Saturday, December 3, 2011


It took me a long time -- for many reasons -- to decide to come back to Spain this year. In the end I made the decision because, quite simply, I had work here and didn't have work in the United States. My boss at the Ministry of Education had been emailing me all summer, asking if I'd come back, and saying he was worried I wouldn't. After a long and complicated application process, he assured me I would have the same grant I'd had the year before, and that I would be able to continue in the same school. So the first day I was back in Santander I wasn't surprised in the least to get a phone call from him saying I should come in for a meeting. 

I expected it to be an informal affair, just to sign some paperwork and catch up with my boss, with whom I had a very good professional relationship. So imagine my surprise when I found three other grant recipients -- who I knew to have been here for quite some time, some even longer than me -- waiting in the hall. I knew the news couldn't be good if we'd all been called in together. I'd had no official confirmation of my grant, but since I trusted my boss and he had done similar favors for me in the past, I wasn't worried about not having the necessary "invitation" in hand. I thought I'd get the paperwork when I arrived, and then I would be able to renew my residency, which expired the 30th of September. (It didn't matter that I arrived in October because I had 30 days to renew my residency after the expiration date). 

They took us all into a little conference room. There were three women who I didn't know, who had begun their positions that summer because of the change in the local government. My boss was there, too, but it was clear that he had less control than he did with the previous government -- he did very little talking and seemed to be there mostly because he knew all of the grant recipients personally and had been in charge before. They told us, through lots of political jargon, that they could not give us the grant, as we'd been promised. There was a clause in the law that said "If you have been the recipient of a grant in the province of Cantabria for two years or more, you are not eligible to receive this grant." This would have been my fourth year receiving the grant. It's not clear if they had just turned a blind eye to this clause before, or if the law had been changed -- they cited both of these reasons at different points in the same meeting -- but they made it very clear that they would not be giving us the grant. 

I was absolutely floored. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had struggled to make the decision to come back, had very, very personal reasons tied up in the decision, and was looking forward to going back to the job I loved in the school I adored. I needed that comfort and familiarity. I needed to be busy with something I was happy doing. I needed to be with my closest Spanish friend, who works there and is my mentor. I needed the distraction of my wonderful students and their enthusiasm, mischief, energy, and innocence. Mere days before I had had my world turned upside down in terms of my most personal relationship -- what gets pulled out from under you when the rug has already been yanked away? -- the floor just suddenly disappeared and I was floating in mid air, my disbelief the only thing keeping me afloat. 

Eventually I crashed. Everything was happening at once. I spent days crying alone in my apartment. What was I going to do? Making money wasn't the biggest problem: I can work under the table at the private academy and doing English tutoring. But being denied the grant denied me of residency, legal status, a national ID number, and health insurance. I have never felt comfortable with the idea of staying here illegally -- it would be totally fine, I know people who have done it and have never had problems, even when traveling within and outside the European Union. But I don't want to feel nervous and worry about deportation every time I go through passport control when I travel. I don't want to have to answer questions at the bank when they realize that my national ID number has expired. I don't want to have to give up work opportunities because I don't have a visa or residency to be here. 
I was constantly facing denial, but strangely enough it wasn't just my own in reaction to everything happening. I was being denied things left and right. I had been denied, in both personal and professional spheres, something I had been promised. Something I had been counting on. Something I needed and trusted would be there. Something that had been an integral part of my life, that I worked hard at and loved with all my heart. 

But my own denial, with regards to the grant, couldn't last. I had to get moving, find a way to make money, find a way to stay in the country legally at least until I went home for Christmas, for which I already had a plane ticket. So I sent out emails. Asked everyone I know for help. And it all has worked out, even better than I dared to hope. I'm still at the academy, teaching three afternoons a week. I have a lot of private classes, and have more prospective students lined up. And best of all, I was offered and accepted a job with the dad of two kids I've been tutoring for three years -- they are the most wonderful, kind, dynamic family. I'm there three mornings a week, and should be getting paid for my first month of work in the next few days. I'll write more about the details of that job another time. 

I have never been even remotely religious. But I think of the line in The Sound of Music (that many people, Spanish and American, quoted to me over the last few months) that says "When god closes a door he always opens a window." I don't know if I opened those windows, or if god did, or if Fate or the Universe or whatever else did. But I worked my ass off to make options for myself. Asked for help. Depended on friends. Was persistent. I denied myself the option of giving up -- and denied with everything I've got that this would bring me down for good. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hey Universe, what gives??

