The Guest Bloggers

_DSC5426People have been asking how this year has gone for our kids, so here it is in their own words.

_DSC5298 Gabi’s thoughts on this year:  When my parents first told me we were moving to Spain for a year at first I didn’t think it was bad, but then Robbie started talking to me and I realized I wouldn’t see my friends and it made me sad. I was afraid of not knowing the language and that I might not have as many friends. I didn’t think the neighborhood we moved to (the Albayzin) would be as old as it is or would have only rock pathways as streets. But now I like it because a lot of my friends live really close and it would make it really easy to play with them after school, but people here always get cranky about noise during siesta time! When I first got here I didn’t think I would like walking to school and back but now I do. School here is different because you stay in one classroom for the whole day, so if it is music time, the teacher comes to our classroom. It feels like the teachers here are closer to the students. School is similar here because we have most of the same classes. I really liked being here this year because I got to try a circus class after school and learned how to play the cajón (flamenco drum). My circus teacher was really funny! I also found out that I like collecting and trading LaLiga (soccer) cards with people. My favorite team is Fútbol Club Barcelona and my favorite player is Iniesta. I like FC Barcelona because I like the city a lot which was one of my favorite trips I took with my family this year. I also liked going to Cabo de Gata and swimming in the pool with my friends Amanda, Justin and Luke. I would definitely like to come back and live in Granada again, because I like the neighborhood and the city and how everything is so close. I think if someone is given a chance to live in another country I would tell them to try it, have a good attitude and try the food there, because it might be really good! I think because we moved here I now like a lot more foods, I definitely know more Spanish, and I am OK with trying all kinds of new things.

_DSC5332Matthew’s perspective:
When my parents told me we were moving to Spain for the year, I thought, “Really? Are we really doing this?” because it seemed really weird and out of the ordinary and shocking. When I first thought about it, it wasn’t a big deal, because it was six months away, so I had time to still do stuff in Seattle and be with my friends. When it was getting closer to moving, I was sad to be leaving all my friends. I wasn’t really afraid of anything about moving here, except not making friends because I didn’t know Spanish. I expected life to be very similar to Seattle, only in Spanish. I was completely wrong. There are not a lot of open spaces or big grassy fields in the neighborhood and the school work is way more laid back. Hardly any homework and easy. Parents here seem to only want to make sure their kids advance to the next grade, but don’t care too much about what marks they get on assignments. The hardest part about living in Spain has been trying to understand the textbooks and fitting in. It took me about half of the year until I began understanding the reading in the textbooks, but sometimes I still can’t understand when people talk to me in Spanish. One of the things that has pleasantly surprised me about living in Spain is the helado. It is super good. Besides the helado, my favorite part of living here has been traveling around Europe, but I’m sad that we didn’t go to Russia. I would do something like this again in a different country, but maybe for only about three months, because Spain was either unbearably hot or unbearably cold. If any other kids want to do this, I would say be prepared for an extreme difference in lifestyle. I think this experience hasn’t changed me much apart from seeing that other cultures are different which I kind of already knew. I was already open to trying new things, and I still am.

