It’s My Class and I’ll Cry If I Want To

I didn’t just cry.  I bawled.  It ain’t easy.  Learning a new language is very difficult even when you are immersed in it.  Two days ago my Spanish teacher here in Granada pushed and pushed iCrying schoolgirln front of the class, asking me the same question over and over as if the answer was with me and I was just holding back from her.  She made me the center of attention, criticized a paragraph I wrote and told me (actually reprimanded me), “You need to think in Spanish. Not in English.” I started to melt down.  I panicked.  How can I think in Spanish if I’m not from here and I don’t completely understand the language?  At that moment, I didn’t know my name much less the difference between ser and estar and how to conjugate verbs into indefinido, perfecto, conditional, etc.  The whole reason I was in the class was to learn to think and speak Spanish.  Yet I was failing.  I felt like a little girl again.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was afraid to blink so I stared forward and tried not to move.  It was too late, I blinked and they went streaming down my face.  I was frustrated with myself, really annoyed with her, and it all came out in that moment.

Before moving to Granada I felt somewhat confident about learning Spanish. I had studied it for three years in high school with a very strict teacher who helped me to achieve a 92% on the New York Regents exam.  That was one of my proudest moments in high school.  My teacher had been really tough and pushed us throughout the year, prepping for the exam.  I also studied the language for two years at Villanova University as part of my liberal arts degree.   Now that we are spending the year in Spain I was excited to learn and to enjoy the process.  I think that’s why I got so frustrated – I was flailing or failing at something I actually LIKED and WANTED to do.  Something I chose to do.  I wanted to be a role model to my kids.  There have been days when they’ve come home from school frustrated, telling me they had cried.  I want them to learn resilience and now I’m the one having trouble adapting and feeling afraid to get back up.   I let my sons and daughter know I had a hard day and I could empathize with them.  I’m only studying two hours a day. They are at school for five.  They are studying math, science, social studies, Spanish and French.  I’m only taking Spanish.

It’s been awhile since I’ve learned something completely new and one of my life goals is to learn a new language to keep my mind sharp.  I’m starting to suffer from short term memory loss and at my age, I am very aware that things could head down hill fast if I don’t keep my mind going and continue to challenge myself intellectually.   But it’s not easy.

I was surprised at the visceral response.  My husband later confided that I looked so upset, he was afraid I might punch the teacher in the face.   I suppose in the past I had been studying as a means to an end.  In high school it was to get a good grade to get into college.  In college it was to fulfill a requirement.  But now, it’s something I want and something I need to do for myself.  And that’s where the frustration lies – not being able to do something I want to do.

The tables have turned and the kids have become my role models this week.  I have to get up and go to class – no excuses.  I have to find other ways to study and remember the information using the apps and resources available to me – Duolingo, flashcards, class materials, and watching TV in Spanish.  I will continue to talk to the local people and not be afraid to fail.  Setting smaller goals might help me too. “Becoming fluent in Spanish” might be setting the bar high for the next week or month. Perhaps trying on a new tense each day and practicing.

I salute anyone who has had the courage to learn a new language.  I have plenty of friends, many in LA who speak more than one language and I’m blown away by their ability to speak clearly and concisely and think in two (sometimes three) languages.  It takes confidence and the ability to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable.  Learning a new language requires patience and practice and resilience.  You’ve got to want it and to work for it.

I’m going to try my best to get back up and start again.  This teacher is not going to bring me down.  I’ve got this – but I can’t say I’m sad we are visiting London this weekend where I can regroup and feel confident again!




Granadas In Granada

Our carmen here in Granada, Spain has several fruit trees in our backyard including a granada tree (that’s a pomegranate in img_0264
Spanish).  We have over 50 ripe ones so today my eight year old and I decided to try a couple new recipes using the granadas as well as the ripe lemons.

We picked the fruit off the tree and opened them up to find beautiful, red seeds, that were sweet and delicious.  I sent my older son to the local, organic market with a list in Spanish – plain low fat yogurt and miel (honey in Spanish), we made a delicious dip for our Granny Smith apples.



We used the lemons by combining a teaspoon of olive oil with plain yogurt as well black pepper to make a great salad dressing.  We made a salad with arugula, tomatoes, chickpeas and pesto chicken and topped it off with my little man’s salad dressing. Yum! Dinner is served.

Playing Hooky with Hockney

Since we took our kids out of school in Granada and brought them to Madrid to see the Oklahoma City Thunder play Real Madrid last night we figured we needed to add some culture to our trip in order to justify the absences.  We stayed the night at the Novotel Madrid Center located around the corner from the Barclaycard Center.  It was perfect because we had three beds in each room that were really comfortable plus a rain shower.  In Europe a family of five has to get two rooms.  The Novotel was the most reasonably priced (133 Euros) and caters to business people and families.  There is a variety of restaurants available down the street for breakfast and we even found one that served eggs or huevos. That’s not always easy to find here.

