El Noveno Mes

IMG_4394Spring has definitely sprung in Granada this month.  When we arrived in the middle of summer there was some green about, and the fall was beautiful with its changing leaves, but we had no idea what a kaleidoscope of colors awaited us come March.  After a truly cold and pretty brown winter, la primavera has been not only welcomed, but savored.

The beginning of this past month started quietly.  Jason and I both decided to study for an official intermediate Spanish certificate and we applied ourselves to a regimen of classes, intercambios and reading and writing in Spanish.  I also decided to update my resume in the hopes that a Language Arts teaching position will become available for the fall.  Putting a resume and cover letter together after all this time was pretty time consuming and I appreciate the advice I received from my family and friends.  Now we just need to work on Jason’s!  One of the things that I did mention in my resume was how I am volunteering in the English class  at Colegio Gomez Moreno.  I was able to get the English teacher here in touch with the librarian and Spanish teacher back at St. Alphonsus Parish School in Seattle, and they coordinated a “pen pal” exchange.  It was so fun to be in the classroom when my kids received their letters from Seattle!  Thanks again to Jennie, Krissy and Maria!

Mid-way through this ninth month Jason’s brother and sister-in-law came to visit and we had the best time!  Eric and Mary could not have picked a better time to come, with the weather and the foliage what it was.  We took them on a couple walking “tours” of Granada, including a tapas night, and they visited the Alhambra.  Over the weekend with the kids in tow we went go-kart racing and to lunch at a really unique farm-to-table restaurant out in the vega.  In fact, I think we had some of our best meals in Granada so far with them!  Hiking in the Lecrin Valley and exploring small pueblos eventually concluded with a trip to a beach house on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean.  From there we spent an afternoon in Rhonda and a night in Sevilla.  We had such a great time with them and are so thankful they came to visit!

After leaving Eric and Mary in Sevilla, the five of us traveled to Lagos, Portugal on the Algarve Coast.  Well, I though Spain was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen, but Portugal is not far behind (and may be a little ahead in my book…shhhh!).  We spent four days in a quinta or farmhouse in a fruit orchard and had so much fun playing in the (freezing) pool, on the beach (once we waded across the river to get to it) and visiting the “end of the world,” the Western-most point of continental Europe.  Halfway through our visit, friends from Granada who are originally from Australia joined us.  Little did we know they would convert one of our children into a lover of Vegemite and teach Matthew the nuances of cricket.  Just like Gabi’s emerging love of sushi, it’s so funny that we had to travel to Spain to experience and appreciate Australian culture!

The week that began with us in Portugal was Spain’s Semana Santa, which is the week leading up to Easter.  Please, please click on this link to read all about the spectacle.  It’s so hard to describe briefly, but what I will tell you is that during the week leading up to Easter different brotherhoods from various churches around the city parade their floats or pasos of Jesus at different stages of his Passion, and ones of his mother Mary, through the city at all hours of the day and night.  We were back in Granada in time to see several processions and they were an unbelievable sight. Between the pasos, the penitents in their capirotes, and the official mourners in their lace mantillas, it really is unlike anything else in the world. I have a friend here who, after seeing numerous processions, says she kind of wishes she was Catholic!

And then the month, which had started off so quietly, ended with a bang, or I should probably say, a crack.  On the Saturday before Easter Jason decided to go for a bike ride in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside of Granada.  It was on a trail he’d ridden a few times before, but when he was about 3 miles from the nearest road, and out of cell-service range, his bike slipped, and in trying to keep himself from going off the edge, he ended up falling and fracturing his fibula and basically dislocating his ankle.  It wasn’t too long before a runner and another mountain biker came by and were able to call for help, but because of the remote location, it took about four hours from the time he fell, to being carried on a stretcher down the hill by six firemen, to finally arriving at the hospital.  He stayed there briefly, but we ended up taxiing to a different hospital where they determined that the extent of his injuries would require surgery.  He had the operation on Monday afternoon and now has two metal plates and several screws holding his ankle bones in place and some wire sutures repairing his ligaments, all wrapped up in a nice big cast. He is to be completely off his foot for about six weeks, so he will be focusing on increasing his upper body strength maneuvering around our hilly, cobblestone streets on crutches. On the upside, for Jason anyway, he now has a lot more time to work on his Spanish, while I, unfortunately, will have less.

