Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This little dog has got to be the most popular breed of dog in Madrid. I see at least 2-3 Westies a day just walking to and from school or the market. Isn't he cute? On a side note, this is also the breed of dog the Austonian uses in some of its collateral - classy dog! Anyway, today I pulled the Haiti card. After the earthquake I felt it was important to explain to Brodie what was happening there. I wasn't graphic, but I think it's important that she understand that bad things happen. Anyway, today she decided to throw a tantrum because I wouldn't buy her a treat. It was ugly and I was angry so I went on to explain how children in Haiti are suffering and in need of basic needs and that she should be grateful for all her blessings, which I then went on to list. I'm not sure if this is good or bad parenting (and I don't want to know) but I do know that I don't want to raise an entitled child, oblivious to the state of the rest of the world. So here's where it gets weird. After I went on and on explaining all of the above this is what she said to me, "But mommy, candy is how I celebrate the world." Are you kidding me? I don't know if this is strangely charming or sociopathic and I'm kinda scared.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

More on the Hood

I know some of my observations about life in Madrid must seem rather obvious to people who live or have lived in major metro cities like San Francisco and NYC, but every day I still find myself marveling at the convenience of living in an urban environment. I can't think of anything we might want to consume, purchase, experience or imbibe that can't be done or found within a 15 minute walking radius of our apartment. On our plaza alone there are eight cervezerias, 1 shoe store (we bought Brodie's school shoes there), a music school (Brodie takes movement and music here), an English language book store, a shop specializing in tea, a wine store, a flower vendor and a natural food shop. That's a lot of life just right there. I realize that upon returning to Austin or wherever, the biggest adjustment will be driving everywhere. Even in Austin where we lived walking distance from a park, shops and restaurants I often found myself driving just because of the heat and humidity. Ah! Another thing I love about Madrid - NO HUMIDITY. But back to convenience: last Saturday night we met some friends out who now live in our neighborhood so we decided to first hit a cervezeria that specializes in German beer. Before I knew it we were eating dinner at the Chinese restaurant just down the street (at 11:00 p.m. mind you) and then headed home. Our big night out was spent just one block around the corner from our piso - I love this. It's also nice to feel as though you're contributing to the financial stability of your neighborhood. It's clear by the many shuttered windows and for lease signs that lots of small businesses have not survived Spain's financial crisis. I try to shop in the neighborhood mercado as much as possible (instead of the big chain grocery store also just up the street) but I worry for these little guys. Every time I go in I seem to be one of maybe 5 shoppers in the entire market. You can tell that at one time this was a major market because of the number of stalls, but I'd say at least half of them are now closed. There's one man who is SO nice that sometimes I buy stuff we don't need just to buy something. On a totally different subject, we have a new baby! Well, it's actually the same baby (Sabine) but seemingly overnight she's developed a different personality. Not that she wasn't lovable and adorable before, but when she was cranky and super needy it was more of a disposition that only a mother could love. Just in the last few days she's like sunshine on a stick. She sleeps through the night, rarely fusses, is trying to walk, babbling all the time and really experimenting with communication and signing. Putting her down for the night has also become this miraculously easy process. We used to have to time it perfectly, rock her, then lay her on her side while patting her, and so and so on. Now she takes a bottle, we brush her teeth and then lay her down and that's it. THAT'S IT. So needless to say, we've decided she can stay.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brother Trucking Neighbors

