Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Adventure begins...Tomorrow!

Wow, it is finally sinking in that after three months on the road, we are finally going to Spain...TOMORROW!!! We had one more family celebration...Uncle C's early birthday and now we have one more night! We are supposed to be spending three years in Spain. Three years is a really long time in a child's life...Seven and Eleven will be Ten and Fourteen by the time we are supposed to move back to the States. That is hard to believe. I've been so focused on actually getting us to Spain that I haven't had time to think about actually being there. Now the goodbyes are really starting to hit home. We will see each other again, but not for a long time. We can talk on the phone, but the time difference will be a pain. There are so many great ways to keep in touch, but what we really want is to be in touch. It's probably hardest on our parents. I know it would be hard for me if I were in their shoes. They are happy for us, but sad, of course, too, about the things they will miss. Hopefully, this blog will provide one more touch point for all of us...See you on the other side of the big blue ocean...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This Looks Pretty Refreshing Right About Now...

So what is this and why exactly do I find it a refreshing option? This is the La Tomatina festival in Bunol, Spain. Bunol is a little industrial town about 25 miles outside of Valencia. The festival takes place the last Wednesday of August and that happened to be yesterday! Each year, approximately 20,000 people hit the streets and pelt each other with juicy, ripe tomatoes! Why? I don't know. From the photo, I think the answer might be that they think it's fun!

After spending over an hour in the campus post office this afternoon, I think it sounds like fun too. Husband and I packed up about eight boxes to mail to Spain before we leave Norfolk tomorrow. He had some last minute errands to do, so after unloading all the packages, he left me fill out all the labels and paperwork. This seemed like a pretty easy task. I mean, I know my addresses and I'd written some notes about the contents on the outside of each box, but ugh...filling out those customs forms is such a pain! Thank goodness that I did make notes for myself on the boxes. You have to write down the contents of the package and the monetary value on the forms. Who can really put a value on dentist erasers, Eye of the Tiger lyrics, and your kids' favorite old t-shirts??? Of course, there were other items that were easier to put a price on, but still. It took me over an hour to get all the forms filled out and everything rung up. That was a half an hour past closing time. Thank you, Cheryl M. Postal Worker, for getting all our "crap" on the truck and on its way to Spain. Cheryl and I are in agreement that the building's air conditioning system turned off at closing time! It was roasting in there! If we had a couple of tomatoes to throw at each other, it might have cooled us off a bit.

I might be tempted to attend the La Tomatina Festival once in Spain once we're there. It's still pretty hot in Spain this time of year. I'd only go, however, if I could be guaranteed that I would not take a shot to the face! I don't think I'd find that too refreshing!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Manicurist of Seville

Ya know how when you buy a new car, you start to see that model everywhere? Well, the same thing has happened to me, only with Spain. I knew about Spain, of course, but besides the occasional news story, Pamplona's running of the bulls, tapas, and one of my best friends moving there, I didn't hear or see a lot about Spain. Once we found out we were going to be moving, however, I starting being bombarded with, images, stories, television shows, and people who had connections with Spain. Everywhere I go, I see, I hear, I taste Spain!

When I tell people about our assignment to Spain, I find out many of them have visited or even lived there. On my last trip to the dentist, he reminisced about a great trip he took to Madrid, and our move reminded him of how much he'd like to go back there. We started watching old episodes of Rick Steve's Europe to see his travels throughout Spain. Oprah had Gwenyth Palrow and Mario Batalli on her show, talking about a series of shows they did for PBS, eating their way across Spain. It was called "Spain: On the Road Again." Their opening song was Willie Nelson singing "On the Road Again" with castanets clicking in the background (a strange, but delightful blend of sounds). While scanning the DVR for episodes of this show, we found another show on PBS called "Made in Spain" with Spanish chef, Jose Andreas. This became one of our favorites because we loved to watch him traveling through his native Spain and then watch him cook great regional dishes in his Washington, DC kitchen. We even went to his tapas restaurant in DC this summer. It's called Jaleo and it was muy delicioso! We highly recommend it! Seven received a Children's World Atlas from his grandmother. It was right up his alley! Randomly, from the back seat, we'd hear him say, "Pop quiz..." and he'd ask us some sort of geography question. I was shocked when one day he asked us what the second most visited country in Europe was. It was Spain, of course, right after France. I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn't be. It is apparently an extremely popular vacation destination for Europeans, and the second most visited religious site in Europe is there. Only Vatican City receives more visitors than Camino del Santiago. "It was registered in 1993 as a World Heritage Site. This is the route, from the French-Spanish border, which was and still is followed by pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela. Along the route there are around 1800 buildings, both religious and secular, of great historical value. The Route played a fundamental role in the cultural exchange between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. It is still testimony to the Christian faith in people of all social classes from all over Europe."-From See for more info and maps of this famous Road to Santiago.