Por supuesto, we will have to adjust a few of our travel plans over the next 10 weeks in Spain.  Overall though, we are just thankful that Jason’s injuries were not worse, and we are hopeful that by the time we are ready to leave Granada, he is mobile enough to manage the demands of our long journey home (starting at the end of June).  I’m sure, despite everything, we will still have many interesting stories to share in our post next month!  ¡Hasta proximo mes!


El Octavo Mes

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This month began with Jason and I heading to the Sierra Nevadas for a day of skiing with  friends.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and we felt only slightly guilty for leaving the kids in school while we enjoyed ourselves on the slopes!

We followed up that outing with another day outdoors, hiking with other families from Matthews and Gabi’s school.  It was wonderful to see signs of spring popping up along the trail to Moclín.  We were also shown rock paintings that date back thousands of years.

Gabi’s 10th birthday was in February, and she was able to celebrate jointly with her friend Cecilia by ice-skating with friends at a local rink.  Later our family enjoyed a sushi dinner at one of Gabi’s favorite restaurants in Granada.  It’s hilarious to us that she likes sushi now, when we were surrounded by amazing seafood back in Seattle.  She received what she thinks is the best birthday present “ever,” her very own cajón.  She has been taking lessons and loves to annoy her brothers with her drumming.  She plans to continue when we return to Seattle.

The first memorable trip this month was to Marrakesh, Morocco with our friend Scott, who was kind enough to pay us a visit.  After an early morning flight from Granada, we made it to Morocco in time for lunch to be served to us in our riad.  That was the first of several meals that all three of the kids enjoyed and ate without complaints (A mother’s dream – I definitely need to learn to cook Moroccan food!).  In the evening we wandered through the souk and were somewhat overwhelmed with the vendors, the sights and the smells…not to mention the snakes that were thrown over Scott’s, Matthew’s and Robbie’s shoulders for a photo opportunity!  Some “bargain hunting” also meant I came home with a Moroccan wedding blanket, something I’ve had my eye on for years.  Jason didn’t even know there was such a thing.  It will be a beautiful reminder of our travels this year.

The riad, which was our home for four days.

Scenes from Marrakech.

The next day was unforgettable as we hired a driver to take us outside of the city and show us how the local Berbers live.  In the valley we visited the weekly market where families from all around the countryside come to stock up for the week.  Anything from animals, to food (meat from said animals, vegetables, fruits, spices, nuts …), to clothes, to electronics can be purchased and one can visit the barber or doctor or dentist (historically, the barber and the dentist were the same person) at the market as well.  Later we went to an argan oil cooperative, created to help women in the area be independent, similar to this one.  Scott and I went a little over budget buying the “magic” oil.  (We found other argan oil products in the souk in Marrakech for about 90 percent less!)  The coops have great marketing skills! A quick camel ride for Scott and the kids followed and then after a nausea-inducing drive up the mountains, we stopped at a Berber family home and ate lunch outside with views of the highest mountain peak in the Atlas Mountains and North Africa, Toubkal.

Visiting the three valleys of the Atlas Mountains

After returning to Granada, Jason and I had fun visiting the Alhambra with Scott, taking him to the Arab baths, and out for tapas.  He and Jason also did an eight mile hike through the foothills of the Sierras.  We really enjoyed showing Scott around our current hometown.

Matthew’s 12th birthday quickly followed our trip to Marrakech, and he is lucky enough that Justin, his best friend here in Granada, shares the exact same birthday.  The boys celebrated together by going bowling, playing arcade games and eating “American” food at a local restaurant. He was also fortunate to take a day off of school to go snowboarding with his dad!

Winding up the month, Lori and three friends took a road trip to Cadiz for a long weekend of relaxing, shopping, eating and drinking along the beautiful Costa de la Luz.  It was a wonderful experience full of laughter and memory making.  (If you are reading this girls, I will never forget WWBD, Who’s Charlotte? and the man with fake eyelashes!)  Next month it will be the men’s turn to go away together, to a Madrid-Barcelona futbol match.  We feel so blessed to have made such good friends here!

