Creative Living: 8 Ways to Stay Disciplined

8 ways blog photo

If you follow this blog or take the time to look through it, you might notice there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistency. I know, I know. I beat myself up about it ALL THE TIME. I tell myself things like:

  • “If you really loved it, you’d just do it. It would be a habit.
  • “Maybe you should change your idea of your career path.”
  • “No one really cares what you have to say. No one reads your shit.”
  • “You’re not good anyway.”
  • “How can you call yourself a writer? What have your written lately?”

I’m sure some of you could contribute to this list and it could go on forever. But you know what that does? It makes being consistent even worse. How do I expect myself to get back on the horse after I’ve kicked myself into believing I can’t do it? We have to quit our inner pessimist, our over-critical, self-doubting voice. It doesn’t foster ANY sort of motivation at all. WE DON’T NEED IT!

DISCIPLINE in order to create more consistently is something I’ve been focused heavily on bettering about myself over the last three years. Sounds pretty logical, right? If you want to be good at anything, you must practice. You must give time to it consistently. So why is it so hard sometimes?

Because existence is hard sometimes? I don’t know, but here are 8 ways I’ve been using to stay disciplined in my creative pursuits

1. Find a Community

SUPPORT. We need it in our day-to-day life so of course we also need it for our passions and for productivity. It gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of accountability even if it’s just casual and no one actually is keeping tabs on me. For example, I downloaded Meet up, a really cool app that has a huge variety of groups that “meet up” to discuss or do whatever it is you’re interested in. I found a writing group that gets together and works on their stuff. 40 minutes on 10 minutes off for a few hours. I went a few times and it was enough to get the ball rolling for me.

I heard wind that there were free online courses you could take through the library system. I found one on fiction writing and enrolled. We had homework assignments and a professor that gave us feedback. It kept me accountable and was actually how I wrote a short story.

I found a really neat group to join called Drunk Writers, where we get together one night once a month to write to prompts on different topics. You have the option to bring your own things and work on them instead of writing to the prompts, but it’s always good to have a little exercise outside of your typical routine and stretch your mind in ways you’re not accustomed to. It’s like cross-training. I’ve started the group where I am now, too, to build that sense of community and also for the practice.

Another really awesome group of creatives I was introduced to is called Creative Mornings. They have them all over the world! They invite a speaker to come in and to speak on a topic each month. Before that though, creatives get one minute to pitch their ideas or their businesses. Attending these meetings is inspiring and eye-opening.

Last but not least, find yourself a creative partner. I’ve had creative supports come and go and they’ve been wonderful why there were there. I’m very lucky to have someone who I can brainstorm with, run ideas past, look to for some building-up when I’m telling myself all those things above, and that inspires me and collaborates with me. So very grateful for her.

Speaking of inspiring and eye-opening…

2. Make Time for Consumption

Like all things in life, there are ebbs and flows. You’re not always going to be inspired. AND THAT’S OK. When you are ebbing, give yourself permission to read, to attend a gallery and ruminate on photography or art, to go see a movie, or watch netflix or youtube, to listen to music– whatever it is that tickles your fancy and that awakens your soul.

I write poetry and most of my poetry is awful. Writing poetry is hard and it takes A LOT out of me. After writing what I deem to be a (semi) decent poem, I’m spent. It takes a lot of energy. To recharge, I find myself revisiting my favorite poet (Andrea Gibson) and exploring more to expand my mind, to remind myself of all the millions of ways one can express themself.

I also try to attend cultural events about issues I care about, like discussions on literature or social justice. I attend open mics even if I’m not feeling like performing, or exhibitions of any kind. These things help me reset in a way. They help remind me of my place, my own voice, my own experiences– they serve just as much as an inspiration as they do a wonderful mirror.

