Monday, December 28, 2009

Cold Pizza for Breakfast...Yummy!

So far, I haven't really felt homesick for the States. Living in Madrid, one of Europe's major cities, affords us the opportunity to see American movies...in English, frequent the occasional McDonalds and shop at Spanish "Big Box" stores which are very similar to those found in the States. The military issues us a decoder so we get to see many of the popular television shows and sporting events from the States, as well. Not to mention that we get to live in this wonderful place called Spain. I feel very blessed. And yet...there are still a few things I miss...like take-out pizza...ya know, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, and Little Ceasar's...I...love...pizza!!! And by pizza, I mean, American pizza, with red sauce, mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced pepperoni, and onions. My family also loves just plain cheese pizza, especially Seven...not too common here.
When we lived in the States we ordered pizza about once a week and when I was a kid, Friday night was "Pizza Night." Pizza may have been invented by the Italians, but it is my humble opinion that it has been perfected by the Americans. I may be biased as that's what I grew up with, but that is my honest and true opinion. Now Spaniards seem to like a lot more toppings than we Americans do...tuna, four different kinds of cheeses, different olives, all different types of ham and a thickly sliced pepperoni, shrimp, pineapple, as well as different types of sauces. That's just to name a few. I don't think they like plain ole cheese too much, but that's okay...that's what they grew up with. Thankfully for me, once again, I don't have to be homesick, we do have Dominos here. It's not exactly the same (actually, I think the sauce here is better) and it does cost about twice as much in the States. You can't order it online and have it delivered...at least I don't think you can. You can order by phone, however, but I wouldn't dare. So we have to drive out to the shop, order in person and wait 15 to 20 minutes for our pizzas. Since it's not that convenient to order, we don't have pizza nearly as often as we did in the States, which is probably good for our waistlines. The two times we have ordered pizza since we've been here, we've made sure to order extra, so we can leftovers. Hence, my breakfast menu this fine December morning...cold pizza and a Diet Dr Pepper. It doesn't get any better than that! In the words of comedian, Yakov Smirnoff, "What a country!" Hasta Luego...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You Know You're In Trouble When...

You know you're in trouble when you're at a fast food counter and you're pointing at your breast in order to convey your order. Ugh! My sister-in-law, Laurie, was visiting us this past weekend with our two adorable nephews, H & N. We had been out all afternoon, taking in the sights and sounds of Madrid, and no one wanted to go home and cook. We decided to go to Isla Zul, one of Madrid's big shopping malls. It had a food court, so that all seven of us could eat what we wanted. Another plus was that we'd never been there before, so we'd all get a chance to see something new.


We fought the holiday traffic, parked and walked through the mall to the food court. We gave it the once over, and decided KFC, that's right, KFC, would be best for the kiddos, so I went up to the counter with Laurie to order. Now I have ordered in Spanish at McDonalds and at Burger King, but this was my first attempt to do so at a KFC. Everything was going just fine. I ordered the three kids meals with no problem whatsoever, then Husband wanted me to order an extra chicken breast. Seven doesn't always like the chicken strips because sometime they're too spicy. But seriously???? She had already given me the total and now I had to say, "Una mas cosa, por favor." One more thing, please...and by the way, I couldn't remember how to say "chicken breast" in Spanish. Are you kidding me??? I frantically scanned the board for any word that stood out as chicken breast. I saw "pieces" of chicken, but nothing specifically about a chicken "breast." That's when it happened...I said, "Un pollo..." and pointed to my breast. The cashier pointed to the board, she wanted to give me the 3 piece meal. No, no, no..."un" I pointed at my breast again. I couldn't tell if she knew what I meant or not. Husband asked, "Did you order the breast? Did she understand?" I said that I ordered it, but I didn't know if she understood that I wanted a breast, specifically. He said, if it wasn't, we were going to have to send it back. I asked him if he knew what the word for "breast" was...He did not...of course. I told him I pointed to my own breast when I ordered...that was the best that I could do, but I would try one more time to make sure she knew what I meant. Once again, I tried to make sure she understood the type of piece I wanted. I asked, "Entiendes???" Do you understand and pointed again, a little more emphatically this time to my breast. She started to giggle and I laid my head on the counter in embarrassment. I had gained understanding, but lost my dignity all at the same time. As it so happens, I had bought turkey breast before at the Carrefour, but for the life of me, I could not remember how the hell to say it!! Why don't I carry a Spanish-English dictionary on me at all times???? Whatever...Seven got his chicken breast and I supposed that's all that really mattered. We ate dinner and headed back to the van for our drive home. Once we arrived, I hung up my coat and walked into the living room...That's when it hit me...Pechuga de Pavo...Breast of Turkey, Turkey Breast...pechuga, pechuga,pechuga! I will never forget that word as long as I live! Hasta luego...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunny, err, I mean, Snowy Spain...