As we head into our final few months, we are naturally reflecting on what our expectations were coming in, and how our experiences are actually measuring up.  One thing is for sure: we have really started to notice how much more independent the kids are becoming.  We think Robbie is showing the biggest change.  When his computer broke, after a bit of convincing and some help planning what he was going to say with his Spanish teacher, he went alone to the local Apple distributor to see if it could be fixed.  Yes, all in Spanish!  Matthew showed off his Spanish skills when we were coming back through customs after our trip to Morocco.  The customs officer asked if he should speak English or Spanish and Matthew, rarely shy, responded “Español.”  The customs officer then decided to interview Matthew in Spanish on behalf of the entire family.  Matthew must have answered his questions correctly, because we all made it back into Spain.  And Gabi, of course always hungry, loves to make quick trips on her own to the mini-market and often walks on her own up to the school.  Watching our kids develop newfound independence and confidence certainly makes us feel like the sacrifices we’ve made to spend a year in Granada are well worth it.

Hasta proximo mes…


El Séptimo Mes

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Time is starting to fly by, so I’ve been trying to keep notes of what we are doing each day, just so I can remember to add them to our journal.  This month I’m so glad I did, as I think I would have forgotten some really fun events otherwise.

This month, with the help of some of Matthew and Gabi’s friends, Robbie made his first short film in Granada.  He chose to create a film about a young girl moving to Spain, her difficulty communicating with her classmates, and how she and a friend eventually solve that problem.  You can view the film here.  Robbie has another project in the works and is hoping to complete it before we leave Granada.

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Winter in Granada means skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Jason has taken advantage of that.  His last trip was a little more adventurous than usual, beginning with the drive up the mountain.  He and six friends somehow managed to fit into a five-seater European sedan, and then when they got to the pistes, conditions were so bad that they ended up skiing in a white out.  Incredibly, on this particular trip, no one actually got hurt, which unfortunately has not been the norm for our friends this winter (one shoulder injury, some broken glasses, a pretty serious concussion and some mild internal bleeding).  We’ve been wondering if there isn’t some ancient gypsy curse on the mountain, but it hasn’t stopped anyone from taking advantage of its proximity.

Speaking of painful, Jason and I are still plugging along in our Spanish classes and intercambios.  Three classes a week with language exchanges at least once a week is actually starting to show us some progress.  Jason is reading Harry Potter in Spanish and I am re-watching LOST on Netflix in Spanish.  (I love that I can use español homework as an excuse for watching TV!) Robbie has been struggling a bit in some of his classes, and the Spanish help he gets two days per week at his school didn’t seem like enough, so we just recently started him in private lessons with our teacher Susana, at Delengua.  We figure if ANYONE can get Robbie speaking in Spanish, it will be Susana.

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Listening to music is also helping us figure out the Spanish language a bit better.  Gabi and Matthew introduced us to the pop singer Álvaro Soler, that apparently all the “tweens” are listening to these days, so we are constantly playing his music in the background (and admittedly dancing around the house).  Jason discovered the Sidecars and he and I went to see them live here in Granada.  Fun music and a really engaged audience.  Now that the weather is starting to warm up a bit, I’m also hoping to see more of my favorite “street band” Elsa Bhör on Plaza Nueva or Plaza Trinidad this Spring.  Music is the one thing that will be easy to take back home with us unlike say, a rug or piece of pottery.

We are appreciating life here in Spain so much.  In particular, it has been wonderful to experience the area with other families, and this month we enjoyed quite a few highlights.  One was a day trip with the Mckendry family to explore the city of Ronda, a two hour drive from Granada.  The fascinating thing about Ronda is that it is built over a river gorge and the views and architecture are just amazing.  It is also home to the oldest bull ring in Spain, and while we didn’t see a bull fight, we did spend some time at a nature reserve that breeds and raises bulls and Andalusian horses.  It was definitely a learning experience. Another stop on our Spanish cultural tour was a morning spent visiting an olive oil cooperative very close to Granada (Andalusia, the Spanish province in which Granada is located, is the largest olive oil producing region in the world), learning about how olive oil was made in the 15th century, and how it is made today.  We were able to taste a variety of olive oils, and then wash them down with some wine, cheese and Iberian pork.  A Sunday afternoon pick-up game of American football in the local park and visiting different restaurants like Aljibe 1664, built in an underground cistern from the 17th century, have been other fun experiences with our expat friends this month.