In many of my posts I've made mention of the "mean neighbors" without much detail, but today I'll give the blow by blow because we've reached an absolutely absurd level of incivility. It started right before the holidays when we were letting Sabine cry it out instead of tending to her in the middle of the night. I'm the first to admit that this is a form of hell I'd rather not go through again, but there's no way it was worse on the neighbors than it was on us. Anyway, at least on three or four separate occasions the neighbor from across the hall (his bedroom must share a wall with Sabine's) let his displeasure be known by banging on the wall. The last time this happened about 3 weeks ago, Kyle was standing in her room with Sabine in his arms and he instinctively banged right back and yelled out an expletive that rhymes with "brother trucker" and "other sucker" - you get the picture. Before then on Jan. 6th, we had the misfortune of locking ourselves out of the apartment as we were headed out to a parade. We realized it immediately and as we were standing in the lobby trying to figure out our next move, our neighbor Fatima came to our rescue once again. She insisted on walking me to a place that she thought could get it open, but no one was there. We headed back to our place and she said she knew a way to get in. She whipped out a huge X-ray film of her back and with the help of Paco our porter and a lovely neighbor I had never seen before or since we all tried to jimmmy the door with the x-ray. No luck. Lucky for us our next door neighbor (not the mean ones) arrived right as we were about to make the call to the locksmith and let Kyle use her window to get into our kitchen window. We're only one story up, but he was at least 20 feet up and it was a dangerous operation. Anyway, we got in and were so grateful to the FOUR people who came to our rescue. The next day I learned from Paco that the mean neighbors complained that we were too loud. TOO LOUD. It was 7:00 at night - most people are still at work for God's sake and they were complaining that our personal crisis was an inconvenience to their a-hole ear holes! The next day I saw the son in the hall and he said hello, but I ignored him. I've never been so deliberately rude to anyone - it was hard, but I had been stewing. Since then I've seen the father and mother a few times and we exchange mumbled "holas". Based on what happened this morning, I'm guessing it's been decided that we are to be avoided. We had just stepped off the elevator and and I stopped to put Sabine's hat on. Right away I heard footsteps on the stairwell and then I heard them stop. I looked over to see who was coming but there was no one there and then it hit me. It had to be a member of the mean neighbor family and they were waiting for us to leave so they wouldn't have to mumble hola. I didn't even try to conceal that I knew he was there, I strained my neck forward and could clearly see him (the dad) through the elevator grating looking down on us. I took my time before finally leaving. When I got about 10 paces away I turned around and there he was walking out the door. What a wuss! I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I so want to prank them. Like in a huge high school way. In my best robot voice I keep telling myself: MUST TAKE HIGH ROAD, MUST TAKE HIGH ROAD.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More Observations

It's been so dreary the last couple of days so we haven't been outside as much as we would all like. This kind of weather has always made me blue, lethargic and mopey - I'm a ton of fun right now. All it takes, though, is one sunny day and I'm back to normal. The other night we met up with my old friend Nick who lives in Barcelona and was in town on business. We had dinner at a little cafe that specializes in Galician food, which as far as I could tell wasn't all that different from what would be served in any Madrid cafe. We shared tapas and ate pan-fried pulpo, calamari, a meat dish, patatas bravas, a dessert plate and washed it all down with a delicious white wine that was served in porcelain little bowls - evidently that's traditional of Galicia. Nick is English and his friend is a Spanish national raised in London. During after dinner drinks we got onto the tricky subject of class. I'm completely unqualified to make any kind of sweeping assessments regarding a perceived Spanish class system, but I have made some observations that I'll note here. Most notably, individual immigrant groups seem relegated to work specific jobs. For instance, I only ever see Chinese people working in their own all-purpose market, at Chinese restaurants or at night as street vendors selling wares (beer, snacks) from their market. In fact, these Chinese-owned markets are so pervasive and so typically owned by the Chinese that the Spanish call them simlpy "los Chinos". There are two types of markets owned by Chinese families, the little food market type and the bazaar, everything-under-the-sun type. There are at least 10 of these within a 5-minute walking radius of our house. The first time someone directed me to go to "los chinos" I was shocked and immediately made a judgement and even though it still makes me cringe, I realize that in the mind of a Spaniard it's an accurate description and not even perpetuating a stereotype since almost 100 percent of these types of markets are actually Chinese-owned. South American women seem to be relegated to childcare. At the park during the day, they all gather and chat and let the