Food, Family and more Food: The Spanish Christmas

 

Plaza España, Badajoz
Massive budgets are set aside each year to adorn the cities with lights.

 

Chrismas in Spain, or rather December in Spain, referred to as Las Navidades, is a month full of family, friends and overall debauchery. The people are absolutely giddy over vacation, presents, company Christmas parties, family time, and of course, drinks and wine.

I’ve just finished my second Christmas in Spain and it was nothing short of a seam bursting, family-filled, joyously exhausting buffet for three weeks. Yes, three weeks. Okay, maybe the buffet part is a bit of an exaggeration but with the richness of all the food, drink, and dessert one meal could easily stay with you for two days. And for those who cannot help themselves (me) when trays of shrimp,  plates of Iberian ham, blocks of sheep cheese, Extremadura’s very own Torta del Casar, and baskets of bread are laid out in front of them it’s a recipe for some intestinal hardships in the following days.

Nochebuena

The Spanish don’t generally celebrate December 25th the way we often do in the U.S. The 25th is Jesus’ birthday, and the 24th is what’s called Nochebuena. Or affectionately (and after experiencing it twice, I must say, accurately) translated by my students, The Good Night. The Good Night, or Christmas Eve, is celebrated most traditionally with getting dressed up, going out to bars with family and friends to get a solid holiday buzz, then attending a big family dinner around nine or ten.

Primos
Some of the spread

I say big for two reasons: Generally, many Spanish families still retain a massive amount of people due to the population boom in the 50’s and 60’s so it’s quite common that people from my generation have at least five aunts or uncles, all of whom have a spouse and one to three children. Last year, there was 35 of us packed into one 10 by 25 room; And two, because you know what I mentioned above about the trays of shrimp and all that? Yeah, well, those are just the appetizers. After this comes the main course, of course.  This year we were treated with roasted red peppers stuffed with cod and drizzled with a tomato and red pepper sauce. We also had pork loin fillets with an apple chutney sauce. So rich. Muy rico.

Dessert consisted of champagne and red fruit slush (a bit on the acidic side, but so tasty), chocolates, the traditional turrón, and of course, unas copas. A classic gin and tonic with herbs and mixed berries (my favorite) or rum and coke is had to ease the digestion. After dinner many people continue the party by going out all night. I couldn’t because of the indigestion I was suffering, unfortunately.

On the 25th, Maria’s family and I celebrated with a few gifts in the morning. I repeated relentlessly that I did not want anything this year. Last year they were far too generous with me. I’m also trying simplifying my life and minimize the amount of things I have… So unable to go without not giving me anything, Maria’s mom gifted me an “Adventure Package” for use in and around Europe that I can do with one other person. She’s truly one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.

Napping with home comforts

Sticking to my theme of gifting experiences, I gave her and her family a paleta de bellota (a cured ham leg that is fed naturally on acorns).

After the gift opening I slept on the couch to rest up for the lunch. Yes, hardly twelve hours later everyone gets back together and eats MORE. Much of what we ate was a composite of leftovers from the night before and ham. Indigestion or not, I cannot say no to the jamón.

Nochevieja

After the 25th things settle down for a few days, but soon after there is Nochevieja or New Years Eve. My experience for new years is a party with friends, maybe family, lots of alcohol and appetizers. The Spanish version of New Years Eve is family orientated. There is a big dinner, with much of the same things we see at the Christmas dinner, and the twelve grapes. They celebrate with their family until midnight and as the bells ring in the new year, everyone shoves twelve grapes in their mouth. Why Spaniards eat 12 grapes on New Years still escapes me, but it’s tradition– so why question it, right? I’ve received many different responses to this question ranging from grapes represent good health and fertility so consuming them to start is a good omen to why not start the year off with a little competition?

I was served 12 PEELED seedless grapes. This is a thing that is sold in the market. Peeled grapes. It should have been unsurprising since Spaniards peel everything. I was often viewed with confusion and pity as I crunched into apples with their skin intact.

Cena de Nochevieja

I digress. The other thing that is surely not forgotten is red undergarments. If you have forgotten, it’s essentially as bad as toasting without touching the table… because as they say “Quien no apoya, no folla”,  which roughly translates to, “Who doesn’t touch the table with their glass, doesn’t fuck.” I love Spanish. If you’re not wearing red underwear, well you’re not going to get lucky. It’s as simple as that. I was told the origins of this tradition are rooted in the Toreo aspect of the culture. What attracts un toro? That red cape… same goes for a mate. Or the alternative: What do Spanish people look sexiest in? Red, of course. Alright– that might be a bit of personal opinion, but I think most could agree. Some people believe it also needs to be gifted to you in order for it to count.

The next day is usually filled with nursing the massive resaca (hangover) and avoiding any type of New Years Resolutions until at least the next day.

