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.

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:

 

Big Mistake. Huge.

So I just had a Pretty Woman moment.

You know, the one when Julia Roberts finally has some cash and time to shop.  She tries to buy a bunch of clothes only to be shoo’d away by the judgemental saleswoman. That happened to me, not in Beverly Hills but in Mango in Granada. I’m taking a trip and need a few dresses and that’s not an easy task when you are up against shops closing for siesta and between feeding and taking care of three kids.

I went into the dressing room with 15 items in my hand. It’s necessary for me to try on a bunch of styles in different sizes. – especially since I’m now operating with European sizes. The girl in the dressing room scoffed at me (I’m pretty sure that’s the international sign for “you’re annoying”) when she saw how much I had, then pointed to a sign that indicated I could only bring five items into the dressing room.  That was fine with me and I kindly asked in Spanish where I could put my remaining items. I put them on a rack she was organizing and every time I put something on the rack she aggressively shoved items up against mine. It seemed like there was a problem. Finally I formed the words I needed in Spanish and asked “Que es la problema?” She kept scoffing then finally said “No es normal”. I guess it wasn’t normal that I would try on so many items but it’s not normal I get time to myself to shop either. I countered “Yo. quiero. Comprar. mucha. ropa.” (I want to buy a lot of clothes). She didn’t care. Still there was attitude and she was rolling her eyes (another international sign of annoyance). Soon I found myself yelling in Spanish “No hay problema! Que Es la problema?” She yelled “No es normal.” Finally I threw down my stuff and said ” Yo voy a El Corte Ingles!” ( I am going to El Corte Ingles – It’s like Spain’s Macys’s).  Soon she was apologizing, but man I was bitter but pretty proud that I could actually argue in Spanish. Maybe it’s not normal but it’s not normal not to want me to buy clothes and it’s more efficient if I bring them in first. Chances are I’m not getting dressed and going back out there.

I’m heading to El Corte Ingles now. Maybe I’ll cruise by Mango later with my bags, shrug, and say,  “Big Mistake. Huge.”

I’ve always wanted to do that!

Check it out on You Tube:

And the longer version!

Tapas in Granada, Spain

This is a great look into the Tapas Life! Thanks Jill at Jillsurbanfoodcrawls.com!

Jill's Urban Food Crawls

Sierra-nevada-granadaGranada sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Andalusian region of Southern Spain. Visgoths, Romans, Moors and Christians have left their marks on the city that is now Granada. The Moors surrendered Granada to Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, completing the Reconquista and ending 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain.

Despite all of its rich history, the city has a youthful energy thanks to the University of Granada, which has 80,000 students on five campuses around the city. Granada is filled with young people lounging in the parks and sitting outside at cafes.

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Eating out is a favorite past time in Andalusia, and Granada is one of the few Spanish cities where you still get free tapas with drinks. This tradition of always having a bite of food with alcohol goes back centuries. In fact, it is rare to see Spaniards drinking without…

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The Baths

img_8813I finally got the chance to hit the Arab baths or Hammam here in Granada…hot water, really cold water, steam room, showers…serious relaxation. It was also an amazing cultural experience.  The Hammam Al Andalus Granada is housed in a building thats history dates
back to the 13th century where original Arab baths were to have existed.  In the 1500’s the Moors were banned from wearing traditional clothes, speaking their language or enjoying their baths which was a part of their social lives. The baths had been turned into bakeries. In the 1990’s the baths were uncovered and recreated.  These are the first Arab baths that have reopened since the 16th century!

It was a truly unique experience.  My husband and I entered and were given coverings for our shoes and a place to relax with tea.  An attendant came and showed us to our respective locker rooms, we put on our bathing suits.  We were shown around the baths which were surrounded by incredible tiles, unique doorways, relaxing lighting and soft music.  We each received a 30 minute massage that included hot water being poured on top of us as well as soapy water and a serious scrub down.  It was like going through an elegant car wash.  The mood was set for a truly authentic experience.  The flowy fabrics, the gentle waters and unique ambiance brought us back in time.

