Monday, December 28, 2009

Santa's Little Yelpers

So much has happened in the past week it's hard to know where to begin. The main thing though is that both Sabine and Brodie have been sick and it's left both me and Kyle completely exhausted. I don't know why, but here in Madrid, family drama feels more acute and attacks the body AND mind. Sabine has had a succession of little ailments that alone aren't serious, but together add up to one cranky baby. This culminated yesterday at our favorite little breakfast cafe, but I'll get to that later. As for Christmas, other than spending Christmas Eve morning in the emergency room with both children, it went nicely. Santa delivered Brodie the exact gift she requested -"princess stuff." She wears it every minute of every day we allow - I really don't know how this fascination with the princess life started. Anyway, as for the onslaught of illness, it peaked on the 23rd when Brodie began complaining that it hurt when she peed. At first we were concerned, but then she said it was better. That night we knew something was wrong when she screamed after going to the bathroom and with the help of our neighbor, Fatima, we called the doctor who recommended Ibuprofren until we could get in to the doctor. First thing Christmas Eve morning we took a taxi to the children's hospital. Again, I have to hand it to the Spanish - if you have to take your baby to the emergency room this is the experience you want to have. We showed our ID card, were asked about 6 basic questions, directed to a sitting room and before I could take my jacket off we were being called in to see the doctor! Amazing. The doctor was a very nice young man who was patient with my Spanish and with Brodie. As we suspected, she had a urinary tract infection. Poor thing! Needless to say, for a few days there we had some accidents due to her reluctance to use the potty, but she's recovered and no longer in fear. So right when we thought we were over the worst of kid ailments, Sabine decided to reenact a scene from the a cafe. She had been content enough in Kyle's lap and as soon as I sat her in my lap to eat, she vomited and do I mean VOMITED - not that little baby spit up, oh no! get-the-burp-rag kind, it was projectile and it was all over me. Understandably, the Spanish are clean-up-your-own-kid's-vomit kind of people so after doing just that, I went home to change and then because Sabine seemed fine (she even ate) we all headed out for a stroll. So we made trip number FOUR to the doctor only to learn that Sabine probably just had/has a bug. There's more to report on, but after writing all this, I think I need to go to yoga.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Golden Rule

My emotions have run the gamut in the last 24 hours. Tears of frustration and guilt have been shed, great joy was experienced while having a night out with Kyle and currently I'm experiencing heart-pounding pride as I eavesdrop on Brodie entertain our neighbor's son who is about 6 months younger than her. Considering that at one point yesterday I was ready to drop out of motherhood all together, I can't believe I've consented to care for another child to which I'm not legally bound - and a BOY to boot. Anyway, this all came about because Asharaf's mother (Fatima) helps clean our house once a week and today she had Asharaf with her. He didn't seem all that jazzed to be here so I was shocked when he refused to leave with his mother. Anyway, it's only for 45 minutes until his Aunt Touria arrives to take over so that I can go to yoga. Have I mentioned how much we love our Moroccan neighbors? They live below us and are the loveliest people ever. Touria stays with the girls at least twice a week so that Kyle and I can enjoy Madrid at night sans children, Fatima cleans and irons once a week and their mother, Saltana makes us amazing couscous every once in a while JUST BECAUSE. We feel very fortunate to have them as friends and neighbors - they are incredibly generous of spirit and heart. So back to my heart-pounding pride, just now I was listening to Brodie speak to this little boy who only knows Arabic and Spanish with such tenderness and patience. More than that, she was extending her most beloved treasures to share and chatting away as though they were the oldest and best of friends. I hope that Kyle and I have something to do with that sunny disposition, but I think she and her Montessori school deserve most of the credit. Still, I'm just bursting!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ferrovial Gets Its Party On

