Sunday, January 30, 2011

Solo Se Vive Una Vez.

I've been back in Spain for 3 weeks now. Coming back this time was different. Usually, I've had no idea where I was going to live, who I would be friends with, what my classes/job would be like, etc. But, the return to Spain for 2011 was the complete opposite. I knew my roommates would be waiting for me, my friends, my tutors, my students, my private lessons, the academy, and (sadly) my freezing cold apartment. I suffered in the cold for about a week, until I gave in and bought a heater. It's the best thing I've bought in Spain (socks and sweaters are right up there though!) I enjoy coming home from a long day in Jarandilla to a warm room. 
The favorite part of my room.
Today is Sunday; another lazy weekend is just about to end.  Thursday night we had a curry dinner in Diana's flat. It was one of the best curry dishes I've ever had - and, besides the meals I had at "Kitchen Stories" in Madrid with Jessica, the best meal I've had in Spain this time around.  We danced around to "Saturday Night" by Whigfield and did the "Cha Cha Slide" - too funny! (Videos are on facebook and my youtube channel: GriffinWA) Friday night Diana, Maria, Oscar, and Cesar (a new friend!) all went to Plasencia to see "Tambien la Lluvia" - an independent film that has been nominated for an Oscar: Best International Film. It was a good movie, but I just wish I could have understood more of it. The accents were mainly South American/Bolivian so it was difficult to understand - and, not knowing the history behind Bolivia's struggle for water also made it difficult to follow. However, it was very exciting to be out of Navalmoral, traveling by car, and AT the movies! 
Curry night at Di Ana Ana's house!
Mamen and Diana's first time dancing to the Cha Cha slide!
Me, Diana, and Maria after the movie! WOO!
Plasencia's Plaza Mayor at Night.
Oscar, Me, Diana, Maria
Guadalupe: Road Trip #1 
Last weekend, January 21 and 22, I went on a road trip with Allyson and Maegan to Guadalupe.  I'd always heard that I needed to visit Guadalupe and see the monastery.  Well, I finally did. Guadalupe is a small town of about 2,000 people. It's very cute and even more touristy.  We went out for a huge dinner the first night there, Maegan, Allyson, Glen (another English teacher in our program), two of Allyson's Spanish friends, and me. We ate for HOURS. Migas. Quesos. Morcilla. Croquetas. Jamon. Huevos Rotos. Vino. Vino. And Mas Vino. We went out for candy tapas and over sized vodka limons after, played some fooze ball, and sang karaoke. American karaoke. Spice Girls, BSB, and Grease. Allyson ended the night with a Spanish song and air guitar.  The six of us had a huge sleepover at Glen's flat since he offered to let us crash. It was such a fun night. 
Jarandilla is at the base of the mountains in the background.
We stopped to take in the view, since you can do that in a car!
Migas. A meal in itself.
A fun night out.
The Guadalupe gang.
Me, Maegan, Allyson, Fugencio, Miguel Luis, Glen
Singing Grease!
Saturday morning, we visited the monastery of Guadalupe to see the Virgin, the patron saint of Extremadura. Then, we drove to the top of a huge mountain. We entered the "restricted zona militar" and saw the most incredible views. We drove to Cañamero, a small town with several wineries. We had another huge meal and several bottles of wine.

It's not uncommon to have people come in to a restaurant to sell hats, scarves, DVDs, suncglasses, etc. However, we saw a man selling chain saws, tool sets, a fishing pole, desk lamps, and a talking toy parrot. It was meal I will never forget. Who walks around selling those things, seriously? 

Next time I'm looking to buy a fishing pole, I think I'll just go eat lunch in Cañamero. :)
View of the monastery from Glen's flat.
Me, Allyson, Maegan, Glen on Glen's balcony.
Virgin of Guadalupe in the middle, top.
Overview of Guadalupe!
In the zona militar, almost on top of the world!
Fishing poles, tool sets and chain saws.
A road trip in Allyson's 'woo. Missouri sticker makes us feel at home.
Classes Continue
This past week I gave classes about Missouri to two third grade classes. We had so much fun! I find that I speak with more and more hand gestures each day.
Pointing to my ears "please listen".
Pointing to my eyes "please look".
Pointing to my mouth and waving my finger in the air "please don't talk". 
Pointing to my ears then mouth "listen and repeat".
Saying hello and waving my hand is a way to get their attention. 
Asking "do you understand" while giving a thumbs up or thumbs down... 