We woke up this morning to screaming children...and snow, snow, snow. Then came a phone call. Our friend, Bill, needed a ride to work. It was too slick to get his car up his steep driveway. This is not usually a problem since we rarely get snow in Madrid. The last time I had looked at the weather two days ago, weather.com was calling for rain and possibly some light snow, not the two to three inches we woke up to this morning. The kids were all too excited to grab shovels to help Husband get a little traction on his way up our somewhat less steep driveway. Once he left, the kids begged to play in the snow. They grabbed the sleds out of the shed, and slide down the front and back driveways. All they had were coats, hats, gloves, and sneakers. After living in Texas for three years, they've outgrown all their snow gear. Even the dogs got into the act, Sammy and Precious, the Boston Terrier we are currently dog sitting.
It didn't matter. They had a blast, sledding in the dark, screaming all the way down the hills, much to the delight of our neighbors, I'm sure. In our defense, it was almost 7:30am.
It's a good thing I did let them play in the snow because about an hour later, the snow turned to rain. And it's been raining ever since. At first light, I went out to capture some pics of the yard, before the rain started turning everything to slush. Don't know if it will be a White Christmas, but it is officially a "White Christmas Break." Hasta luego...
Our front gate... View outside our kitchen window (above)
and from our back patio (below)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Using Grapes for What God Intended...

I had a situation a few weeks ago...My grape jelly supply ran dry! For some people, this might not be a problem, but for Seven...this was a HUGE problem! You see, he eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich EVERY SINGLE DAY in his lunch. He does like to eat the school's lunches because he can't be sure he would like what was being served. This isn't a Spain thing, it's a Seven thing, and he did the SAME thing when we lived in the States. So I pack his lunch each day and now I might have to come up with a grape jelly alternative. I looked everywhere for grape jelly, but the closest jelly to grape I could find at the Spainish grocery stores was blueberry. I just couldn't believe it! No grape jelly??? The only thing I could figure was that Spain saves ALL it's grapes for wine and fresh fruit (Spaniards eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve) and didn't waste them on jelly! After all, there ARE plenty of other fruits with which to make jelly or jam.
Back to me and my problem...Tiff was going to go by the Taste of America store in Madrid for me, but she ran out of time and didn't get the chance. Who knows if they would have even had a jar of grape jelly or not? Seven could always take a turkey sandwich, if necessary, but PB & some kind of J was the optimal solution. So I went back to Carrefour and bought the blueberry jelly, hoping it would do until I could get resupplied. I tasted it and it seemed like a good substitute to me. It was purple, it was sweet like grape jelly and it didn't have any seeds. The only question now was whether or not to tell Seven about the switch. Considering his highly sensitive palette and my desire to have him trust me in food matters in the future, I decided to break the bad news. We were out of grape jelly and would have to try something else. I made a test sandwich for him to try. Watching Seven try a new food is like watching someone taste wine, pardon the pun. He sniffs it, takes a small bite, rolls it around in his mouth, and sometimes he even spits it out. ;-) This time, however, he ate it, and even said it would do until we could get some more. Crisis averted...Chalk one up for the good guys! After that, I drank some wine, which I must agree, is a very good use of grapes! Hasta luego...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reminiscing...The Top of Paris Tour