Last night we went to Grupo Ferrovial's holiday party. Kyle and I had been excited about this because he had been told that it was a really fun party (and it was a night out alone during baby sleep training week), but that bubble was burst when we learned that spouses/guests were not invited. Huh? Needless to say, I was irritated as was Kyle. After jumping through some hoops he was able to secure me an invitation to ensure it was kosher that I attend. It was held at the Matadero which is a very cool cultural arts center, but used to be a slaughter house. I couldn't help but think that cow spirits were watching us...Anyway, this place was insane, really beautiful and a Ferrovial project (as are the Guggenheim and Marques de Riscal winery.) As we walked up we knew we were in for something special. Actually we knew that just by looking at the impressive invitation that came with a coded card for raffle purposes. As we walked in Kyle suggested that next year they consider putting the invitation budget toward letting spouses attend - "good idea" I grumbled. The theme was the future of Ferrovial so we weren't surprised by the futuristic furnishings, lighting and bars. The evening was emceed by a real professional hostess (blonde, tall and charming) who had the honor of awarding something like 25 anniversary gifts to old Spanish men. Rightly so, they kept the bars closed until all the formalities were finished and just as we were lunging toward the bar, the lights dimmed and some people began literally climbing the wall. It was a dance/gymnastic performance performed while suspended from ropes using the wall - it was really beautiful - very cirque du soleil. Anyway, as soon as that wrapped, the bar was open! They had the most amazing mojitos - I'm considering breaking up with tequila and moving on to this cocktail, which I don't think I'd ever had before last night if you can believe it. Anyway, we mingled and I was finally able to meet several of Kyle's co-workers who were all very, very friendly and chatty. The passed hors d'oeuvres were delicious, but not filling enough for this hearty appetite. I was literally chasing servers down if I saw something I liked. My behavior actually embarrassed Kyle and I was asked to "calm down." I wasn't upset because I knew I was being a pig and deserved a talking to. That's pretty bad. So after accosting servers and downing mojitos it was time for the raffle. Prizes included trips, a chance to drive a Ferrari around a racetrack and a Vespa! I just knew we were destined to win that Vespa!!! Sadly we won nothing, but THREE of Kyle's friend won stuff, which are crazy odds considering how many people were there - 700 or so - and he's only close without about 10 people. It was a good night, but the best part of the night was the SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT!! Sabine let out some little cries, but we didn't even have to get out of bed to comfort her. Thank you, Santa!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

That crying you hear is NOT the Baby Jesus.

Or maybe it is if he can hear Sabine's incessant 3 a.m. screams. (I'm not being blasphemous, it's just a nod to the season!)Last night was the worst and I mean THE WORST. I've decided that Sabine is no longer sick or teething, but that she's developed a terrible need to be comforted in the middle of the night. We've been reluctant to let her cry it out because we live in an apartment building, but last night we attempted. Frankly, I'd almost become immune until we heard the banging. We couldn't believe it - the upstairs neighbors were banging on their floor/our ceiling. It made my blood boil! As if we were making her cry just to wake everyone else up. So Kyle got up with her for three hours and played in the kitchen while I slept/tried to sleep. I kept imagining a scenario where they would come down, ring the bell and complain about the crying. In my mind, I unleash a fury unlike anyone this side of the Atlantic has ever seen! Anyway, this little game kept me up way too late. Later, I woke up at 7 to a quiet house and knew there was no way I was going to wake anyone up to get to school on time, so today is Brodie's first day of playing hooky and we're going to make Christmas ornaments. On a lighter note, Monday morning we woke up to a beautiful Madrid lightly dusted in snow! It was Brodie's first snow experience and I'm sad to report that it didn't last long enough for me to get photo documentation. Nonetheless, the walk to school was chilly to say the least and I get why babies are tucked into fleecy stroller covers. Even though it's warmed up just a bit, we plan to buy one this weekend for our awesome Phil & Teds stroller. I could dedicate an entire post to the wonders of this stroller! It's a double-decker and narrow enough to fit through most doorways and small elevators. These have yet to make it to Madrid (I think we've seen maybe two others) and we get stared at and stopped ALL the time. If I had it in me, I'd love to rep these here as I think they would be hugely successful. One woman, after she stopped to ask me about it, said that she can never go out with both babies because the traditional double is too wide to fit through most doorways. I can't imagine. Wait, I take that back. I CAN imagine because ours got a flat yesterday and I felt paralyzed. Even though I can carry Sabine in the Ergo, Brodie will not walk further than a few blocks before complaining that her feet hurt and that she's tired - she obviously needs to start working out. That's it, off to start the day. Wish me luck. UPDATE: Thanks to our wonderful porter, Paco, we learned that the pounding was from next door not upstairs. The 30-yr old that still lives with mommy and daddy (I know this is more than culturally acceptable here, but STIIIILLLLLL) decided that pounding on the wall was the best way to communicate his displeasure. Tonight I believe we'll be letting Sabine cry it out and I plan to sleep like, well, a baby.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Out on the Town