3. Have Specific Goals, Make a Schedule and Stick to It

This may seem obvious, but it’s definitely easy to get in the mindset of “oh I’m living creatively…so I’ll just create when the winds of inspiration sweep me off my feet.” or “Oh yeah, I have time this week. I’ll work on that then.”  Nope. Definitely doesn’t work like that. Creation takes WORK, and after you have created something, that hard work becomes part of the joy you get from it. In order to do that work it takes making a schedule and putting down on a specific tasks to work on and sticking to it.

When creating my chapbook, I started off with scheduling tasks like “Work on Chapbook” for an hour between my jobs. When I sat down to work on it, can you guess what happened? No, I didn’t make any progress. I spent the time floundering about all the poems that needed to be written and all the revisions I would need to make. I spent the whole hour I had overwhelmed with too vague of a task. Specificity is KEY. I began assigning myself specific poems, and would write to that even if it hurt, even if I felt like it sucked. A few times these poems turned out to be completely different poems for completely different projects but overtime I was taking small steps to the completion of my larger task.

I try to always remind myself to be a squirrel. Must take just one nut at a time. 

4. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Building a habit, even around something you’re passionate about, isn’t easy. Set up a FEASIBLE schedule (key word here), try to stick to it, and give yourself a break. Literally and figuratively. Some days you’re going to be tired and you’re not going to want to do it– and some days you need to push through that. But other days, you need to listen to yourself and give yourself some rest. It has taken a lot of time for me to start being more kind to myself. But gosh, now that I give myself permission to fail (most of the time), time to rest, time to suck, I’m so much happier creating things.

I recently read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert (if you haven’t read it, go do it right now), and that’s one of her biggest sticking points. Creating should be FUN! If it’s miserable for you in part because you’re putting some much pressure on it (on yourself, your expectations of what it could become, of what people might think) you’re doing it wrong. Take a deep breathe. Relax. Think of it as a game, find your inner child, and play. And remember. This is for you.

Which leads to my next piece of advice…

BUT if you want to hear, stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the remaining 4 Ways to Stay Disciplined! 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6ekT0NqTzO1xpG5H1SwDww

 

Monthly Food Budget in Colombia

Something ultra important to me when I settle into a new place is food. Duh, right? While good restaurants in close proximity are a perk, having grocery stores and markets that are close by and affordable is KEY in order to create a solid monthly food budget.

Within a one block radius, there are three food stores. One is called D1 (De uno), another is Carulla, and the last is a local fruit, veggie, and meat market. Carulla is on the higher end with whole food type prices, so…I have tended to avoid it, though they are good for having specialty items or imported goods that other stores typically don’t have.

Since I started shopping, I’ve been sticking with D1 which is comparable to Aldi: super economical, easy, and you can be in-and-out fairly quick. There I buy eggs, pasta, crackers, nut mixes, tuna and other items that are non-perishable. For my fruit and veggie haul, I stopped in at the local joint, which proved to be a fantastic decision.

The D1 haul (which included buying olive oil, a tooth brush and splurging on some almond milk) cost me $40,150 Colombian Pesos (COP)[$13.74]. The fruit and veggie haul cost me $30,214 COP ($10.34 USD). Everything totalled up to: 70,364 COP or $24.08 USD.

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I bought this food a little over a week ago and I still have enough for 8 more meals, minimum, This all will total up to about 2 weeks of supply. Not bad, right?

The longevity of this haul has been elongated slightly because I have definitely had meals out. That is a comfort that will be hard to avoid while settling in a new place and making new friends.  

Nonetheless, I think I can do even better next time since I won’t have to buy staple items. Also, as I hone in on more specific meals I want to make, as well as the things I can and can’t eat (had a bad experience with Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) the yellow spiky fruit in the picture) I’ll be able to have a more precise idea of my budget.

As it stands, (if I do my math right) my grocery budget in Colombia may cost me little more than $50 USD per month. If I include going out for meals 2-3 times a week, at an average of $6 per meal ($18/week). My monthly food budget in Colombia is about $122. That is the low side of what I spent on groceries per month back at home… I shudder to think how much I ended up spending on meals out.