This brings me to my latest Spanish connection. This one thrills me right down to the tips of my toes! OPI, the nail polish people, have launched a Spain collection for Fall 2009! OPI is so creative with their color titles and I really think they've outdone themselves with this Spanish collection. Listen to these cute color choices:

Barefoot in Barcelona
Can You Tapas This?
Give Me Moor!
Pink Flamenco
No Spain No Gain
Ate Berries in the Canaries
Suzi Skis in the Pyrenees
Here Today… Aragon Tomorrow
Manicurist of Seville
Pamplona Purple
Conquistadorable Color
Bullish on OPI

As for me, I went with the Manicurist of Seville. What sounds good to you? See the colors at

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Softball Championship Game...

One one activity comes to an end as we ready for our move to Spain. As a part of Husband's course, there is a softball league for the students and faculty. Each seminar, a group of about 15 students and three instructors, put together a softball team that follows Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) rules. I heard someone call it "old man" softball, in that, the field of play is set up to avoid on field collisions, ankle-breaking sliding injuries, and chronic hamstring pulls. Frankly, as a mom, I can see advantages to having some of this rules incorporated into little league play, but I digress. They also hit off their own pitchers making for lots of ego boosting home runs. The teams played some pre-season games, a few regular season games and then it was tournament time. The season has been a lot fun. Eleven decided not to do baseball this spring since he wouldn't be able to finish out the season because of our move. So he had a great time going to practice with his Dad and shagging balls before the games. Seven was one of the official foul ball retrievers. He loved running them down in the hot sun and dumping water on his head afterwards. I got in my ballpark fix, cheering for the team. Eleven's not the only one who missed baseball thing spring. In Madrid, they have their own version of the MLB...Madrid League Baseball, where kids from across the city play American baseball. Sounds pretty cool! Anyway, it was a great game, Husband's team lost by just one run. It was a very exciting game. Then both team's retired to the pub for a pizza and beer. Four wake-ups left 'til Madrid! Como se dice "Woo Hoo" in espanol?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Beach is Closed, eh?

We heard so much about the "big" waves Hurricane Bill was bringing to Virginia Beach. The waves would be 5-10 feet and the rip current threat would remain high throughout the entire weekend. No one, but experienced surfers, would be allowed in the water. We were sad to miss our last weekend at the beach, but a little beach time is certainly not worth having one of pulled out to sea. A friend once told me they had an adage they followed when it came to making decisions...How stupid would I look if this goes bad and it ends up in the newspaper? I thought about this as we weighed the idea of going to the beach despite all the dire warnings. We could go to the beach, of course, but without being able to get in the water, it just wouldn't be worth it. So Friday afternoon, we went to Water Country USA instead. On Saturday, we had some items we needed to get in Virginia Beach. We planned to go by the beach (fully clothed) on our way to the mall, just to see how big the waves were.

I couldn't believe it! It looked like any other Saturday at Virginia Beach. We go to the North End beaches and I thought we'd have no trouble finding parking, what with the warnings and all. We had to park a block off the beach, just like usual. Like I said, busy as ever. We parked, walked down to the beach, and saw tons of people in the water. The waves were bigger than usual, but people were surfing, and boogie boarding, and jumping the waves, and playing in the surf. The red flags were up, warning people not to go in the water. A lifeguard even drove by on his ATV, whistle in his mouth, ready to blow at any moment, but he never did. He just cruised right on by like the beach was empty. I guess it takes a lot to scare off Virginia Beachers. Maybe the warnings were just a way for the local government to limit their liability. That way, if anyone dies, they'd been warned. As for us, we'd still rather be safe than sorry. We have a lot of adventures ahead of us and we all want to be around to experience them!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Can You Say "Busched?"

