Tuesday, January 29, 2013


It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged. Big things have been happening— we have a signed lease!!  
Thanks in large part to my husband, and in absolutely no part to me, we will be moving out of the hotel tomorrow. We’ll have been staying here for exactly 3 weeks, and we’re definitely ready to have our own place again.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. Just when we thought things were settled, we’d get an e-mail with some kind of problem or another. Josh has amazed me with his ability to jump in and get things done; including, but not limited to, difficult negotiations on contracts written in Spanish.

He’s also gotten our cell phones, arranged for internet, dealt with the security folks, locksmiths, realtors, teachers, banks…the list is endless.

Speaking of internet, I’m afraid it might be awhile until I can blog again. As soon as we had our address, Josh went to order our internet service. They said it could be up to 3 weeks before they come out to hook it up. Three weeks!! Three weeks of having to stand outside near a hotel or something to check my e-mail.  Sheesh.  I’ll try to keep up with short updates, if I can’t do a full post.

What else?

-Our new piso is awesome and I love it. Pictures to come, when the internet does.  

- It’s in a great neighborhood. How do I know? An ex-president of Spain lives across the street. For realz.

- The kids are doing much better than we’d expected for having been in school for 2 and a half weeks. We have a meeting with Derek’s teachers tomorrow, because when we attended the class group meeting last week, we grasped about 15% of what was said. We must have looked confused, so they offered us our own meeting.
Actually, 15% might be overstating it.

Alex is figuring out how to communicate, says she has lots of friends, and is having more good days than bad.

-Both of our kids need their own space in a big way. We cannot wait for them to have their own rooms so they can stop picking at each other, and so we don’t have to be constantly telling them to be quiet, that people around us might be sleeping, etc.

Our parenting skills lately have been leaving a lot to be desired. We’re all just at the end of our ropes, patience-wise. Have I mentioned that it will be good to be in our own place again?

Just a time or ten?
We all need it!

- Kudos to the hotel breakfast buffet. We’ve eaten there 21 mornings in a row, and we still enjoy it. I attribute the fact that we’ve remained healthy, despite a good amount of stress and a lot of public handrails on the metro, to their fresh-squeezed orange juice and lovely fruit options.

- I attribute my love handles to the croissants.

- Spanish kids! They are so cute, and always dressed up. You wouldn’t believe the outfits they wear to the park on a Saturday afternoon. Would it be creepy if I took their pictures? So, so cute.

- Spanish Coffee. It’s so good. Really, really good. I don’t know why. It just is.

- When we move to our piso tomorrow, we will only have the things we packed in our quick-shipment. Meaning some kitchenware, blankets, pillows, towels, a few toys, etc. No furniture at all.

We knew that it could be several weeks of “camping out” before our main shipment arrived.

But at lunchtime today, we got some great news! The rest of our things will be delivered on Thursday! We are so pleased and grateful for that. It’s hard to live with nowhere to sit except the floor, air mattresses that leak, etc. It was a totally unexpected blessing.  I think this might be a record for an overseas move of being completely settled into a house in less than a month.


Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dos Semanas

We arrived in Madrid two weeks ago, and my pile of dirty laundry is remarkably not too out of control, thanks only to my new Spanish bathtub washing routine.

The routine involves washing only underwear, socks, and t-shirts, and making the kids wear their pajamas 5 nights in a row.

Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. And I have a moral opposition to paying 1.30 Euro to have one pair of undies washed.

The hopefully-knock-on-wood-keeping-fingers-crossed good news is that we might be in our own place one week from today! We are in negociations on a lease for our next home sweet home. The owner's of our first choice in pisos accepted our offer, yea!
The hard part is trying to iron out all the details, in Spanish.
Throw in the additional requirements of the embassy-- like a security inspection, lock-change requirements, alarm system installment, etc., and it gets more complicated. Then we needed to negociate a parking spot into the lease, so the Carolla Sport has a place to live when she arrives.

