Author Archives: lnjwilbur

About lnjwilbur

Jason and Lori met in 1996 in the San Francisco Airport, an adventure that led to lots of travel, a marriage, three kids, and a pleasant life in Seattle, WA. They have decided to shake things up a bit and move to Granada, Spain for a year with their family. This is a journal of that year.

El mes final

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Sitting on the balcony off my bedroom, looking over Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula, watching sailboats and ferries criss-crossing the water, it’s hard to imagine the terror and chaos that occurred in Barcelona, Spain earlier today.  It’s thousands of miles away, but it is also so very close to my heart.  Barcelona is one of our family’s favorite cities in the world.  Gabi is obsessed with their fútbol team, Jason and I love its food and architecture, and the boys still talk about our day at Mt. Tibadabo as one of the highlights of our year in Spain.  We’ve talked of visiting there again, possibly even spending another year abroad there at some point way in the future.  I hope and pray for healing and peace for the people in Barcelona, and in every city and town that has or is experiencing such violent acts of terror.

It almost feels irreverent to write about our final month of this adventure right now, but on the other hand, if I don’t, I actually feel like I’m giving in to something evil and wrong.  Just like going to see U2 in London only a couple of months after the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, keeping our lives as normal as possible is one way to fight the people who are trying to terrorize us.  And so…

We landed in Chicago in the early afternoon of July 13th, after a short layover in Washington D.C. that gave us enough time to grab some burgers at Five Guys.  Our friends, the Whitted’s (yes, the SAME family) had offered us their condo in the city for a few days, and we gladly took them up on it.  Despite the four flights of stairs, it was a gem and we had amazing views of downtown Chicago, while being in a great neighborhood close to an L station.  That evening, Matthew battled out the jet-lag and grabbed dinner with us, while Robbie and Gabi passed out at 4 p.m. and slept until the next morning.  The next day we wandered the city, sent the kids to a movie while Jason an I did a boat tour on the Chicago river, and enjoyed some deep-dish pizza before another early night in bed.  Saturday, we had the pleasure of visiting my nephew and his wife, along with their 3-year-old son Declan and his brand new (two-week-old) twin sisters.  We basically spent the day snuggling babies on the couch and trying to eat the enormous amount of food my sister Denise had prepared.  Sunday morning we scouted out Columbia College, an arts college that quite of few students from Robbie’s film program at Ballard High have attended, and Sunday we were able to watch the Seattle Mariners beat the White Sox in a really exciting baseball game.

Monday, we tried to beat the traffic out of the city, but apparently that is pretty much impossible unless one leaves at 3 a.m.  However, we were still able to drive to Iowa City in time for an official college tour of the University of Iowa for Robbie.  At least, Jason said it was for Robbie, but we think part of it was for Jason to relive his college days.  The campus is huge and beautiful and in such a great location close to the quaint downtown district of Iowa City.  Robbie wasn’t super interested at first, but it turns out Iowa actually has a small cinema studies program, so it’s not totally out of the running.  The bonus is Grandma Wilbur would be only two hours away!

Next stop, West Union.  Ten days of family, endless views, pool time, golf, and Mom’s home cooking were just the relaxation we needed after weeks of constant travel.  Gabi could have done without the tornado warning the second night, but other than that, it was a perfect visit.  Robbie celebrated his 16th birthday while we were in Iowa and that night Jason took him for his first driving lesson in the parking lot of the high school.

From Iowa we flew together to Denver, where Jason and Matthew stopped to visit our friend Scott and spend a few days hiking in the Colorado Rockies.  Jason originally invited the whole family to join he and Scott for some camping and hiking in the mountains, but I know he was pleased when only Matthew accepted.  After almost an entire year of family travel, a few days in smaller teams was welcome.  Plus, Matthew loves to hike, and the rest of us have a reputation for complaining too much when the hikes become too demanding and long.  Matthew loved the experience of hanging out with the old dudes.  His only disappointment was that they never actually made it to the top of any of the mountains, and he is adamant that he and Jason return to Colorado soon to scale some 14ers (mountains in Colorado whose peaks reaches above 14,000 feet … there are dozens of them).