babies roam around. They're called "chicas" - the girls. I realize that when I'm with my blue-eyed Brodie I must look like a "chica" - until I yell at her like only a mother would. ;-) Nick's friend said that there's a prestige in having a Spanish chica over a South American. O-kaaay. Then there are the African immigrant men. These guys are typically selling pirate cds, dvds and fake designer bags. Finally, I've noticed that most porters are Spanish. Porters generally maintain and clean the building and in the case of ours, Paco, serve as a point of complaint about all your mean neighbors. I've noticed that all the porters on our street look like they could be sitting behind a desk at any bank or office doing white-collar work. They're always dressed nicely and just seem to take a general pride in their work. When I pointed this out to a Spaniard, he again said that it's a point of pride to a building's tenants to have a Spanish person in this job. I'm not drawing any conclusions, I'm just saying....Anyway, I point these groups out not because I don't think they work in other types of jobs, I know they must. But in these SPECIFIC jobs you will never see (at least I haven't) a person of another immigrant group doing that job. For instance, I've never, ever seen one of the alimentacion markets run by anything but a Chinese person. I've never, ever seen a Chinese person or a person of any other nationality or ethnic group selling pirate cds, etc. So there it is. And, no joke, the sun just came out - must go chase it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sad Truth No. One Revealed

I'm certain that many truths (some sad, some joyful) with regard to parenting will be revealed to me over the course of my life, but yesterday I experienced my first gut punch one. It was Brodie's first yoga class and she had been beyond excited. Every day she would ask, "Do we go to yoga today?" At last it was time. We went right after school and changed into her yoga pants and t-shirt (Target specials both) and then I accompanied her into the classroom and together we waited for everyone including the instructor to arrive. All was well, she was chatting and imitating some of the other girls who were stretching. She's always asking me to show her some yoga poses, but I'd never done anything more complicated than downward dog. So while we waited I decided to break out my headstand. I've done it a million times and every day at yoga practice. I got up on to my head, gently kicked my legs up and then boom! down they came behind my back into a very ungraceful backbend or something akin to that. I looked at Brodie and I said, "Want me to try it again?" She said, "No." And that's when sad truth number one was revealed to me: I'm already capable of embarrassing my daughter and she's only three.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Western World Bubble Syndrome

I finally got around to doing some constructive reading on the web today and was stunned to see the immense damage and loss of life in Haiti yesterday/today. This morning Kyle mumbled something along the lines of "Haiti can't get a break" and pointed to a headline, which just barely registered as I went about my morning routine. I know that life goes on, you have to keep going and all the other platitudes people express in times of crisis, but it just feels wrong to worry about anything other than the people living this kind of crisis. This isn't history - this is today - right now. I can't believe I was just wrestling with what size of shoe to order, I dedicated a whole 20 minutes to this. It all goes back to my mission to live more consciously. Sadly, it seems like there's a catastrophe of this magnitude at least once a year but why must I wait for one of these to happen to be reminded of how much I have, how little I truly need and how lucky I am to have born into the jackpot of civilization called the US of A. I'm not saying tomorrow I won't be griping about something silly regarding baby poop or puke, I'm just saying I want to be more conscious of how good I have it and live gratefully EVERY day, not just when I'm reminded of how much suffering there is in the world.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We woke up to a snow-blanketed Madrid on Monday and it was indeed lovely. The snow was new enough that it was powdery and Brodie and Kyle were able to make a tiny snowman. Despite the fact or maybe because of the fact that Brodie's been out of school for three weeks, she did not want to go. We tried to convince her that she loves school and loves playing with children, but she wasn't buying it. That girl really knows how to work the guilt angle already. She said she wanted to stay home "with her family and keep mama company." My other favorite is, "but you're my mama and I love you!" How do you resist that?! Anyway, everything went pretty smoothly considering we've been way off any kind of morning schedule and we were out of the