There you have it! A little glimpse into my day-to-day expenses in Colombia. Have any questions? Want to know what things are and what I cook? Comment below!

Cheers,

Alaina

UPDATE: The food above lasted me exactly 2 weeks! I’ve gone to the fruteria again and bought fruits and veggies for the remainder of the month and spent 21,107 COP ($7.02).

Also, along the way I bought some nut mixes for snacks and some napkins. I spent $15,160 COP ($5.05). A few days ago, I got a little capricious and bought some gummies, popcorn, cheese, cured meats, crackers, beer, and orange juice which cost me 40,750 COP ($13.57). I ended up throwing away all of the nacho supplies I purchased because they were actually disgusting lol. Approximately a $4 mistake.

I don’t anticipate buying more groceries again, and I’ll keep the $4 in there for other experiments or curiosities. That means the grand total of my shopping month was: $147,381 COP or $49.05 USD. I came in under my budget! Woo!

 

 

*Images at the top are stock images found on google with permission for reuse. I do not claim the rights to these photos.

*Image of food and special guest, Emma the Cat, is mine.

The Reality Behind Travel

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Behind all the “grammable” moments, the gorgeous album of photos uploaded to Facebook, the amazing snaps and instastories blasted out for the world to see, the reality of traveling is a sobering one.

First, let me start by stating that I recognize how lucky I am to have earned opportunities to travel and to live abroad in different countries. I know a lot of people look at that with a mixture of incredulity, awe, and probably a bit of envy. A lot of people want me to share photos and videos so they can live vicariously through me. I get that. I do that. However, it’s a slippery slope when you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Even as I’m here, settling into a bustling, beautiful city in Colombia, I see my friends and my family and people I knew at some point having meals together, going to parks, playing games, getting engaged, married, having babies… all together. I feel envious. I feel sad. And I feel utterly alone.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m not alone. I also understand that these 2D experiences I’m seeing are teeming with loads of challenging nuances that I cannot detect.  And currently, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the first stages of culture shock.

I’ve settled in to a beautiful house with nice people and two cats. I have a space to call my own, a place to store my food, a neighborhood to frequent. I have a launching pad from which I can go discover this city, this country, and this part of the world. It is wonderful relief.

With that relief, the ability to relax, a number of things fade: my survival instincts, the excitement of walking around a new city, re-navigating a language I love, discovering the subtleties of this culture, learning of things to try, places to see, etc. As this “honeymoon” stage melts away, room develops for homesickness, exhaustion, frustration, feelings of isolation and being stuck, even scared, and sadness.

I wouldn’t change this decision if I had to make it 50 more times. But like all things in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes just going to the store is the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a blanket with some mac and cheese and watch your favorite show. Sometimes things are going to suck, even if you’re in paradise.

So I guess, what I’m trying to communicate is that, while I post pretty photos and share nice stories about my experience, keep in mind that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Sure, revel in those moments with me, but please don’t lose sight of the magic of your own experience while you do. I’m going to remind myself of the same thing, especially in tougher moments like these.

You see the picture at the top of this page? My feet resting on a window sill that overlooks a gorgeous patio, lush with tropicalish flowers, blue skies in the background, reeking of tranquility. Well, shortly before taking that, as I ambled my gawky way into the hammock, I fell straight backwards, smashed my head into the bed so hard one of the wooden slats went crashing to the floor, scaring the cat so bad that it flew from its resting spot on my suitcase with her nails out, tearing up the fabric as she dashed away.

All rainbows and butterflies and shit, right?

Not exactly.

And good thing!