As much as we are enjoying life in Granada, we are all agreed that come August, it will be time to return to our home in Seattle.  Actually, Robbie is quite adamant about this. The rest of us, I think, are a bit more conflicted.  That said, we have started discussing the logistics of our return trip.  The emotions are quite interesting…sadness and excitement at the same time…fear of feeling regretful when we leave because we weren’t able to do  everything we wanted to do in Spain but also satisfaction just thinking about the amazing experiences we’ve already enjoyed as a family.  Our coping mechanism for these emotions is to plan a circuitous itinerary that will take us on several bonus adventures before we finally arrive home in Seattle in early August.  Before then however, we have a couple birthdays to celebrate and a few house guests to entertain in the coming months that we are very much looking forward to introducing to our beloved Granada.  Hasta el próximo mes…


El Sexto Mes

I can’t believe I’m typing these words:  we have reached the halfway point in our Spanish adventure.  This realization has made me a bit anxious lately.  I’ve started to feel a certain urgency about things.  I want to study Spanish more intensely, I want to spend more time with the new friends we’ve made here in Granada, I want to explore the city more, I want to just sit at a café, drink some café con leche and soak up my surroundings. For now though, I am taking a very deep breath and reflecting on the amazing month we’ve just had.

The temporada de Navidad kicked off with a fabulous party hosted by our friends, the McKendry family.  It was a wonderful mix of Granadinos  and extrañeros, with good food, lots of conversation in both English and Spanish and a crazy white elephant gift exchange.

The following week brought an extra special holiday gift.  Our friends from Avon, CT who we hadn’t seen since we moved to Seattle in 2011 were visiting Spain, and came to Granada for the day.  We were able to have a nice dinner with the Huber family and catch up on the past six years.

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Good food, great friends!

The very next day, our family set off on our own trip, this time leaving Spain and exploring Europe over Christmas and into the New Year.  I have to give a big “thank you” to Jason who planned the itinerary (airline tickets, bus tickets, train tickets, AirBNBs and hotels), made dinner reservations and scouted out activities for us at each destination.  I supposed if all else fails, he can get a job as a travel agent when we return to Seattle.

Venice was magical.

Our first stop was Venice, Italy.  We flew from Granada and arrived in Venice after dark.  We chose to take the water bus from the airport to our rental apartment, and we are pretty sure the language barrier caused us to be dropped off about a thirty minute walk from where we needed to be.  Walking through the “streets” of Venice at night was an experience we won’t soon forget.  It was dark, a little creepy and reminded me in no small way of a setting in an Edgar Allen Poe story.  Daytime, however, was a different story.  I could not get enough of the canals, the bridges, the architecture, and the Venetian glass.  Oh, and the food! It’s our family tradition to make our own pizza on Christmas Eve, but this year, we went to the source and let the Italians make it for us.  Christmas day in Venice was wonderful.  The owner of our rental made sure we had a Christmas tree (with three gifts already under it for our three children no less).   Santa had no problem finding a place to put the kids’ gifts (right in the new slippers they had received as part of their Christmas Eve pajamas).  We made a really good breakfast, but unfortunately no one really liked the traditional “yule log” cake that Jason and I bought to replace our usual monkey bread that we have on Christmas morning.  Ice skating, feeding the pigeons in St. Mark’s square and a gondola ride were some of the memorable activities from our stay in Venice.

From Venice we took the train to Milan, Italy and spent just a couple days there indulging in even more Italian food and wine.  We did get the chance to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, which was pretty amazing.

The kids got the hang of train travel very quickly!

Another (ok, three) train ride(s) took us to Wengen, Switzerland for the New Year.  Jason and Robbie spent three days skiing in the Alps, but surprisingly (or perhaps not, thanks to global warming?) all the snow there was manmade, so the runs were a little too advanced for Matthew, Gabi and me, who prefer nice wide runs that we can ski across, rather than the narrow runs that require much tighter skiing and snowboarding.  But there was enough snow for snowball fights, more ice skating and a train trip up to the glacier of Jungfraujoch to more than make up for any missed skiing.  The food in Switzerland was pretty delicious and we enjoyed a fondue dinner on New Year’s Eve.

