (some say tacky) annual Eurovision music contest which just took place in Baku, Azerbaijan a few weeks ago. Colin and I were captivated watching the semi-finals together and we both preferred Cyprus to the winner Sweden. And we even learned some geography along the way. Must admit, I had never even heard of San Moreno, which is a tiny country within Italy's borders.

In many ways, I have finally adopted to the Spanish lifestyle and culture - I have been known to leave the house at 11:15 (PM!) to go out for the evening, am more relaxed about not getting to places on time (Spaniards are not known for their punctuality) and can now easily drive in our crazy Albayzin neighborhood with no problem. But in other ways, I doubt I will ever adapt, no matter how much time we spend here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer has arrived

The gardens and foundains
at the Generalife

Ornate stonework
We have spent the last few weeks adjusting to life without Opa, enjoying the summer lifestyle Spain has to offer and spending time with our Granadian friends. Summer has arrived with a big change in the weather. Suddenly, it is very hot outside during the day and the air feels warm even in the evening. Lovely for being outdoors at night but a bit unbearable in the direct sunlight during the day. Shade is now a requirement.

Uncle Paul

My brother Paul and I
celebrating his 50th birthday

At the Plaza del Tores (bullring)
with his broken leg
My brother Paul turned 50 this month so planned a few special vacations in commemoration. As he enjoys motorcycle riding, he planned to visit us in Granada after a week long motorcycle tour out of Madrid. But 3 days before he was supposed to fly to Spain he broke his fibula (bone in his lower leg) during an accident on his motorcyle in Mexico. 

Uncle Paul and los chicos

Paul on top of the Alcazaba
Fortunately he was able to cancel the upcoming tour and delay his flight by a few days so instead came direcly to Granada, walking boot and all. Although not an easy place to get around what with all the cobblestone streets, stairs and hilly climbs, he hobbled his way around just fine. And his unhurried pace forced me to slow down and take the time to look around, walk at a very leisurely pace and stop and smell the roses so to speak, so was a good exercise in going with the flow. We enjoyed a relaxed day at the Alhambra where I got to explore the Generalife (hen-er-al-leaf-eh) for the first time and really appreciate the beautiful gardens and fountains there. And we had some amazing lunches out and probably the best food I've had all year. Not sure if it is just good luck or I am appreciating things more.

Book club

Book club friends
Fun with straw making kit sent
by Aunt Kate
I hosted my American book club the other night and 7 friends and I enjoyed an amazing potluck feast in our home and garden. It's the first time we've eaten outside but the change in the weather made it rather pleasant. No bugs either.

Olafur, Nat and Tom
Refugio Poqueira
Nat, our Icelandic neighbor Olafur, and a Canadian friend of his just spent 2 days hiking up and over Mulhacen, the highest point in Spain which is right near Granada in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. Although the trip was only overnight, it required some serious planning and acquiring the appropriate gear as it is always best to be prepared in the great outdoors, wherever it be. They took the bus to the jamon (ham) famous pueblo of Trevelez in the Alpujarras and after lunch climbed 1000 meters up to Refugio Poqueira where they spent the night before the summit the next day.

Taking a break
Summit at 3483 meters
Up and out by 9am, they climbed an additional 1,000 meters to the summit (3,483 meters) around noon time. They enjoyed the views for a spell and even greeted some juvenile mountain goats who were also "sumitting." Then they started the trek down; the plan being to traverse a valley beneath neighboring Pico de Veleta and meet up at the ski area some time that afternoon. When Anna and I didn't hear from them by 8 or 9 at night, we started to get a little worried and called the Refugio for a weather report but heard that the weather was fine and that cell phones didn't work that high up on the mountain. Finally, at 9:30pm I got a call from Nat as they had fortunately just gotten cell access.

Nieves (snow)
Mountain goat
Although they knew exactly where they were the whole time, there had been a slight problem with the maps. Since they never found the correct trail from the botom of the valley across to the ski area, they needed to walk out the length of the valley. Now they needed a pick-up from a trailhead in a completely different area which required many more hours of walking for them. Fortunately I had a pretty good idea how to get there having been there a few times before (mind you, the drive is about an hour away and along a very, very steep incline with sheer cliff drop-offs on one side so thankfully it was pitch dark). I arrived at said empty parking lot out in the middle of nowhere at 11:15pm and within 5 minutes I saw the lights of a headlamp exiting out of the woods and towards the car. There was Nat and his two companions, thirsty and tired, and looking a bit ragged, but completely safe and sound.

Memorial Service for Opa
The entire family is heading to Concord, MA to attend Opa's Memorial service on June 12th. We'll head back a few days early to get over the jet lag and help out Oma where necessary. Although it will be a sad affair, reunions with family and friends will be much welcome.