I haven't been writing lately because I have no idea where to start. I can safely say, without melodrama or woe-is-me sniffles, that these last few months have been absolutely the most difficult of my life (so far, knock on wood). Barring personal physical injury, anything bad that could have happened to me has happened. Heartbreak (which, as is wont to happen, turns into heartbreak after heartbreak after heartbreak), the euthanasia of a beloved pet, my mom forgetting my birthday (twice), losing my job, being left hanging in a foreign country with no work or legal options, and the rapid decline and death of my adored Granny. All in the course of two and a half months. 

I have felt drowned. Like I can't get even one minute of respite to catch my breath and get some perspective. Like the universe is pelting me with everything it's got. But no one reads this (if you read it at all) to hear about my heartaches and troubles. And god knows I think and write and talk and email about everything going on way too much anyway. So I want to use the blog as a way to focus myself, an outlet for some creativity, a project, something to occupy my mind and my time. Now I just have to center my ideas enough to get them into sentences and onto the page. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

In Which I Wax Cliche About My Friends

It's the people you're with that really make an experience. I've been aware of this for a long time, having been in fantastic places with people I dislike, and having been in less-than-desirable situations with people I adore. The most memorable and enjoyable times, no matter how ridiculous or unpleasant the circumstances, have been the ones I've shared with people who "get" me.

It's hard to do. To find people who really understand you, who will laugh at you when you're taking yourself too seriously, and wrap you up in a hug when words are unnecessary or inadequate. People who, when you need it most, can speak right to the essence of yourself. I have been so, so fortunate to have met a good number of these people on my many adventures around the world. And while it's been really trying, living abroad and leaving my closest friends back in the US, accessible only by facebook, email, and the occasional phone call, over the years I've managed to make some incredible friends here in Spain. Specifically, here I'm talking about "las cuatro rubias," a group of three friends I've been having lunch with once a week for the three years I've been in Spain. All English teachers. All blonde.

These are friendships that started as brief gestures: an offer of help the first morning I showed up at work, frizzy and soaked and flustered from getting lost on my way in the pouring rain. A smile and an offer of a coffee from the machine. An invitation to have lunch together after finding me eating alone in a deserted English department. A request for English conversation to help them prepare for their  teaching exam.

I hoped (but didn't know) the relationships would become so deep and real. My healthy (over?)dose of skepticism reared its ugly head more than once: "It's nice she wants to have lunch, but is it just convenience and politeness to invite me?" "Do they feel obligated to be nice to me since I look so pitiful, the lone foreigner with no friends?" "It must be such a hassle to listen to me fumble to express myself in a language that gets more cumbersome with nerves." 

It's always awkward those first few meetings with new people; but things gradually get more fluid, more comfortable, and finally, they become familiar. And beloved. 

Last night I met up with two of these wonderful friends, and two of their (also wonderful) friends that I know less well, but really like. With big changes possibly looming in my life, one of which could be me leaving them to return to the US indefinitely, they have been more understanding, helpful, present, than I could ever have hoped. They've been a sounding board, a support system, and have offered a wealth of advice and information about how I could possibly stay in this country next year. Of course, that last bit is rife with ulterior motives...
They gave me a hard time about never passing along pictures I'd taken of us over the last few years. So here I'm giving them something even better: a whole mushy, sappy, cliche blog post about how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate their warmth, acceptance, humor, and love. I am certain we will maintain this connection forever, no matter how many years or miles separate us. Os quiero muchísimo!

Sheila, me, Maru, Eva

Oh you're not employed? May as well eat.

Strawberry cornmeal pancakes with strawberry compote. Fresh jasmine flowers.

Our homemade "Middle Eastern" feast. Tabuleh, felafel, tzatziki, hummus, flatbread.