Los Reyes Magos

After Nochevieja, Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) come to town on the 6th of January. This is traditionally the big gift giving day for Spaniards. Celebrating Santa Clause and exchanging gifts is somewhat of an Americanism that has slowly diffused into the culture over the last decade. Two days of gifts? The kids certainly aren’t complaining. During the evening of the fifth, there’s a large parade in which the Three Kings arrive and chuck hard candies out into the gobs of people lined up to see them. I stopped by before I made my way to soccer practice and little did I know I’d see my life flash before my eyes. An elderly woman dove into the back of my legs in order to retrieve a few caramelos. I fell forward into a woman and was stopped from certain death by a farola (streetlight).  I’ve never seen such agility out of a woman over 65 years of age. I’ve never seen such… passion. We’ll call it that, because after she grabbed the candy she turned and gave them to an adorable little girl bouncing in the arms of her mother. I didn’t receive a perdón ni nada but after seeing that niña‘s face light up, she was forgiven.

The following day, the sixth, is (in my experience) reserved for immediate family. Maybe someone else will stop by mid morning, but generally it mirrored much of what my Christmas Day looked like in the United States. Gift giving, playing with said gifts in our pajamas most of the day, a big brunch, naps, a movie– intimate and relaxed. The next day, most people returned to work and school so it made for a nice transition into la vuelta a la rutina (the return to the routine).

While it was difficult to spend Christmas away from my family, I was so so lucky to be included into a wonderful family– my Spanish family. Skyping always eased some of the yearning I felt for my own kin…but they made sure I never felt like I didn’t belong, and that’s something that permeates my overall experience in Spain.

 

¡Gracias for reading! Have you experienced the holidays in Spain? What was your experience like? What about another culture? How are traditions and routines similar or different? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

*Note: This was written in January of 2016 and was meant to be published then. Here it is, at last... Christmas in July.

One & a Half Years Later

Hello again:

I’m back. A lot has transpired in the last year and a half. Last time I wrote I was 25, still living in Spain and working as a teacher. I am now 26 (almost 27), living in Milwaukee and working as a Public Relations Coordinator/Writer.  I still teach on the side ( I guess I love it or something– who knew). I’m not sure what it says about me that my resolutions haven’t changed much from one year to the next. I’m still trying to read 20 books (I’m on book 7, so I need to step it up)…But last year I made it to 14, not too shabby. The only one that has changed is “Study a Masters”…while it is certainly a goal of mine, it isn’t a yearly resolution. I’d still like to learn a song. I’m just not sure if guitar is the right instrument for me. We’ll see. There’s no rush just yet.

Aside from that, I’ve made a lot of progress as far as self-discipline and writing goes. It has been about changing my perspective on things that I want to accomplish. I try not to think of the work it is to get the momentum going and instead focus on that feeling of accomplishment after it all, then the subsequent ability to really embrace myself afterwards. Writing has been extremely cathartic, as well. It has been necessary. I’ve come to think of it as converting my pain into fuel for projects I’ve been aching to start and finish for years. So far, so good. I’ve got quite a bit more to go, and the ideas don’t stop coming (which is wonderful and overwhelming all at once) but I think I’ve enough pieces of my heart, enough tears of joy, enough blows to the stomach to keep this train moving forward.

Me one year ago                                        Me today

Personally, I’ve really rediscovered myself in the last year and a half and that has been incredibly grounding. As much as I’m still mourning big changes, recovering from months of intense anxiety and riding waves of gut wrenching sadness, in these moments of realization, I couldn’t be more thankful that I’ve made the decisions I have. I listened to my gut, and according to my mother, that will never lead me astray. Again, so far, so good. I’m positive the universe has been conspiring for quite some time for things to work out even better than I could have imagined. For now (and always), I’m simply trying to enjoy the journey, every day, with whom I am with, where ever I am…. always growing, always discovering.

In the meantime, I’m going to use this again. I’ll try to write less like I’m writing to my journal and more in creative non-fiction, journalistic, anecdotal styles regarding topics that an audience might actually care to read. Until I find that sweet spot, I appreciate any readers, any suggestions, and just any interaction.

It’s good to be back. Cheers.

How have you changed in the last year and a half? Have you gone through any big transformations? How are you coping with reality these days? Let me know in the comments below. 

It’s been awhile. And 2016 Resolutions Stuff.

Hello there!

It has been awhile and I nearly forgot what my blog was even called. I’ve been caught up doing the “living” thing again and put this little project on the shelf… and it has collected a wee bit of dust. I could say that I regret that I didn’t stay consistent and diligent with this project, but the truth is I’m tired of being down on myself. Thus, I’d like to take this moment to celebrate that I’ve returned and that I whole heartedly intend to post on here more often!

Since the last post, much has occurred in my life. The most major of which was my decision to return back to Spain for one more year (and I have the feeling that’ll turn into another year despite how much I miss home). Yes, so I’m back in Spain enjoying a nice, albeit chaotic, 4-day, 27 hour work week. I shouldn’t complain… how could I? Well, to be honest, I could but I won’t. Not yet anyway.

Anywho, here in Spain I’ve begun the new year like many folks…idealistically:

“I’m finally gonna get the killer body I’ve been “working” for for the last year and a half.”(Until that pizza smells waayyyyy too good or until the beer).

“I’m gonna journal EVERYDAY!” (until I forget or find myself scrolling mindlessly through Facebook and taking quizzes about what kind of true inner personality I have… Natural Nurturer BTW).

