What I Miss Most About America While Living in Spain.

I took some time off from blogging about our adventures in Europe. Many of my friends seemed pretty distraught during the election process and my blog was probably not a welcomed distraction.  I was preparing to take in some unhappy Americans who had threatened to leave the country (so far, no visitors!) Hopefully this Thanksgiving weekend will bring families together in the U.S. and not tear them apart. I do suggest minimizing political commentary unless you want a serious food fight, pumpkin pie and all!

This year my own family will be in Palm Desert and I’m a bit homesick.  Here in Spain, it’s a normal school day for us on Thanksgiving but we have a nice group of new friends and we are planning a special dinner at a local restaurant (including turkey and pumpkin pie) for the American ex-pats.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here but the stores do announce BLACK FRIDAY specials which made me laugh.

To get into the holiday groove, I have put together the American things I am extremely thankful for (and miss dearly) while we are away. Agree or disagree or agree to disagree but I contend that these things help make American great.

1.) A BIG, FAT, JUICY CHEESEBURGER:

There is nothing like an American burger. Throw on some bacon, mushrooms and cheese and I’m in heaven. The burgers here just aren’t the same and I can’t seem to figure out what kind of meat I’m supposed to buy.  I’ve asked in the stores but I’m not that sophisticated with my Spanish and the folks in the stores don’t seem to know themselves. I’ve tried several kinds of ground meat and the kids won’t eat them.  If anyone knows where I can find amazing ground beef in Southern Spain, do tell.  When I get home to California I’m heading straight to In ‘n’ Out!  What’s your favorite American burger spot?

2.) STARBUCKS:

I miss the fact that I can find a Starbucks at pretty much any town in America, especially in the fall or winter with their cute cups – YES, even The Red One and even when they get your name wrong.  Starbucks in the one spot that embraces the idea of the THIRD SPACE and I don’t think we find that so much anymore in America. This concept was written about by sociologist, Ray Oldenberg, in his book,  Celebrating the Third Space  and is explained as:

 “…Oldenburg identifies “third places” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

My favorite thing about Starbucks is the inspiration I draw from the people inside: There are always a few students studying together, a single woman working on a new business plan or some guy writing the next great American novel or screenplay.   The friendly barristas are usually working on a few creative side projects themselves. Whether you’re a fan of the coffee or not, it gives people a sense of community with their board of activities and book exchanges.

3.) BARNES AND NOBLE:

I miss this place for a few reasons, 1.) It’s hard to find books in English here and 2.) Just like Starbucks, it offers a rare third place, where people can browse, see a published author speak and find something in common. I miss visiting there with the kids, they always get super excited about buying a carefully chosen book with a gift certificate they got for their birthday. There are plenty of bookstores here in Spain but haven’t found one with chairs where I could sit down and enjoy them for a moment.

4.)TARGET:

I miss the idea of one-stop shopping at Target. Here in Spain,  I go to seven different stores to get the things I need for the week…on foot. I miss grabbing my coffee (Starbucks) and slowly going down each aisle where I can get school supplies, a bath mat, a sweater, dinner and a birthday present at the same time.

5.) TRADER JOES:

I love seeing what’s in the “Fearless Flyer” each week that would tell me about the new exotic items. At TJ’s I could get the makings of an Italian, Indian and Thai meal for the week and pair them all with a great bottle of wine. Plus, the kids are always willing to try something new that they are cooking up.  For the most part I know I’m making healthy choices for the kids too!

6.) AMERICAN MOVIE THEATERS:

It would be nice to be able to see a first run movie – in English. There is a theatre that has an English screening (with Spanish subtitles) one time a week but it’s about 20 minutes away by cab. Although we are fans of the Spanish self-service popcorn stand here (we might have to import that idea!).

7.) EATING DINNER OUT BEFORE  8:30 P.M.:

Here in Spain, I’m a prime candidate for the “early bird special”.  Even a casual dinner isn’t really possible until 8 pm and that’s too late for this lady. We can get coffee or some tapas but dinner isn’t served until I’m well into my PJ’s Monday through Friday.

8.) RESTAURANT RATINGS:

In LA and NY (and I’m sure other American cities) I appreciate seeing the health code rating clearly in the window. It gives potential customers an idea of its cleanliness. So you know it’s totally safe to head in to your local “dive bar”. Without that information I feel like I’m working without a net. There are tons of restaurant options here but it would be great to weed out the ones that aren’t as clean. It would make choosing one much easier!

9.) BLACK BEANS:

Totally random I know but it’s one of the few sources of protein my family will agree on. The kids love bean burritos but only like the black beans.  Even the Mexican section (a very small section) of the grocery stores don’t have black beans.  They have a million different types of beans that are awesome but of course, I can’t find the one I want.

10.) NAIL SALONS:

I miss the stiff competition of nail salons in many cities in the U.S. where I can pretty much find a salon on every other corner (at least in Los Angeles!).  The competition in America keeps prices low and having so many salons allows me to pop in when I have time.  Here in Granada, an appointment is a must.  My friend and I walked around with our daughters all over town for a couple hours looking for a place on a Saturday – no dice!  Most places offer just manicures and the places I’ve seen for pedicures don’t have the big massage chairs that I love and the foot massage leaves something to be desired.

Tonight is said to be the biggest bar night of the year in the United States, so go out, grab a drink with your favorite people and keep it classy America!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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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.

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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!



Real Madrid vs. OKC Thunder

We had the opportunity to see my eight year old’s favorite NBA team, The Oklahoma City Thunder play Real Madrid at the Barclaycard Center in Madrid.  It was an awesome match up and ended up being a very exciting game!

We came armed with a big, homemade poster to cheer for Russell Westbrook.  The kids ended up on the big screen at the arena and even got Westbrook to smile and wave at them. It was a big thrill for all of us! 