We've spent the last few days in a sleep-deprived, grouchy fog. After a couple of really, really rough nights we realized that poor Sabine is cutting teeth and that her super poops are a result of the anti-mucus medication. We got some - what else -homeopathic medicine for her teeth and stopped the mucus medication early. Sweet relief! Last night she only woke up one time. Despite earlier misgivings about the speed of relief that homeopathic meds provide, I have to say these little pills are miracle workers. Last night Kyle and I had a quiet night out that included going to an art show hosted by a winery owned by a friend of a friend. The show featured mainly crafty-type stuff and reminded me a lot of Parts & Labour in Austin. We bought some books and enjoyed some really, really good wine and company. Later we headed to what I had read was a good paella place in Chueca. Chueca is the Castro district of Madrid and is known for having some of the best restaurant and bar options in town. Unfortunately, our guide was a little off on this recommendation as we were clearly surrounded by tourists and the paella was only okay. Hopeful to salvage some of our initial hopes for the night, we stopped at a bar called Bar Cock, which we had read about in the most recent issue of Monocle. It's a beautiful dark, open space with stained glass windows, an old wooden bar and small vintage sofas and chairs. Anyway, the bartender tells us that they specialize in cocktails and rattles off a list including dirty martinis. Well that was it - we love a good dirty martini. Sadly they arrived rimmed in lemon oil and the olive juice was more like salty olive brine and I could only force a few sips and those were forced only because each drink cost 13 euros -ouch. This is the second time our cocktail expectations haven't been met (you get used to drinks tasting a certain way and for goodness sake a margarita should not have any kind of sugar syrup in it!!!) and we've decided that for at least a while it's only beer or wine for us. Salud!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Today has been mellow despite the fact that we woke up with no running water. Luckily Sabine had her poo explosion LAST night. That was fun. It was truly unlike anything I've ever experienced and if it weren't for the fact that I've been so worried about her irregular BMs I might be something other than relieved. Anyway, the water's back on and everything is back to normal, thank goodness. So since we've arrived, Kyle and I have made some observations about the Spanish that I thought I'd share here. 1) The Spanish don't seem to share our American respect for personal space. If you are in line for anything at all, I can guarantee you that the person behind you is going to be all up in your bizness. It's crazy and it's not pervy either - women do it, too and it drives me nuts. I like to have at least a 1.5 foot radius of personal space around me at all time - even at music festivals! We've noticed, though, that the only exception is the ATM machine and it's almost absurd. People will wait up to five feet away while waiting for their turn - so far away that it looks like they're loitering. 2) Everyone wants to offer their unsolicited opinion on what you're doing wrong as a parent or what's wrong with your child. To date I've had people criticize me for allowing Brodie to ride in the stroller (evidently I should be training her for urban living by having her walk everywhere), letting Sabine swing in the baby swing the "wrong" way and evidently I'm completely unable to select appropriate winter clothing for my children - I actually heard an old woman say "pobrecita" poor thing while looking down at Sabine as we were walking home yesterday. I knew what she meant was "poor thing that your mother hasn't spent the 100 euros on the fleecy stroller cover that virtually every baby in Madrid uses." Seriously, I don't think I've seen a baby without one of these. Please keep in mind that yesterday it was colder in Austin than it was in Madrid so don't call child protective services yet. 3) While the bureaucracy here is almost insurmountable there are some efficiencies and services that are exceptional. I won't get into all that has to happen in order to see a doctor, but once we did and she was diagnosed (congestion and conjunctivitis) the two medications cost only 1.70 You can't buy a pack of gum for that in the States. And my favorite: the trash get picked up every single night, which last night was indeed a blessing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Hmmm. Where to begin? How about: I'll forever associate Bilbao with vomit. But, I think I'm getting ahead of myself. Thanks to the crazy holiday schedule the Spanish keep, we had a 4-day weekend and we decided to make the most of it by driving to Bilbao. The last time I visited Bilbao was in 2004 with my mother and I got a terrible case of food poisoning that made a 4-hour bus ride back to Madrid one of the worst experiences of my life. This time things were going to be different. We rented a VW Tourvan (not sure if they sell these in the States, but it's a perfect family-mobile) and headed out on Sat. morning. Kyle had made a reservation for a tour and lunch at the Marques de Riscal winery and hotel in Enciego. The hotel was designed by Frank Gehry and it may be the most amazing hotel I've ever had the pleasure of entering. We were running late so sadly lunch was a bit rushed so that we could make the winery tour. Nonetheless lunch was delicious, the service was extraordinary and the view was not to be believed - it was worth the splurge. The winery itself is beautiful and very old but in my opinion is totally outshined by the Gehry building. By 5:30 we were off to Bilbao only about an hour away. An hour doesn't sound like a great distance - UNLESS you're traveling with a baby that will not be soothed. That was the longest hour of all of our lives exacerbated by the fact that even though our hotel was located right across the street from the Guggenheim, it took us approximately 45 minutes just to figure out how to get to it. We could see where it had to be, but getting there was a whole other story. Luckily, when we pulled over so Kyle could call the hotel back for something like the SIXTH time, some local took pity on us, hopped in the car and directed us straight there. The hotel was very modern and perfectly nice, but really the nicest part of our stay there was the pleasure of eating breakfast every morning while overlooking the Guggenheim. I'll add that breakfast was pricey and Kyle called it the place where millionaires go to eat breakfast. Sunday morning we woke up and prepared to head 30 minutes out of town to attend the world championship for cross-cycling. While Kyle pulled the car around the front of the hotel, I took Brodie for one last potty break in the lobby bathroom. As soon as I walked in I saw it. Perfectly rectangular, perfectly crisp, perfectly laid out on the floor as if just for me - a 50 Euro bill. This never happens to me! I reported to the front desk that I had found some money in case anyone came asking and then promptly began hoping no one would and mentally spending it. No one ever claimed it! Back to the race: cross-cycling is where cyclists race around a short dirt/mud track and at times have to hop off and carry their bikes because a hill might be too short and steep and/or too muddy. Kyle does this kind of racing in Austin, but the sport is way bigger in Europe - it was a fun and interesting way to spend the day and we appeared to be the lone Americans rooting for the lone American racing. After a long day, we were ready to eat some traditional Basque food and then head to bed. We walked to the plaza where a restaurant that had been recommended was located, but of course it was closed. I get freaked out when I think that we aren't going to have access to healthy food for the girls. I could live on bread, but it really stresses me out when there aren't good food options for them. Luckily, I've trained myself to always carry fruit and bread so the girls made due with that while Kyle and I made do with pinxos. Pinxos are mini-food portions always presented on a slice of bread. They were ok, but at this point all I wanted was a salad. Not long after we got back to the hotel I began to feel sick -really sick. While I never actually threw up, I was plenty miserable most of the night - the curse of Bilbao! When I woke up Monday morning, everything seemed to have passed and we were all ready to tackle the Guggenheim and the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit. Things were going pretty smoothly and both girls seemed happy when we decided to have lunch in the museum cafe. It was then we noticed that Sabine seemed a little warm, so Kyle took both girls outside for some air and that's when Sabine threw up - ON Kyle. The curse of Bilbao! Having only gone through 2 0f the 3 floors, Kyle took Sabine back to the hotel and Brodie and I viewed the last floor and shopped in the gift shop. Poor Sabine is still on the mend (not eating or sleeping well) but the fever is gone and her spirits have lifted. Anyway, by Tuesday morning we were ready to get home. We had breakfast and headed out. As we were driving home and while both girls slept, Kyle and I discussed where we'll be in a year. It finally hit me that it probably won't be Austin, in fact it almost definitely won't be Austin and that made me homesick. Oddly, later in the drive, out of nowhere, Brodie blurted out, "I miss Austin." It just made me realize how sensitive children are to our moods and that I need to keep mine in check. Today I plan to go out of my way to celebrate something uniquely Madrid with Brodie so that we never lose sight of just how lucky we are to be here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ye Olde Christmas Crap