Oh, and anytime I use the word "we", you can assure yourself that I actually mean "Josh."

So two weeks later and we have an almost-lease, new cell phones, the kids are in school, we know our way around the city, we have our post office box set up, we're mostly inprocessed at the Embassy, our car insurance has been switched over to Spain, we've got a Skype number (thanks John!), all 4 of us have Metro passes, we have a Spanish bank account, and the list of things still-to-do might now be smaller than the list of things already accomplished.

So here are my thoughts on Madrid, now that I´m practically a native Madrileña.

ha. that was a joke.

-- The fur coat industry is alive and well among the older women of Spain.
-- The phrase "Hasta luega" flows out of people's mouths in a way that makes it practically unrecognizable. And I can't imitate it no matter how many times I try.
-- There are gorgeous buildings on every street, and the detail in all the architecture is incredible.
-- The food is mostly very good, and sometimes a little weird.
And lastly,

I really need to get out there with a camera!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Week One

It's the weekend! And we couldn't be more thrilled to slow down, sleep in, and relax a little.
It has been a hectic week.

Yesterday marked the end to the kids' first full week of school in Spain. We celebrated with una taza de chocolate y churros after school.
The hot chocolate here is very different than what we are used to. It's thicker, more like melted chocolate. And the churros are for dipping-- yum! There's a good place just around the corner from our hotel. It's always packed, but worth the wait.

Their first week was a success, despite an occasional setback.
Alex couldn't communicate that there was no toilet paper in the bathroom, and so she just held it.
Derek fell out of his chair and bonked his head.

There were also successes-- Alex was introduced to multiplication for the first time, and she was able to learn her number 2 times table and recite it-- in Spanish!
It was a double accomplishment to learn multiplication while still not totally familiar with the numbers.
It's super cute to hear her..."dos por cinco, diez" with the characteristic lisp of Castillian Spanish.

Derek had a note sent home asking if we could let him know that it's okay for him to eat the soy yogurt. We had seen yogurt on the menu and told him not to eat it, not realizing that they would have a soy option. He didn't believe his teacher when she told him he could eat it.
We were glad that he was overly cautious, and also glad that the school is being careful about his food. A big relief on both counts.

Here's a picture of Alex in her dress uniform.

Unfortunately, when we picked her up on Friday, her brand new sweater which she had worn exactly two times was missing. It does have her name in it, but we're not totally optimistic that it will make it's way back to her. In it's place, the school gave her an old one from lost and found that looks...old. And is too big.
We may have to take out a small loan to replace it if it's not returned.

This week Josh and I logged miles and miles as we hit the piso market. There are lots of options, it's just a matter of weighing the apartment itself with location and how connected it is to local markets, Metro stops, and places we will frequent.

I fell in love with one place that was a little over our budget, so we made an offer that was within our budget and are waiting to hear back. We do have some backups in case they don't want to negotiate.
Hopefully this coming week we will be able to nail something down.
Once we choose a place, the Embassy security team has to come and do a security check before we can sign a lease.
I can't wait to be in our own place again! The hotel is great, but it's just not the same. The kids need toys and space and though it's impossible to believe that these words are coming out of my mouth-- I'm ready to eat a few meals at home.

Here's some little restaurant we found for lunch one day.

I like the Spanish foods, even though most of the time we have no idea what we're ordering.
Things are getting better now, but for the first week of being here, Spanish food did not like me. Before we'd leave the hotel, I'd map out where I could find restrooms along our route.
For all that people say the Metro here is so great, there's not a baño to be had in the whole system.

So Josh and I managed to get our metro passes! We felt like we hit the lottery or something ;)
The kids have appointments to get theirs on Monday before school, so soon we'll be swiping our cards and looking like we belong ;)

Or something like that.

Today (Saturday) we relaxed over breakfast and coffee, and headed out to Madrid's central park-- El Parque de Retiro. It's ginormous, so we really only went to one small section that we knew had a playground as well as a lake.