house about 15 minutes earlier than usual. It was so nice to stroll to school leisurely and play our language games instead of mad dashing and cursing under my breath everyone in my path. However, when we got to school it was clear something was up. It was absolutely empty and the gate was locked. Some cigarette-smoking teenagers leaning up against the wall informed me that it was a snow day and school was closed. Argh......I have to admit I was looking forward to managing only one child (the crying one, not the whining one) and maybe even getting a nap in. Cursed snow. So we were all trapped in the house and no one was happy about it. Tuesday was a whole different day. Brodie not only went to school, but she's now staying the FULL day, which means I don't pick her up until 4:45. I have to admit this feels too late, but that's the only option. She was leaving at 12:30, but that was a special concession to help her transition more easily. Now she stays for English class (I'm hoping this will help her forge relationships with the other children and boost her confidence) lunch, a little nap and a whole other hour of lessons. She's resistant and there were tears today, but I finally figured out that what she was most opposed to is having to eat the served lunch. She's super picky, but I'm hoping that this will force her to try some new things. Tuesday night we had some success with this as she ate and actually enjoyed the chicken curry soup I made for dinner. (See how casually I dropped that I made homemade curry soup?) We're having trouble with the neighbors again, but I'm going to save that rant for later. I may have to write an ode along the lines of counting the ways they suck.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Four Sales and Two Old Ladies

Every new year for the last couple, I've had a conversation with myself about living more consciously. Having children has definitely helped me weed out the embarrassingly frivolous (arrivederci Gucci shoes!) and focus on using less and spending less. Right now, though, it can't be helped and imperfect as I am, I capitulated to the urge to mega-shop. That's right - it's the SALE season in Madrid. Yesterday all the stores put all their winter merchandise at up to 50% off and it's loco on the streets of Madrid. In fact, I think the first day of the sale season must be an unofficial national holiday because despite the fact that it was sleeting and then snowing, the streets were bustling and there were lines, lines, lines. I admit it - I subjected my children to wind and snow in the name of a good deal, but I feel no shame and have no regrets and both stops were less than a 10 minute walk from home. First stop was ZARA kids and it was as if the shopping spirits were smiling over me. First, Sabine fell asleep in the stroller right away and we were in the store no longer than 5 minutes when I looked down and there was a 20 Euro bill. What? Lightening striking twice? Yippee. This time I didn't bother trying to find its rightful owner (Anyone lose 20 euros?!) and made a mental deal with myself to give it away gradually to people who need it (lots of pan-handlers in this town.) I quickly found what both girls could use (long pants, sweaters) and then got in line. Here's where the shopping spirits are less generous. Memo to Madrid dept. stores: Buy more cash registers. Are you kidding me? One register for the ENTIRE STORE? This is problematic even when the stores aren't teeming with deal-seekers, but during the sales it's torturous. I waited in line almost 30 minutes (twice the time it took me to find the items I bought) and then had to stand in front of the most annoying old lady ever. There I said it. Just because you're old (really, really old with a bad wig) does not mean you get a free pass to be a pain in the ass to every stranger you encounter. First, she was the most egregious offender of personal space invasion and most of the time I could feel her bags up against me and THEN she told Brodie (in Spanish, of course) that she was too old for the stroller. How do you say, um, let me see...shove it? This brings up another point I've been pondering: What age is too old to be strolled around? It does seem like most kids Brodie's age and size are walking around town, only infants are strolled. We've tried to make Brodie walk, but she refuses and cries. I suppose this is a better problem to have than the reverse, but at what point do you demand they walk? Anyway, back to shopping. We made one more stop at a cute French-based kid's chain called DP AM. Luckily we were in and out in less than 15 minutes and Sabine slept through the whole excursion. I thought I was shopped out, but alas this morning the siren sale song lured me to a few more tempting dens. At least it's sunny, but still colder than yesterday and very windy. As we raced to a little children's boutique in search of winter hats another little old lady stood firm in my pathway. I don't know what that's about, but this happens a lot here - it's a form of pedestrian chicken. Anyway, as we came upon her, I thought "out of my way lady, I'll run you down." I'm not kidding, that was my exact thought. So much for living consciously.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Style Report