5 of My Favorite Spanish Foods

When I first arrived to Spain, I wasn’t sure what to eat or how to eat or how to shop for myself. It was if entering into a new society suddenly wiped my mind clear of all the things I had learned after living by myself for five years. I’m already indecisive enough as it is, so add in a warehouse store like Carrefour (a European version of a target market more or less) filled with brands, fruits, cheeses, meat hanging from the ceiling and beer I had never encountered before, I was más perdida que un pedo en un jacuzzi— aka, I was completely lost. (If you understand Spanish or looked that phrase up haha excellent). My roommate accompanied me and was exasperated at the fact that I had no idea what to buy. She kept asking me with increasing insistence, “Pues, ¿Qué comes?” and I kept saying “No sé!” Had I had the capacity to express myself more fully I would have said something like “Tia, dejáme aquí… no me puedes meter prisa que ya estoy agobiada” which basically means, “Dude- leave me here- I’m overwhelmed AF.” But instead she watched me flail in the aisles as I went around and picked up a loaf of bread, a half kilo of turkey and ham without knowing what the heck a kilo equated to, some tortilla chips, ketchup, mayonnaise, two types of mustard, barbecue sauce, a jar of salsa, and a 12 pack of Estrella Damm because it was on sale. Her eyes turned to plates when she saw the number of condiments in my basket– “¿En serio?” she laughed at me, “Eres muy americana.”

My bread molded before I could even use a quarter of it, the turkey and ham went bad because I got sick of eating it and I finished the beers after about two days. Over the next few weeks I observed what my Spanish roommates ate. Being students, they all had mothers back in their pueblos that prepared them a freezer full of tappers which contained pasta with meat sauce, rice with rabbit and veggies, an assortment of different types of soups and stews and seafood paella to name a few. Nearly every meal was accompanied by picos, little tiny pieces of hard bread that we’d probably find in some sort of chex mix. Soon I, too, became a pico feign.  For breakfast they’d drink Colacao, which is like Nesquik, or powdered instant coffee with cookies or little muffins. Dinner was always late and light: a salad or some tuna with onions and tomatoes.

I was in a serious phase of adjustment, so adding cooking then dishes and balancing my roommates’ schedules in order to do so was not on the top of my priority list. So, I ate out… A LOT. And that is how I became very  well acquainted with some of my favorite Spanish dishes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was totally spoiled in that I was growing my Spanish palate in arguably one of the best gastronomic strongholds of Spain. In just a few short months, my reliance on condiments and hot sauce completely vanished. Spain’s salty, savory, FRESH, simplistic yet full-bodied cuisine redefined my definition of satisfied.

 

My very first attempt at making Bacaloa Dorado ca.2014

1. Bacaloa Dorado

Golden Cod in English, this dish is eaten quite often in Extremadura. It’s traditionally a Portuguese dish, and is made of eggs, onion, cod, and fried potatoes (not french fries). For me, it was comfort food. I found out pretty soon that it’s super easy to make, too.

 

 

 

 

2. Jamón, Lomo, Chorizo 

Jamón del bueno with nice blurry finger 🙂

Although I don’t eat much meat here, I can’t get over the Spanish cured meats. Give me a bandeja of any of these and I’m one happy camper. Chorizo is chorizo. It’s less spicy than the Mexican chorizo we’re accustomed to and has a smokier flavor because it’s made with Pimentón or paprika. Pimentón de La Vera is a specialty from the province of Cáceres, located in the north of Extremadura.  Lomo is cured tenderloin. SO GOOD.  Jamón is cured ham leg and the best ham comes from Extremadura because they’re raised in open fields and feed on the bellotas or acorns from the Holm oak trees strewn across the region. My Spanish mom sent me some lomo and jamón for my birthday and I cried. These are no joke, folks.

 

 

Utter joy

3. Huevos Rotos

My mouth became a geyser each time I saw a plate of huevos rotos go by. It literally translates to Broken Eggs– even the name is awesome, right? This is another comfort selection as it consists of a bed of fries, topped with Jamón and two over easy eggs. That’s it. Simply delicious. Another version I often enjoyed swapped Jamón for gulas, which are little sea worms. Before you get totally grossed out, if you’re in Spain– try them! They’re also amazing  sauteed in garlic and olive oil (Gulas al ajillo)–YUM.