Waiting for the metro


Blurry shot of the lake

After that we headed to a different neighborhood, where our piso number 2 choice is, to scope out the area some more. We found this great park just around the corner from it, so the kids definitely wont mind too much if we can't get our first choice.

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


For all of the frustrations and difficulties we've run into trying to get set up in Madrid, our experience so far with the kids' school has been wonderful.

It's a private school that advertises itself as bilingual, but is mostly Spanish-speaking. They have a team approach in which some classes are taught in Spanish by one teacher, and then an English speaking teacher will instruct in other subjects.
The Spanish teacher doesn't speak English at all, which surprised me a little. There are very few English-only kids in the school, so Alex and Derek will have to learn if they want to get by on the playground.

We are so thankful for the Army family we were introduced to online before we arrived, and who have become our new friends here in Madrid. Like I mentioned before, their 2 kids are in Alex's and Derek's classrooms and that has made a huge difference for them in getting settled in and feeling comfortable.
The bad news is that their family is going to be out of town for a couple of weeks, so we'll see how they do without their connection to the English speaking world.

This assignment is very different from a typical overseas military assignment. Usually there is a base, which functions like a mini-America, with most of the resources you would find at home. There would typically be a department of defense school as well.
Since there is no base here, and no school, the military provides us with other resources that help make up for the difference. There is a school program that allocates funds to give the kids an education that is comparable to what they could receive in the States.
We are given a budget to work within, and have some freedom in choosing what type of school we want the kids to attend.
There is an American school in the suburbs of the city, but we thought this would be a neat opportunity for them to learn a new language, so we opted to go with a Spanish school.
The program will pay for their tuition and fees, and we pick up the bill for the ridiculously priced uniforms, as well as the school lunch program.
I could tell you how much that costs, but I don't think you'd believe me.

We arrived in town last Wednesday, had a meeting at the school on Thursday, and chose Monday for the kids to start classes. They welcomed the kids in mid-year, worked with us on Derek's food allergies, and addressed all our questions and concerns...and they haven't even received the registration fees.
The schools program I mentioned is a little slow in getting things set up, but since the school has worked with them before, I suppose they know that they will eventually be paid. I just find it hard to imagine a private school in the States that would do anything without some sort of deposit or fees being paid.

So we've been impressed with them, even when we sometimes have to pantomime to communicate. ;)

On Monday I was definitely nervous. Mostly about Derek's food issues, and whether Alex would be too overwhelmed. We wanted to come have lunch with them, but were told that's just not done here. They administrators gently shooed us off, telling us to enjoy our day.

At least I think that's what they said. ;)

And so off we went, with no cell phone for emergencies yet, and an 8 hour school day. Yep, 9 to 5.

Josh had a meeting scheduled, so I had coffee with my new friend, Rachel, and she showed me her piso and neighborhood to get an idea about the housing here.
Then I went on a long walk around different parts of the city to see some sights.

It was nice to be on my own for a bit, but I was still nervous. I walked and prayed.

We were so relieved to see big smiles at pick-up time! They both said they had a good day, and we celebrated by letting them play with their friends in a plaza in front of the Reina Sophia art museum. It was full of uniformed Spanish schoolkids playing futbol and running around, so neat to see.

After that, we grabbed dinner on the walk back to the metro station, and headed back to the hotel.

Their second day seemed to go smoothly as well. It's such a blessing to have this very important part of our time here in Madrid get off to a good start!

Here are some pictures...

Here they are after breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Alex looks sleepy-- it was our earliest wake-up since arriving.
She wears this gym uniform 3 times a week, and her dress uniform 2 times a week.

Derek dresses up like an itty-bitty-wittle-man every day of the week.

You'd better like his pants.

This is the tiny street the school is on. See all those people on the right? That's the door to the school at pick-up time. It's a little bit crazy. I think the school is 4 or 5 stories high, so when it lets out, kids just pour out the front doors.

There's a lot of graffiti in Madrid, but it definitely feels very safe.