Chicken salad on escarole with fresh bread and pickled peppers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pretty Things in Spain III

Traditional Asturian dancers in a plaza one Sunday morning in Oviedo

Blogs and Boredom

Well here we are, four months since I last posted. To be fair, these last few months have been very busy: in April we went to Italy with my parents for Easter vacation. In May I was finishing up the school year with lots of projects and stress. In June we went to Morocco (to buy cheap, beautiful leather products and eat) and Senegal (to visit Katie over at Niger-Mania) for three weeks. We came home in the beginning of July with a nasty, nasty flu virus that knocked me on my ass for a week. Now I have no excuse for not writing. But laying it all out like I did above, I'm realizing just how many things I have to write about. Good, something to sink my teeth into in these weeks of inactivity. July is turning out to be a bit of a bust. Read on:

I was hoping to get a job in a tiny town in the interior of the province teaching English at a summer school, but because of my student visa they couldn't hire me. (The student visa allows me to work a very limited number of contracted hours  --  I'm paid under the table for private classes and my job at the academy, but the director of this summer school wouldn't hire me without a contract. And therefore didn't hire me at all.) I've been teaching some private classes, but with people going on vacation and working and kids not wanting to study in the summer, my schedule has been sporadic to say the least.

On top of that, it's been cold (in the 50s! I've been wearing a jacket! It's JULY for god's sake!) and very rainy for the last few weeks. Of course, the week I was sick in bed with chills, a fever, body aches, and a terrible cough (I am such a baby about illness), it was gorgeous, hot and sunny outside. The weather has made it difficult to enjoy the beach and go on adventures and revel in summer. Not to mention the darkness, cold, and rain make for cranky, mopey moods.

I have lots of things to write about. But I just haven't been able to get it together to sit down and write. New personal mantra: "I will use my time productively and write instead of moping around the house and taking too many naps." Mantras are supposed to be short and easily memorized, no? Oops. How about "Get off your ass. Be creative." Better.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The World is Puddle-wonderful

Spring has been springing for a while now here, with beautiful sunny, warm days interspersed with the more typical rainy cold weather from time to time. But today, as it should be, it was mild, sunny, and utterly delightful. This is what real Spring -- ideal Spring -- looks like in Cantabria:

Don't you just want to traipse around in that little glen, stick your fingers in the stream, see what baby animals you can spot in the fields, smell the photosynthesis pushing out life all around you...

In honor of my e.e. cummings-focused poetry lesson last week, I leave you with one of my favorite Spring poems. I'll post my absolute favorite in the next few days -- it's long and difficult to read, but breathtakingly beautiful. For now, the oh-so-Springlike words of good ol' e.e.:

in Just-
spring         when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles       far       and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's 

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far         and          wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan          whistles

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This is Not a Food Blog

But we do have some pretty great meals. Here are a some favorites from the last few months. Or, these are the ones of which I've taken and uploaded pictures:

Apple Pie - Thanksgiving. L made the crust (the secret ingredient is LARD) and I made the filling and the little apple on top.

A picnic on the side of a lovely hill outside of Cartes after a morning at the outdoor market there: Empanadas (big tomato/tuna pastry), Choripan (bread filled with chorizo sausage), varied olives, super-cured sheep cheese, jamon (it's virtually impossible to have a meal in this country without some type of cured pork product. Especially picnics), and the best lemon soda ever.

 One of my weekend morning breakfasts. Boy am I spoiled. Oatmeal with fresh strawberries and brown sugar. Steaming coffee.

And now I'm off to eat a home made corned beef, boiled with potatoes, onions, and cabbage in (belated) celebration of St. Patrick's day. We don't...starve over here. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some Exquisite Poems / From My Seventh Grade Students / Prepare to be Floored

One of my favorite lessons to do with seventh graders is an introduction to poetry. The English major in me gets all fired up at the front of the room (well, let's be honest -- the budding teacher in me gets pretty fired up too, and not only for poetry lessons): there is lots of wild gesturing, mime, and just enough silliness to get them to understand me. Although they're catching on pretty quickly to the fact that my "Oh no, I don't speak a word of Spanish" line is a lie, I still speak to them exclusively in English. But I digress.

In this lesson, I read the e.e. cummings poem "maggie and milly and molly and may" aloud to them, and we brainstormed vocabulary like rhythm, rhyme, stanza, line, syllable, etc. After discussing the meaning of the poem (the literal meaning -- this one's a little bit challenging for them yet), we moved on to haiku. We talked about how haikus are normally about nature, and usually address or examine one specific moment. Then we looked at this one by Basho, the Japanese poet:

This snowy morning
That black crow I hate so much
...But he's beautiful! 