 

 

4. Tortilla de Patata con Salmorejo

Missing the Tortilla but it’s garnished with egg and ham bits…and features two more of my favorite things: olives and beer

Ah yes, the famous Tortilla de Patata or Spanish Omelette. Spain converted me into an egg lover. I love all the eggs in all the different shapes and forms they come in. One of my favorites for sure is the classic Tortilla de Patatas–but for me it has to be on the runnier side and it’s even better when it can be plopped into a cold, shallow bowl of Salmorejo.  This is another version of ‘cold tomato soup’ that’s similar to Gazpacho (which I also love). While Gazpacho contains pepino (cucumber), pimientos (peppers), Salmorejo does not. It’s slightly thicker because it uses more bread followed by fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt.

 

5. Tapas 

I realize “Tapas” is the broadest thing I could list here and it sort of seems like cheating. But for me, it’s the epitome of why I LOVE Spanish food.

Tapas which literally means lid, became a cultural staple after it was mandatory to serve food with alcoholic beverages (why isn’t this a thing everywhere still behooves me). The principle behind Tapas consists of two of my favorite things: snacking and sharing. Here I described how Tapas is a way of life–it’s representative of the family-style, communal approach to eating. It stirs up conversation and it brings you closer together as you truly bond over a shared meal.

Creative tapa made in honor of the Gay Pride Festival, Los Palomos, in Badajoz

 

This list could go on for days but that would be somewhat masochistic. It’s a good thing I have all of the recipes to my favorite Spanish foods AND I just started working part time at Milwaukee’s only authentic Spanish Tapa restaurant, MOVIDA, so I can satiate my cravings until I move back. 

If you behave nice and tell me what your favorite Spanish food is in the comments, maybe in the future I’ll treat you to Part II: My Favorite Spanish Foods. I’ll be sure to include cheeses and even some recipes!

So, dime (tell me)– have you lived in or traveled to Spain? If so, ¿cuál es tu comida favorita? If you haven’t, which one of my favorite Spanish foods sounds most appealing to you? Share in the comments! 

3 Coping Tools for Moving Back Home (& other big life changes)

When I landed on U.S. soil again in June of 2016, I began to weep subconsciously. I had no real thought in my head and didn’t quite understand intellectually why I became overcome with sobs as I stared out at the Logan Airport Tarmac. I didn’t question it though– I didn’t ask, why am I crying? Because I knew in my bones I’d be here for awhile…My time in Spain had come to an end, for now. The tears, though, were equal parts happy and sad. At this point, I didn’t fully understand the process that I was about to go through for the next year plus. But I did know this much,

“This is going to hurt later.”

I reveled being back in the U.S. with my sister and family in Massachusetts, then with family and friend back in Wisconsin. I was in the honey moon phase of transition and had yet to confront any of the impending consequences of my decision: complete change of lifestyle, a breakup, a change of career.

Those are massive things to tackle all at once, and would subsequently explain why I kept myself completely numb to all of it for a solid three months. I don’t recommend this coping mechanism because it all caught up to me fast and hard. I am no expert, but after suffering for months, I’m going to try to explain the do’s and don’ts of coping with massive life changes.

(Note: Each experience is unique and everyone copes in their own way. Maybe these will apply to you, maybe not. Either way, I sincerely hope it helps you or someone in your life.)

1. DON’T: Say you’re fine. 

You’re not. You’re not fine. And that’s OK! Saying your fine is a way of condemning yourself from being wounded– don’t judge yourself so harshly. It’s OK to hurt. In fact, it’s wonderful. I truly believe suffering is an opportunity for growth. So, breathe, feel it, learn from it and grow.

DO: Talk to Someone

I can’t stress this one enough. Talking to someone to sort out all of the mess that is accruing inside of you is paramount to finding peace. I like to imagine that as we go we get poked and we try to cope and compensate for that– then what ends up happening over time is that portion gets curled up really really tight. Eventually this coil becomes detrimental to us– talking through things helps us unravel these coils and untangle the mess, providing clarity and a real, constructive path forward.