As I sit here in my glider, with my back pressed firmly against the 110V electric heating pad I thankfully brought from the States, I'm thinking about the great Thanksgiving we were lucky enough to spend in Paris this year. What else can I do? Can't bend over to wrap and pack my newly purchased Christmas presents. Sigh...I've been meaning to blog about our trip for the past week and a half. So here's my chance...

We flew to Paris on Thanksgiving morning and were at our hotel before 1pm. We ate on the plane so we could get out and see the city as soon as we checked into the hotel. Our first stop? The Eiffel Tower!
The weather reports were calling for rain every day of our trip, but the weather gods were shining upon us and we wanted to take advantage of the dry weather. So we grabbed a baguette from the neighborhood bakery and to the tower we went...Our hotel was right next to a metro stop...very convenient...so we hopped on a train and got off where Rick Steves' told us to and took in the view.
It was breathtaking, of course. We stood on the steps, overlooking the Trocadero, with its magnificent fountains, and saw that glorious 900ft steel structure Paris is so famous for. It was dry, but windy, so windy, in fact that there was a little flooding near the fountains from the blowing spray. Thankfully, we wore layers, hats, and gloves. It kept us warm while we waited in line to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, we could only go to the second level. The top was closed for maintenance, but we went as high as they would let us go. Just means we'll have to go back in the Spring...pity, pity...not!
Once at the top...of the second level...we took in the views. We took lots of pictures. The second level acutually has two levels, if that makes sense, and we saw several people taking pictures of family members from the 1st level of level 2, looking up to the people standing at the rail of the 2nd level of level 2. Husband went down the little staircase and took a picture of me and the boys from below. Then Twelve graciously volunteered to take the same shot of me and Husband. He grabbed my camera and took off for the stairs. We were waiting by the rail, unable to see either of the boys, we we hear Seven say the words you never want to hear on vacation, "Twelve, twelve, are you okay?" We ran down stairs to see Twelve writhing in pain, but still with the presence of mind to protect my new camera while falling off the Eiffel Tower. That's my boy! But seriously, we were pretty nervous. He fell on his back, he couldn't move his arm above his shoulder and we tried to recall the procedures our insurance company requires us to take when visiting the Emergency Room in a foreign country. Luckily for us, his shoulder didn't take the full brunt of the fall, his gluteus maximus did, and after a little while, he regained full range of motion in his shoulder. Thank goodness. It stinks to have to go to the emergency room while you're on vacation. Believe me, I know! With that crisis averted, we continued our exploration of the city...
We walked along the Seine and plotted our next move. After a brief stop off at the hotel, for respite and mortin for Twelve, it was back out into the damp Paris night. We took the metro, and according to Husband's plan, we popped out at the top of the stairs right in front of the Arc de Triomphe. Wow!
Lit up at night, it was beautiful! We did a 180 and saw the holiday lights glowing in the trees all the way down the Champs-Elysees. It was time for dinner, and having learned our lesson well from our first outing in Madrid, Husband suggested we eat of first meal in Paris at the McDonald's on the Champs-Elysees!