We couldn’t go to Switzerland without having fondue.

Our last stop on this particular adventure was Paris, France.  I was looking forward to seeing Paris, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it as much as I actually did.  We took an electric bike tour the first day (electric bikes are awesome, and I highly recommend trying one out), and were able to familiarize ourselves with the city’s layout in a few hours.  Over the next few days, we spent an evening at the Louvre, an afternoon in the Montfortre neighborhood, visited the Eiffel Tower, and Lori took the kids to Disneyland Paris.  (Looking back on the food poisoning experience Lori had at Disneyland, Jason definitely made the right decision by staying in the city center and exploring more of Paris’ charms!) Paris is a beautiful city and we are so glad we were able to visit.

Best photobomb ever by our bike tour companion.  And just a few Paris icons.

When we got back to Granada after all of our travels, Robbie was the one who actually said, “I really feel like we live here now.” It only took about six months, but even Robbie is starting to feel like Granada is home.  It helped that shortly after we returned we visited with a family from Australia who had just recently moved to Granada, whose son is now in Robbie’s class at IES Albayzin.  I think it’s given Robbie some confidence to be able to show Cal around and to have someone with whom he can commiserate with as he navigates the rest of this crazy experience.

I’m a little sad that we’ve reached the halfway point in our year in Granada.  However knowing all that we have done and learned thus far, I’m terribly excited to see what the next six months hold.


El Quinto Mes

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So a few days after I published my last blog post I had what can only be described as a meltdown.  I can honestly say that I spent an entire day crying.  I told Jason that I was “done” and just wanted to go back to Seattle.  I don’t really know if it was homesickness, my frustration trying to learn a new language or missing the creature comforts of our  house in Seattle, but whatever it was, after a few days it passed and I was able to put things back in perspective (with a little help from Facebook messages and my fellow expat friends – thank you!!!). We didn’t move to Spain for a year because we expected it to be easy and fun all the time.  We did it to challenge ourselves, to live more simply and to learn about and experience a different culture, which is definitely happening.

Views from the 16k hike Jason and I took this month from the village of Beas de Granada all the way back to Granada city.

That being said, so much of this fifth month turned out to be just plain fun!  The first lively event was the Thanksgiving celebration planned by a fellow expat family at El Higo restaurant in the Upper Albayzín. With turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, great wine and even better company it really gave us all a taste of home here in Spain.

Thanksgiving with all the fixings, and really good friends!

After that it was off to the races, as Jason finally competed in the Spartan race he’s been training for over the last four months.  We travelled to Valencia the first weekend in December and the kids and I cheered Jason on as he pulled himself over walls, crawled under barbed wire, hauled logs uphill, climbed rope ladders, and jumped through a fire pit during a nine mile run. That night, since Valencia lays claim to being the originator of a certain famous Spanish dish, we celebrated by taking a paella cooking class as a family and had a great time and fabulous meal…with paella leftovers for days!  Valencia is a lovely city and we enjoyed our time there visiting the Aquarium and the city’s Central Market.

 After Jason competed he was able to enjoy all the amazing food Valencia has to offer.

Because the kids had two days off of school the following week, we decided to make it an extended trip and head from Valencia to Barcelona, a city that has stolen my heart again and again.  If you haven’t yet read Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruis Zafon I highly recommend it.  If you have, than you probably understand my fascination with the city of Barcelona.  Its variety of architectural styles, the dark, winding streets of the Gothic Quarter, the views from atop Mt. Tibadabo and its location on the Mediterranean combine to make it one of my favorite places in the world.  Luckily for me, after this visit, my family feels the same way.  We had a great time with the kids wandering the city streets, touring La Sagrada Familia and spinning our way through the amusement park.  We have already decided we will return once more before we leave Spain.

There is just something about Barcelona…

From Barcelona we traveled to Zaragoza, which was a winter-wonderland without the snow.  With its Christmas market in full swing the kids were able to sled and ice-skate in the plaza right in front of the Basílica del Pilar.  We were only there for one day, but enjoyed it immensely.

Zaragoza shows off her history and traditions.

