Category: Spanish Life (Page 2 of 6)

Plaza’s

One of the great thing about Spanish cities are the plaza’s and outdoor eating spaces.  It seems whatever the weather or the time you will find people outside enjoying drinks and food while kids play in the peripheral.  It’s been a great experience and one that we have been woefully under dressed for.  Not so much in terms of cold weather clothes but in terms of fashion.  We have functionally warm outer wear while it seems all around us there are people wearing fashionably warm outer wear.  They might be wearing their pajama’s underneath but I am certainly the one that sticks out.

It’s great letting the kids play nearby while we enjoy a drink and good conversation.  Whether it’s been mid-day or 10pm their are always other kids out and about playing while there parents are also enjoying the day/afternoon/night.

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Hibernation

Our family has gone into hibernation.  This is really the best way to describe it.  It’s cold and the wind chill factor is simply brutal.  Something about being in a mountain valley along a river?  The highs have been around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the lows around 10 but the wind is at 20 mph with gusts to 30.  Lavender just about cries every morning on our walk to school.

October, Scarlett & I have learned to crochet and are all working on scarfs.  I’m quite impressed with how the girls are doing.  October is almost done with her scarf and has gone through an entire skein of yarn.  In this cold weather (and cold house) we have begun to hibernate.  After school we all gather in beds together. We crochet, cuddle and watch Netflix.  We get out of bed to have some dinner but then we all gather back in bed to cover up and crochet some more and watch Netflix.  I’ll required American schoolwork be done but it will also be done in bed.  Other nights the girls have a rhythmic gymnastics class before we gather in bed together.  We might gather on the beds in the girls room or more often we all pile into our double bed in a jumbled mess of bodies, blankets and yarn.  Around 9pm, we send the kids to their beds and everyone goes to sleep for the night.  Yes, that includes Jeff & I.  We all slumber for 10 hours or so and repeat the next day when we will again gather in bed together.   This routine isn’t helping me reach my goal of being active in the new year but the cuddles and quiet time together as a family makes me smile.

Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a…..

Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do.
-Flowers on the Wall by Statler Brothers

No, I really have nothing to do. And recently it has been driving me a little insane.  For much of January, I’ve been ill.  The kids have been ill.  Jeff’s been ill.  It’s been really cold.  I’m tired of wearing five layers.  I’m homesick.  I’m thinking ahead to swimsuit season.  So a month ago, I would have combated my loneliness by going for a run or walking the castle stairs or most definitely indulging in a giant chocolate bar dipped in peanut butter.  This month, I feel trapped in the house and the less I do in a day the worse I feel. I’ve been finding myself wasting time on the internet, daydreaming of life when we return.  I’ll look up houses for rent or jobs available or what’s new at the Science Center or what activities the girls could be enrolled in.  Since I have been here, I have gone on a few coffee dates with other moms wanting to practice their English but unfortunately, this month it’s been more missed dates than made ones.  I do have some ladies I can go running with…if I weren’t sick.  I take tennis lessons on Saturday mornings but we’ve either been gone or I’ve been sick.  I’m really looking forward to not being ill and the weather getting a little warmer.

And in reality, there isn’t much here for me to do even when I’m not ill.  It’s a small town and I don’t have a car to travel to a bigger one.  I do a lot of household chores; which are never ending and mind-numbing.  We have five plates and a dishwasher that doesn’t really work; even when I use the correct soap.  I make breakfast and walk the girls to school, go pick up groceries for the day, wash the dishes, write a blog (maybe), practice my Spanish online (maybe), do some laundry and then it’s time to go pick up the girls again for their two-hour lunch break.  Some days I’ll go to the post office, the bank or pharmacy.  I’ll make lunch for the girls and we’ll do a small amount of American schoolwork.  I’ll walk to the girls back to school for the second part of their day; which is also when all the shops close down for Siesta.  When it’s warmer this is when I had been going for a run or a hike or walk the castle stairs and taking a shower.

