Monthly Archives: October 2015

Esto no es pan comido

viene la lluviaIn case you were wondering, I can assure you that our life in Granada is not all Rioja and roses.

Challenge #1
Taking the bubble wrap off the child.

I think we’re typical parents of our generation and class who—because we can—work energetically to shelter our child from discomfort and pain even as we acknowledge (intellectually) the importance of those feelings in healthy development. I will even own up to trying to deliver an idyllic childhood experience.

So when Lou repeatedly says “I hate school. It’s boring,” I want to make it better for him, especially since I agree that sitting at a desk most of the day doing workbook exercises is boring. But we are not in a position to change much about school. I am telling myself that this is our opportunity to cede some control and focus on supporting Lou as he advocates for himself, works to keep a good attitude, and finds ways to get the most out of second grade.

Challenge #2
Isolation/loneliness/excessive navel-gazing.

We have been warmly welcomed in Granada. Our landlords and other Spaniards have invited us to do things and tried to help us begin to integrate. And the many American families we’ve met are friendly and, like us, looking for ways to balance the support we can provide each other with our shared desire to experience Spanish life as fully as possible. But it takes time to make friends, and for me it’s going to be impossible unless I can speak English at least some of the time.

Weekends are tough. Unless we plan a play date for Lou (and so far his only buddies are Americans), he has to spend the whole weekend with adults. All of us see so much of each other that home sometimes feels claustrophobic. Beyond loneliness, not being able to talk with a wider group of people can, for me, lead to a loss of perspective and an excessive focus on myself and my situation. Each of these struggles has given us an opportunity for meaningful conversation as a family about the importance of friends, how they’re different from acquaintances, and how to make friends.

Challenge #3

Studying Spanish helps me appreciate even more how amazing language is. There are so many words and so many ways to put them together to communicate highly nuanced ideas, tell rich stories, make jokes, explain a technical process, say you’re sorry, and on and on.

Lou has a good enough level of Spanish that he can manage just fine in his classroom. But I think he has trouble understanding Spanish speakers who don’t adjust their speech for him, and I wouldn’t say that he can express himself fully in Spanish. I’m sure he’s making progress every day without having to work at it consciously.

Pete is our rock star who is making Spanish friends and starting a community ed class in creative writing.

Depending on my most recent interaction in Spanish, I either think “If I keep at it, I can do this!” or “I am spitting into the wind.” Earlier this week I had a relatively successful meeting with a conversation partner where I talked about what I’d done on the weekend. It was successful because I spent two hours writing about the weekend for my class (and received corrections), then I used what I had written to rehearse out loud what I wanted to say with my partner. Also, because my partner gives me time to speak and doesn’t rush to correct me or finish my sentences, I feel more relaxed and the words come more easily. Needless to say it’s humbling to require that level of preparation.

llegó la lluvia

Rainy day river and tributary

Challenge #4

We live in a house designed to stay cool, and it does. Without the hot sun of late summer, the house doesn’t warm up, and hanging freshly washed clothes outside all day doesn’t get them completely dry. While we have central heat with a radiator in every room, it seems early to turn on something that has been made to sound like a luxury. (But it was only 45F when we walked to school this morning, and Lou is sleeping with me for warmth while Pete is on a visit back to the U.S., so maybe it’s time for luxuries.) I am definitely going to investigate the self-service laundromat with tumble dryers!


Nothing makes a sunrise or a bank of clouds or a Tuesday afternoon interesting like mountain peaks.  Mountain peaks also make us eager to become People Who Hike.

Last weekend we tried a gentle route leaving from the small town of Monachil, southeast of Granada.

Today we were invited to go on a hike just north of Granada with our landlord and his dog, ending at a campground where his wife was part of a group (including parents we recognized from school) putting on a theatre and music performance for kids with autism. A Spanish friend of our landlords, who has lived all over the world including Connecticut and Manhattan, joined us with his British airbnb tenants. There was lots of conversation I could participate in, perfect weather for hiking, amazing views, and a professional quality performance that made everyone happy.

Un sistema de salud

I left the U.S. an unhappy healthcare “customer.” I had recently been prescribed a medication for a minor but ongoing skin condition and, after paying for an office visit and labs out of pocket (because deductibles for our healthy family are so high), I learned that insurance would not allow me to fill the prescription beyond a 30-day supply unless I paid full price. Even if I’d been willing to pay, it turned out the doctor wasn’t going to renew the prescription without me repeating labs and an office visit every six months.

So today we walked to the nearest Centro de Salud, which happens to be across from Lou’s school, and learned that I could make an appointment for a medical consult within the next couple of days for $45. However, we were advised to start with a visit to a pharmacy because maybe they could fill the prescription I already had.

Sure enough, Pete presented my case to a pharmacist, handed over the prescription bottle, and after a brief discussion I paid $6 for a month’s supply.

It sounds too easy, doesn’t it? The pharmacist didn’t even ask for my ID! But the medication is an inocuous one, and I have experienced none of the potential side effects in the three months I’ve been taking it. I don’t know why exactly the drug costs nearly 20 times more in the U.S. than it does in Spain, but I can guess that the higher cost of an office consult in the U.S. has to do with high administrative costs related to insurance and the high salary of a specialized doctor (plus a little for free Keurig coffee, cable TV, and tasteful decorating in the office waiting room). Pete wondered if the U.S. doctor’s requirement that I repeat labs and office visits was some kind of CYA in the unlikely event that I did experience a serious side effect.