_DSC5338Robbie’s side of the story:
Well, going all the way back to the beginning, when Mom and Dad told me about this trip, I thought it was quite possibly the worst idea anyone had ever come up with since remaking Ghostbusters. Then came the six months of dread and anger, as well as many desperate attempts to convince my parents not to move us here. Keep in mind, I had not only just managed to get used to my new high school, this would mark the fourth time our family had moved and the sixth school I’d have to attend. (I’m up to seven now, but more on that later.)  That being said, I did have a kind of morbid curiosity as to what the year would be like. What was it like you ask? Ever ride Thunder Mountain at Disneyland? It was like that, just not as fast. Coming here halfway through summer allowed us to get acquainted with the city and prepare our phenomenally awful Spanish for the coming school year, as well as introduce us to 100+ degree weather…Fahrenheit. Aside from Spanish classes and a couple trips to some beach towns to combat the heat, the summer was relatively uneventful. Then school started…and everything went to hell. Remember when I mentioned that I’ve attended seven different schools? Well, the first school I went to in Spain was a little place called Granada College. Now, my fellow St. Al’s alumni, take the things you didn’t like about that school, for example, the uniforms, strict regime, that disgusting chicken noodle soup…and multiply them by Satan. Oh, and add an 8 hour school day and a forty-five minute commute. Yeah…didn’t stay there very long. Halfway through November, I transferred to the public secondary school in my neighborhood, and immediately the year went uphill. Shorter day, no uniforms, they didn’t force you to shove cream of carrot down your throat until you started gagging and choking, and a ten minute walk from our house. Also, ironically enough, I ended up getting more help with Spanish. Even better, in January my class received an ex-pat student from Australia, so now I had someone to share the pain with. After that, things started going more smoothly. We went to numerous places, both in Spain and the rest of Europe (skiing in Switzerland was the highlight for me) and I started to actually pass my classes and learn Spanish beyond “hola” and “adios!” But the question is, would I ever want to do something like this again? Absolutely not. At least, not until I start college…which I guess isn’t absolute. So…did the year change me at all…well, I went from being a quiet, socially awkward kid in America…to an even more quiet, even more socially awkward kid in Spain…so, guess I’ll have to wait until I’m back home to really see if there’s a difference. Either way, I’m too stubborn to admit to my parents that this trip wasn’t a complete disaster, so ask me again in ten years. Until next time…hasta luego.


El Undécimo Mes

It’s seems as if I just wrote last month’s journal entry.  Time is flying by and we seem to be packing more and more into each and every day.  This month gave us some outdoor adventures, some fabulous time with friends, yummy food and, unfortunately, some difficult goodbyes.

The first of our outdoor adventures was a bicycle trip with Matthew and Gabi’s school. In previous years long bike trips have been planned along one of Spain’s Vias Verdesold railway tracks that have been renovated and reused for walkers and bikers. These tracks are mostly flat and smoothly surfaced, with water stations, bathrooms, even restaurants and hostels along the way.  This year, however, the event’s planners decided not to do a standard Via Verde, but instead follow a trail that went from Moguer, in the Huelva province, to the Playa de Torre del Loro in Mazagón. However, because it was still being called “Via Verde” we were under the impression that it was similar to trails we’d seen in videos of years past. Let’s just say Matthew, Gabi, and I learned a lot about our mental and physical toughness that day, although many tears were shed before the 25 kms were done.  The plunge into the ocean at the end of the ride was all the more enjoyable because of the difficulties we overcame on the trail.  Jason went along on the bus ride, hung out with our friends’ son Toby, who had broken his arm just a couple days before, and then waited at the beach for more than five hours (we were told it would take about two) for us to arrive. Robbie had made the smartest decision to stay home altogether to dog-sit for our neighbors who were also on the ride.  He had the BEST weekend!

The week after we returned from the bike trip, we had to start saying some goodbyes.  Two families were heading back home to the States, so our friends threw a pool-party at their house to wish them well.  Gabi finished her after-school circus class and showed off her skills at a year-end performance.  Both Matthew and Gabi finished their after-school Spanish classes and said goodbye to their sweet teacher, Melody.  Later in the month we said goodbye to Jason’s “Madre en Granada” Ana, and Susana, the amazing Spanish teacher of Robbie, Jason and me.  All these goodbyes certainly made us realize the importance of the wonderful people we’ve shared our lives with this past year.

If the Via Verde trip wasn’t all we had expected, our weekend in the country with fellow expats more than made up for it.  Jason’s Spanish mom, Ana, still owns her grandfather’s  home in a small pueblo about an hour outside of Granda.  The house sleeps 24 and we filled it to capacity with five families.  There was a wonderful pool, a gorgeous yard with room for water-gun fights and badminton, cut-throat card games, amazing meals and tons of laughter.  I love all the memories we made, but watching Dave dance flamenco during Game Night in a Can is one for the record books.  Julie’s “mom” dance is a close second!

My friend Dani has said that her favorite way to learn Spanish is by taking a cooking class, and I have to agree.   Unfortunately it took until our journey was almost over to actually take a class here, but I finally did.  In fact, I took two! Given by a local nutritionist, Rocio, these classes put a healthy spin on some old Spanish favorites and some fun new dishes, and I’m looking forward to testing them out on friends in Seattle.  I’m officially addicted to salmorejo, trying it in every restaurant that serves it, and am so excited to have found a recipe I can take home with me! Many thanks to Julie for organizing these classes for us guiris in her home.