I try to stay motivated and busy.   I make to-do lists.  I’ve been trying to keep up on blog writing.  I’ve been trying to keep up on organizing my photo’s.  I’ll plan our vacations.  I might watch a Netflix documentary.  I had planned to start the Julian Micheals 30 day SHRED via youtube but I’ve been sick and I can’t walk to school without getting out of breath and coughing so Julian will have to wait.  I’ve read a few books.  I check face book about a hundred times a day.  I’m just downloaded the history book we would have read this year and will be reading it both as a read aloud to the kids and to myself.  It is a part of our homeschool curriculum that I have missed.  I learned to crochet and am working on an infinity scarf.  Shouldn’t I be entertaining myself with TED talks and learning some part of history that I’ve missed?  I could take some of the online Girl Scout modules so I’m ready to volunteer when I return!  I could be learning via podcasts!  With so much time, shouldn’t I be fluent in Spanish by now?

 

 

In 30 Years…

In 30 years, I wonder what the girls will remember of their year living in Spain.  Lavender is only 4 years so many of her memories may be vague or based on what she hears from her sisters but Scarlett and October most assuredly will have memories.  Will it be their school experience?  The castles? The long-walk through city streets their parents took them on?  Being dragged around Cathedrals, Mosques and Temples?  The long-bus rides?  The historical sights?  They will all remember bits and pieces and I can almost picture them grown and reminiscing together.

Although based on the current topics discussed, I’m afraid the most lasting memories may be of Jesus and penises.  I know, the irony.  We’ve seen a lot of historical and religious monuments.  We are living in a very Catholic area; exploring on foot so we have more of chance to really see the world around us.  Much more so than if we were whizzing by in a car.  They talk about all the different paintings and sculptures of Jesus.  Along with the various states of blood and destruction surrounding him.  They want to know how he could hang their like that and why people killed each other so much in those times.  And why they painted pictures of it!  They debate whether or not he’s real.  There is also nudity in all sorts of places – artwork, sculptures, school, and the science center.  We went to the Science Center in Granada and at the time they had an exhibit on the Human Body.  There were sections for your cells, circulation, heart, digestive tract, nerves, reproduction and your bones.  If you had to venture a guess as to which section had the most nudity, you’d guess reproduction.  You would also be wrong.  The bones section had a video about how your bones move and what type of joints are in your body.  Except that the man and woman in the video were completely naked.  Full frontal, full back, side….you know so you could fully appreciate their joints.  The man would stand there naked and lift his arm to show how his shoulder joint worked and the shot would turn in a 360 view so that you could see how his shoulder muscle worked from all angles.  Except if you were one of my children you weren’t looking at his shoulders.  And really, how could you?  It was so out-of-place; the nudity not the body parts.  The woman was completely nude as well and she was showing you how the ball and socket of your hip moved your leg.  So there she was, raising her leg to the back and rotating it around to the front and back down.  And then repeating it in the opposite direction.  Naked.  I’m pretty sure you could have put either of these models in a nude suit or even a bathing suit! And still got the images across.  They weren’t muscular models and the exhibit wasn’t on muscles. I really should have taken a video.  I was concerned about seeming like a creep though!

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Mezquita Cordoba

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Here are Scarlett & Lavender discussing Jesus

 

Festivals

October is preparing in school for a Carnival.  We had a small list of items to purchase and the name of the store in Buitrago to purchase them at.  She really had no idea what kind of Carnival they were preparing for.  I blew off until I got an ad in the mail that had halloween-type costumes in it and they were labeled “Carnaval”.  Made me think, maybe this Carnival is bigger than a random school project.  Turns out it’s a Mardi Gras type festival in the days leading up to lent.  Parades, people dressed up, drinking, celebrating all night.  There are many cities in Spain that have large celebrations and a Mardi Gras type celebration didn’t even come to mind when October mentioned a Carnival.  I was thinking games and face painting.  She is making Egyptian Head-dresses.  Madrid does have a celebration, but from what I’ve read it’s not as extravagant as others in Southern Spain.  I guess we’ll have to go to Madrid to find out if carnival is more a Paczki eating day or a flash your boobs kind of day.