The boys squealed with delight...Daddy was the hero and life was good! McDonald's wasn't our first choice, of course, but it seemed a good second when the restaurant Husband wanted to go to wasn't going to open for another hour and a half. La Taverne du Sergeant Recruteur would wait until the next day. After dinner, we took a stroll down the Champs-Elysees, then headed back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. There's something about being outdoors in the fresh air. We slept like rocks. We slept for over ten hours. Maybe it was all the walking we did, or the gray clouds shielding the full light of the sun. Whatever it was, we didn't get our of bed until nearly nine. We'd stopped in to the little grocery store next to our hotel to get some items for breakfast the night before, so after some bread, yogurt, fruit and cereal, we headed out into the city once more...
We woke up to another dry day, so we pushed off our plans to visit the Musee d'Orsay one more day, and headed to the Notre-Dame. We'd purchased the Paris Museum Pass for Husband and I the day before, which included entrance into the Effiel Tower and Notre-Dame. Kids under 18 are free at most museums and attractions in Paris, and with the pass, we often got to go to the front of the line, avoiding long waits at many of the places we wanted to see in Paris. Such was not the case at the Notre-Dame, however, which did NOT have a bypass line. So we waited in a very long line, for a very long time, for the chance to go to the top of the Notre-Dame Tower. Once inside the Cathedral, we started the long climb, up 400 stairs to the top of the bell tower. Thankfully, there were several stops on the way up, giving lungs and legs a break. Once we stepped out on to the observation area, our burning thighs were all worth it. We thought it might even provide better views of Paris than the Eiffel Tower. Having taken in the city from all angles, Seven and I headed down to the bathrooms, while Twelve and his dad, climbed to the very tip top of the last spire. Once we linked up on the ground, we crossed the street and stepped inside of one of the of the most famous book stores in Paris, Shakespeare and Company. In Rick Steves' Paris, he writes "[t]his funky bookstore--a reincarnation of the original shop from the 1920s--has picked up the literary torch. Sylvia Beach, an American with a passion for free thinking, opened Shakespeare and Company for the post-WWI Lost Generation, who came to Paris to find themselves. American writers flocked here for the cheap rent, fleeing the uptight, Prohibition-era United States. Beach's bookstore was famous as a meeting place for Paris' literary expatriate elite. Ernest Hemingway borrowed books from here regularly." The boys thought the bookstore was really neat and even got to type a sentence on a typewriter in a little alcove upstairs...you know, one of those old-fashioned ones without a plug. Can you imagine??? ;-)After we left the bookstore, we began the search for cafe in which to eat our lunch. Husband, who had been to Paris twice before, was on a search for a place he'd eaten at on a high school trip. Sadly, after we walked the long way there, it was no longer what it had once been...totally different menu, not kid-friendly, so we walked on, and on and on...and wound up right back where we started, at a great little cafe, right next to, you guessed it, Shakespeare and Company. I walked enough to earn my high calorie lunch which was out of this world...Country ham on a buttered baguette, a crock of french onion soup, and hot chocolate made from melted chocolate, hot milk and a little sugar. It was heaven! What did everyone else eat? In the immortal words of Seven's little buddy, H, "I don't know and I don't care." After we ate, we went back to the Notre-Dame, or under it, I should say, to the Paris Archaeological Crypt. It is quick and free with the Museum Pass and the Roman ruins are well worth the look-see.