We took the 20 minute walk through the city with the kids to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of Madrid’s acclaimed art museums.  We saw art by David Hockney, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dali and Paul Klee.  And that was just the first floor! (or floor 0 as they call it here).  We were excited to see a painting by Mark Rothko since I had the opportunity to teach a lesson about him as an art docent last year in California. We also caught a special exhibition of Gustavo Caillebotte.

Visting one floor of this museum is plenty when you’re rolling with a crew like mine (2 boys 11 and 8 and a 10 year old girl, oh, and a husband). They were actually pretty interested and I figured less is more in order to make an impact or lasting impression.  We used the headsets so we could move at our own pace, learn more information and find what inspired each of us.

I do recommend heading there if you get the chance to visit Madrid.  I’m in love with this city and all it has to offer!

Pronunciation Fail

Many of the words in Spanish and English sound similar but it’s important to be very clear, especially when you’re helping your ten year old to order her dinner.

My daughter wanted MACARONI:


Instead she got fried BOQUERONES – aka fried anchovies! She was not happy about it!

Close up of anchovies also known as boquerones.




A Blind Date With Granada – First Thoughts

We arrived in Granada a month ago with our family of five and just like a blind date, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had never been here myself and neither had my husband, I had only read it’s “profile” online, and been told by several people how wonderful and “magical” it was.   I knew it was a city with deep history, tapas and an area where people spoke only Spanish.  But with any new relationship, I was excited but wary about what may lie ahead.

We had been warned by several folks not to come to Granada in August because of the heat and due to the fact that most businesses are shut down. But, because I wanted time to get my family set up before school started, we arrived in mid-August. Well, surprise, surprise it’s freaking hot in August. Like really, really hot. It was up to 108 degrees (I recently learned that’s 42 Celcius)!  I now realize why the siesta may have been invented!

We were all pleasantly surprised with the house or “carmen” we rented.  It looked just like the pictures online and works well for our family. It’s fully furnished and much bigger than our house in L.A. – the kids were thrilled that each of them had their own room! The house has three floors (I’m getting used to climbing the stairs), a fantastic view of the historic Alhambra, and a pool. The downside is that it does not have air conditioning. It’s been so hot, that we’ve gone and stayed in two different Marriott’s on the coast since we’ve been here. During the week we’ve been in the pool every single day and made some friends who were ready to jump in with us. At night we each lay in front of a fan and had a lot of trouble sleeping. For weeks the only relief from the heat was the pool and taking siestas each day!

Suffice it to say it wasn’t love at first sight. It was difficult to see that “magical” quality of Granada, it was rather “mysterious” to me. Like, how the heck do you walk up the cobblestone streets with all of your groceries? Or where do you buy shampoo for dried out hair? Where can I get that big fat cup of coffee I need? Who sells meat besides jamon?   In the heat of summer most things were shut down and we worked really hard to find the things we needed.  Even if a store was technically “open”, you have to avoid siesta time – about 2-5 pm (give or take a few hours).  Most of the stores had been shut down for summer with steel doors and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s behind them!

We live in the Moorish quarter called the Albayzin that is steeped in history and small alleys that are too small to drive a car through and provide lots of mystery and intrigue to the neighborhood.  The kids love running up and down the alleyways and finding new nooks and crannies and ways to travel but there’s quite a bit of walking.

Summer in Granada seems to bring an eclectic crowd. The heat of Spain sent many locals to the beach and brought some interesting people into the area.  Summer in Granada reminds me a bit of Venice Beach, California with a lot of musicians, tarot card readers and hippies. Many of the hippies have dogs and aren’t really into picking up their caca – and that’s my biggest gripe right now.   I thought hippies liked to save the environment!  But there is also an intellectual crowd who are enthralled with the very rich history of this region. I’m interested myself but I have to wait until it cools down so I can appreciate the tours.

What I’ve enjoyed the most so far is our language school – Castila. It’s a family owned business and we learned so much from all of the teachers. Our whole family took classes for four hours in the morning. Each afternoon they had set up an excursion or event. We took a bus to the beach, went horseback riding, we had a paella party, and a tapas party. We met quite a few families and students who wanted to become bilingual as well, which provided us with an instant group of friends!

There have been bumps in the road and a few of us have had meltdowns and felt homesick from time to time but as we’ve moved into September we all see the potential of living here.  I see the pros and cons of this experience and there are pitfalls of living in any city.  On a positive note, the kids are able to walk to the local shops where the owners know their names, and they are becoming more independent and confident. It’s a walking city so I’m hopeful that I’ll strengthen my body as well as my mind with the language and history. I’m ready to open myself up and explore all the things Granada has to offer – to find the best restaurants, learn about the rich culture, and establish new friendships.  I’m taking it day by day and opening up to a relationship with this very intriguing city!