The last one is their favorite. They love to give me a thumbs up when they understand something with a big, bold YES! Well, this has carried over into asking me if I like something they are doing. "Whitney, my picture pretty?" Yes (thumbs up!) No (thumbs down!) And, I usually respond with a longer phrase but give the thumps up/down too so they understand the jist of what I just said to them. It's working quite well. 
They are such great color-ers!
Teaching third graders the difference between "Dollar" and "Euro" is harder than you'd think!
We have tests this week in Liverpool. Making a test is very hard! Especially a native speaker making a test for ESL learners. I can do the test in about 5 minutes. How am I suppose to know how long it will take the students? Sometimes I think I'm in over my head when it comes to "teaching" English and not just being a "language assistant". I've officially made two tests and two practice tests. I guess we will see how well I did in guessing their skills. 

Other Fun Things
Alba, my co-worker, and I went to the market last Friday. It's just across the street from my house. I bought more warm socks, a sweater (because it was only 10euro and I liked it!), cheese, chorizo, olives, and mandarine oranges. It was such a fun shopping trip. We went out for tapas and drinks and shared stories about our lives. It was such a fun morning! We went and picked her nephew, Jorge, up from school and then went to Alba's house for lunch. It was such a fun time chatting with her family about Missouri, USA, Spain, and why Spanish verbs are so difficult for me! They have invited me to come for lunch in the country some day with them and I cannot wait! 

Maria and I ordered Telepizza today! ONLINE! It's so much easier than calling them. Ordering a pizza over the telephone in another language is very difficult. I'm so glad Maria opened a Telepizza account. :) 

This upcoming weekend I'm going to London with Mamen's school. It will be me and 25 Spanish speakers! While this will be my 3rd trip to London, I'm really looking forward to going with non-Americans! It will give me a different perspective on foreigners in London. I might also have to help translate so it's good for my Spanish skills. Also, we are going to meet up with Toni, the British girl who taught in Navalmoral last year. She is coming to join us for a few fun nights out on the town! I'm so excited! We leave on Thursday morning and will come back late Sunday. Pictures and stories to come soon! Until then, I'll leave you with pictures from the two previous trips to London.  
In front of the London Eye with Lindsay and Christina.
AIFS 2008
On the Buckingham Palace tour with Missy in 2009.

Solo Se Vive Una Vez: You Only Live Once.

Monday, January 17, 2011

...No Place Like Home for the Holidays!

At first, I really wanted to spend Christmas traveling around Spain/Europe - really making the most of my time here. However, a friend explained it to me like this: "Whitney, if you were working in Texas, New York, California, etc, you wouldn't travel around the USA for Christmas - you would go home - to Missouri, to your family, to your roots." So I did just that. 

If you're thinking - "Wait! Whitney wasn't going to come home!" - well, you have been tricked (I like to call it a surprise!) by my cleverness! I surprised my family for Christmas - the best gift I could have given them. And boy, were they surprised! Here is the story.

Probably about 3 weeks into my Spanish teaching adventure, my dad and I devised a plan to surprise my mom for Christmas! He was going to intercept my credit card bill and everything was going to go off without a hitch. WRONG. Dad didn't intercept the bill. How did I find out? I got a skype call one day from my mom saying "Whitney, I think the airline has double booked you for your flight - as the bill shows double what you told me it cost. ... I'm going to call and find out what has happened."  Well, me knowing what I knew, and mom oblivious to what was going on, I ended up having to tell her - as she was basically threatening to cancel my flight home! I simply said "Mom. If you call the airline, you won't be seeing me for Christmas." And, instantly, there were tears of happiness on her part and a little anger that dad didn't get the bill in time on my part. BUT it was a good surprise for mom, just several months early. Time went by, my parents and I started making up lies that I was going to Scotland with my roommate Maria...that flights were too expensive to go home....that all these schools around Navalmoral had invited me to speak about Christmas in America...etc. What a web we weaved. :)