Once done there, it was off to the hotel for a little rest, then back out to tour the Sainte-Chapelle that sits within the Palais de Justice. We bypassed the line, and went inside,where we were treated to one of the most magnificent displays of stained glass in all the world. Sainte-Chapelle was built in the 1240s for King Louis IX, the only French king who is now a saint. The chapel was built to house the Crown of Thorns, supposedly worn by Jesus when he died. The crown is now kept at the Notre-Dame. Once we were finished at Sainte-Chapelle, we took a bus through the city to the area near La Taverne du Sergeant Recruteur. It was time for a rustic French dinner. I've heard Husband talk about this restaurant for years. He'd been there with his family in high school when they'd taken a trip to Paris. He always talked about the vegetables and sausages the waiters brought to the table in baskets with a big knife they used to cut their our portions. He told the kids a little of the history of the restaurant where a recruiter used to bring young Parisian men, feed them well, get them drunk, and sign them into the French Army.
When we walked into the restaurant, we received quite a shock. Another family we know who was visiting Paris for the Thanksgiving holiday was there eating dinner too. What are the odds? According to Husband, the place hadn't changed too much. The food was great, the atmosphere festive, and the wine...included. Once we finished our meal, we headed back over to the Eiffel Tower and watched the fantastic light show that started on the hour each evening. We couldn't decide whether we liked the Tower better in the daylight or at night! With the day done, we headed back to the hotel for another long night's sleep. Saturday morning, and the first item on the agenda was the Musee d'Orsay, Husband's favorite museum in the world, and that's saying a lot. He's seen plenty. It is housed in an old train station and is the perfect setting for an art museum, as it is a work of art in itself.We hit the bypass line, rushed passed the long lines and entered a museum full of fabulous 19th century art, and one of the greatest impressionist collections in Europe.It did not disappoint. Gallery upon gallery of well-known works of art. I was in awe!
Once done there, we went over the Musee de l'Orangerie, a surprising little gem known for its collections of Monet Waterlillies. They also had a special exhibit called Model Children, filled with painting famous artist had painted of their own children. As a mom, I thought it was really quite spectacular. Once we finished there, we walked outside into the mist, the rain would be kept at bay no longer, apparently, and walked through a park over to the huge Ferris Wheel that overlooks the Champs-Elysees. We decided to put off the ride until our next visit and clearer skies. It was time for another kiddie food fix, so Husband suggested we walk down the length of the Champs-Elysees back to the McDonald's for an early dinner. It was cold, wet, and windy, but there was a Christmas market going on with booths lining the Champs, and with the Arc de Triomphe in our sights, we set off on foot. BIG mistake! My feet were already aching from walking the city in stylish, yet not so comfortable shoes, and though we cold see the Arc, it was FAR, FAR away. I was brought, once again, back to the "walking the streets of Paris" scene from the movie, French Kiss that I've blogged about before. Ugh! We trudged on, and on, and on...finally reaching the McDonald's. I thanked the Lord, literally! Warmed and fed, we continued our Top of Paris Tour with our final climb of the trip, to the top of the Arc de Triomphe...Lord help us! Of all the climbs, this was by far the toughest. I'm not quite sure why, maybe it was our trek ALL the way down the Champs. Hmmm...The Museum Pass covered our entrance fees to the Arc, and up we went. The weather was less than ideal, to say the least, windy and rainy, not great conditions for picture taking, but we did manage to get a few good shots. Once we reached the bottom, we paid our respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier marked by the eternal flame burning there. We came out of the undeground tunnel and ran into our friends again. They were on their way up the Arc before catching the overnight train back to Madrid. Seeing them once was crazy enough, but twice? Unbelieveable!We went back to our hotel near Montparnasee Tower and settled in for one more good night's sleep in Paris. For our last morning, we walked around the city and found a nice cafe where a man at the table next to ours was enjoying a couple of beers at 10am...It's 5 o'clock somewhere. We had a traditional french breakfast of baguettes, croissants, cafe au lait, and orange juice. Once done, we went back to the hotel to grab our bags and boarded the bus for the airport. Our first family trip to Paris was coming to a close. Fun was had by all! We can hardly wait until next time! Hasta luego...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shop 'Til You Drop...in Madrid...

