Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cinco Meses

Yesterday marked 5 months since arriving in Madrid. In some ways it feels longer and in others not that long. I'll never forget that long day(s) of travel over here and how full of hope and fear Kyle and I both were. We knew everything was going to be fine because we were together and really how bad can moving to a beautiful, temperate, culturally bustling European city be, but still we'd left behind a whole lot and Madrid was an unknown. I can now laugh about the apart-hotel we had to stay in for 10 long days. It was by I think most people's standards an undeniable dump located in the not so desirable area ironically enough called "Prosperidad" (Prosperity). In any case, 5 months later and I think we've really found our footing. We have a small circle of wonderful friends (most of whom are Spanish) that grows with every outing. Additionally, Brodie has finally settled into school and has developed several strong relationships with some other boys and girls and her level of Spanish continues to floor me. Just the other day at the park I overheard her discussing play with one of her classmates and in perfect Spanish she said, "Yo soy la princessa y tu eres la bruja, vale?" (I'm the princess and you're the witch, ok?) I almost died, I was laughing so hard. Incidentally, they finally conceded to both be princesses. Last week, though, I knew we were truly a part of our neighborhood community when not one BUT THREE merchants let me take things on IOU. There's a guy who sells socks and sunglasses on the street almost every day right outside our building. I spied a pair of goofy green sunglasses, but had no euros so he told me to take them and pay when I could. Later that day, I started a membership at the little video/dvd club across the street. Again, I had no cash (they didn't take credit cards) so he let me take two movies to be paid upon their return. These guys are great - they're an older couple and run this tiny little shop with a small, but very good selection of dvds. They don't have a computer and they write all their rentals out on a ledger by hand. Finally, my third IOU was at the bakery. Again, they only accept credit cards for purchases greater than 6 euros and I only wanted 2 croissants - she let me take them to pay later. The trust and generosity of our neighbors really makes me feel at home and I'm happy to report that with every day we grow to love Madrid more and more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brodie's birthday weekend

I'm happy to report that much fun was had as we celebrated Brodie's birthday all weekend long and into Monday, too. Yes, we had to do have her all-class celebration on Monday because another little girl was having hers on Friday and we didn't want to detract from either girl's limelight. In all it was a lot of work, but I have to admit I had a great time planning, shopping for and directing it. I think the key was not asking what Brodie wanted and just making choices that I knew she would generally approve of. Giving children too many choices can lead to tantrums and meltdowns and your kid might get upset, too. Preparations included selecting decorations - we kind of went with a multi-color, Mexican fiesta theme and hung paper floral streamers and paper globes throughout the room. Then I had to plan and buy the adult food (wine/beer, manchego, bacon-wrapped dates, olives, cut fruit), select the kid meriendas (snacks) and select the goodie bags for her party on Saturday and the all-class party on Monday. These bags and their innards are called chucherias and are stuffed with bad candy and plastic little toys that pose a choking hazard to small children and will later live in the landfill. For the Saturday party we filled little paper cones with Jelly Bellys (these are exotic candies over here!) and for school we opted to do traditional candy and marshmallows in Disney princess bags. For both days I baked cupcakes and used my mother-in-law's recipe for butter cream frosting. They turned out great and seemed to be a hit with all the children and parents. Cupcakes as we know them are not generally made here and if you do find some form of them, they're usually too dry and the icing leaves something to be desired. Most importantly all but one boy's parents stayed and we all got to know each other. Everyone was so very nice and seemed happy for the opportunity to meet other parents. One mom said, "I love American birthday parties - especially the fruit!" That made me laugh, but she said that generally kids parties are nothing but sugar explosions. Sadly, Brodie was the only child who ate it! She's a little fruit fly that one. On Sunday we took Brodie and Sabine down to Fuencarral Street which they close to traffic every Sunday morning. Brodie's big birthday gift was a pink Orbea bike with training wheels! She was tentative at first, but pretty soon was cruising along on her own until she fell over. Ack. We all saw it happening (in slow motion, of course) and it was painful, mainly because I know how scared she was, but she cried into her daddy for just a bit, dusted herself off and said, "I want to get back on." I thought Kyle was going to explode with pride. It was a perfect weekend. The posted snap is from the Saturday party - Brodie is sandwiched between Jaime on the left and Jorge on the right.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Birthday preparations and Behavior Study