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Robbie, Gabi and I went on to California, where we were able to visit with my mom, sisters, nephews and their wives and meet my grand-niece Jaelyn, who was born last July.  She and Robbie celebrated their birthdays together, and we spent time going to movies, visiting the animal shelter and taking Gabi to meet her “mule-cousins.” All was going smoothly until the Sunday before we were supposed to head home, when I got a call that our dog Rigby was sick and in the emergency vet clinic in Seattle.  Luckily, Jason and Matthew were joining us in California that night, and we were able to discuss our (lack of) options, so we OK’d the surgery that was required to remove a sock, yes, a sock, from his intestines.  We felt so bad for the family who had taken such good care of him all year, that they had to deal with this a week before we returned, but they were amazing, getting him the help he needed and then dealing with all the follow-up care after the surgery.  This was also a great example of the cost of living in Spain:  Jason’s ankle surgery back in April didn’t even cost enough for us to reach our $3000 insurance deductible.  Rigby’s surgery was more than double the cost of Jason’s.  We are definitely not in Granada anymore, Toto. The day before we flew out of LA to Seattle, we spent the evening with another family from Granada, the McKendry’s.  It was great catching up on their last days in Granada and all the traveling they did before they headed to their new home in Manhattan Beach.  We are so glad that they live (relatively) close to us, and I expect there will be plenty of visits between LA and Seattle in the coming years!

Finally, on Saturday, August 5th, we landed at Sea-Tac.  Home. Thirteen months and thousands of miles and we were back where it all started.  Our house was just as we had left it, and it felt so comfortable to be back in our lovely neighborhood.  Our first meal that evening was at the local Mexican restaurant that had been the spot of our last supper in Seattle before leaving for Spain.  It was wonderful to walk into El Ranchon and have the wait staff not only remember us, but insist that now they would only speak to us in Spanish.  We toasted to our year, our adventure and told the kids how so very proud of them we are.  We did it!

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We have Rigby (the costly dog) and Raider (the cat) back at home, are enjoying grilling on our deck every chance we get and are catching up with friends as much as possible.  I’ve been hired as a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools, and Jason is working on his future employment plans (if anyone knows of any good business leadership or consulting opportunities in the Seattle area, please contact him … I need to get him out of the house!).  We bought a new car to replace my old one that was sold just prior to our departure last year.  We are shopping for school supplies and uniforms, and doing all the normal end of summer things one does as a family living in Seattle (or pretty much any American city).

The return to “normalcy” is welcome and yet …  We’ve now been back in home for almost two weeks, and it’s disturbing how quickly Granada, the country of Spain, the experience of all of our travels feel like distant memories; almost as if we never left Seattle.  At times, Granada seems like a dream, but then, like today, something will spark a memory and we will stop and reflect and feel deeply grateful for the glorious time we’ve spent together as a family over the last year.  We may fall right back into our routines and pre-Spanish life now that we’ve returned, but we will always have the memories of this past year.  Thankfully, the experiences are permanently a part of us … deeply embedded … imprinted on our minds, our hearts and our souls.

 

[For those that have enjoyed our blog this year, and are interested in reading more, Jason is planning to publish some stories, anecdotes and lessons from the perspective of someone who successfully climbed the corporate ladder for twenty years and then, suddenly, hit the pause button on his career to embark on our year abroad.  You will soon be able to read what he publishes on LinkedIn.  If you are not already on LinkedIn and connected to Jason, he can be found at  www.linkedin.com/in/jwilbur70.]


El duodécimo mes

IMG_5802As I write this next-to-last blog entry of this amazing family adventure of ours, I’m sitting in an airplane, 36,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, heading towards “home.” It will be a few more weeks before we actually get back to Seattle, but our year in Spain and Europe is now behind us. I thought I’d be crying a lot more at this moment, but I think the tears I’ve been crying on and off as we enjoyed our last weeks in Granada as well as when our boat departed Spain for the UK have left me dry.

It was a phenomenal last week in Granada. Jason and I tried to pack in every last bit we could, including a bull fight and a concert with Elsa Bhör. And then there were the dinners with friends and the tears, and the graduation ceremony for Matthew and the tears, and then the locking ourselves out of our house for the first time ever this year (a huge accomplishment given our door would lock automatically behind us as soon as it shut) and the tears, and I can’t forget the last day of school and the tears (granted Robbie’s were tears of joy!), and finally, the hardest part of all, the saying goodbye to our friends and the tears, tears and more tears.

I don’t think I can accurately describe the closeness of the friendships we made this year, but I suppose it’s a little like going off to college, only this time you are bringing your family along and everything is in a different language. You meet this group of people who are from all different backgrounds and cultures and yet you all have certain things in common: a desire to see the world, step out of your comfort zone, learn something new, and especially, to teach your kids resiliency in difficult situations. You share in the excitement of living in a new place, discovering places to shop, places to eat, places to see. You give each other tips and advice on how to navigate Spanish bureaucracy, or about your favorite Spanish language school, or even just how to play a new card game. You realize that the people you have met this particular year will actually be part of your life for a long, long time because of your shared experiences, good and bad. You are so very thankful for the “sophomores,” the people who have already been there a while, who are ready and willing to share what they know and to take you under their wings. You are grateful that you are not the only “freshman” and there are others who are going through the exact same feelings and frustrations you are, who will watch your kids when you need help, who will come with 7UP when the stomach virus runs through your house for the umpteenth time, who will host poker nights and pool parties and just let you vent. And you will know you are not alone.