Ad with Carnaval costumes.

Ad with Carnaval costumes.

We celebrated Three Kings Day back on January 5th here in Buitrago.  It was an interesting festival to experience.  It was also a difficult night all around. Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) is representing the three wise men bringing gifts to Baby Jesus.  Children in Spain expect a visit from Reyes Magos on the night of January 5th where they bring the children presents and leave them in their shoes.  It is also traditional to eat a Roscon which is a doughnut shaped bread/pastry with jelly-gummy candies with a plastic toy buried inside.  They were sold at all the grocery stores.  We did not end up having one.  So onto the festival….

We gathered in Buitrago preparing for a parade.  The girls were excited.  I saw other kids with bags; which tipped me off that this may be a “candy-excessive” parade.  While they were waiting in their place on the street, I stopped into the bank ATM to get rent money out.  And the ATM ate my card.  AHH!!!  Jeff had stayed at home to get some stuff done, the girls were out on the street by themselves, the crowds were accumulating, an old man who knew me as the “American with three girls” was trying to help me by calling the bank (which was closed for the holiday) and I was freaking out that now I could not get access to my money.  I call Jeff, he comes to stand with the girls and by the time I rejoin them there is a Smurf (??) themed parade and teenagers from Jeff’s school are not tossing but whipping hard candies at him and his family.  There were approximately four floats in the parade (it’s a small town) with the last one having the Three Kings.  After the parade went by, it made it loop and headed back into the main plaza of town which was set up with three King’s chairs and a red carpet to receive the kings.  We gathered along side the red carpet while hoards of children gathered near the beginning of the red carpet.  They clearly were in the know.  The parade stopped and those on floats paraded up the red carpet to the thrones of the Three Kings.  This procession included angels, soldiers, Smurfs, SpongeBob and the Three Kings along with their court.  The court included a teenager painted with brown skin to match the King he was with.  Strange and also, not acceptable in the U.S.  The children that were lined up at the end of the red carpet were waiting to sit on the Three Kings laps.  Afterwards, the kids got hot chocolate and churros.  We ran home for a bit – the line was long!  Basically, the line was all the children in the village.  We went back just as the line was dying down.  As was my camera – so no photo’s of my own children sitting on the laps of the Three Kings.

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I was in the mood for staying out among the crowd and excitement and to enjoy the night.  The girls and I went for a walk further down into town towards the castle walls.  Unfortunately, Lavender and October were fooling around running on the sidewalk and it ended badly.  Lavender got her foot wrapped up in yellow caution tape, fell off the curb onto her back, the metal barricade the caution tape was tied to then fell off the curb and onto Lavender’s body and forehead.  A stranger jumped out of their car to grab up Lavender before I got a chance to get there.  I thought for sure Lavender was going to open her mouth to scream and it’d be void of teeth.  Luckily it was not.  But it wasn’t great either – her lip was bleeding, her forehead and nose were already bruising.  I scooped Lavender up, still sobbing uncontrollably.  And had she not been concerned where her candy bag from the Three Kings had gone I’m pretty sure the strangers in the car would have called a for ambulance (although it was literally a block away).  I went home after this.  I was spent.

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Her forehead and bridge of the was quite bruised.

Food Prices

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While electricity and toys are expensive, food and alcohol is not.  Getting back to a U.S. grocery store with more familiar items will be nice but I am not looking forward to the sticker shock that I am sure to experience.  (I hear gas is cheap in the US right now and I most definitely would have liked to see that; as I’m sure it will be high again when we return this summer).

At the fish market, I bought 4 kilos (8.6 pounds) of mussels for 12 euros.  I bought two large trout for 5 euros.  I can buy vodka or gin for 5 euros.  The wine I buy is 1.76 euros.  The photo of produce was purchased for 5.16 euros.  I bought an entire chicken for 8 euros at the butcher last week.  And with the dollar rising against the euro, the price difference from when we arrived to now is a big improvement.  I am averaging a saving of $80 – $100 no longer lost in currency conversion from when we arrived in October.