Up next on the family adventure agenda was Matthew’s weeklong trip to camp with the 6th grade classes of Gomez Moreno.  Located in the mountains of Cazorla, about three hours from Granada, the adventure camp included archery, rock climbing, swimming in the Guadaquiver river and even a dance party one evening.  Based on the photos Matthew’s teacher took, it appears everyone had a wonderful week.

When Matthew returned safely from camp, it was time to start celebrating Granada’s yearly feria coinciding with the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi. We went to the opening night with friends, enjoyed the rides, watched fireworks and admired the light displays throughout the fairgrounds.  There were activities, music and events both at the fairground and in the city center all week, with Wednesday through Friday being holidays from work and school.

When we first moved to Granada, one of the things I really wanted to do was have family pictures taken.  The last “formal” family photos of us where taken five years ago after we moved to Seattle.  The kids have grown and changed so much since then, but I also wanted to have nice pictures to document our time in Granada.  We had originally planned to have them done in May, but with Jason’s ankle surgery and all that entailed, we had to postpone them.  With just two weeks left, we finally met up with fellow expat, Gomez Moreno parent, and photographer extraordinaire Kathryn Palmateer and the photos turned out so well!  Here’s a sneak peak…

With the temperature averaging in the low 90’s for the past couple of weeks, and the three-day holiday from school, we decided to head to the beach for one last hurrah in Southern Spain.  Mojacar was our choice because of its beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean, proximity to Cabo de Gata natural park and the fact that it was a relatively short drive away.  Our friends, the McKendry family joined us at the Parador Mojacar and we all had a blast swimming, learning to play pool and perfecting our skills in the card game Hearts.  Of course, the adults may have sipped a few cocktails poolside as well.

As I finish writing this entry, with only a little more than week left in Granada I’m already overcome with “homesickness” for this place.  Its unique mix of history and architecture, its laid-back vibe, and the many friends we have made have burrowed themselves deep into my heart.  I notice that I’m taking fewer pictures, even though we are doing more, because I just want to soak it all in.  (So, many thanks to friends Kelly, Dani and Julie for allowing me to post some of their photos in this month’s blog!)  I find myself simply wanting to wander the streets and absorb the sights, sounds, and smells.  I’m not sure exactly what this last week here will hold, but I know that there will be some tears as we say goodbye to this special city that we have been blessed to call home for the last year.


El Décimo Mes

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Just a week following Jason’s surgery, he had an appointment to check his progress.  At that appointment, with everything looking perfecto according to the doctor, Jason was told that he could have the option of a walking boot or a cast.  It was a little confusing to us as to whether having the “walking boot” meant Jason was supposed to actually walk on his foot (previously we’d been told he would need crutches for six weeks), but what we gathered was that Jason could use a walking boot, but still not put any weight on his ankle until after his staples were removed two weeks later.  What shocked us at the appointment however was that once the doctor removed the cast in order to have post surgery x-rays taken, he had Jason hobbling around on his crutches in the hospital and in and out of elevators, with no protection on his ankle or a wheelchair escort.  THEN, we were told that we needed to go to an orthopedic specialty store in the city center to actually purchase the boot, because they don’t sell them at the hospital. Jason, broken leg and all, climbed into a taxi and then pulled himself on his crutches down the street (cotton from the previous cast still sticking to his leg and staples from his surgery exposed) to the orthopedic pharmacy where he was fitted with a walking boot and sent on his way.

Jason on his way to Spanish class two days post-surgery, and one week later, heading out of the hospital to find a walking boot.

Because of Jason’s surgery our plans changed a little this month.  Instead of going to Madrid for the weekend of my birthday for a Barcelona FC vs. Real Madrid soccer game, Jason traveled two doors down with me to celebrate at a local restaurant that we can see from our front door.  Gabi also helped me celebrate by buying me a henna tattoo from one of the local street artists here and joined me with new friends for pedicures.