That’s just our fellow expats. We cannot be more in debt to the local families we met, who accepted us into their neighborhood and homes, who helped us navigate certain Spanish customs and sticky situations, and who sat with us for hours listening to our very poor Spanish. We hope to be able to repay them in kind someday!

Yeah, so those tears I thought were all dried up…guess not. But, moving on. Once we were actually packed and ready to go, we didn’t leave Spain immediately. We flew to Bilbao from Granada and stayed there for three nights, taking day trips to San Sebastian and Santander. (One of our Granada families, the Whitteds were also visiting that area at the same time, and we all wondered why we hadn’t considered living in San Sebastian for a year instead of Granada, it was that beautiful! It was definitely my favorite of the three northern cities we saw.) On Wednesday evening of that week, our family boarded a ferry (that looked more like a cruise ship) from Santander to Plymouth, England. The trip took about 20 hours, and the sea was so rough that they wouldn’t let anyone out on deck for the first few hours and while we were watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in the ship’s movie theater, we felt like we were in a 4D film during the flying scenes. Luckily the Dramamine we bought before the trip worked well and none of us “fed the fishes!”

From Plymouth we took the train to Bath and enjoyed visiting the Roman Baths (thus the name). Bath is also where we picked up our rental car and Jason figured out how to drive on the wrong left side of the road. It was a little hairy at first, but he soon got the hang of it and was able to drive us to Stonehenge and Stratford-Upon-Avon the first day. Stratford was lovely, especially for me, as a former English teacher and Shakespeare lover. I dragged everyone through his birthplace and the church where he was both baptized and buried, but we also took time out to attend a small fair right on the banks of the Avon River.

We left Stratford and drove to what I think might be my favorite place the UK (and probably spoiled Scotland for me as well), the Lakes District in England. We stayed near a village called Ambleside. If you have ever read or watched The Lord of the Ring series, the Lakes District must be where Tolkien got his inspiration for the Shire where the hobbits live. Sweet stone houses, low stone walls separating the greenest fields you can imagine, and clear blue lakes. We had some drizzly weather, but not enough to keep us indoors and we really enjoyed exploring the area.

From the Lakes District we drove north into Scotland and stayed for a couple days near Loch Lomond, about an hour outside of Glasgow. It was great fun to get out on the Loch and explore a tiny island that was the site of a ruined abbey. We discovered what a really small world it is when the other family on the ferry with us was not only from Seattle, but from our neighborhood of Magnolia. We took a quick break from the hiking one day and went in to Glasgow for a movie and some amazing Indian food. Robbie is now addicted to masala. After Loch Lomond we drove to Edinburgh where Jason finally got to drop off the car and recover from all the driving. We stayed in an apartment in the old city and were close to everything. We took a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city which gave us a nice overview and a great look at the beautiful architecture of Edinburgh.  We didn’t go inside Edinburgh Castle, but could see it from many parts of the city and it reminded us a bit of the Alhambra back in Granada, towering over the area as it does. We also discovered a few sites in the city that were important to JK Rowling when she was writing the first Harry Potter book, which Robbie thought was pretty cool.

 

Before we knew it, we were on the train to London, our last stop before leaving Europe. We were disappointed that we missed our friends from Seattle, the Bilgers, who had been living in London this past year, but because they were on a visit back to Seattle, we were able to stay their lovely home. London was a great way to end our time in Europe: a ride on the London Eye, a show in the West End and a fantastic day at the Warner Brothers London Studios where they filmed all of the Harry Potter movies. Since the tour included everything a Harry Potter fan and budding filmmaker would want to see, Robbie was in heaven, and the rest of us really enjoyed it as well. Gabi wasn’t really a HP fan before the tour, but she’s now a proud Gryffindor and reading the first of the books on her Kindle app. The cherry on the top of this trip for Jason and I was the U2 Joshua Tree concert that we attended with our friends from Granada, Julie and Michael Whitted. (Yes, the same family we bumped into in Northern Spain…we’re not sure who is stalking who?)

All in all, these past weeks have helped ease us into the transition from living in Southern Spain to returning to life in the States. The English language, the climate and landscapes, and the “big city” feel of Edinburg and London reminded us a lot of Seattle. With the few stops in Chicago, Iowa and California ahead of us, I’m sure we will be even more “re-acclimated” by the time we actually make it home in August. But for now, the adventures continue!


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…


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