Well, it's hard to believe, for me anyway, that another Christmas shopping season is upon us. It seems to get harder and harder every year to find the perfect gift for the ones I love. We are very fortunate and most of us don't really NEED anything. Still, the Christmas season gives us a chance to share our love with those around us, mirroring, in some small way, God's love for us. I've been thinking about what to get people for Christmas ever since I arrived in Spain. There are so many great items exclusive to or representative of Spain. I put out some feelers to my family, letting them know that I was planning to give Tastes and Tibits of Spain this year, and since I received no objections, I went for it...

Not only did I hit the markets in downtown Madrid with the girls today, but I also hit the grocery store this evening for some of my favorite Spanish food items. I tried to get items that are representative of daily life here in Spain. I don't want to give too much away, so I won't go into details about my purchases. I just hope everyone loves these things as much as we do, and I also hope they make it to the States on time. We are being told packages have to be in the mail by the end of this week to guarantee they are arrive in time for Christmas. I'm already thinking about what to get for everyone next year. At least I'll have twelve months to prepare for next Christmas rather than the three I had to prepare for this one. I still have plenty of ideas for future gifts, but if you get something you really like this year, don't be shy...I take requests! Hasta luego...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Discovered Decasa TV Today...

We got Spanish cable, so that we would watch Spanish TV and learn Spanish they way so many immigrants to the US say they learned english...by watching the news and soap operas. There was just one problem with this theory...human nature. When I don't know what's going on, I lose interest. Another point of human nature, when you have an opportunity to watch shows in English that you actually do understand...you probably will. Guilty as charged. We have a cable tuner that allows us to get US programming in English. This tuner also has a guide that tells you what shows will be on and when. The US Tuner shows a lot of programming I liked to watch back in the States, and even if I don't love all the programs, at least I know what they are saying. It is amazing how understanding what is going on makes such a difference. I think back to some of my math and science classes in college, when I had no idea what the professors were talking about. My mind would wander and I didn't pay much attention to what they were saying. The few times that I flipped through my Spanish TV channels, my reaction was much the same as it was listening to boring science lecture back in college. Soon I lost interest and started to exclusively watch my US programming. Sad to admit, but it is true...until today!


Today, I discovered Decasa TV...It's like Spanish HGTV and I love it! They have shows about all things having to do with your home, from home improvement to decorating to cooking. Some shows are produced here in Spain, but some I saw came from HGTV Canada. Why can I see myself watching THIS Spanish channel when I haven't watched so far...Well, first off, I can tell most of what's going on regardless of the dialog. I know a lot of the vocabulary...furniture, colors, etc. So between the visual cues and some familiar words, I think it will keep my interest and really help my Spanish. I look forward to watching Decasa TV much more in the future...Maybe I'll even figure out how to hang up some of my large framed artwork on these plaster walls of mine without worrying they are going to come crashing down one day! Hasta luego...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Driving in Madrid Without Karen...

I am sooooo proud of myself!  I drove to Husband's work and back all by myself without any help from Karen.  For those of you who don't know, Karen is the name that my friend, Tiff, gave to the the "Girl in the Garmin."  Up until today, the only place I went without Karen was back and forth to Tiff's house and the Carrefour.  Other than that, I simply did not trust myself yet.  I never felt like I had time to get lost if I tried to go it alone.  I'm always in such a hurry.  I told myself, and I still believe it's true, that even though the Garmin tells me when and where to turn, it still helps to familiarize me with the area.  Other handy little benefits you get when you take Karen along are that she knows all the posted speed limits, it shows you exactly how fast you are going, and she even beeps at you when you are in the vicinity of a traffic camera.  How accurate the camera locations are, I don't know, but she does help keep you in check.  

Okay, back to this morning's solo flight...I needed to go over to where my husband works in Madrid.  I really wanted to go it alone, but I wasn't 100% sure of myself.  So I turned on the Garmin, set the destination, then I turned the volume all the way down and turned the screen toward the passenger seat.  I drove all the way to my destination and only looked at the Garmin once, just to make sure that I had taken the exit ramp Karen would have wanted me to.  Yes!  I made the right call!  

On the way home, I didn't turn the Garmin on at all!  The route home is slightly different from the way to Husband's work, and I still made all the right turns with no hesitation!  I am directionally challenged, so you have no idea what a victory this was.  I was feeling pretty adventurous, and even took a different way over to my friend Tiff's house on my way back  home.  I am, in deed, learning my way around poco un poco!  Today, Madrid...tomorrow, the world....Hasta luego...

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