“I’m gonna be less of an asshole to my loved ones!” (until they say some crazy bullshit or keep leaving their damn dishes all over the damn place… sorry, patience).

“I’m gonna learn portuguese…. or maybe french.. or like, italian.” (until two seconds later).

I’m kidding. Sort of.

In all seriousness, I’m going to put myself out there and share my resolutions with you all. And get this, I truly believe I’m going to get them done. So laugh at their cheesiness, laugh at their impossibility, laugh because you know damn well if you actually made some resolutions for your sorry self you’d have put some similar shit.

  1. Study a Masters.
    1. Yes, I plan on staying in Spain for another year. I’d like to get a masters for about a 100th of the price of one in the United States, and going to Granada, Valenciaor Barcelona doesn’t sound too shabby. I’m going to apply, and if I get accepted… well, that’s up to the good lord of the universe.
  2. Write more.
    1. I’ve been doing well with this, now the consistency and discipline part will be proven in time. I’d like to write on here at least once a week, but since I plan on working on some short stories I’ll be happy if I post consistently once a month something of quality.
  3. Read a minimum of 20 books.
    1. After writing this one it was pointed out to me that this means approximately two books a month.. and good lord, that seemed daunting. But then again, it’s all about perspective, discipline and consistency. With a bit of bedtime reading instead of draining my brain (and my eyes) scrolling through buzzfeed articles on my phone, and this resolution could be a sinch.
  4. Learn to play a song on the guitar.
    1. I’ve been wanting to do this for….10 years or so. They you can learn guitar in 10 minutes a day. And it’s true, but I get discouraged easily because rhythm is hard for me and I don’t have anyone on my ass about it. This requires pure self-discipline (seems to be a theme occurring here…) so I’m excited to put myself to the test. Also, my fabulous partner in crime bought me a metronome for Christmas to make this goal a bit more achievable.
  5. Be more present and find the Tao again.
    1. This is the last one, but it certainly isn’t the least. In all of the things I seek to do and am required to do, being present is of the utmost importance if I hope to do the best I can. Especially with my students and writing. The Tao was something I found when I was 16 or 17, and it just makes sense to me. Some people find Jesus, and well, the Holy Spirit or the Tao has always resonated more with me. Maybe one of the twenty books I read will be another go at the “The Tao of Pooh”  or “The Te of Piglet”(both highly recommended).

So there you have it. If you wrote some resolutions, do share! I’d love to see your goals. If you haven’t, don’t let those naysayers get to you; it’s excellent and exciting to challenge yourself and it’s enriching to fail. So come on, set yourself up for failure with me.. it’ll be fun!

P.S. Jesus rocks…for so many reasons, but one of my favorites is his hangry episode with the fig tree.

The Original Albuquerque

In April, Semana Santa Holy week or Spring Break had begun and I was itching to get out of Badajoz whether far or close. This happens to me about every two weeks. Fortunately, a pro of Badajoz is that its surroundings are riddled with perfect day trips to escape the drab daily routine and the lackluster city landscape.

Albuquerque, Spain

About 47km, 35 miles, to the north of Badajoz is the town of Albuquerque. With a population of around 5,000, its American predecessor is about 300 times the size and much more modern. Visiting the city was like stepping back into 15th century Spain (Another thing I’m going to miss).  Nestled up on top of a peak strategically, it overlooks all of the areas that surround it.  On the very top of the peak is El Castillo de Luna which reigns from the 10th century and was a military stronghold during the centuries of battles between the Spanish and the Portuguese. Today it serves as a wonderful tourist attraction.

Albuquerque
                                                                                           Plaza España

Maria and I arrived in the city just in time for lunch. We had a beer in the central plaza of the city, Plaza España, which was about the size of 15 parking spaces and contained four bars, a bank, and a dentists office. We wanted to have a “Menu” which is a starter, a main course, bread, a drink, a dessert, and coffee all included in one price. We learned that they don’t do Menus in the center, so the waitress directed us to the “outskirts” of the city. She explained we’d have to take the main street all the way out of town, take a left then we’d find a little park, and it’d be on our right. Our minds immediately went to images of a little building in the midst of a field, goats roaming around the grass, at least 4km away or more. We then asked if we needed the car, how long of a walk? She lifts her hands to her head in dramatic Spanish fashion, exhales and says, “I don’t know. At the very least 10-15 minutes.” We almost started laughing but we held it in.

We began walking and then decided to be authentic to the way of life in the pueblo and hopped in the car and ended up driving about thirty seconds to our destination. We’re not ashamed. We entered into a restaurant with four separate brick igloo arches each with two tables set within each arch.  It was old world cozy. The service was extremely slow, but in my experience that’s something you begin to expect in Spain, even more so in a pueblo.

We ordered two Menus, and after the massive first plate, we quickly realized we made a mistake. We could have

Solomillo al Roquefort
                Solomillo al Roquefort

ordered one and still had a surplus of food. We’ve learned this lesson multiple times yet we had continued making the same mistake until recently.