The next day, after a quick stop in Calatayud to take some pictures for our friends in Connecticut, the Calatayud family, we ended up in Cuenca, a town know for its “hanging houses” built into the cliffside.  It is a stunning site, and the bridge that crosses the gorge from the old town is not for the faint of heart!

Cuenca: don’t bother visiting if you are afraid of heights!

We have been so lucky to be able to travel as much as we have, but we have also had good experiences in our hometown of Granada this month as well.  Robbie is happy at his new school and has already made some new friends.  He’s definitely learning more Spanish than he was before, but it’s still quite a challenge.  Matthew and Gabi have both started extra Spanish lessons after school, which are going well, and Jason and I are plugging along with our private lessons three days a week.  With the Christmas holidays coming up and making more travel plans for the two-week school break, Jason and I have been taking it a bit easy on the studying, but have plans to amp up our Spanish work even more after the first of the year.  I’ve promised my instructor that my very last blog post from Granada will be all in Spanish…I have quite a ways to go!

We are thinking a lot about our family and friends this time of year, and hope that everyone has a wonderful Holiday Season and that 2017 brings you much joy and happiness. ¡Feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo!

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El Cuarto Mes

I’ve been told by other expats that have started blogs about their adventures that around November they pretty much give up keeping track of their experiences. I can totally understand how that happens, but I’m determined to keep plugging along so that at the end of this journey, I will have a decent record of our life this year in Granada.  That being said, so much happened this month that this post is rather long!

The first notable adventure we had this month was a hike with students and parents of Matthew and Gabi’s school, Gomez Moreno.  AMPA, the school’s parents association coordinates hikes just about every month, and we joined the first one.  We were given information on the distance and where we would stop for lunch, but it was still pretty surprising to discover we hiked about 8 miles in six hours.  If Jason and I had tried to do it on our own with our kids, it would have been non-stop complaining, but with this big group, the kids rose to the challenge.  We had some amazing views along the way, and at one point we even had to “ford” a creek sans shoes!

As we have established more of a routine, Jason and I have decided Thursdays would be our day to explore Granada as a couple, while the kids are in school.  Often times, it just involves long walks around the city.  One day we walked all around the  Realejo neighborhood and discovered its unique graffiti and another day we found ourselves visiting the Casas del Chapiz, which houses the School of Arabic Studies here in Granada.

If you are wondering what the rest of our “schedule” looks like, currently Jason is training daily for a Spartan obstacle course race in Valencia on December 3rd, the two of us are taking Spanish classes three afternoons a week, and we volunteer at Gomez Moreno on Tuesdays helping the English teacher in one of the 6th grade classes. To help with our Spanish immersion we are both taking “continuing-ed” classes through the University of Granada at Casa de Porras. Lori is taking Pilates two mornings a week, and Jason is in a meditation and mindfulness class on Wednesdays.  Lori also meets once a week with a native Spanish speaker to practice her Spanish and help Mari practice her English.  We notice that things seem to take a bit longer in Spain as well, so our days fill up pretty quickly just running errands. Our grocery shopping here is completely unlike it is in Seattle.  In addition to the heavier items like beverages and cleaning supplies that we order online and have delivered, we shop at a local panaderia for fresh bread, salty rolls and pastries, and a spice shop for dried fruits, nuts and my favorite olives.  Another stop is the fruit and veggie vendor and usually a deli for speciality meats and cheeses.  Every once in a while we go to the large grocery and department store, El Corte Ingles for more familiar items like ranch dressing and tortilla chips!  Extra-curricular activities for Gabi have started as well; she is taking cooking, science and circus classes after school at Gomez.  Matthew continues to play basketball four days a week, so getting the kids to and from their activities also takes more time as we walk them everywhere.

This month the family also took a couple of quick trips.  The first was just Lori and Robbie taking the bus to Madrid to see a concert featuring the music from the video game Zelda. In addition to the fabulous symphony performance, Lori dragged Robbie to the modern art museum in Madrid, Reina Sophia. One of the best parts of the weekend was a last minute meet-up with a family from Seattle who is spending the year in Barcelona.  It was great to get Robbie together with kids his age and compare stories of life as an expat teen in Spain.