I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in town and I plan to go back!

School Days In Spain

Our kids are starting their third week of school here in Spain and it’s been pretty successful so far.  The students have all been very welcoming to my kids, except for one third grader who keeps “necking” my son (that’s when someone smacks you hard in the back of the neck).  My son just laughs each day because that kid is really small compared to him.  We’ve only had a few teary days of feeling overwhelmed and the kids seem to have great teachers and classmates who help them out.  The parents have also been very friendly and supportive and some of them who are bilingual have reached out and offered to help me if I ever have questions.

There are some real differences in our school here compared to Los Angeles.  First, the img_8496class size is much smaller.  There are only about 17 kids in a class which helps when my kids are trying to learn the language. In LA we had almost 30 in a class.

Here in Granada, the teachers are called by their first names.  This seems to work well here and doesn’t seem to be disrespectful at all.  Coming from a military family in the U.S. it is much different than the way I grew up.  Even my parent’s very best friends were Captain “this” or Colonel “that”.  We would never dream of using their first names. It would be considered disrespectful.  In Los Angeles it varies and many kids call adults by their first names.  I generally don’t allow my kids to do it unless they’ve known the adult for years or they have been invited to use their first name.  Sometimes we may put Miss, Mister or Coach in front of an adult’s first name which seems to work as well.

The students here seem to absolutely adore their teachers and aren’t afraid to hug and kiss them.  On the first day of school I was surprised to see one of the male teachers with boys and girls literally hanging all over him and hugging him.  It was really sweet and that would never fly in the U.S.  Sadly we’ve become such a litigious society that it would be frowned upon and teachers would be at risk of getting in trouble.

The school hours here in Spain are much more my style – a start time of 9 am to 2 pm. The  kids have a snack at school but then go home at 2 pm for lunch.  Other kids stay at school past 2 p.m. and take part in the comedor, where they have a four course meal served to them.  My kids didn’t get a seat in it (we are on the waiting list) but I’m hoping they get to go at some point this year.  The kids aren’t so sure because we’ve heard the food is very eclectic and you are made to finish each course before proceeding to the next.  My kiddos are plain eaters so I’m not sure if they’d be too excited.

The curriculum here in Granada includes Spanish, English and French.  They have the option to learn religion but don’t have to do that.  I do think it’s nice that there’s an option.  In the states religion would not be included in a public school.  Rather, that type of education would be an after school activity (unrelated to school) and most kids seem to abandon it after their sports or dance schedules get too hectic.  I’m glad they have an option to keep that in the school here.

One major difference is that the restrooms are devoid of toilet paper and soap.  Yes, there is not toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms at school.  I know,  I was pretty horrified too and went out and bought both right away for each backpack.  I learned that you can get toilet paper by asking the teacher, which would seem pretty awkward in the states.  Here, it’s normal.  Apparently the kids waste it and it’s more ecological to ration it out.  In regard to the soap, I’m not very excited about that.  The list of materials we were supposed to send our kids with included wipes.  I like good, old fashioned, bubbly soap.  I’ve been vigilant about my children’s cleanliness and have armed them with the necessary items.  The issue of toilet paper and soap is not just at our school. I’ve been to the schools in the surrounding areas for sports and it seems to be the case in each of them.

BUT…my kids are thrilled that the fifth and sixth graders have the opportunity to go on an excursion.  The fifth graders will head to the Sierra Nevada Mountains here in Spain for a ski trip for a week.  The funny thing is, they aren’t sure when.  Maybe March, maybe April, they haven’t decided.  That’s much different than how we would do things in LA.  The trip would be scheduled very far in advance and parents would have plenty of questions.  Here, we are just waiting until it snows.  The sixth graders will apparently go to a camp in the mountains for a week in the spring.  I’m looking forward to learning more about it and would love to chaperone!

I was happy to see that so many parents are actively involved in the school and in their child’s education.  I’m so thankful for the warm teachers and administrators who have welcomed my children into the school and have accommodated their needs. I’m looking forward to the year and watching our kids grow!