Part of the Plaza de Reina Sofia where the kids were playing.

Riding home on the Metro

Loosening up the tie at the end of the day

Here are just a few random pics I quickly took while walking around. I will have to get my good camera out one of these days!

These types of old buildings and structures are everywhere! It's really a fun place to walk around.

Okay. All for now!

Monday, January 14, 2013


The kids had their first day of school today! Things went well, but I´m afraid I´ve run out of time today to upload the newer pictures. I´ll do a post about school next, but since I´ve promised pictures twice now, here are just a couple that I had already uploaded...

All of us plus all of our stuff ready to head into the Kalamazoo airport.
This pile looks deceptively small-- there were a bunch of things hiding behind that big suitcase in the front.

Josh sandwiched between two sleeping children on the flight over the Atlantic.
I was supposed to be sleeping across the aisle, but that didn't pan out.

At least Derek was comfy ;)

That's our hotel in the background. We have one of the rooms that's on the curve, and has 4 of those little balconies.

In one of Madrid's many plazas.

Derek enjoying the hydrotub.

The tub doubles as my washing machine, since I have yet to find a local laundry service.
The hotel service charges more to wash one pair of underwear than it would cost to buy a new pair.
For realz.
Spain doesn't really do laundromats as we know them. I found one not too far away, but it would cost around $20 to do one load.

I've heard there are places that will charge by the kilo, which is a better deal. But I haven't seen one, so I've just been using the bathtub and draping clothes all over the room to dry.
Overall, today was a better day. We're pretty much adjusted sleep-wise, the kids got a break from us and vice-versa, but getting things accomplished to find a place & get settled still seems to be one step forward and 2 steps back.
Tomorrow the big goal is to get a bank account set up. Judging by where you go to obtain metro passes, I'm expecting to start the day in a butcher shop.
Hasta luego!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

No tengo ningun "title"

I promised pictures, but it turns out I haven't been taking any.

I know, I know. I'm in an exciting city with lots of things to take pictures of. But we've always got this checklist of things to do, and so our walks around Madrid feel less like a touristy stroll and more like a forced march.
The last couple of days have been hard.
I think we're really going to enjoy it here, and I'm looking forward to getting to know the city and taking time to appreciate it...

But right now it's just hard. Once we get settled in... is my mantra these days.

Nothing is easy, or simple, or intuitive.
We spent all day Saturday trying to get an abono mensual, a monthly metro pass. Which seems like it should be simple enough.
The Metro website says that you need to go to an estanco, which is a tabacco shop, to get one.

Because, clearly, tobacco shops make the most sense for where to buy a metro pass.
We knew that they needed to see our passports, and needed some passport-sized photos, but wanted to double check on how many they needed. So we walked to a nearby estanco and did our best to ask the questions, en espanol, por supuesto.
The lady said that we needed copies of all of our passports, 1 photo each, and also, we had it all wrong. For first-time buyers, you have to go to one of the bigger Metro stations to purchase it, the closest of which is quite a distance.
But we were on a mission.

So we returned to our hotel to get copies made of our passports, and headed back out. We stopped at a closer metro station because we knew they had a photo booth there, and we didn't want to get to the far away one and find out that they did not.
We went into the station, and had to ask to be allowed through the gate without tickets to get to the photobooth.
Once there, we realized that the booth only accepts 5-Euro bills, which we didn't have. Back up to the street. Got change. Back down to the station. Ask to be let in again.
Obtain passport photos of each of us, to the tune of about $30.
For a do-it-yourself photo booth.

Back up the street and on to our larger Metro station destination.
We arrived, wandered around, finally found the right spot, and joined the line.
While in the line, our limited Spanish listening skills picked up a word being mentioned.



Come to find out, we needed to get an appointment.
On the internet.

This was a low point for us.
We stopped off for lunch on the way back, discouraged at having accomplished nothing.
Hit a park for the kids on the way to the hotel, and then hopped online to schedule our appointment.
They were booked over a week out. So maybe, if we're lucky, we'll have an abono mensual sometime before February.
But maybe not, because we've heard that the kids' take several weeks to process.