Here’s a breakdown of the cost of items in the top picture:
3kg (6.6 lbs) of Potatoes –  2.00
Store-brand red-bull – .37
Cinnamon – .47
Butter – 1.31
Jam – 1.45
1 lb Chicken thin fillets – 2.75

I looked up my grocery receipts and here are some other items not pictured:
1kg Flour (2.2 lbs) – .45
1 Liter milk – .56
Special K cereal (large box) – 2.89 (with in store discount it was 1.87 each box)
1 Liter chicken stock – .85
1 lb lemons – .62
2 Liters Orange juice – 1.25
1 kg (2.2lbs) onions – .89
3 pack paper towels – 1.59
1 package of pizza cheese – 2.04
2 kg (4.4 pounds) of Golden Delicious apples – 1.99

We have used the bidet.  All the ladies that is.  Jeff is the last hold out.  When we moved in, I couldn’t really imagine using it. I’ve gone 30+ years without needing a special toilet for my ass. Now that that’s cold inside and out, I may see the benefit.  The thought of showering even other day seems…..well, cold. I really don’t mind the cold weather outside but the cold house has made me come a little unglued.  At the same time, the thought of sending smelly kids to school and not only being known as the “Americans” but the smelly American’s is a bit  much.  When I mentioned to the kids they were going to take a body bath to wash their privates (but not their hair as it was too cold) they suggested we use the “butt washer” instead.  Ah…good point. Solid use of the bidet.  So we all stripped from the knees to the waist and washed our smelly privates.  Maybe not the exact proper usage of the bidet (or maybe it is) but one I see us using until the weather turns warm again. Thumbs up for sharing!

Electricity

One of the very best things about traveling is the most wonderful experience of taking a long, HOT shower or bath and cranking the heat up to “extra crispy”.  On our first Spain trip, it was still warm outside and I had no idea what was to come.  I say that, but of course I knew what would be coming would be colder weather.  I even packed for some snow.

What I didn’t know was the outrageous cost of heat (electrical) and the odd ball heater/hot water configurations we would need to figure out.  I thought I understood.  I had some written down “cliff” notes even.  I’ve determined I probably don’t understand.

Throughout the house there are electrical outlets that are programmed by the electrical company to come on only during the non-peak hours and thus less-expensive night-time hours.  There is one in every room and the heaters are each plugged into them.  The electricity flows from about 11pm – 11am.  Each heater has a “charge” and a “discharge” switch.

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So if you want heat, you need to first charge the heater on the level desired.  * is the lowest amount.  Then once the heater has heat stored (charged) you can then choose the level of heat you would like it discharged at.  I was also told it was best to turn off the breakers to the bedrooms during the day and turn off the breakers to the living room/dining room during the night.  I get it.  I understand the reasoning behind this. I program my our thermostats back in Washington to operate the same way.  Now here, I figured that once the heater is fully charged at the “1” level then it would stop sucking electricity as it was “full”.  And this may be true or it may not be.  Or maybe this is where my error is, assuming.  If the heater has a charge in it, then you can discharge at the level desired.  The higher the discharge number, the quicker the heat is released and the quicker it will run out of heat.  I do know that the heater will discharge it’s heat without needing electricity because if you unplug them, they will continue discharging heat for awhile.  With this understanding, I set the living room heaters to charge at 1 and would put it on * discharge for the night.  And actually, most of the day.  Around 3pm when the sun goes down and it gets cold I would switch it to discharge 1 while maintaining the charge of 1.  I figured this would allow some heat to remain in the heater and therefore not need a full charge (and use less electricity) during the next night.  With the bedroom heaters, I would charge on 1 in the night and discharge on 1 in the night.  When I got up, I turned off the breakers so they would not continue charging for the remaining 4-5 hours that the electrical outlet was functioning.  And for the playroom?  Once, it started getting cold we moved October into the other bedroom with her sisters and just stopped heating this room altogether.  Now, I explained this in English.  No, really it was.  I had it explained as if it was a charades game with one person speaking Spanish and another translating into English a heating process for which she had never used.