The first thing I noticed about Madrid style is that it doesn't seem THAT different from what you would see in Austin. There are no super of-the-moment trends (that I've seen) and there's a lot of the sameness, but with uptown and downtown versions. I attribute both the lack of distinct trend and sameness to the season, though. For the most part, walking down the street everyone is typically bundled up so it's hard to see what's under that long puffy winter coat (that's a popular style of coat) and as for the sameness I think that winter demands more of a pragmatic uniform than say spring. I don't believe Kyle and I stand out as Americans based on how we're dressed and I guess that means we've blended in. Before he opens his mouth, Kyle is more often mistaken for Italian than American - huh? It's true. Here are some of the style observations I've made. 1) The tulip hemline is popular in coats and skirts - I personally love this hemline and it seems to flatter all body types. I hope it last into spring. 2) Harem pants are popular among young, hip Madrilenos. Another description might be MC Hammer pants. I know, it sounds very bad and like every trend there is definitely a bad version, but there's also a good version. I was just about to write that I don't think I'll ever do this trend, but I also swore I'd never do skinny jeans, so....3) When I lived in Barcelona the hair trend was what we like to call the "fashion mullet" - shorter in front, thinned out on the sides and back and long. Again, sounds bad, but actually worked on young women with super straight hair. This has now been replaced by heavy, straight bangs (think Chan Marshall). 4) Shorts with tights and tall boots. This is generally worn by younger women, but really I've yet to see a really good version of this. It generally just looks uncomfortably cold. 5)The Spanish winter uniform isn't so different from what I imagine most urban dwellers wear in winter - tight pants or heavy tights, tall, fitted boots (the taller the better) and a fitted coat. The uptown version is worn by women who live in the Salamanca area (Madrid's Upper West Side) and the best way to describe it is faux-questrian. Lots of boots, belts and bags with mini-bridle bits. The downtown version is skinny jeans, tall leather boots and a motorcycle-type of jacket. 6) The quilted farm jacket is everywhere and here to stay. In fact, the English-country, just-off-for-a-quick-hunt look is quite the popular style here and I'm told that it's preferred by "pijos", which literally means snobs, but is what Spanish people call the super nationalistic and generally wealthy Spanish. I'm not sure why, but there it is. So that's it. Nothing ground-breaking. In general, I think Madrid is pretty conservative when it comes to fashion (especially compared to Barcelona), but again I'm thinking that once the coats come off I'll be dazzled by lots of style.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Big sigh.........Alas, our winter holiday is wrapping up. Kyle's at work today and our days of holiday leisure are behind us. I'll admit that I've been feeling very sorry for myself and frustrated for lack of sleep, multiple doctor (4) and emergency room (2) visits due to sick children. Now that we're past the worst of it, I feel very small and selfish for this. It's made me realize that I have got to work on my coping skills and learn the art of hunkering down. While I pray that this is never tested, I strongly believe that in case of real crisis, I'll be the quiet pillar of strength and patience my family deserves. I've found that yoga and sleep really are critical to my well-being and I'm committing to both whole-heartedly - such sacrifice! I absolutely love my yoga class that I take twice a week. Ingrid, our instructor, is adored by all of her students as evidenced by the loooong, tight hugs she receives by everyone at the beginning of class. Class is a nice combination of relaxation, that builds to a fast flow and ends with great stretches and then a long savasana. Savasana in this class is like a mini-spa treatment - Ingrid goes around to each student and places two pillow under your legs, a fleece blanket over your body and, a flat pillow under your head and a lavender-filled pillow over your eyes. Always impatient, I used to use savasana to make a grocery list or checklist of to-do's in my head, but this savasana is extravagantly relaxing and I've even fallen asleep. Ahhh! I've also found that cooking is very relaxing and am slowly building my repertoire. Tonight it's Mexican chicken caldo. Above is a photo of Brodie pretending she's "the bride". Sigh. She doesn't get it from me.