So that was our Saturday.

Tomorrow the kids start school! I'm so nervous for them. I might just sit outside the building all day.

Or have a party.
I can't decide.

You see, we've been out of our own home for over a month now, and those two really need some time away from each other and time just to be on their own.
There's nothing for them to do in the hotel, and taking them on all our errands is driving us insane.
I know it's not easy for them either, but it's so frustrating just trying to walk them through the busy streets.
I think starting school will be good for all of us.  

And that will definitely be a reason to take pictures! So tomorrow, for sure, I'll post the few ones we've already taken, and some "second-first-day-of-school-of-the-year-pics"


Friday, January 11, 2013

Hola de Madrid!

So we've been in Spain now for 3 days, all of which are blending together with a deficiency of sleep. And I will now bore you with every minute detail that my foggy brain can remember.

We left Michigan on Tuesday afternoon...

The flights went fine, no weather or delays. The final leg was a 7 hour flight from New York to Madrid, which took off around 8pm. Once we got off the ground, I took an ambien and waited for sleep to come.

It did not.
I think I'm immune to it's effects.
And I can't sleep on airplanes, hence the ambien plan.

So when we touched down at 3:00am eastern time, 9:00am Madrid time, I hadn't slept at all, Josh got maybe 30 minutes, and the kids had gotten between 3-4 hours of sleep on the plane.
We were tired.

We found a shuttle van to take us to our hotel, since a cab wasn't going to fit all the luggage. Actually, our hotel room barely fits all the luggage. I think I overpacked.
(side note, moving in the winter is no good. Coats, boots, sweaters, scarves, everything takes up so much space!)

The radio in the shuttle was playing all American pop songs.
Also, I'm not sure I'll ever be brave enough to drive in the city. It's a little crazy-- cars just do what they want, and women wearing high heels while riding mopeds dart in and out of the traffic.

Thankfully, when we got to the hotel our room was ready even though it was quite early. We dropped our things off and walked to a nearby grocery store, grabbed sandwich stuff and had a quick lunch in our room.
Then the family nap commenced, and lasted about 3 hours before we decided that any more sleep would be regretted that night.
After waking up and getting showered, we met briefly with our sponsors who welcomed us with some treats and answered some of our more pressing questions, like how to use a bidet.

Kidding. But there is one in the bathroom. Just in case I want to freshen up.

The hotel is quite nice-- we have a suite, so we don't have to sleep in the same room as the kids. But the kids do have to share a bed, which leads to lots of giggling and hushing from our room to theirs.
It's very modern, has several teeny balconies, and serves the best coffee I've ever had at their breakfast buffet. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Back to our first night-- after our get-together, we headed out to find some food. We were all so hungry that we didn't make it too far. There was a buffet across the street from the hotel which promised some more recognizable food for the kids.
We want to expand their palates, but not while functioning on 3 hours of sleep, ya know?

Josh and I did share a pitcher of sangria though, for our inaugural meal.

We walked around a bit after that-- the streets are alive and kicking at all hours of the day and night. It was around 10pm local time when we decided to try to get a night's rest.
I thought for sure that the limited amount of sleep we all had would ensure a full night of snoozing, but I thought wrong.
Derek was a champ and slept from 10pm til 9am, but the rest of us were up for a couple of hours between 2 and 4 in the morning. We all might have slept longer, but we had a meeting set up at Alex and Derek's new school.

So we dragged out of bed, ate breakfast, and then strolled through the city center to the school. It's almost exactly a mile from the hotel, through twisty narrow streets that open into plazas with statues and fountains. There's no lack of things to see as you walk through the city.

The school meeting went better than we had hoped; the staff was very friendly, though they spoke much less English than I was anticipating. Thankfully, the English-speaking man we've been corresponding with over email was there to help us along. We saw both of the kids' classrooms, were able to discuss Derek's allergies, and got all of our questions answered.