Gazpacho
Massive bowl of Gazpacho

After lunch, full and tired, we decided to wonder up to the castle through the old winding streets of the antique walled city. We jumped a fence that led to the castle and by pure luck we were the last to enter for a 5 o’clock free guided tour– the last of the day!  The tour was cool. We learned what the rooms were used for and what not. I don’t remember much besides the one room at the top of tower with curved walls designed so that if you whisper in one end of the room it can still be heard at the other end. It was pretty neat.

Castillo Luna, Albuquerque
                          Chapel

Castillo Luna Albuquerque

Castillo Luna Albuquerque

Castillo Luna Albuquerque

If you live in Extremadura, I recommend taking a day trip to Albuquerque for an authentic and charming piece of Spanish history. Keep in mind tour times because you don’t want to miss seeing inside one of Spain’s oldest castles.

Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain: Pros and Cons

After living in Badajoz for two years, teaching over 250 students, and residing in two distinct zones, I wanted to share the good and the bad regarding life here in the biggest city in Extremadura, Badajoz Capital.

1. The GOOD: It’s a decently well-connected city

Badajoz being a city has various options for travelling outside of the city. It has an airport close by, but it is quite small and I’ve never traveled out of it so I can’t speak to that. Nonetheless, there’s Lisbon and Seville at two hours for easy international and long-distant national flights. Also, I can’t stress enough the awesomeness, the affordability, and the convenience of BlaBlaCar.

The BAD: Visiting other Pueblos in the region

If you want to go to a small city in the North of Caceres, or for example, to visit the lovely national park Monfrague, you generally must know someone who has a vehicle, rent a car, or, if you’re lucky, locate a BlaBlaCar that happens to be going there. (BlaBlaCar is generally more reliable between larger cities).

2. The GOOD: The food

Living in the breadbasket of Spain, next door to Portugal, you’ve got a lot of amazing authentic dishes at your fingertips. Here, you have easy access to delicious fish, delicious cherries from the beautiful La Valle del Jerte, and a surplus of local wines (like Habla de la Tierra for an aromatic fruity red wine, or Orgullo for a sweet white wine), and olives. Above all, you have access to the best Iberian Ham in the entire peninsula, AND for decent prices. You can buy a quality Pata Negra for about 80 euro. When you first arrive to Spain, the food takes some getting used to. It may seem bland, but overtime you’ll come to appreciate the subtle natural flavors enhanced by simple dressings like salt, vinegar, and olive oil.

The BAD: Little Variety

Being in a relatively untouched part of Spain, you get authentic culture and food, but you’re not going to find a five start sushi place like you will in Madrid or Barcelona. In Badajoz, there’s a Dominoes, a Burger King, two Mcdonalds, some various American Food places (overpriced and terrible quality), more than a few Chinese restaurants, and a few good Italian places (there’s one located by Puerta Palmas I highly recommend…excellent Pizza), oh and there’s a Sushi place that I rarely see people enter. There is some variety, but it’s not like what you’ll find in a big city, or in an american city. Personally, I don’t consider this bad, but some of you might.

3. The GOOD: It’s a small city

Badajoz is a city. You can go shopping in the center along Calle Menacho or in the shopping center El Faro, and there you can fill all of your clothing and electronic needs. It’s big enough to feel like you’re not quite in a pueblo but small enough so that you can walk nearly anywhere. Also, being a relatively small city in Extremdura, prices are cheap from housing to food. You can find a decent room in a nice flat for 125 euro a month, easy. And you can go out for tapas with a group of three people and spend 6 euro.

The BAD: It’s a small city

Badajoz is small. There are a lot of nooks and crannies to explore in the beginning, but it can become routine and old by the end of the year. You’ve gotta check out different areas to keep it interesting. Also, because it’s small, there’s a huge void of culture and music. There are some gems, like the COC (sometimes), or Mercantil sometimes has some good live music on. Overall though, it’s a city for suitcase students studying business and science and families. Speaking of families, everyone is everyone’s cousin. Not literally, but almost… Everyone knows everyone somehow, so in this sense, it’s just a big pueblo.

4. The GOOD: Spanish everywhere!

Unlike a more metropolitan city, like Seville, Madrid, or Barcelona it’s rare you’ll encounter someone who speaks enough English to be able to engage you purely in English, which is frustrating if you’re trying to learn Spanish. Here, there is no other dialect, they speak Castellano puro y duro.

The BAD: Their accent

At first, the accent in Badajoz makes you wonder if you have ever studied Spanish in your life. Between the “Achos” and “Tias” you’ll eventually learn that people are not inventing new words like CENAO…what they mean is CENADO. It takes time to adjust your ears in any part of Spain, and Badajoz is slightly better than the southern dialect, but like everyone here, it’s a close cousin.

Have you lived in Badajoz? What would you add or subtract from this list?

8 Things I’ll Miss About Life in Spain

It’s that time of year, and I’m prepping for the inevitable dose of reverse culture shock. To prepare myself I’ve made a short list of some of the things I’ll say goodbye to and miss dearly about life in Spain. In no particular order they are as follows:

1. Breakfast Break and the Siestaunnamed

Bye, Bye breakfast break.  No more going to one of the million bars on the street and eating a “Media tomate” or some “Migas” and a cafe con leche for 1.50. But, hello, large iced coffees to go! No more casual sit-down lunch at an outdoor table with beer followed by an hour or so to digest horizontally. But, hello, power bars and power naps!