With nine days left in the states (ahhhh, single digits) and Hurricane Bill ruining our beach plans (dang rip currents), we made a last second decision to go to Busch Garden's Water Country USA. We wanted to get the traffic heading into the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, so we skipped going to Naval Station Norfolk's discount ticket office. We decided to ask for a military discount at the park, just in case. They gave us a discount that was equal to or better than the discount ticket office would have given us. Just another reason to always ask for any discount you're eligible never know. Left at 11:52am and ran into the 7 mile back up before the tunnel. At least we were moving versus the stop and go business. Just how early does traffic start backing up on a Friday??? Thank goodness for the ipods...keeps complaining to a minimum...although we do have to listen to the kids singing/humming, to different songs at the same time. Yeah, it's still a good trade off.

We just got back and we are beat, or should I say, "bucshed." We had a blast! Seven tried more slides than ever before and only cried once at the top of a slide that had a lot of enclosures. By the end of the ride, he'd decided it wasn't so bad and if we wanted to do it again, he would. Seven is all about the family. Husband and Eleven split off every once in a while to do some of the more daring rides and we all got our ocean fix in the wave pool. Seven said, "This is so great...waves, but no salt water!"

Only two negatives for the day...I knew we'd be walking on concrete from ride to ride, so I wore my Birkenstocks, apparently forgetting we were at a WATER park. Bought some $5.99 one-size-fits-all pink flop flops to combat that issue. The second negative came at the end of the day when the lines for the rides started thinning out. Husband and Eleven were in line at the Death Drop slide, I mean, the Rampage, while Seven and I went back to our first slide where they was absolutely no line. As I was huffing and puffing at the top of the three story slide for the fourth time in a row, it was quite apparent that I really need to get serious about my present state of fitness. With no lines, you get zero breaks when it comes to hauling your double-seater inner tube up the step (really shows the weaknesses in your workout plan). They walk and bike a lot in Europe, right? Think it will be enough to offset the occasional tapas crawl? I sure hope so...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eight Suitcases

Eight suitcases...seems like that would provide a lot of space for traveling. None of these eight suitcases can weigh more than 50 pounds, however. Annoying!!! When did they cut the overseas weigh limit to 50 pounds per case? It's overseas travel, for goodness sakes. People used to travel overseas with steamer trunks. It took them months to get to their destination, but still...The larger weight limit is all we have left from those glorious days of travel, and now, even that is gone...sigh. How does this affect me? It puts mailing packages to Spain on my to do list for today.

We left Texas on May 30th and have been on the road, more or less, since then. Three months is a long time to rough it out of a couple of suitcases...torture, as my sons, "Seven" and "Eleven" would tell it. No xbox, no legos, no art supplies, no webkinz....So, of course, we brought "things" for them to play with. Of course, we added to their stash a bit as we traveled around the country this summer. Plus, we've had to stock up on some items we'll need in Spain that are either too expensive or simply not available there. There were also items the movers wouldn't pack, that we didn't want to be without or to have to re-purchase in Spain. The 55 pound trunk down and at least five boxes of various sizes to go. The 55 pound trunk made it to Spain in about a week. So it's crunch time now with only ten days left to go to get the rest of the boxes packed and in the mail...Wish me luck!

Photo courtesy of yahoo's flicker photo sharing site

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Scratch that, I get by with a A LOT of help with my friends. What I do without my friends? I really don't know! I guess I'd muddle through some how, but with a lot more stress and a lot less laughter! If there is one thing I know about myself, it's that I have no desire whatsoever to reinvent the wheel. I have a lot of opinions, but I don't have to know all the answers. I just need to know where to go to get answers. That's where my friends come in. When it comes to moving, I rely on my friends more than ever. My friends have so much experience and they are so willing to share it...some you can't keep from sharing it. But why should I be the only one with all this knowledge. I want to pay it forward and share with others what I've learned:

From my friend, Angela, I learned:

  • Moving is fun, you get to take a nap
  • You get the satisfaction of vacuuming sans furniture. Great vacuuming lines!
  • Your friends will even go get you and your movers lunch. Thanks, Ang!

From my friend, Jennifer, I learned:

  • To call the housing office whenever you have a question about clearing, just to be sure!
  • How to help our kids transition to a new school. Thanks for going with me to Parent2Parent.

From my friend, Julia, I learned:

  • You can always cry in front of your friends about your problems, even if they are dealing with problems too. Thanks, friend!

From my friend, Yvette, I learned:

  • To say "no" (and not feel guilty) to last minute performances that would stress me out while I was getting ready to move. Thanks, girl!