The game was a sell-out crowd. We had American hot dogs. (Oscar Meyer weiners).  They didn’t serve alcohol but they have non-alcoholic beer on tap. The stadium was nice and clean (except for the fact that there was NO SOAP or even soap dispensers in the restrooms).

Madrid scored a last minute shot to take the game into overtime.  OKC lost the game 142-137 it was a great match up and we had a lot of fun! Here are some highlights…

The Osborne Bulls in Spain

As we road trip from Granada to Madrid we’ve noticed the silhouettes of several big, black bulls along the roadside.  I did a little research and discovered they were originally billboards created in 1956 for a brand of sherry, Veterano, by The Osborne Group. These bulls were designed by artist Manolo Prieto and  have since been ruled by the courts as a symbol of Spain.  They now exist on the roadsides but no longer have (or need) the brand name on them.

There are 90 bulls throughout the country. Check out the map and history here!

Street Art in Spain

Spain is full of graffiti, or street art.  Granada seems to be covered in it and I’m trying to decide whether it distracts from the beauty or gives the city an edge and character.

Do you love it or hate it? I can’t decide. It depends on which corner I turn.  Most of it I despise, particularly when it’s just tagging on an ancient church.  It just reeks of disrespect. Apparently there is a hefty fine of 3000 Euros but I haven’t seen that as a deterrent here.

But I can tell you there are some amazing murals found on the walls throughout the city and it would be great to see these artists talents put to better use or at least have their art positioned or commissioned where it would be appreciated.  In some places the government is actually commissioning some of these artists to spray paint on walls throughout Europe.

In 2014 Madrid ran a “contest” for street artists. Really, it was just a ploy to identify the artists work so they could arrest them in the future.  Pretty smooth!

The Oasis hostel actually offers a free tour of the street art in the city.

Do you love it or hate it?  Where have you seen the best street art?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll be on the lookout for the most interesting, creative street art.  Stay tuned.

Some samples around town:

 

3 Days in Madrid with the Kids

Last month we visited Madrid as a family and I’ve been meaning to blog about it for some time.  We really loved Madrid. The architecture, the bustling city, the history, art and food were all amazing.  We stayed at an Airbnb (See my previous blogpost) which was centrally located next to Plaza de España.

Day 1
We started off our trip on City Tour Madrid which is a double decker version of the Hop On-Hop Off Bus. That way we could all listen to the tour in English and relax while we got an overview of the city.  The first stop we got off was The National Museum of Natural Science which my kids really enjoyed.  It was relatively small and easy to navigate for about an hour or two – dinosaur bones and artifacts from every era.

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We stopped off for sangria and paella in Plaza Mayor which was built in the early 1600’s. There are plenty of choices for food, and the kids loved seeing the performers and running around the cobblestone area.

Our second stop was the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium where Real Madrid, the soccer (or fútbol) team plays.  Honestly, I wasn’t that excited about seeing a stadium, but I ended up being really impressed!   Madrid is very proud of their team and the extensive tour included the trophy room, videos of the most famous plays, the field, the players seats, even the locker room.  My kids (ages 11, 10 and 8) were pretty fired up, especially my daughter who is passionate about the sport.

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Day 2 

Since we had been traveling so much my back and muscles were aching from planes and trains so I booked a massage.  I was hoping to find a spa that would give me the Spanish experience but after plenty of online research I found Kenika Thai Massage.  It is located across from the soccer stadium in an office-type building. The staff was so warm and friendly and offered tea.  The massage was just what I needed – plenty of pressure and my masseuse worked out the kinks.

That was until I jumped on a Segway!  I think that was my favorite thing I had done since being in Europe. My youngest son is a huge fan of the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop and he’s always wanted to try one.  The kids were actually awesome on them!  The tour guide took us through the city and into Parque del Buen Retiro known as El Retiro Park.  It was so beautiful with a lake and rowboats, roses and even peacocks.  We learned so much about the history of the city. The park is so big and it was really hot so for us the Segways were perfect.  We cracked up as we whizzed past people and the kids kept high-fiving pedestrians as we passed them.  We stopped a the Mercado San Miguel where you can try so many different Spanish foods or grab a quick beverage.

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That evening we hit a Flamenco Show  at Essential Flamenco which was in a very small, img_7826cozy, cave-like environment where we sit very close to the perfomers and feel the drumbeats and really experience the dance.  There are so many choices in Madrid but we chose a show that was on the earlier side since we have the kids.  Plus we got free sangria! My kids all had the opportunity to learn the Flamenco in 2nd grade at their elementary school in Los Angeles.  I was so glad they could appreciate it!

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We ended the night with Churros y Chocolate – one of Spain’s most famous dishes and I think their best.  What a concept. Love them both!  We ate and watched the street perfomers. Madrid is such a fun, lively city!

Day 3:

We took a tour of the Royal Palace with headsets in English.  The kids seemed to be totallyimg_0178
interested in this grandiose attraction and were curious about the way the royal family once lived.  They had really never seen anything like it and neither had I!

It was really hot in Madrid so we grabbed a late lunch and walked Gran Via, a main drag in the city.  Afterwards we all enjoyed the air conditioning, Wifi, and pool at our apartment building.  I relaxed while my husband took the kids to the movies see The Secret Life of Pets, or Mascotas in Spain!  He thought it would be in Spanish but it ended up being in English with Spanish subtitles.  It was still a cool, new experience.

The next morning my husband headed out to rent a car for our trip to Granada but there was not an automatic car that was big enough for us!  So he took my oldest son and I bought trains ticket for myself and our other two kids.  We were sad to say goodbye to Madrid…but guess what? We are heading back this week! Stay tuned!

A Fun Scene From Paul Blart. You’re Welcome!

 

Mascotas!