2. Walking everywhere   

by JoseManuelerre, Flickr
by JoseManuelerre, Flickr

If you´re from anywhere besides the center of city, you know walking is an extra effort not just because of the physical exertion but because it´s nearly impossible to get anywhere without being scared for your life more than a few times. And if not, you may offer the suggestion and be berated by a chorus of your friends, ¨”Walk? It´s like a mile away? Are you crazy? It´ll take us like an hour to get there.” This year I will resist and succumb, surely, once again. But hey, I still have my bicycle!

3. Meeting with friends after 8pm during the week

Nope. Way too much effort. I suppose this is pretty relative, it totally depends on if you’re fortunate to live close to your friends, perhaps this isn’t an issue, but for many of us walking out of our homes and going for a cheap beer down the block is a slim possibility. You have to get in the car. You have to drive 10-15 minutes in traffic. You have to decide on a place. Blah. Blah. Friends are a weekend activity. This summer, I hope this isn’t the case, but it’s another one of those cultural tides that sucks you under.

4. Tapas 

Typical Caña and Tapa
Typical Caña and Tapa

There’s nothing like going to a bar, ordering a caña (a small beer) for a euro and receiving a small snack. If you’re lucky and there’s a bar near you in the U.S., maybe you get some peanuts or can treat yourself to popcorn, but never is it a delicious bowl of olives, a plate of potato salad, or a handful of fries and some slow cooked pork. Tapas are also a way to go out and socialize with friends and family. They’re an adventure, an exciting risk you can afford to take. Tapas is a way of life, really.

Granada is the Holy Grail of Tapas
Granada is the Holy Grail of Tapas

5. Pedestrian Rights

As you try to maintain some of the healthier habits you’ve gained living in Spain, like walking everywhere, please, remember that although it is the law of the land, pedestrians, in many cases, do not receive the right of way in the United States. People will not slam on their breaks for you like they do in Spain if you’re standing at the edge of the cross walk. Prepare to wait or to run.

6. Whatsapp

I know this is an odd thing to miss, but…Texting? SMS? What? It feels so foreign and strangely outdated to send text messages via the standard phone application and not the famed and widely used texting application Whatsapp. Many of my friends back home have Whatsapp in order to communicate with me while I’m here in Spain. but once back in the states with free texting plans, it’ll inevitably return to the standard.

7. Cheap Fruit and Veg 

All of this for less than 6 Euro (aprox. $7.50)
All of this for less than 6 Euro (aprox. $7.50)

Oh, how I will miss the Fruterías found on every other corner; their windows brimming with lush fruits and vegetables, enticing me to come in for a bundle of bananas for less than a euro. It’s cheap to eat healthy here, and that’s how it should be.

8. The people

From Madrid to Badajoz, San Sebastián to Málaga, I have encountered nothing but warmth and welcoming from these wonderful, latin-blooded people. I’m eternally grateful to those who have gone the extra mile in making me feel at home in Spain. Between their warmth, their dirty sense of humor, their image-rich language, and their exaggerated gestures, I will miss them immensely. But I shall return!

Going back to the U.S. isn’t so bad. We get to see old friends and family. Re-familiarize ourselves with the familiar, etc…  What other things will you miss about Spain?

Share your thoughts and ideas below!

10 Things to Do When You Forget Who You Are

As we grow, we have more space to look back on, more time to reflect upon, more images of ourselves to sort through, and more shifting currents to sift through. The anxiety of the future, and perhaps, the overwhelming nature of the present all amount to a bad bout of vertigo when it all seeps in and gets to you. I’ve looked at myself in the mirror a fair few times with despair sinking my chest thinking, “What do I even like anymore? What am I good at? What are my goals? Why are these my goals?  Who am I? WHAT am I?”

In short, I’ve been Lost, with a capital L. In the midst of all this outside commotion, sometimes we just completely lose the basic part of our existence: ourselves. Maybe you’ve been there before, too. In these moments where I’ve been completely and utterly baffled about myself and my life, I try to remember:

1. I’m not alone. There’s a lot of us, and even if I’m a freaking nutball, there’s gotta be another one out there just like me. It is pretty typical but when I remember this it brings me an inch or so closer to Earth again.

2. Family. In these moments, I know I’ve always got my family to remind who I am. Whether this is good or bad for you, it’s almost always a good starting point to regenerate your sense of self and, sometimes, a sense of purpose.

3. Friends. Reaching out to friends, especially friends who laugh at my jokes always pulls my head out of the clouds a bit more. The perceptions your friends have sometimes have more of an affect of reminding you who you are than your family. There’s always a few I can turn to that have a way of reminding me of the good and bad about me that brings me down to solid ground again. So far, the first things to do is reach out to your community. It’s true that we do depend on others’ perceptions of ourselves to in part form our own idea of who we are…without it we lose it. It’s not weakness. It’s human.