2. DON’T: Try Dating

This, of course, depends on you and your last relationship but even anything over six months merits a break from dating after a breakup. How long that break depends on a ton of different factors. But overall, it’s important to process the loss and just focus on you for awhile. Feel. Process. Dating is just a distraction from dealing with things.

DO: Spend Quality Time with Friends, Family, and By Yourselftacos

Find out more about yourself, reflect on things you could improve about yourself so that you can be the partner you want to be in the future, learn to love yourself fully. How though? Treat yo’self! Regardless of what happened, you must be kind to yourself— reconnect with the things you truly love doing. One of my favorite moments from this portion of my recovery was going out for tacos with a book then catching a flick at the Milwaukee Film Festival. Despite my mistakes, I loved myself that night. I did things I loved doing, for me and no one else. After continuing to practice this over the next year, instead of “despite my mistakes” it became in spite of my mistakes, I love myself. And the more I loved myself, the more I was able to feel the love and support my friends and family give to me. Focus on this rather than the love lost. Hold on to this rather than humans that no longer can or wish to be in your life. There are so many beautiful souls around (including your own)– relish those, soak up the time with them.

3. DON’T: Compare

This, I believe, independent of big life changes, is a principal source of suffering in our world. The grass is ALWAYS greener. We tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses… memorializing the good moments, choosing to ignore the bad… those of which that actually propelled the change. I do this often. I struggle with it immensely and always have. I think of my life in Spain: the flexibility of schedule I had, never needing a car, engaging with students all the time, etc.. and I get envious I don’t have that anymore. But then I have to stop myself and think– but I desired some sort of rigidity that would help me become more disciplined. I hated being dependent on others in order to go explore other parts of Spain for which a car was necessary. I ached for moments alone, to work in silence and in solitude. These are things I wanted to change and informed my decision to take a step along a different path. So, it’s quite silly, isn’t it? It’s human, though.

DO: Practice Gratitude

So what I do when I find myself comparing, whatever it may be, I focus on three things I’m grateful for but then I also recognize one “bad” thing in my current situation. The three help the angst that bubbles up in my chest calm, then I try to see the “bad” thing as  something that is providing me with the opportunity to improve on myself.  Some days I have to do this more often than others, but overall it seems to be helping. I feel joyful more often and more consistently than I have since I was a little curly headed tornado child.

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Me being serene af in some trees

If anything I hope this serves as a reminder to be mindful, grateful, and to forgive and love yourself. You’re doing alright.

Have you experienced a big life change recently? What are some things you do to cope with it? Share in the comments below!

 

 

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.

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!

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.

The First and Very Long Overdue Post: Part I

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time. This and a laundry list of stories, poems, and a novel. To be fair to myself, I am working on the novel– a very slow, inspiration-driven process. I’m letting it be that for now despite the many pieces of advice saying things like Henry Miller, “When you can’t create you can work.” But the truth is, I have been working. A lot.

Due to the onslaught of personal blogs out there, especially from other people in my position, I’ve felt like I had nothing better to say than everyone else. I realize that this isn’t true. I’ve left so many things unsaid to family, friends, and even myself about my unique experience. I’ve been trapped in my head for awhile. Last year, however, I was totally in over my head. I moved to Badajoz, Spain and began learning a new profession, a new language, how to adapt in a new country, new people, new living arrangements, a new city, a new diet, a new schedule…everything new, new, new. I was thrilled when I first arrived, and completely overstimulated. I became caught up in living, you might say. Looking back, I was a bit like that person that holds their breath while they’re taking a photo. I was smiling ear to ear, excited to be in the frame I was, able to capture all these new moments; but as the moments went on I realized my face was turning red and my blood wasn’t quite reaching all of my limbs.