The last few days before I left for America were spent gathering Spanish goodies  to take home for Christmas gifts. Yes, this means I went running all over town to find Black Vodka and a paella pan for my aunt Lisa. I brought home all my dirty clothes and clothes that needed to be shrunk by my mom's expert clothes shrinking talents. We weighed my bag with our neighbor's scale and thought it to be just around the maximum.... Were we ever so wrong. My bag was about 10 kilos overweight so I had to pay (an embarrassing amount) a lot. When the worker asked me what weighed so much in my bag, he laughed when I said "Fanta" - little did he know - i wasn't joking. Everyone knows you have to have Fanta Limon with your Vodka Negro. I don't know why he laughed at me. ;)
Vodka Negro and Las Fantas under my tree in USA. :)
I took the last bus to Madrid on Wednesday, the 15th of December. I took a taxi to my hostel for the night.  The taxi driver also asked me what weighed so much in my bag; I got the same response from him as I did the airport worker: laughing. We talked (in Spanish!) the whole time during the 37 euro taxi ride... I think I'll just stop at that. 37 euro: Taken!

The next morning, I took the hostel shuttle to the airport. (The driver told me I spoke good Spanish for an American!) I took it a little earlier than necessary to ensure I would have enough time with security, getting to the gate, etc. I wasn't missing this flight home! Well, the precautions were unnecessary, as my flight was delayed 2 hours. We waited on the runway for 1 hour - I fell asleep before we even took off. The movies didn't work on the flight either, making it the worst international flight yet (maybe worst flight of all time) since I had nothing to do but sleep, eat, or sit there and stare at people (judge but not judge!). Eight and a half hours of this = borinnnggg.

After arriving home, I was greeted in St. Louis by my mom, who had been "riding around St. Louis with her friend Deb". Lie. We arrived at my aunt and uncle's house to surprise them. Here is how it went: My mom went to the door. Aunt Lisa opened it and let her in and LOCKED the door behind her - as I was just walking up to the porch. I had to knock at the door. Aunt Lisa opened the door just a crack to see who it was and didn't recognize me at first! Then she said "Oh my gosh! What are you doing here? We just spoke yesterday and you are in Spain!" Uncle Cliff said he thought, "Wow, that looks like Whitney! Wait, it is Whitney!" So surprise 1 was a success. We went out for dinner - tapas none the less - what a welcome home meal! haha

The next morning, we drove to Jefferson City to surprise my grandparents. We went to their house. Mom went in first and about three minutes later I went in. Grandma was expecting my grandpa but was anxious when she heard the door. When she saw me, she threw her hands in the air and started crying! It was such a cool moment! The surprise was pulled off! Grandpa came in about 15 minutes later and found the three of us (Mom, Grandma, and me) in the living room. I had sat in the chair farthest away from him so he couldn't see me too well. When he came in the room, he didn't see me for a few minutes... then he saw a person and said, "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't see you there! How are you?" (I think he thought I was Deb - "who went with my mom to St. Louis.")  Then I got out of the chair and said "Hi Grandpa!" and then he simply responded with "Well, what are you doing here?" So, while he was unemotional at first, grandma said it really hit him later that I was home for Christmas!

The next topic at hand was: THE PACKAGE. My grandparents really wanted to mail me "Christmas" so I had a gift to open in Spain on Christmas. However, my mom, knowing that I was going to be in Missouri for Christmas, really tried talking them out of it. However, she was unsuccessful - but not stupid! She told them to get the package together but that she would send it - aka not send it but make them think she had! Well, that's what she did. She even took it to the post office to weigh it since she knew they would ask how much it weighted and how much it cost. Grandma asked me, "Oh my gosh, did you get your package before you came home?" And I said, "What!? A Package!" haha Then I told her I had already eaten some of the cookies in the car and the rest of it was under the tree nice and wrapped: In Missouri! She later confessed that this was the last test to see if I was really staying in Spain for Christmas. When mom told her the weight and cost of the package she said she and grandpa lost hope that I was coming home. Surprise!!!!
Opening the package on Christmas Eve in USA!
I really enjoyed my time at home, with the warmth of my family, friends, and my house. It has never been nicer to be home. There really is no place like home for the holidays. Some say I really enjoyed my time because I was "just visiting" - which could be, but, it was just really nice to be there with my family. I was able to eat all my favorite foods, go to my favorite restaurants, play games with my family, watch DVDs - not online movies!, drive my car and listen to the radio, go somewhere whenever I wanted, no walking in the cold, sitting in my house in a t-shirt and not being cold, dinner with friends, catch up with friends from high school, visit Helias (my old high school!), road trip to St. Louis to spend time with my aunt and uncle and to visit friends, and spend New Years (out in Jefferson City!) with a good friend, Heather. It was a wonderful three weeks.