Our second trip as a family was a weekend spent in the beautiful city of Seville. We spent time walking around the city center, touring the Cathedral (the third largest in Europe) and taking a carriage ride through María Luisa Park and past the Plaza de España, built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.

 

While in Seville we all participated in The Color Run, a fun 5K where every so often people douse you with paint so that by the end of the run everybody is a walking rainbow.  Gabi enjoyed it so much she wants us to do it when it comes to Seattle after we return.

In between these two trips we celebrated Halloween in Granada.  While not nearly as big of a deal here as it is in the states (and especially in our neighborhood of Magnolia back home in Seattle), kids do dress up and go out to “truco o trato” but mostly to local businesses and a few neighborhood houses.  We made a plan with about a dozen expat families and created a map that showed all our houses where we would be handing out candy and then went out in various groups to trick or treat.  With our old neighborhood already a perfect “spooky” backdrop, it was a fun night of traipsing through our narrow streets to find the houses that were handing out candy.  Robbie stayed back at our house to pass out candy and we got word back from various families that he was perfectly scary as Samara from the movie The Ring.

Speaking of Robbie, he had a big change this month, as we ended up switching schools and putting him in our neighborhood secondary school, Instituto Albayzín (the school we had originally intended for him to attend when were planning this trip to Spain). I spoke with the director and clarified some of the questions we had had over the summer that had caused us to change our minds in the first place.  (The concept of “lost in translation” is a real thing!)  Our neighbors have a daughter that attends Instituto and was willing to let Robbie tag along with her for a day.  After that visit, Robbie decided it would be a good change.  While Granada College is a great school, it really caters to local families who want their children to learn English.  There was no way for Robbie to get the extra help in Spanish that he needed.  However, the kids at Granada College are great, and Robbie has enjoyed staying in touch with a few of them and spending time with them outside of school.  At Instituto he is being pulled out for extra help with Spanish, but is expected to do the same work as the rest of his class, so despite the shorter day he is actually getting more class and homework.  He walks to and from school and is home around 3 p.m. rather than 6 p.m.  There are actually more expats at Instituto, but not all from the States. At this point he is getting Spanish help alongside a boy from France and two sisters from Syria.  It looks like this is going to be a positive experience that will really broaden his world view.

The end of this fourth month found us visiting the Alhambra, the palace and fortress we have been viewing from our home every day since we moved to Granada.  I can’t do justice to the history and beauty of the buildings in this post or in pictures, but I wanted to note down that we finally visited.  We received free tickets as residents of Granada, but plan to go back one day for a detailed private tour because there is just so much to learn about the history of this city from the Alhambra alone.

This month has really solidified the fact that we truly live in this magical city.  It is wonderful to walk around and run into people we know, or to have Omar at my favorite heladería know exactly what ice cream I want without me having to tell him.  We are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with some of our new friends and will be heading to Valencia and Barcelona next month to see some more of España.  There will be plenty more to share next month … I promise!


The Third Month

Jason and I started off the third month finally celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary about two weeks late.  We spent a lovely morning at the Arab baths (I think we will be visiting them often while we are here in Granada), and that evening had a fun and different fondue dinner at El Agua a restaurant just down the street from our house.

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The children have been in school for about a month now, and I have to say, I really expected more tears and frustration on all of our parts.  Robbie definitely doesn’t like the very long day he spends away from the house, but he’s pretty resigned to it now.  He leaves about 8:30 to catch the bus every morning, and arrives back home at 6 p.m.  It would be more of a problem if he then had a bunch of homework, but I’m not sure his school knows exactly what to do with him.  We had assumed they would just give him the same work that his classmates were doing, and we would need to struggle with him at night to

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Robbie’s school, Granada College on the outskirts of the city.

help him translate all the things he supposed to be doing, but that’s not the case.  He rarely brings home any work, and it sounds like he is being  given special assignments in most of his classes.  We’ve met with his tutor, and explained what we are hoping Robbie will get out of this year, but we will have to give it another month or two to see how it pans out.  He has made some friends at school, and is enjoying playing basketball during break times, but since he’s already a pretty shy kid, he’s definitely not experiencing a busy social life as yet.