Absorbing every little charming detail of my new city. There are rose bushes in many of the parks.
Absorbing every little charming detail of my new city
My first sunrise back in Spain.
My first sunrise back in Spain

Right from the beginning, I threw myself in head first. With no teaching experience I was teaching 12 hours in schools and 10 hours in private classes, 6 of which were through an academy. I was dedicating 25 plus hours a week to teaching English to ages from 6 to 60, from levels 0 to advance. It was a crash course on teaching with passive guides and no instructions. Aside from a few people who gave me pieces of advice and feedback, of which I am very grateful, I taught myself how to teach. Much of the time I felt impotent, stressed, exhausted, and stretched to the limit. While only working 25 hours or so doesn’t seem so hard, keep in mind it wasn’t just working, it was teaching AND learning in a foreign environment. When Friday rolled around, I was spent. Done. K.O.

During this time, I didn’t realize why I was so tired either. Neither did my Spanish roommates. So, jokingly, but hurtfully, they’d call me things like “lazy” when I slept until noon on a Friday (which I have to say, they often indulged in, too), or after I left my dishes unwashed one evening after having worked a 10 hour day. Sometimes they’d criticize my Spanish, telling me it was “fatal” (horrible). They have good hearts and much of the time they did it with good intentions, trying to teach me and push me to improve, but I was frayed wire, susceptible to the slightest touch. For awhile I avoided my house and sought haven in my friend’s flat between classes or for dinner. In retrospect, I wish I would have taken a more self-aware and direct approach to the situation; but like I said, I was in over my head and my self-reflection was quite low during this time. Anyway, this sort of pressure, discomfort, and misunderstanding on all parts coupled with my own frustration with what seemed to me as slow development of Spanish made the first year a bittersweet one.The sweet part came in the excitement, the newness of everything, learning and growing up so much and meeting new friends, some of which I will have for a lifetime. And of course, a pipe dream come true of finding my very own Spanish Maria.

My Spanish Maria and I in San Sebastian
My Spanish Maria and I in San Sebastian

Christmas Break (free then down)

For Christmas, I took a big trip away from Badajoz, teaching, and Spanish. First stop was Madrid for El Rey Leon with my new crush and now steady girlfriend, roommate, best friend, travel buddy, and business partner, Maria. Then I took off to Ireland and spent Christmas with my then newly-made and gracious friend Emma and her wonderful family. After this, I ferried over to England where I was gleefully joined by my brother, Matt, for New years. We then hopped over to Amsterdam for a longer visit than anticipated due to poor logistics planning on my end. After that, we flew to Malaga and Matt had his first taste of the Mediterranean, and where mine was quenched for a short time (I’ve began salivating again for that sea). We bused up to beautiful Cordoba for two nights, where we met Maria, then we made it back to Badajoz. I had to return to work while my brother was in town, so my German friend studying abroad in the Erasmus program, Gerhild, showed my brother around. We managed to visit Merida, where Matt got to see the Roman ruins and experience the charm of another Spanish city.

Matt and I in Merida, with the old Roman Bridge in the Background.
Matt and I in Merida, with the old Roman Bridge in the background

After another logistics nightmare, a missed flight, and a choked-hug, I waved goodbye to my brother as he boarded the bus to begin his journey home. I was in the passenger seat of Maria’s car, staring hard out the window at nothing before the first tears began to push their way out my tear ducts. When I felt Maria’s hand on my leg I stopped fighting and began sobbing. With snot clogging my nasal cavity, my eyes like rudolph’s nose, I came up gasping for air after four months. I finally stopped smiling for the photo and exhaled.

For now, we’re almost caught up and this is just the beginning of the adventures I plan to share with you. So stay tuned!

If you have any feedback, questions, suggestions, email me or comment below! Thank you for reading!

Coming Soon:

The First and Very Long Overdue Post: Part II

Summer, Summer, Summer Time

Back to Spain

Adventures in an Academy

Migas

A Spanish Christmas

My Favorite Spanish Foods

…and More!