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!



London’s Calling-Films to Watch

This coming weekend we are heading to London. My husband and kids have never been so I’m very excited to take on the city with all of them.  In preparation we are trying to consume some films that take place in London.  I’m compiled my list of my 17 favorites (in no particular order).  There will, in fact, be Hugh Grant flicks and memorable musicals on the list.  What are your faves?

1. Love, Actually, 2003, Richard Curtis.  I watch every Christmas and I cry every time.

2. Oliver!  1968, Carol Reed . I always had a crush on that Artful Dodger. “Please Sir, I want some more…”

3.  Mary Poppins, 1964, Robert Stevenson

4. Harry Potter (All eight of them!) 2001-2011

5.  Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001, Sharon Maguire

6.  Sliding Doors, 1998, Peter Howitt

7. Shakespeare In Love, 1998, John Madden

8. The Elephant Man, 1980, David Lynch

9.  The King’s Speech, 2010, Tom Hooper

10.  Bend It Like Beckham, 2002, Gurinder Chadha

11.  Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994, Mike Newell

12.  Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1999, Jay Roach

13.  Peter Pan, 1953, Geronimi, Jackson, Luske, Kinney

14. 101 Dalmatians, 1996, Stephen Herek

15.  Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971, Robert Stevenson

16.  Notting Hill 1999, Roger Michell

17.  Secrets & Lies, 1996, Mike Leigh

My kids and I just watched the animated film  Flushed Away because we heard it took place in London but we were a bit disappointed because the only time you saw the city itself was the very first scene.

I recently finished reading The Girl on the Train so I’m very excited to see that film.

Here are a few great lists of movies that take place in London.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorites!

10 of the Best Films Set in London – The Guardian

10 Must-See Kids Films That Take Place In London – Fandango

The Top 11 London Based Movies – from Londontopia

12 Favorite London-set movies – from Indiewire

The 50 Best London Films – from games

Romantic Movies From the Heart of London – The Culture Trip



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!

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.


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.


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.


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!


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!




The Point

I’m reposting this because really, this is the whole point of this crazy trip.  This is the reason we rented out our house, sold our cars, and embarked on this insane journey. Life is so short.  Not all of us are happy with our decision every single day.  Sometimes our kids hate us.  But I do hope that one day, it will mean something to each of us as individuals.  We’ve all been challenged already in so many ways and that has brought us closer.  My hope is that my kids stay close.  That we will all have stories to tell, and to laugh about, for many, many years. I want to see the world and show my kids the world and that can be a really scary thing.  It’s much more fun having those you love by your side.


Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias

This weekend we visited Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias which was entertaining and inspiring for all of us.  One of my sons deemed it “one of the coolest places I’ve ever been”. And he’s been some pretty cool places.

The kids were thrilled that it is an “interactive museum” where they are able to touch and experience the science.  We started out in a room set up specifically for kids and I laughed as the kids fought over the “ancient” rotary telephone (the kids didn’t know what to do once they put their finger in the hole), and a classic typewriter (not unlike the one I had to use in college).  For you young one’s I included YouTube videos on how to use the items in the links above.  It was a trip that my kids never had the opportunity to touch any of these items.  Hence, they are now in a museum.  I am old.

We stopped by the planetarium and watched a film, Escher’s Universe, about the artist, MC Escher who was able to combine his artistry with science.  Escher visited Granada’s Alhambra (the historic Moorish Castle) in 1922, and from this experience he became fascinated with the Arab art and the repetition and multiplication of geometric patterns.  This led to his intense study of Regular Plane Division for which he is famous.  Even though the film was in Spanish we gained some information and the kids now can recognize his works.

Here’s a great explanation on the influence of the Alhambra on MC Escher:

Our favorite part of the museum was the Biodomo which includes over 250 types ofimg_1990 animals and has three areas, the Amazon, Madagascar and Indo-Pacific.  We saw sharks, Toucans and ring-tailed lemur’s that would hang from the trees and once in a while jump onto someone’s head.  The biodomo also included sloths, one which scooted across the ceiling over us, stopping every once in awhile to scratch his private parts.  Most of the animals we had never seen up close before!

There were so many different things to see including a temporary exhibition, SOS: The Science of Prevention, which included ways to deal with natural and manmade disasters.

There were so many things to see and do here that we left a lot to do for next time.  I highly encourage folks to visit if they are in Granada!


Date night – thanks Anthony Bourdain!

We’ve been traveling through Europe with our three kids since August 1st and my husband and I haven’t had a chance to reconnect and be alone. Alas, the time has come! We booked a babysitter for tonight and are using this clip from Anthony Bourdoin‘s show as a guide to tapas on Granada.  The cinematographer, Zach Zamboni and his wife live here part-time and in this clip they show Anthony a good time. We’ll use this as a guide and see where the night takes us. We’ll be able to be a bit more adventurous with our food tonight since we aren’t with the kids and we can partake in the culture of tapas!

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.




Madrid – Airbnb First Timers

We rented an Airbnb for the very first in Madrid, Spain.  Having never been to Madrid we did our reconnaissance by using Rick Steve’s book and episodeDK Eyewitness Travel  (I love the colored pages in this one) and a bunch of travel sites.  Airbnb was very user-friendly and intuitive. My husband and I were able to share our ideas on where to stay and map things out.  Ultimately we made a choice that would hopefully please the five us ranging from ages eight to mid-40’s and we agreed we needed air-conditioning, WiFi, a pool, and a central location.   We made a final choice back in LA and plans were launched.

Our host  was very friendly and reached out via email several times prior to out stay to see if we had questions or needed anything. He was on holiday or vacation himself in the U.S. during our Madrid stay but was available at any time to answer our questions.  He even sent a driver to get us and all of our luggage -his treat!  That made life so much easier for us with twelve suitcases.  Our driver picked us up in the same Mercedes van – the Vito, the one we had in Italy.  It comfortably fit all five us plus our luggage.

View of Madrid from our Airbnb

When we pulled up we were a bit surprised to see the front of the building was completely under construction.  We had to use the side door which was a bit frustrating.  But once we had gone up the elevator to the 22nd floor apartment we were quite pleased to find an incredible view of Madrid, air conditioning (my favorite thing ever), WiFi, a very clean and well decorated apartment with bright, bold colors.  Our host left us clear directions on WiFi and pool and gym use as well as a jar of gourmet marshmallows.

We were adjacent to Plaza de Espana off of Gran Via and able to walk practically everywhere we wanted to go. The apartment had two bedrooms – one with a full size bed, the other with a pull out couch and the living room couch was a large sectional that pulled out.   The building also had a gym which my husband and I both used and a pool on the 15th floor where the kids cooled off.

I sent our host pictures of the lobby and it turns out he was unaware and very apologetic and offered to compensate us for the distraction.  We didn’t make issue with it since everything else was so fantastic.  The location was so ideal, we could easily get to the places we wanted to explore by walking, metro or cab.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in regard to basic necessities in the apartment. We had most items available but could have used trash bags and extra paper towels. We went out and picked them up but I do recommend the hosts keep these things stocked so visitors don’t have to worry about them.  I’m not sure what is typical, I’m interested in hearing about others’ experiences.

Overall, I was very pleased with our Airbnb experience and felt like we got what we had signed on for.  It can be scary pulling the trigger for a four night stay in another country when you’ve never seen a place and you’re relying on the reviews of strangers.  Plus, when trying to please a large group it can be close to impossible to make everyone happy.  We took a leap of faith and were pleasantly surprised and all highly satisfied with our experience!

Agriturismo in Tuscany

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