The students had wonderful interpretations of what the imagery means: "The snow is white, and the crow is black." "He hates the crow because it ruins the morning." "The morning is quiet, the crow is loud." "It is beautiful because nature is beautiful." "It is beautiful because the contrast is beautiful." I SWEAR my students said all this -- if not in complete, grammatically correct English sentences. I was a proud mama duck all over again.

At the end of the lesson I had them write their own haikus. Now, the creativity of Spanish students is something I'll save for another post. Suffice to say they are seriously lacking in that area, at least when compared to American students, and especially to my own (exceptional) elementary/middle school experience at a small independent school. So my kids were less than thrilled when I announced they'd be writing their own haikus. Despite their groaning, I think some of their work turned out really great -- at the very least the Primero Bilingue's canon is beginning with some eccentricity, some truly beautiful imagery, no lack of grammatical and spelling errors, and a heavy dose of humor for native English-speaking audiences. And with no further ado, I present you with their (unedited) work:

In the evening, in
a very cloudy evening
There were lots of birds. 

In the mountain, the mountain 
...Do I prefer good river?
I like two places! 
By Pablo

In the sweet morning
In the far away mountain
I feell the nature.
By Diego B. 

In the long black night.
The moon looks in my bedroom
And she's smiling a me.
By Darío

The snow is prety
It is white and beautiful
I love the good snow

I love animals
The animals are prety
I have animals.
By Lydia

One day on the beach
I smile at a pretty gir
and she smiles at me
By Raúl

I have got apples
I go to the park today
They are beautiful! 
By Ayla

I am here, and you?
You are in the forest and
This is bad!
By Claudia

This day I wake up
before normal, I see, oh,
a special and a good owl.
By Celia

The bird flies and flies
at the top of the tree, but
it can't come down now.
By Elia

I am in a tree
the birds later fly whit me
And she looks at me.

I'm in the city
my friend is very crazy
but he's my bestfriend.
By Elda

One day in the park,
saw my aunt, she says hello
and I say hello.
By Amaya

The forest is nice
Il see the forest always
I love animals.

I hate the haikus
The haikus are very bad
The haikus are sad.
By María

And there you have it, folks. The up-and-coming poets of IES Miguel Herrero Pereda. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

I am a Proud Mama Duck

Soon I'll write a detailed post about my seventh graders -- they are wonderful, angelic, funny, cheeky, sweet, creative, hardworking, inventive, boisterous and adorable. I will be sure to find more adjectives for the full report, since there is such a lack of them here.

For the last few weeks they've been making paper animal masks in art class, and in our afternoon classes we've been "writing" a "play" to go with their mask characters. I was sick when they filmed this version, and they aren't happy with the bell ringing during the first few seconds, so we're planning to re-record next week. What divas. As you can see, the acting is Oscar-quality, the sets and special effects are straight out of a James Cameron production, and it is super easy to understand what they're saying. .... I'll let you be the judge, because clearly I'm biased.

The film can be seen here, on the brand-new IES Miguel Herrero Bilingual Program blog. Keep checking back for more links -- next week we're doing a literary project that you'll be able to see the results of. My little actors, poets, and artists in the making -- I'll have to think of a musical project for them to round out their English fine arts training. Happy Saturday!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pretty Things in Spain II

My initials in wrought iron

Pretty Things in Spain I

"Swallow Bird" matchbox art 

Ten Things I Miss About the USA (Right Now)

1. Free, unlimited water (from the tap! God forbid!) with meals in restaurants
2. Bagels
3. Wearing sweatpants, flip flops, or athletic shorts in public
4. My pets. And my friends. Oh, and my parents. And family
5. My personal space bubble
6. Rural life -- trees, grass, animals, flowers, barefootedness
7. Heat in my house
8. The clothes I've had to leave behind (my cowgirl boots, vintage dresses, and hoodies) (go ahead -- call me superficial)
9. Knowing every word I need to use (like steroid, astringent, or oxford shoe) off the top of my head
10. My piano

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Miguelín Miguelón

I have a roof kitty. 

His name is Miguelín. (Mee-ghell-EEN).