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here due in no small part to yours truly who feels personally responsible for creating Hallmark memories for our wee ones. I've been thinking about it a lot and I realize that as I've gotten older I've become kind of grinchy about the holidays. I've never been one to get caught up in the holiday fervor. Don't get me wrong - I've always loved the parties, gift-giving and gathering around the holiday table with family for a fabulous meal, but I've kind of let my childhood nostalgia and joy fade. Until now. Being away from family and friends has turned this ex-pat into a carol-humming, tree-buying (more on that later), house-decorating Christmas fool. I even bought more than $20 worth of traditional holiday songs off iTunes just to make sure everyone (Kyle) gets in the spirit. Brodie's faves are Burl Ives' Rudolph and Frank Sinatra's Santa Claus is coming to Town. In the States it's impossible to avoid the commercialization of Christmas, everything is wrapped in tinsel and the message to buy, buy, buy is everywhere. In Spain, it's much more subtle - here you would only know Christmas is approaching because of the lights the city has put up around town and in the plazas. After doing some research I learned that the Plaza Mayor had already opened up its annual Christmas market so that's what we did last night. It was beautiful, but boy was I ever disappointed by the selection of wares. I was expecting hand-crafted ornaments and creches, but instead found new plastic, tacky junk from China that was made to look old. This is what I like to call Ye Olde Christmas crap. Needless to say, that was a blow to the ol' Christmas cheer, but we recovered when we saw the carousel and live trees for sale. We settled on a tiny one (about 3 feet) but it's real. Being talked into the tree was especially funny. The guy told us that he would pack it up so it could be carried home like an umbrella. Well, I took this to mean that it would be tightly wound and then some kind of sling would be attached. What he meant was that he would put it in a bag and then Kyle could carry it home against his shoulder AS IF it were an umbrella. Watching Kyle carry that thing home was fun-ny, but he kept his sense of humor. Anyway, it's a long weekend so we're driving to Bilbao tomorrow for three nights. I'm looking forward to the Guggenheim and enjoying some Basque cuisine. Everyone have a great weekend! And Happy Birthday, Mom!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy Birthday Sabine!