4. World News. I try to remember the World by reading the news. When you fall into these claustrophobic spirals of self-doubt, it’s always humbling and important to relocate your position in the greater context of this big-little world we live in.

5. Nature. An understated and under-appreciated tranquilizer in our ever-growing digital world, I seek nature when the pieces of me begin falling from my eyes. Seeing trees transforms my droplets of confusion into tears of utter joy. They’re so beautiful. Every little living organism is a freakin’ miracle and going outside of yourself to explore and revel in that is a great way of sobering up your self-indulged despair. Also, you start to see that, hey, you’re pretty miraculous, too.

6. Meditation or Prayer. There’s a phrase I love so much, “Give it up to God” just throw it all up to the Universe, the beautiful and timeless Tao, the Holy Spirit. After I regain myself slightly, I try to remember that it isn’t always so important to be a “self”…and that faith, man, you’ve gotta have faith in this crazy thing we’re living. Sitting on a bench and just sending out your good to the world, the people who need it, and the people you love is freeing and creates nothing but positivity for you. Whether you want to talk to Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, or the Air, I encourage you try it.

7. Music. Sometimes I just pop on some Norah Jones, voiceless Jazz, chill beachy music, or an old playlist and allow my mind to travel to all the places the songs take me. Music is a good way to pull yourself out of the pool of worry you’ve been drowning in. If you’re talented and disciplined enough to be able to play an instrument, all the better– I’m sure you already seek out this remedy when you’re in this mood.

8. Sleep. My mother always told me if I didn’t know something, just sleep on it. If I find myself falling into the dizzying black swirl of baffledom and it’s an opportune moment, I just go to bed. If I need to I’ll drink a glass of wine and pass the f out, too. ( I don’t encourage drinking as a way to re-self-discover… it’s almost always a path to self-destruction and shame. That isn’t to say, though, that alcohol doesn’t have its helpful and calming effects in the right dosage. Consume responsibly ;-).)

9. New days. After I’ve almost fully returned to the ground, I try to remember that even if it’s not very clear to me who I am and where exactly I’m headed, that every day is a new opportunity to become more sure of that, and I shan’t waste it worrying about unknowing, because after all, we all know different things, and most of us know a whole lot of nothing.

10. Unfreeze. In the same vein as remembering that each day is a new opportunity, I try to remember that If I don´t move, if I stay stagnant and frozen in worry and confusion, I´ll stay that way. So if I don´t remember myself in the situation I’m in, I’ve gotta break out and try new things. I’ve gotta break free from the comfortable (which for me is often times miserable) and put myself to the test. I’ve got to unfreeze myself and keep moving. Whether it’s embarking on a bit of new research or changing up my routine, I know I’ve gotta Always Discover.

Do you ever get caught up outside of yourself and lose touch with yourself? Well if no, good for you. You’re pretty extraordinary. And if yes, you’re not alone. Share your coping mechanisms below! I’d love to learn some new ones.

Teaching English in Spain: 5 Ways I’ve Become a Better Human

As my second year as an English teacher in Spain winds down, I wanted to take some time to reflect on all the good things that have come of this experience. While a year and eight months seems like nothing in comparison to the amount of time I spent in college, or in K-12,  I have to say it has been the most fruitful and condensed personal growth I have experienced. For the newbies at this and the veterans alike, perhaps you’ll find some truth in the following 5 five ways I’ve become a better human.

1. Patience

I’ve always said the phrase in jest, “patience is a virtue” right after I had already lost patience and consequently lost the virtuous fight. This experience has taught me what that phrase really means on three levels: patience with others, patience with life, and patience with myself. This is by far the most important way I’ve become a better human.

Patience with others: I’ve never considered myself an impatience person, per say.  In fact with strangers, customers, and acquaintances I’ve always been extraordinarily patient. Then I started trying to communicate with people from a different culture in a foreign language. I suppose I learned much of the patience I’ve acquired through compassion. While I tried to function in my new environment, I appreciate immensely those who allow me to speak, give me time to sort my thoughts and finish my words before speaking for me or switching to English. I carry that with me everyday, and now in my interactions with native speakers in my own language, as well. As a result, I’ve become a better listener and a much better conversationalist. Also, my personal relationships have improved and communication has become much more positive. Speaking with family over skype can be highly frustrating with delays and cut-outs, but impatience isn’t going to solve that, in fact it’s just going to increase your risk of a heart attack.

Patience with life: What do I mean by this? Spanish bureaucracy. I’ve been forced to take a deep breath through every single process or proceeding within society. From walking in the streets with a bunch of Spaniards who zig-zag their way to their destination at a Sunday drive’s pace, to being the only person in the Foreign Consulate and waiting for 45 minutes because… I’m still baffled as to why. I’ve learned to take a deep breath and let it go. You get used to it. Also, I think we all get to the point in life where we have something ahead of us and we just can’t wait for it to arrive and we rush through the days for it to get there– we’re caught in this existential longing. It’s sort of like a dog begging at the table for food… you know it’s coming and you’re salivating for it, with a whine bubbling up in your chest. But we’re not dogs, so we shouldn’t act like them (some of us, at least).  You’ve got to live in the moment. You’ve got to live mindfully. Fill your days with patience. That’s the only way the future will unfold in the most satisfying of ways.