This is him: 


You may not be able to tell, but in the picture above he is sitting on an open skylight. Since I live in the attic, I have two lovely skylights that, when closed, are parallel to the slanted roof; when open, they're more or less perpendicular to it, providing a perfect kitty perch. And providing us a lovely (ahem) view of his kitty butt.

He visits me. Often. From the roof. We are thick as thieves. The kitty food and cuddles may have something to do with it...but I like to think he visits just to chat. And boy, does he like to chat. Here he is chowing down out of a salsa lid: 

The first time he visited was back in October. We'd just arrived, and it was still warm out, so the skylights were open to the evening breeze. We were cooking dinner, or cleaning up, and I was saying how much I wish we had a kitty around to play with. A few minutes later I heard a plaintive yowl. "Stop it! That's not fair!" I told L (the boyfriend. He wants to be encrypted here -- privacy or spy fantasy? You decide). I thought he was teasing me. He said, "It's not me! Look!" And there against the indigo sky we saw this:


We see him pretty frequently, and his yowls have gotten more insistent as we've all gotten to know each other. He's not wild, because he lets us pet him and tries to play with us, and he's relatively clean and well-fed. We walked all around the block to try to figure out how he gets up to the top of a 5 story building. (L loved the wild goose chase trespassing on the building next door's patio). Here's the kicker -- there's no visible way for him to get from the street to the roof. The current theory is that he gets let out of another attic apartment for romps on the roof when it's nice out -- because that's the other thing, he never appears asking to come in when it's wet outside. Normally it's on days like this:

I'm working on trying to get him inside...the bribes are forming in my head...mmm...tunafish...heeeere kitty kitty kitty! And once I do, I am going to tie a note (loosely!) around his neck saying "I visit the nice people at 52 Cisneros St all the way up in the attic. Who do I belong to? Where do I come from? Please write back!" Imagine him going off like this on his delivery mission: 

But tonight it's rainy, so he is probably inside his cozy apartment, safe and warm, eating the food he should be eating and not begging from the neighbors. My carrier kitty adventure will have to wait. Until then, I'll leave you with a view of Miguelín at his most regal and commanding, overlooking his rooftop domain.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Friday

Today is Friday, our restful-cleaning-farmers market-lunch-with-friends Friday. It's warmish and partly cloudy outside, the washing machine is rumbling away and shaking my little attic floor when it hits the spin cycle. I'm uploading CDs of traditional music I found in a back corner in my cleaning frenzy - from when old family friends (Hi Pete, Kelly, Walt and Clare!) visited this area last Fall. The fridge is full of delicious fresh veggies we bought from our favorite sellers at the market - note to self, post about the market, with PICTURES - there is a bouquet of fresh daffodils on the counter. The "Rushmore" soundtrack is on in the background, some cute Frenchy-French man crooooooning to me. I washed the dishes and made the bed! The windows are open! I swept the floor! There is so much to be said for motivation (a cup of Spanish espresso helps a whole lot), sunny days, new cardigans, and lunch with friends. Roast chicken is on the menu. Who knows what the afternoon holds? I have my eye on some shoes downtown... Ah, Spain!

Monday, January 31, 2011

...And We're Back

It's been so long since I've written. Unforgivably long. "Is Susannah still in Spain?" "Is Susannah still alive?" long. And I have no excuses, except that being here (yes, I am in Spain, and still very much alive) has become so much like "real life." That is, unremarkable, day-to-day, sometimes mundane, get-up-in-the-morning-and-go-to-work "real life," that I don't often find things to write about. When I first arrived I was so homesick and so awe-filled at every new aspect of my adventure that I felt like I had millions of things to report home to family and friends (and to the internet?). Except now... It seems like boring "real life!"

Only I need to keep reminding myself: Yes, it is "real life," every day is "real life," (hence all the quotation marks), except it's "" in SPAIN. Where I've gotten used to just about everything, but everyone at home could be still wondering about little things, like, oh, I don't know... How my students are this year, if I'm still in the same apartment, what little Spanish quirks I'm laughing (or cringing) at this week. So I've decided, after reading (and lurking on and being inspired by) many blogs, that I'll just do it. Just write. That's what I have the blog for anyway, isn't it? Little by little. Updates, whining, pictures, adventures, what I had for breakfast... it doesn't matter. I'm BLOGGING!