It’s worth underscoring that I did not take up a doctor’s valuable time with an unnecessary consult or put any other burden on the health care system here. In this instance, I think the Spanish system — including a for-profit pharmacy — worked the way a health care system should.


This is chirimoya season, and since all of the chirimoyas in Europe come from the Costa Tropical just south of Granada (per my agronomist acquaintance Ignacio), I couldn’t not try one.

The chirimoya is on the left next to a huge Spanish mango.

The chirimoya is on the left next to a huge Spanish mango.

Chirimoya seeds are hard and as large as sunflower seeds in the shell. The flesh is soft  in the middle of the fruit (chirimoya are also called custard apples), and it flaked like moist fish when I ate it with a spot. Along the outer edges it was firmer and grainy like a pear. I would describe the flavor as very sweet, with a hint of vanilla.

Chirimoya seeds are hard and as large as sunflower seeds in the shell. The fruit is soft in the middle (chirimoyas are also called custard apples) and firmer and slightly grainy at the outer edges, like a pear. I would describe the flavor as very sweet, with a hint of vanilla.

Sacar el mayor partido de este año

DSC_0490When we told people that we were moving to Granada for a year, they often asked “What are you going to do?” It’s an excellent question and we’re getting to the point where we can give it the attention it deserves.

Right now, a typical day for me looks like this:

7:15 am       drag myself out of bed after nine hours of sleep (what can I say? sunrise isn’t until 8:21 am!); check email and otherwise lose an hour in front of the computer
8:55 am       run out the door wondering why we’re always late getting Lou to school, which is 10 minutes uphill
9:05 am       whew! kids are still getting sorted out in the classroom
9:10 am       chat with some American moms about where they traveled on the three-day weekend; meet new mom from San Francisco and accept her invitation to get coffee
9:15 am       enjoy easy conversation in English about shared interests and experiences
10:30 am     pass Mónica, Argentine owner of the pizza place on the corner of our street, and we agree on Monday for our next English lesson; she and her son want to learn English for interacting with customers who don’t speak Spanish, and it’s good for me because I have to communicate with Mónica and Sebastian in Spanish
10:35 am     home with plans to sit down and study Spanish; WhatsApp message from Pete says our Spanish ID cards are ready and I have to pick mine up myself
11:00am     rendezvous with Pete to get my passport, debrief the morning, and agree that we are totally unoriginal (there are 20 English-speaking families and counting at Lou’s small school?)
11:15am     pin location of self-service laundry in my phone; I washed piles of clothes, sheets and towels yesterday, something that was only possible because I dedicated my day to it and because we had sufficient sun and invested in a third drying rack
noon           arrive at Foreigners Office; no line at reception, but I have to wait 30 minutes because other people have appointments
12:30 pm    I get the lady who looks crabby, and I can’t blame her; she takes digital fingerprints two times, and even though she used a wet wipe on my fingers she can’t get them to match my prints from three weeks ago (dios mío); she calls over the fussy guy who did my original prints; he takes my prints again and can’t get them to match—he reminds me that I have bad fingerprints; crabby lady and fussy guy involve a guy just back from his break (expert finger printer?); I try the “hot breath on finger trick” I learned three weeks ago from fussy guy, and it works; with our DNI cards Pete and I can now open a joint bank account and finally pay down Lou’s lunch and after school activities tab
1:15 pm        stop at dry cleaners/laundry to pick up bedspreads (we switched to down comforters last week); I ask if credit cards are accepted and the guy says “Of course,” but his card reader can’t connect to the Wi-Fi signal so I run to a cash machine; he is pleased when I pay in exact change and I’m pleased to have said everything correctly (I think)
1:30 pm     leave grocery store with the few ítems I can carry up the hill in addition to the two bedspreads; this does not include a bag of oranges Pete wanted for his new electric juicer
2:15 pm     cook myself lunch, which is more involved than putting an Annie’s frozen meal in the microwave
3:00 pm    work on the blog knowing that I should be working on my Spanish, especially since I have a conversation exchange at 7 pm with Ignacio, an agronomist and officer in a deux chevaux car club I met through
5 pm         get Lou from his after school activity

If you’re thinking “Oh, you’ve become a Spanish house wife who doesn’t speak Spanish,” you’re right. And since that’s not what I intended, I have some things to figure out. Pete is doing better (he’s going to a gym and he joined an informal soccer team and he got us invited to a party), but he’s also trying to figure out how we can look back on this time and say we made the most of it.

Un puente

andalucia_mapaMonday was a national holiday in Spain marking the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. (The monarchs who forced Jews and Muslims out of Al-Andalus—Ferdinand and Isabel, mainly Isabel—were the same ones who funded Columbus in the hopes of finding riches to support their ambitious plans.)

We rented a car for the three-day weekend and more or less drove a big square: Granada, Antequera, Málaga, Almuñecar, Granada. We spent most of our time around Antequera where the weather was influenced by warm breezes from the Mediterranean colliding with cold mountain air. (Click here to read about dolmens.)