Patience with myself:  I’m used to being good at things. I know that sounds pretentious, but I’m a fast learner in many areas, especially athletics and language. However, Spanish has always been this love/hate relationship. I’m absolutely enthralled with it and always have been, but it’s not easy for me. Especially the pronunciation. With the thousands of miscommunications, the comparisons I make with myself and others, and despite the encouragement I receive, I’m very, very hard on myself. Way too hard on myself. I’ve forced myself to take a step back and put things in perspective. I’m doing pretty damn good and I’m sure you are too! And what’s the goal of communication at the end of the day: be understood. Of course it’s going to take years to communicate with the same nuance and intelligence you do in your native language. So breathe.  Be patient.

2. Humility

Living abroad has a way of humbling you. As you leave your bubble, your community, you leave behind everything people know of you. You are a blank slate. Undefined. This situation can be very frustrating if you don’t know who you are or don’t know how to simply just be with all your imperfections. Part of this process involves simultaneously detaching from myself slightly, going with the flow, and practicing compassion, as well. I don’t take it to heart when people don’t get me. Between the misconceptions, miscommunications, and preconceptions about me and my culture it’s important not to let your ego or pride flare up, especially when you’re up in front of a classroom with all those little eyes staring at you. Humility–It’s a beautiful thing.

3. Consistent Courage

Speaking of little eyes staring at you, being a teacher takes courage. I’ve never been someone who is timid, but it certainly takes guts to get up in front of people, whether they’re kids or adults, and give a presentation on what you know…and in many cases, what you’ve just (re)learned. In Spain I’m your stereotypical American girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. A typical “guiri” as they say here. Everywhere I go people immediately peg me as a foreigner. It’s obvious, and at first, it made me a bit shy, and slightly defensive. This made the already nerve-wracking first few experiences of going into the bank or post office even more of a call for courage. Day in and day out, my courage is tested and I have to say I’ve become even more bold than I was before.

4. Coping with Stress

Living abroad, learning a new profession on the fly, and a language by trial and error has tested my coping mechanisms. They even broke at some points. Learning a new profession can be stressful. Now double that with doing this in a foreign country. Learning to cope with stress and exhaustion is a must. How I did it? Sleep. Breathing. Patience. Positivity. Forgiveness. Laughter. You’ve got to breathe. Take a time out for yourself. Also, take time to be with people. Community is so, so important. Be patient with yourself and your coworkers. You’ve got to forgive yourself for mistakes, and of course, others, as well. Don’t think of stress as a negative thing. The best thing you can do is make all of these challenges into a fun game. I highly recommend taking a moment to learn How to Make Stress Your Friend.  Finally, you’ve got to laugh it all off. This is life and it’s not so dang serious.

5. Responsibility

Perhaps many of you had learned this invaluable characteristic in college, or perhaps you’re like me, and it has been a slow and steady progression to adulthood: aka being responsible. Every shade of responsibility is necessary as a teacher living abroad alone. You are forced to grow up, and it’s painful sometimes, but I couldn’t be more grateful to finally have my life together.

Thanks for reading! 

Stay tuned for the next 5 ways I’ve become a better human as an English Teacher in Spain.

Doing it Live: An Impromptu Trip to the Beach

We were seated at the kitchen table eating a delicious seafood paella, discussing potential destinations for a day trip Sunday. We could go to a big lake in Portugal and visit a few of sightly villages around it. We could go to Evora, a beautiful castled city about an hour and a half away and eat some delicious Portuguese fare. We were being very sensible until Maria’s mother jumped: “Let’s go tonight. We’ll finish lunch, I’ll clean the kitchen and you guys go pack the suitcases and let’s go.” Maria’s Dad, Antonio and I laughed. But where? The beach, she told us with the authority of a woman who never once depended on anyone but herself. While Antonio began with protests, I was already itemizing the things that were soon to be in my suitcase. She looked at me and said, “What do you think? Let’s go?” I responded with one of my favorite questions in life: “Why not?”

We scurried through the house throwing clothes into our suitcases, and food in a bag. We didn’t even have a hotel room. We were doing it live. Our final plan was to go to a beach town nestled into the cliffs south of Lisbon called, Sesimbra. At approximately six o’clock we took off on our uncharted, impromptu journey. After two wrong turns, two tolls, and two hours we wound our way into Sesimbra. We found one hotel on the top of a hill and asked for rooms. Booked. We went to another on the beach. Booked. The nice desk attendant called the other two hotels in the small fishing village. Booked and booked. There was one, however, out on the peak of the cape that offered a single bedroom for the wonderful last-minute price of 120 euro, or a master suite for 250 euro. Maria’s mother, being on her impulsive kick said, “We’ll take it!” My mouth dropped open. I knew this trip wasn’t going to be cheap, but I couldn’t let her spend 250 euro for a night in a hotel. I pulled in her reigns a little and we opted for the single with two cots, but as soon as we got into the car we called Antonio, who remained in Badajoz.