Recap of Christmas Events:
On December 24th, we went to my grandparent’s house to celebrate Christmas Eve. We had a big dinner with prime rib, potatoes, deviled eggs, jello, and salad. After dinner, we opened presents.  I got lots of nice name a few: socks, sweaters, a “snuggie”, Eat Pray Love, Letters to Juliet, an awesome collage that my mom made me (that only took three years to finish!), money for traveling, and other nice fantastic things. The theme of this year's Christmas was: keep Whitney warm and fed. With that being said, I also brought back wonderful homemade treats (cookies, cake, bread) for an extended Christmas here in Navalmoral. After we opened presents, we watched a movie and played games. It was a wonderful evening with my family!
A collage with all my favorite things! Thanks mom!

A wonderful Christmas dinner!
Decemeber 25th, we went to church and then had brunch at my house with my mom's family. After, we headed to my Aunt Lesa and Uncle Chris's house for lunch. We had yummy appetizers - including hot wings that I had been CRAVING! I went driving with my (little - jr in high school) cousin MaKayla for the first time and was "invited" to hang with her friends. I knew my English had taken a hit when I responded to the following sentence "Sarah and Mark are going out...." with "Oh, where are they going?" Well, MaKayla told me straight and I felt like an idiota! Later that night, we went back to my grandparent’s house and we baked cookies and cake-pops. It was very fun cooking with my aunt, mom, and grandma! I've been enjoying my homebaked goodies all week - and with the rest of the freezer, I'm sure to enjoy them for weeks (months!) to come!
"Baker" Whitney? Not so much.
Cake Pops! If you've tried them, you know how delicious they are!
December 26th, mom and I woke up very early and went shopping. I was happy to buy goodies for all my friends back in Spain! Thank goodness for sales... well, it wasn't much of a sale since I paid overweight baggage fees... but completely worth it with the feeling I got when sharing the gifts with them! Seriously, if I didn't love my amigos so much, I could have brought a few more bags of EasyMac, Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing, and American Mayo.
Feliz Navidad.
A peek into one of my three bags!
One thing to mention about New Years Eve... I had a fun time at Bones, out on the town in wonderful Jefferson City with my friend Heather.  On the ride home, we took a taxi - my first taxi EVER in Jefferson City (actually, the first time I'd ever taken a taxi in a town that I knew well). Of course, he totally took us on the "scenic" route throughout Jeff City - aka, taking our money.  Be proud: I yelled at him and said "Excuse me, I think you just missed your turn... I'm from here - so you better take us directly there. Oh, and I refuse to pay the total cost of the ride." So, note to self, NO taxi driver, however "nice" he or she may seem to be, is NOT to be trusted. I just wonder how many circles they drive me in when they find out Spanish isn't my native language. hmmmm

Ok, back to the trip: The return to Spain.
I left on January 8th from St. Louis and arrived in Spain on January 9th at 9:00am. I brought back three suitcases of new warm clothes, shrunken jeans, American gifts for my friends, and lots of American food for myself. I don't know how I managed to keep track of all these things myself - but I did. My luggages came back to back on the luggage carousel and I loaded them onto a cart along with my carry-on and my backpack. I made it to my shuttle: AeroCity (really good if you ever come to Madrid and need to get to the city center for cheap!) and then to Mendez Alvaro where I got the bus at 11:30am to go to Navalmoral. At Mendez Alvaro I got another cart, this time, it had a super tall thing on the side so you wouldn't steal it - so I know everyone saw me coming and probably laughed. Oh well, I made it finally to my bus and then to Navalmoral. I thought I would take one of the taxis (that are always waiting outside the bus/train station) but there were none when I arrived. So, I started out on foot with my bags (approx 140pounds total) to go the 15 minute walk. On the first street alone I stopped 5 times. I couldn't go very far without stopping. Oh, and the best part, it was raining. What a welcome back! So, I continued, in the rain to go to my house - I think it must have taken me at least an hour to lug my bags all the way home. I stopped another 5 times on my street which isn't very long. I now have come to hate upward sloping sidewalks and stairs (which I have three flights of in my apartment building.) Once I finally got everything in the house, I went to sleep and didn't wake up until the next morning. I unpacked a bit and started to get things back into place, as the high school had given me the day off to rest up.