I had been in touch via Facebook with another American military family here whose kids attend the school. They put both Alex and Derek into classrooms with their 2 children to help ease the transition. I think it will help so much for them to know that there is at least one friend in their class who will understand them from the start.
We can't wait to hear them speaking Spanish as the weeks go by!

We arranged for them to start on Monday, which meant we had to rush off to buy their uniforms after leaving the school.
This was not easy.
They are sold at El Cortes Ingles, the big department store chain here. Big, and not cheap. When we finally found the uniform section, there were only a few pieces there, and even those few weren't the right size. So Josh went off to find help, and thankfully Consuela was nice enough to decipher our broken Spanish and pull out all the things we needed from the back room.
She helped the kids try on the clothes, proclaiming Derek to be muy guapo, which let's face it, is totally true. ;)
Alex looked super cute in her skirt.
Josh and I were trying to smile and make polite chit-chat, but were really in a serious state of sticker-shock.
The first tag we saw was on Derek's pants. 47 Euro.

That would be sixty-two dollars. 62.
They don't even look comfortable!

I have to stop feeding him so he doesn't outgrow them for the next year and a half.

I'm going to block it all out and go to my happy place now.

Everything seems to be quite pricey here. I'll be doing a lot of shopping on Amazon, I think.

After all that excitement, we dropped off our purchases and headed to our first menu-del-dia restaurant. At lunchtime, many of the restaurants offer a set-price meal that includes a drink, bread, 2-courses of food, and a desert for a reasonable price. We ordered a bunch of things that we had no idea what they were, and really enjoyed it all! The kids were good sports about trying new things.

That night, Derek again slept like a champ, while Josh, Alex, and I were up until 1 in the morning. I had to pull everyone out of bed around 10:15 because the breakfast buffet closes at 11 and I wanted my coffee. ;)

Today was more relaxed because we didn't have to be anywhere at any particular time. We've hired somone to help us find an apartment, but we aren't meeting with him until Sunday evening, so we couldn't do anything with that.
We did research on cell phone plans, metro passes, and a bunch of other little things, and we explored some more parts of the city. We walked miles and miles and miles.
Our legs are tired.
This evening we went to the Prado, the famous art museum, but it turned out to be a mistake as Derek was just exhausted and whiney. We'll try again sometime.

And that brings you up to date. It's 11:30pm, Derek's sleeping, and the rest of us are not. Hoping it doesn't take quite as long to fall asleep tonight!

I will try to get some pictures on here tomorrow!

Monday, January 7, 2013

I'm moving to Spain...tomorrow.

Or should I say mañana?

I'm feeling like I don't know a whole lot of Spanish. Do you think it's too late for cramming?

Yeah, I thought so.

So tomorrow is the big day! Josh, Alex, Derek, and I, along with every piece of luggage we own, 2 booster seats, several carry-ons, and a partridge in a pear tree, will be enjoying three flights on our way to Madrid.
First we will tour scenic Kalamazoo from our itty-bitty propeller plane for the short jaunt to Detroit.
The Detroit airport is not on my favorite list after our last experience there, but here's hoping things go a little better and we actually make it on to our second flight, Detroit to JFK.
Then we'll have a couple hours until we leave New York, right into Madrid.

Yet to be determined is how we are getting our 10 checked bags and all that other stuff from the airport to the hotel, but I'm sure we'll figure it out. I'm also sure that I'm going to be looking like hot stuff after being on a plane all night.
Josh said that I can take a sleeping pill and he'll take care of the kids. Isn't he sweet?
He even offered to wipe the drool off my chin from time to time.

Other true facts: I get nervous when I fly. I'm not sure why; I'm not afraid of crashing. I'm mostly afraid that I'll have to use the bathroom when the seatbelt light is illuminated.
And when I get nervous, I have to use the bathroom. It's a vicious cycle.

So wish us luck, and I'll see you on the other side!