He searched on booking.com for places in Sesimbra. Nada. So he expanded his search and that’s when he found a beachfront apartment in Caparica de Costa for 100 euro. In unison we agreed and took off back through the winding highways of Sesimbra heading north towards Lisbon. Thrity-five minutes later,  at about 10:30,  we finally arrived at our destination.  Situated in an old building from the 60’s, when you walk into the apartment you feel like you’re not in the same structure. It hhad been renovated and had everything we could think of, including coffee.

After  the kind owner gave us a tour of the apartment, we went out to try to find some food. We were unsueccesful in all of the establishments except for a Kebab. For those of you who don’t know what a kebab is, it’s basically the taco bell of America: where you go to satisfy your late night drunk munchies. We shared a rather mediocre chicken sandwich with some soggy French fries. We left the Saturday night party burn out behind us while we retired for the evening.

The following day I woke up and waited around for Maria and her mom to wake up. For those of you who know me, you know that I’m usually the one causing the waiting, so you can imagine the change of pace. We spent about two hours walking along the beach. There was a Spring Surfest happening, so surfers, body boarders, skim boarders, and surfers littered the boardwalk and the shores.

We stopped at one of the bars on the beach and found ourselves a table that had a nice view and a nice breeze. We took advantage of the fame of Portuguese seafood and ordered calamaris, mussels in garlic, grilled cod, and grilled octopus. Each dish was truly exquisite. After we devoured the fresh seafood, or at least I think it was fresh, you never really know…Maria and her mother got ice cream and we went on the beach for a small nap.

We watched the sunset, packed up, and headed back to Badajoz. Although it was a short trip, we left feeling recharged and re-energized. Escaping to the countryside and being among nature is also refreshing, but there’s nothing like the beach that breathes new life into me.

Migas

There are a many signature foods in Spain. Most are well known, like the Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish Omelet) , Paella, Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham), or Wine…wait, wine isn’t food, but it might as well be. There are many, however, that you don’t hear about until you are living here.  One of these tasty delights is Migas.

What are they? And why are they worth writing about?

Migas, [pronounced Mee-guhs] are essentially day-old, or better said, weeks-old bread crumbs sauteed in olive oil and garlic, garnished with a fried red pepper. This version is the most basic and probably the most common if you stop for some in a high-capacity bar in a city. Migas is your classic poor man’s breakfast. It’s cheap, easy, uses basic household ingredients, and recycles the old bread most people would throw away. Developed by poor farmers in agricultural strong-holds like Extremadura, it is designed to nourish and fill a hard working farmer until it’s time to turn in for lunch. If you eat even just one plate and don’t plan on doing any laborious activities, don’t think about eating lunch. Impossible. I’m not a person who is afraid of unbuttoning her pants in order to eat more but, yesterday, at around 11:00 am I ate HALF a plate of Migas, yes half, and wasn’t hungry until 7:30PM.

Migas prepared in one of my haunts, El Viejo Bar, in Badajoz
Migas prepared in one of my haunts, El Viejo Bar, in Badajoz

Apart from being inexpensive and filling, one of the best things about Migas is the surprise it brings wherever you go. You can order Migas in one bar, cross the street and order them again and you’ll be greeted with a distinct signature plate of fancy bread crumbs. While they are a promised stomach filler where ever you are, there really is nothing better than a Migas made in the kitchen of a pueblo. That basic version I described above is blasphemy to the creators of authentic Migas. In fact, the best plate of Migas I’ve ever had was in a tiny village of about 30 people in the north of Caceres, called Roman Gordo. These Migas put the A in authentic and B in belly bursting.

The steps of these Migas are as followed:

Ingredients:

Day old or Stale Bread, Olive Oil, Garlic, Red and Green pepper, Bacon, Chorizo, Blood Sausage,

1. Slice day old French bread into small pieces and crumble onto an oven pan. Lightly spray with water, cover, and let sit overnight.

2. In a hearty amount of Olive Oil, fry green and red peppers until they’re deliciously wrinkled. Remove them from the pan and put them aside.

3. In the same pan, fry Chorizo, Panceta (a thick variety of Bacon), and Murcilla (blood sausage). Leave those rich juices behind, and put the meat aside aside.

4. About halfway through the process of frying of the meats, you can add full garlic cloves to the mix (the amount of course, depends on how many people you are cooking for… typically though, it’s nice to have at least two cloves on each plate, however, it’s important not to overpower the mixture with garlic).

5. When the garlic is toasted add in the bread. Now, you’ll need a mashing tool to mash up the bread into the Migas, the balled bread crumbs. (This part is essential, as the consistency is key).

6. Fry up an egg. Make sure you keep it over-easy, so the yolk is nice and runny.

7. When the bread crumbs are good and mashed, serve them on a plate and garnish with the Chorizo, Panceta, Morcilla, Peppers and Fried egg.

8. Dig in!

Note: You can keep it simple above, or do this however you want really, adding and subtracting ingredients from above.

Dig in is exactly what I did with these LOADED Migas complete with the above AND Ribs:

photo 5

As a delicious and authentic taste of Spain, writing about Migas feels worth it to me. Now, you tell me, was it worth reading about Migas? Share you thoughts and comments below 🙂