We were able to keep our plans to visit Cordoba the following weekend, and while Jason didn’t get to hike on the Caminito del Rey, he did visit the Mezquita with us.  The Mezquita is an impressive building, but it’s also odd to see so much Catholic iconography in the midst of the simple, yet beautiful Moorish arches.  The kids and I were able to hike the 7 km Caminito del Rey, which was stunning.  The original pathway was built for workers to travel between two hydroelectric power plants, but as the years went by the pathway deteriorated and it became a place for thrill-seekers to hike and rock climb.  In 2015 it reopened as a tourist attraction and offers some amazing views.

The Cathedral of Cordoba is built inside what was once the Grand Mosque.

The Caminito del Rey used to be one of the most deadly hikes in the world.

May 3rd is a special day in Granada, Cruz de Mayo, where schools, parishes, and neighborhood associations get together to decorate large crosses and the areas surrounding them.  It is both a celebration of Spring with roots in pagan traditions, and a representation of  the discovery of the original cross of Jesus by Saint Helena.  Over the years it has become a fiesta day that celebrates the typical and traditional items of city life, including guitars, shawls, pottery, bronze wear and of course, flowers.  This year, Matthew and Gabi’s school, Gomez Moreno won for their cross in the schools category.

Mid-May brought my sister Kelly from California for a wonderful visit.  While she wasn’t super impressed with the actual tapas served (being a bit of a picky eater), she enjoyed visiting the various bars on our tapas night.  I force-marched her up and down the hills of Granada and we toured the Cathedral, visited the Granada Archives with fabulous old maps of the city from various years and traipsed in and out of various Carmens.  Without a doubt we had one of the best visits to the Alhambra, on a cool morning, but with May flowers bursting in all the gardens.

Jason took Kelly and I out to a pre-Mother’s Day dinner to El Claustro, a highly regarded restaurant in a local hotel which used to be a convent. Sunday we drove up to the Alpujarras and all of us went horseback riding through the hills. Well, except for Jason who hung out at the farm drinking wine with the other horses, various dogs, a super friendly cat and some not-so-friendly geese.

Shopping and volunteering in English class rounded out Kelly’s last days in Granada, and then she, Gabi and I hopped a bus back to Cordoba to attend the Andalusian horse spectacular. We showed Kelly the Mezquita (seriously, I think it is almost as important to visit as the Alhambra!) and had some yummy Mediterranean food in the old Jewish Quarter. We even took a horse and buggy tour around Cordoba, which was a fabulous way to see the city, especially in the 80+ degree heat.  (I’m starting to see a horse-theme going on here!)  The trip was a great way to end her visit.  The kids are already counting down the weeks until we see Tia Kelly again!

Jason did end up taking the DELE test this month, at the B1 intermediate level (meaning his Spanish sounds awful to anyone who is fluent, but he can generally converse to others in Spanish in typical day to day situations).  It is an internationally recognized test for language learners composed of reading comprehension, writing, listening and oral examinations.  It definitely wasn’t easy, and he won’t find out how he did for a few months, but it was great for him to even make an attempt, especially while he was recovering from his surgery.  While my Spanish has progressed significantly this year as well, I didn’t feel prepared enough to take the B1 exam with Jason (especially since I had considerably less time available to study than Jason did).  In November, I plan to take the exam back in Seattle.

Our love for Granada is considerable, as this is truly a magical city, but it is fair to say that with the experiences of Jason’s broken leg and terrible spring allergies (you can see the pollen clouds floating through the city), we are definitely starting to look forward to our return to Seattle.  Ironically, the kids emotions are more mixed.  Gabi cried the other night because she is so saddened by the idea of leaving her new friends and our life here in Spain.  Robbie’s latest film project involves interviewing other expat kids about their own experiences living abroad.  Through this work, he is starting to realize that there are some aspects of our life in Spain that even he will miss.  Matthew has expressed some worries that he will lose some of the independence and freedom he has enjoyed here in the Albayzín when we return home.

Challenges have come and gone (okay, some haven’t quite left us yet).  The emotional roller coasters have been ridden. Internal conflicts have emerged in each of us. But through all of it, we’ve tried to remain focused on those things that were most important to us…the things we hoped the kids would take away from their experiences this year, namely:  1) obtain a good grasp of Spanish, 2) develop increased self-confidence in their ability to meet life’s difficult challenges and 3) become closer to one another (and to their parents) because of our shared experiences.  With only a month left, I can tell you that we are definitely on track!


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.


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