This semester I have taken on more hours of classes at night. Which is good for the money but bad for my free time. I now have little to no free time; the free time I do have, all I want to do is sleep.  This semester my schedule is as follows: Everyday, work in Jarandilla until 2:30pm. Return home and start work at Liverpool English Academy at 4:20 every day. Monday and Wednesday I finish at 6:30pm and Tuesday and Thursday at 7:45. Monday I have a private conversation class at 7:00pm and Tuesday i have a private class at 8:00pm. It is long hours for Spain - but only a total of 26 hours a week - so nothing in comparison to the USA. However, with the Spanish hours of siesta and nothing open on Sunday - finding time to do things for myself (like doing laundry, going to the post office, and grocery shopping) is really hard! This first week back has been very stressful and tiring. I hope the next 5 months aren't so rough. I blame jet lag.
Whitney "the profe!" - in a 4th grade class!
When I came to Spain in September, I knew I was back to Europe as I sat by three large, bad smelling, non-English speaking, Greek men on the plane. This time, I knew I was on a European bound flight when breakfast was served. There were no Americans around me, only Spaniards. When breakfast was given out (an egg McMuffin that you would find a McDonald's, served on an English muffin and a banana) they all opened the English muffin bag and turned it in circles (probably) thinking, "Is this breakfast? What is this?" They set it back down and ate the banana. I ate the McMuffin and then the banana. Cultural tastes are very different. I got a good laugh out of it anyway. First song I heard this time around in the shuttle? My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion (I know you were wondering!)

I have been busy settling back in and feeling "at home" here in Navalmoral. I am still without heat, but surviving thanks to all my new warm clothes I received at Christmas. We have been talking about Christmas in USA vs. Spain in the high school. When they ask what my best gift was that I received, I say socks - the look on their faces is priceless. Because some say that was their worst gift. I beg to differ - when you don't have heat, socks are a wonderful (and necessary) gift. I will be talking about American sports this week in the primary school, high school stereotypes with a class at the private academy (showing them pictures of Helias cheerleaders, football games, passing around a baseball, etc.) It should be a fun week! I have all my materials prepared so hopefully this means some down time during the week at night.

We had an "invisible friend" gift exchange. (Secret Santa for my American friends.) Well, it was interesting. My gift came from Dioni and it was a Micky Mouse notebook! Not sure what I will do with it, maybe use it to keep myself organized. Time will tell. All the gifts were very unique, as some included a microphone, a slinky, fingernail polish, a sheriff hat, a fake mustache, a headband, a photo frame (with picture), panties, and a purse hanger! If you can see, there was a gift price limit of 2 EURO! Yes, this means we all made trips to the Chino store to buy our wonderful gifts! It was a fun night, back with our friends in Navalmoral; a wonderful welcome back to Spain.
Secret Santa gifts in La Tinaja!
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, time to enjoy the warmth of family...ok, and the fireplace! There really is no place like home for the holidays. Thanks to all my friends and family who welcomed me home and continue to support me and my adventures!

PS! I've just found out that the primary school has invited me to go to Greece with them April 5 - 11! They want to thank me for my hard work with the Comenius a few months back and my continued efforts this semester! I am very excited to have this opportunity! When I learn more, I will let you know!

Pictures from Christmas in the USA! 
Reunited for Christmas! <3
Black tongues only mean one thing: Black Vodka!
(grandpa) didn't want people to know he'd been drinking....
Out with old friends! Kasie, Me, Theresa, Kristi
Happy 2011!!!!!
It's only been a week and I miss driving my car and listening to the radio.
(Amongst all the other American commodities!)