Onto the hot water!  The hot water heater works the same way.  The electrical outlet turns on at night, heats the water in the tank and then that’s the hot water you have until the next evening when it charges again.  Now, one bonus is that if for some reason you need hot water NOW there is a normal electrical outlet to heat your hot water with.  In no uncertain terms, Spanish, English or charades it was explained that this is VERY expensive.  We have yet to declare an emergency and plug the heater into the normal outlet.  There is a hot water gauge on the tank, so at least you know the likelihood of having a hot shower.

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The heater is in an upper cabinet in the kitchen. Hence, the hot coco.

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I think ideally, you would have a couple of people take showers in the morning while the opportunity for the heater to reheat is the way to go.  Except, we don’t have a hair dryer (and it’s too cold to go outside with wet hair) and at this point it seems maybe you’d have to sell your soul to pay for electricity to run a hair dryer after each shower for four girls.  So we take turns, alternating days for which folks take showers, saving the bath water between kids.  But as a bonus, there is no heat in the bathrooms.  The main bath is a rather large spacious room with tall ceilings completely finished in tile.  We all use this shower as the master bathroom could instead be used as a walk-in cooler.

When we toured this apartment we were told that the heat could run 400 euros a month in the winter IF you used a lot of electricity and heat.  I thought I was being conservative. We were also told to test it out and adjust as necessary.  EXCEPT THE ELECTRIC COMPANY ONLY BILLS EVERY TWO MONTHS! And, by the time you receive your bill you are a month into the next TWO month billing cycle.  How are you suppose to adjust for that?!? We moved in the beginning of October.  Our first bill came January 6th and it covered 10/3-12/9.  It was $730 (US).  Our rent is $460 (US).  It was a rather unexpected and disheartening blow to my rather tenuous thoughts about living here in Spain and I could nearly hear my gas fireplace in Washington taunting me.  I started plotting my under the cover of darkness abandonment of Spain.

And then it got cold.  Really cold.  There is actually an “Extreme Temperature” alert on the weather channel.  It snowed.  The kids loved the snow.  They don’t like our cold house.  I don’t like our cold house.  It’s not even kinda warm.  We turned off the heat to the living room & dining room entirely and closed the door.  We moved the coffee table into the playroom (which has a futon) and have set up shop in there.  It (hopefully) will be easier and cheaper to heat.  We hang out in the kitchen where it gets warm quickly as we cook.  I’m making hearty winter foods.  We’ve started going to bed early – it’s too cold to stay up.  And we wear hats in our house all day.  Oh, how nice it was to be at a hotel/motel/hostel taking a long shower and slowly getting myself dressed for the day.  You can also read Jeff’s take on the cold!

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Alcazar of Segovia

We have our Lonely Planet guide, we’ve listened to podcasts and residents of Spain often tell us what we MUST see.  It can be pretty overwhelming and daunting to figure out what we want to see and what we’re okay missing.  While in total we will be here in Spain for 8 months it’s not a vacation every day or every weekend but we’re trying to see as much as we can before we have to leave Spain and the Schegen area on June 30th when our visa’s expire.

The Alcazar of Segovia is rumored to be the inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle in Walt’s Disney World.  I kept telling the girls that we were going to see Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  Which I’ll admit was a little misleading.  They probably would have preferred Walt Disney World but the castle was pretty cool none-the-less.  We paid an extra 2 euro’s to climb 152 steps up the Tower of Juan II.  It was pretty cool; but I had an image of a circular room with a few small windows.  Like Rapunzel.  Instead it was a rooftop with the circular columns we see from the bottom cut in half.

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The interior of the Alcazar was pretty amazing as well! IMG_1897 IMG_1906 IMG_1952 IMG_1905 IMG_1927 IMG_1955 IMG_1956 IMG_1962

After touring around we decided to try to find the view from the bottom of the Alcazar.  And it was quite a nice little impromptu hike.  It was great!

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