Matthew seems to be taking everything in stride, and is the most “immersed” of our kiddos.  His teacher, Diego, doesn’t speak any English at all, so he is hearing Spanish non-stop for 5 hours a day (yes, it’s only a five hour day for Matthew and Gabi right now…more on that later!).  Three days a week after school, he heads across town to basketball practice at another school in Granada, Maristas. IMG_1702.JPG One of his coaches and a couple of the kids speak English, but overall, he is learning all the basketball terms in Spanish, and it’s pretty cool to watch him interact with the other players.  A benefit for Jason is that there are a group of dads who play basketball on Thursday nights, and he has enjoyed playing with them, and practicing his Spanish as well.

Gabi is doing well.  After the first day of school there were no more tears and she really loves her teacher, Laura.  She’s made friends with kids in her class, both fellow expats and locals, and has also been playing with other kids in the neighborhood.  Just last week she started some extra-curricular activities offered at her school including a cooking class and a circus class.

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Matthew and Gabi’s school, C.E.I.P Gomez Moreno

This is probably a good spot to jot down some of the big differences we’ve notice about schooling here in Granada.  First of all, all teachers are called by their first names.  Second, teachers are much more demonstrative in both positive and negative ways.  On the first day of school at Gomez Moreno we noticed lots of hugging between the students and teachers.  On the opposite side, Robbie has said that a couple times a teacher has pulled a kid by the ear or swatted him on the back of the head for doing something wrong.  We assume this is a cultural thing, and one we have told our kids to just get used to.  It’s not like in the states where teachers can’t comfort or welcome a child with a hug or a kiss on both cheeks (typical greeting here in Spain).  But, our kids report, the flip side is that  while there are teachers out on the playground during breaks, they often let kids “work it out” themselves, without getting involved. Not a bad thing in our opinion.  Finally, the actual school day schedule is quite different.  Matthew and Gabi start school at 9 a.m. and have classes until about noon, when they have a recess and a short break for a snack.  Lunch is served at 2:00 p.m. in the comedor, or students go home for lunch. If they eat at school, they then can stay until 4 p.m. with lunch and a long recess.  After that, there are optional extra-curricular activities from 4 until 6 p.m.  If they go home for lunch, they can come back to school for extra-curriculars.  Apparently the comedor at school is competitive and not everyone who wants to eat lunch at school is able to do so.  Priority is given to working parents, etc.  We have Matthew and Gabi on the waiting list, but aren’t holding out much hope that they will actually get spots, although we’ve been told usually everyone gets in by the end of October.  We’d like them to take lunch at school because, and this is the same at Robbie’s school, children are required to eat what is served to them, and finish each course before they are allowed to start on the next.  Robbie was NOT happy with this at first, but by the second week he realized that he can eat just about anything that is put in front of him, and it’s done wonders for one of our picky eaters.  Anyways, at this point in time, Matthew and Gabi come home from school at 2, have lunch with Jason and I and then go to their extra-curricular activities later in the day.  Robbie’s school schedule is similar to Matthew and Gabi’s, except that after his hour-long lunch at 2 p.m., he still has about 2 hours of class time to complete.

Most of this post seems to be about school, but that’s probably because that has occupied a lot of our time this month.  Getting into a routine, attending class meetings (all in Spanish, of course…I was afraid to raise my hand in case I accidentally volunteered for something!), and getting activities organized has been time consuming.  But we’ve still been able to explore a bit, make new friends and continue to practice our Spanish.

I have been hiking with a group of women a few times, and one of my favorite hikes was Los Cahorros just outside of Granada.  Hanging bridges over the river, rock faces jutting so far out onto the trail in places you need to use handholds to get past them and a great spot for a cerveza after! Liked it so much, I dragged my boys back two days later. Two weeks ago, Jason and I took Matthew and Gabi to the caves in Nerja and then drove to Salobreña where the two of us had spent a week five years ago.  Jason and I have enjoyed our latest set of Spanish classes with Susana at DeLengua, and we both have met locals for language exchanges, which I think is going to be the best way for us to improve our Spanish.

This coming month is going to be busy, with a couple of trips planned and organizing a Halloween event with many of the expats and few locals we know.  Those of you who know us know how much we love hosting for Halloween in Seattle, so we are going to keep the tradition up and share with our fellow Granadinos a little bit about Halloween in the states!


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