Last Saturday we attended a birthday party for one of Brodie's class mates named Alicia. Before then we had only spoken a handful of times to her parents who are very nice as well as to the lady that usually walks Alicia to and from school. The party was hosted at a place right around the corner from us called "En un Lugar en Chamberi" (loosely translates to "Some Place in Chamberi") Trust me I've more than once joked that I couldn't remember the name of the place but that it was "someplace in Chamberi", cracking up no one but myself, I'll add. Anyway, it's fairly small, but it's basically an indoor bouncy house with a ball bouncy area and a couple of slides. Off to the side there's another small room for toddlers and where kids can do crafts, they'll paint your face and make balloons. Needless to say Brodie had a fantastic time and we enjoyed getting to know some parents in the upstairs area where we could overlook the craziness. Pretty quickly, though, I realized that we were the only family from Brodie's school. Carmen (Alicia's mom) said that she didn't know any of the other moms and that I was the only one that she had ever really spoken to. I was stunned. I've been disappointed at the lack of parent involvement/opportunity to get to know one another, but I assumed that all the Spanish moms knew each other and were getting together frequently for sangria happy hours. I mentioned my disappointment in not knowing other families and she said "we Spanish are "cerrados" (closed) and we don't talk to someone unless we're spoken to first." Hmmm....duly noted. With this piece of information and the discovery of someplace in Chamberi (I can't remember the name) we decided right there to host a birthday party for Brodie! As fun as planning this party has been, it hasn't been without its hiccups and stresses. Under normal circumstances I would have insisted on inviting all 25 classmates to the party because I had no way of discreetly getting in touch with just a few of the moms and the last thing I wanted to do was create a situation where feelings were hurt. However, our party spot is not cheap and let's just say that for for the cost of inviting all 25 friends (plus 3 that don't attend her school) we could pay for a weekend getaway EASILY. At first I was adamant, but then Touria whipped out her iPhone and showed me the number, so that's when we decided to have Brodie list out who she wanted to invite from school. Fortunately or unfortunately she really did only want to invite about 8 kids from school. It felt wrong to not force her to be inclusive, but again we were glad she was able to narrow it down so easily and as Kyle pointed out, she's been in school almost 5 months and only been invited to one birthday party, so we're guessing it's acceptable to only invite closest friends. On Monday I bought invitations and the plan was that I would arrive early to pick up Brodie and then she would point out the friends we agreed to invite and DISCREETLY hand the parent an invitation during pick up. If only things had gone as smoothly as it had in my head. The minute she saw the pink envelopes she was jumping and waving them around and then yelling out to her friends!! ARGH!! If this were a movie we would have been in slow motion with a spotlight beaming on us and an exaggerated look of pain on my face. I felt terrible! Long story short, they got handed out and we ended up inviting one more little boy that wasn't on the original list. I'll never make that mistake again. Four year olds just do not understand the concept of discretion! But since then, all the parents of invited children have been strikingly chatty and friendly. Parents who never, ever even said hello now wave AND say hello. I think this confirms Carmen's assessment of Spanish culture. Maybe it's a generalization, but since handing out those little pink envelopes everyone has been way friendlier and almost in a relieved way. Like, ok, we've spoken, the seal has broken and now I can be friendly and you won't think I'm a weirdo! Anyway, every child invited is attending and today I start the cupcakes. Updates to follow. Posted is a photo of Brodie and Alicia at last weekend's birthday party.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bus vs. Metro

No sooner were the words "spring is springing" written and winter decided to rear its ugly, annoying head. This week has felt like hardcore winter that doesn't plan on ever going away, but despite the cold I decided to explore the Madrid bus system today. Since arriving almost five months ago I've only ever taken a taxi, used the metro or walked to reach Point B. Figuring out bus routes and schedules seemed daunting and I also envisioned packed, standing-room only scenarios. No thanks. But, I recently realized that not using the bus was really limiting our exploration of the city. Although the metro is fast and efficient, there are very few stations that have elevators. This creates a huge problem for me during the day when I'm alone with Sabine as most stations have multiple stairwell areas and you have to physically pick up the stoller to make it down or worse, up. Again, no thanks. Well this past weekend we were in the park and we ran into Brodie's frienemy, Jorge "Pepinosa" and his father. We got on the subject of public transportation and in a not so subtle way he informed me that the metro is for weirdos and the bus is for a higher caliber of people. Really???? Hmmm...I have very little experience with city buses, but I have to admit I've always kind of imagined city buses as a place where winos and hobos go to nap. I thought the metro was the smart choice as long as you kept your purse zipped and didn't pass out late night so as to have your bag cut away from your body while you "slept" (this actually happened to someone we know, btw.) With this new information in hand I decided it was time to test the bus system and after many mis-steps and multiple calls to my now rightfully annoyed husband, I managed to find the right bus to take me to a store called "Taste of America" (where I buy Jif PB) and then find the right bus back to our neighborhood. Pros: Clean, you're above ground to view the city, you can push the stroller right on, filled with seemingly harmless well-dressed elderly people. Cons: Traffic, stops way too frequently, longer waits for the bus. I think the pros outweigh the cons and I plan to figure this bus thing out without having to SOS my ever patient husband.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring is springing

It's finally starting to feel like spring around here. I'm sure I've mentioned that this winter has apparently been the coldest anyone can remember - so glad we were here for that! The last two days the high has been around 50 degrees (I try to avoid using Celsius and the metric system if at all possible) and the sun has been out all day. In truth, I think it's for the best that we experienced a hard winter right off the bat because it will make spring that much more pleasurable. This weekend the cafes broke out all their outdoor tables and chairs and the parks were packed with families. I admit I look forward to leisurely breakfasts and lunches at one of our cafes while letting Brodie tear up the playground right within our view. From the moment moving to Madrid was presented to us, the primary images in my head were of all of us outside enjoying a slow-paced life. This past Saturday we made the 30 minute train ride to Toledo. We went only for the day so again we stuck to the very charming city center. We mainly just walked around, shopped and did the obligatory cathedral visit. I'm not sure if this makes me unsophisticated or just a plain heathen, but I don't think I can take another visit to an opulent cathedral. No doubt, this one was beautiful and probably had more El Grecos than the Prado, but I think I've reached my cathedral capacity. Dare I say it? They all kind of look the same to me. Sunday we headed over to El Rastro which is a "flea market" that takes place every Sunday in La Latina. We've found a couple of treasures over the months, old bird cages, textiles, books, but this weekend I found what are now my favorite sandals (see photo). They're a really dark red, hand made in Madrid and they were only 18 euros! They assure me they'll have them all spring and they have up to size 42 which I know will excite at least one visiting friend. The shopping in Madrid is unbelievable and it's been hard to reign it in. I've mainly bought only sale items (stuff only goes on sale twice a year in February and then again in August and I'm told stores very rarely stray from those sale periods) and books. Spring fashion is hitting the stores, though, and it's color, color, color. This is a welcome departure from the mostly black we saw all winter long and I cannot wait to stick the boots in the back of the closet and break out my red sandals.