From my new friend, Amy, I learned:

  • To google search the local paper's "Best of" edition for goods and services in a new area
  • You never have to worry about finding great new friends in a new place. Looking forward to being in Spain with you and your family.

From my trusted friend, Tracy, I learned:

  • No matter how long it's been since you've talked, a true friend never judges, they are just happy to hear from you.
  • Several great phrases and philosophies I use to get through life's little problems. Water truly does seek it's own level.

From my friend, Tiffani, I learned:

  • There is nothing a true friend won't do to keep you from making the same mistakes they did or keep you from going through the same trials they went through! Tiff, you've made this move so much smoother for us. You and Bill rock!
  • A BFF will you a fabulous house in Spain right in their own neighborhood. Good friends keep you close to them! See you soon! Less than two weeks, aaaaaah!

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm always filing good ideas away in the little card catalog in my brain! I'm always looking for a way to do things better and make things run a little more smoothly. There are countless others who helped with lessons, suggestions or advice over the years. I hope I've done the same! After all, it's like I told my friend, Angela...Ya know, together, we make a really smart person!

Share some of the things you've learned from your friends...

Photo credit goes to Mary Kate Denny. Find this pic at

The Best Travel Guide Books Ever...

So we find out we are going to Madrid, and to get ourselves in the spirit, we head out to Barnes and Noble and hit the travel section. We're so excited! We actually feel confident enough that this move really is going to happen, that we purchase three DK Eyewitness Travel books--"Spain," "Madrid," and "Top 10 Madrid." What is so great about these books that made us shell out money for three books by the same publisher? Pictures, well, not pictures so much as photographs. The pics are fantastic and the book is chock full of 'em!

DK Eyewitness books first caught my eye in the children's section of the book store. I used to get them for my kids when they were little. They are so vivid and so real. When we were kids, all those picture books were just, renderings of animals, fruit, vegetables, and vehicles. DK Eyewitness books bring these objects to life through the power of photography. They have brought that same reality to travel books! They're like picture books for grown-ups.

Don't get me wrong. There are lots of great guide books out there, but none even comes close to providing the number of pics that a DK Eyewitness Travel book does. After looking through these books, we want to go to Spain more than ever. You can picture yourself "right there." When it comes to DK Eyewtness, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

What's your favorite travel book, guide book or otherwise? Share with us...Everyone needs a good escape...

Monday, August 17, 2009

No, not Prada, the Prado...

When we aren't driving 5,000 or so extra miles to visit friends and relatives before leaving the country for three years, we're in Norfolk, a place with great history and beautiful scenery. When we first got here, they had a spouses' briefing about all the exciting things the area had to offer. I thought we'd be going to all the different museums, Colonial Williamsburg, and the many amusement parks in the area, like Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. So with two weeks left in VA, what have we done? Not Colonial Williamsburg, not the Children's Museum, not the Virgina Living History Museum, not any of the art museums. We've been to Yorktown, Busch Gardens, and Virginia Beach. In our defense, we've been so busy visiting friends and family that we've been gone six of the ten weekends we have here. But really, as great as I'm sure these local attractions are, I just can't muster up the motivation to go even when we are in town. We've been pouring over travel guides to Spain and Madrid, and consciously or not, we just can't see going out and doing a bunch of sightseeing here, when there is so much to see and do in Madrid. Even though we're scheduled to be there for three years, we still probably won't get to see everything we'd like to in Spain, let alone throughout Europe.

One of our first sightseeing outings in Madrid, will be going to the Prado, El Museo Del Prado, to be exact. One of our friends in Madrid has been trying to get out to the Prado for about year now. She thought she'd wait to go until she had visitors in town, but when they came, they didn't want to go. Finally, she made up her mind she was going to go, even if she had to go all by herself. Her husband suggested she wait until we got there, but she said she'd just go again. Her thought was that you could go 20 times and still not see everything. Get ready, Tiff, we're coming and we want to go to the Prado.