Today is Miss Sabine's first birthday and to celebrate we're making a cake and having a party! I must confess, though, that the cake was made using a Duncan Hines box mix (I stumbled onto this tiny place that sells American and English food products.) As much as I like an old fashioned cake made from scratch, I have to say I truly LOVE Duncan Hines cakes - I find them yummy and comforting. Other food I find comforting that probably gross out others include, grilled cheese sandwiches made with Kraft American cheese, Ranch Style beans in the black can (you know the one), Aunt Jemima instant pancake mix and syrup, Campbell's tomato soup, Kraft macaroni and cheese in the blue box with the cheese pouch (not powder - that would require milk!) and well, you get the picture. Anyway, tonight we'll have our Moroccan neighbor, Touria, over as well as Andres and Julieta whose birthday we celebrated with midnight karaoke last weekend. It will be a small and humble party, but we're excited nonetheless! Don't worry Sabine, we'll have a Barbie/Princess/Fairy-stravaganza next year! I'm kidding - I hope. I'll post party photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


My readership (hi Mom!) has requested more pictures so I'll try to figure out how to post a slideshow. In the meantime, I'll dedicate this entry to our neighborhood and apartment. I'll start by saying that finding an apartment (piso) in Madrid was painful and laborious. Madrid is made up of tons of little neighborhoods each with its own personality so first we had to figure out which neighborhood best suited our needs. After a lot of research and conversations with Spaniards, we settled on Chamberi. Chamberi is just north of the city center and according to Fodor's is one of the most "typically madrileno" barrios in Madrid. Because it's truly residential (there are no sights) you don't see many if any tourists, only families going about their business. Our street, Trafalgar, dead ends into a plaza called Olavide. Olavide is a round plaza with little residential streets coming off it like wheel spokes and consists of three little parks, a huge fountain in the center and lots of benches. Surrounding it are little cervezerias where you can get a coffee, beer, and all kinds of light fare. We've already identified which to go to for the best this or that and are on friendly terms with the proprietors. Additionally, we have a market just down the street where we buy meat, fruit, vegetables, bread and other staples. We've only had to go to a supermercado a few times to buy cleaning supplies. I really enjoy going to the market once a day for a little shop instead of once a week for the mass shop - half of it always went to waste it seems. There is no shortage of good restaurants in the area either. Kyle and I found the most amazing Thai restaurant (Ginger Boy) just across the plaza. Austinites will appreciate this: it's what Thai Fresh SHOULD be. I love the Thai Fresh concept, but only like the food. This place is just as fresh and authentic, but the food is truly delicious - some of the best I've had. On top of that it's beautifully designed and sparkly clean - everything's white! While our immediate area feels very quiet and residential we're only a 5 minute walk to one of the busiest shopping streets in Madrid - Fuencarral. On this street alone there is a ZARA, Benneton, Mossimo Duti, Sephora, Starbucks (this topic deserves its own post), two huge bookstores, two cinemas, multiple pharmacies and two supermercados. Baby eating paper - gotta run!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hola Amigos!

Did I really just start a blog? I had no idea how easy this was/is. Honestly, in trying to search for a blog I stumbled on the site offering to help you start a blog and here I am. My God, any old idiot can start a blog! Ummm, I respectfully request silence from the peanut gallery. In any case, I hope this blog serves as a means for staying in touch with family and friends whom we've left behind in the United States and maybe even offer my perspective on living abroad with two children, a husband who works long hours, no mode of transportation and an obsession with bread and cheese that's left this girl badly in need of some flaxseed! How the hell do you say THAT in Spanish?? So Kyle and I each probably got about 3.5 hours of sleep last night. Sabine has a super runny nose that kept her (and us) up all night. So my first observation as an American mom living in Madrid is: the pharmacies here suck! You can't buy things like children's tylenol, benadryl or even pepto bismol! No, everything for babies it seems is homeopathic. Ugh. That stuff takes FOREVER to work and doesn't knock the kid out either. When pressing the pharmacist for stronger stuff I got a raised eyebrow and told that she could give me "something" but she wouldn't give it to her baby. Evidently in addition to homeopathic medicine, pharmacies also dole out shame! It worked. I conceded that she was right and left with my evil bad-mom tail between my legs. So if anyone's reading this...send meds soon!