I was shocked by my friend's story. Who wouldn't want to go to the Prado? I mean, it's #2 in the DK Eyewitness Travel's Top 10 Madrid guide book, second only to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). They say, "[The Prado] is Madrid's obvious must-see. The outstanding collections of Spanish and European painting reflect the taste of royal connoisseurs." It's Madrid's top tourist attraction, for goodness sakes. So if you're plan on making "mi casa, su casa," we'll take you out for tapas, but we're going to work up an appetite by strolling through the Prado first! 'Cause if you go to Madrid, you gotta see the Prado!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Spain To-Do List by Sammy the Dog

  • Make sure my family gets me all my vaccinations for Spain

  • Make sure they get me my USDA certificate (kind of makes me nervous, ya know, like USDA Grade A beef...yikes)

  • Make sure they get me my international travel certificate so I can get on the plane

  • Make sure they send my dog bed and some food ahead of us to Miss Tiffani in Spain

  • Practice being back "behind bars" again in the kennel

  • Work on my sad puppy dog expressions so the TSA, airline workers, and Spanish customs agents will take pity on me

  • Work on being quiet, the hardest task for me, because I really feel the need to bark at people I don't know when I'm nervous

  • Finally, follow my family members all around the house, and lick them as much as possible, especially on the face. They really like that...well, I do, at least.

Any other pets out there have any advice for a pet traveling abroad? Share your thoughts...

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Rosetta Stone Chronicles

We bit the bullet and decided to buy all three levels of Rosetta Stone. Not a cheap proposition, but considering learning Spanish is our #1 goal while in Spain, we thought it was a good purchase. It lets you set up 5 independent profiles, so all of us, including Sammy, can learn Spanish. He looks so cute with his little headphones on, but he does have trouble with the written/oral sections...That's a joke, son, that's a joke. Seriously though, all of us including the 7 year-old, are working through the Rosetta Stone curriculum. I'm not a paid endorser of the software or anything, but I'm happy to say that we are learning Spanish. How often we'll have a chance to use the phrase, "The cat is on top of the television," I'm not sure, but we are learning Spanish, or "Spain"ish as my friend, Angela, likes to call it. There is a Castilian version of Rosetta Stone and we are using it.

It was hard, at first, to use the Castilian accent after so many years of studying Latin American Spanish. The sound substitutions seemed rather random to me, as I'm sure English idiosyncrasies do to non-English speakers, but I really wanted to get a handle on the Castilian accent. "When in Spain..." after all. So I began to make mental notes about when the substitutions occurred. Well, I think, I may have finally figured out a way to know if it's the "sss" or the "th" sound I need to be making. Any Spaniards or Castilian speakers out there, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Here goes, Z's are always pronounced with the "th," C's are said with the "th" sound when they proceed an "i" or an "e," S's at the beginning of words, ending of words, or in front of consonants don't seem to be switched at all. Beyond that I just use the "th" sound to show I'm trying to be a good sport about it.

We are trying to be more mindful of all the Spanish words we've learned and are remembering to speak "Spanglish" more regularly. There's no way we'll make it through all the lessons before we get to Spain. I think that's good though, really. It will keep us Spanish focused. The kids will take it in school everyday and will probably pick it up more quickly than we do. After all, their brains don't have as much clutter!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

T Minus 17 Days and Counting...

After all this time, I can hardly believe we are so close to moving to Spain. We found out about the possibility of a new job in Madrid back in October. We started looking into it, then pursuing it, trying not to get our hopes up. We talked as cryptically as possible around the kids. We didn't want them getting their hopes up either. It was inevitable, however, the little eavesdroppers would catch wind of it. While walking to school one day, my oldest asked me, "Mom, do you really think we'll get to move to Spain?" I replied, "No, son, those jobs are for other people, but we're going to try."

Fast forward about five months, we find out we are actually going, and the reality of it started setting in...with everyone. Exhilaration and panic seemed to be my two alternating states of being. Family members began to fret over the distance. We had so much to do to get us and all our stuff across the great big ocean, and we had approximately two months to do most of the preparations. My husband had to attend training in Virginia for most of the summer, so we had to be packed up and moved out of our house in Texas by the end of May.

Now here we are, 17 days from boarding the plane and just about all of "To Do" list entries have been crossed off. Our furniture is awaiting us in Spain, our van is on crossing the ocean as we speak, and my youngest is feeling better about the trans-Atlantic flight. Once we received confirmation on Spain, my youngest started obsessing over what we would do if our plane crashed into the ocean because, and I quote, "it was a really long way to swim." After some fast thinking, I assured him that letting your planes run out of gas was not part of a good business model. I also reminded him that in the event of an emergency, his seat could be used as a flotation device. He seemed ready to go again until he heard about the required immunizations. Now that all of his shots are over, he's back on board, just like the rest of us.


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