Uhhh. I like it.
Happiness = fuzzy new slippers, mulled wine, Christmas baking, laughter with family, and candlelit dinners.
Uhhh. I like it.
Happiness = fuzzy new slippers, mulled wine, Christmas baking, laughter with family, and candlelit dinners.
The lights were blurry as they whizzed by. My cocoa was still too hot to drink. It smelled marvelous, almost magical. Dad switched on the radio, the announcer’s voice crackly and distant. “… Santa and his reindeer were spotted tonight,” he was saying. My pulse quickened and I imagined a tiny silhouette of a sleigh, of eight reindeer dancing in the inky night sky. Santa’s on his way …
From the window our tree blinked. The car pulled neatly into the garage, and we leapt out, eager to enter the house’s glowing warmth. The heat hit us as I pulled upon the door, my glasses fogging up. Four stockings hung above a cheery fire in anticipation of presents. It was finally time to open the first gift of Christmas. I ran into the living room and flopped myself down onto the couch,ready to feel the thrill that the unknown evokes. The present was always pajamas, yes, but the knowledge could not take away my excitement at the prospect of ripping off the red and green paper, of the scent of newness upon the clothes as I held them up.
But first…first, we read from the oversized family Bible with its gold-rimmed pages. In the days of Caesar Augustus… began my mother, stealing glances at my brother and me, our feet dangling over the edge of the couch, our eyes lovingly focused on her for this moment, this one magic moment. The story, although familiar, the phrases well-worn in the deep recesses of our memories, yet the words never lost their magic. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Savior is given.
Soon enough, it was time. Time to set out Santa’s snack, to write him a letter, to thank him. My hands grasped the pencil tightly, etching the words onto the lined sheet of paper. Thank you for the presents. I hope you enjoy the snacks. In our home, Santa ate snack cakes and Pepsi, not cookies and milk, an eerily similar combination to what my father ate on a daily basis, but my mind failed to make the connection. My father promised to set out food for the reindeer, and off to bed we went, our bellies full of cocoa and anticipation.
Snuggled under the covers, sleep evaded me. The Christmas lights outside twinkled, a tease that told me I still had a good eight hours to wait. I could not help but listen for the distant jingle of sleigh bells, of hoofbeats, of the snack wrapper being opened. I turned over, sighed, and wished for sleep. Sleep never came easily that night. Santa was on his way, could be placing carefully gift-wrapped packages under the twinkling tree this very second, and sleep would not come.
Soon enough, however, light bled faintly through my blinds. Jolting myself awake, I sat up in bed, my pulse once again picking up speed. Was Seth awake? I had to use the bathroom, but dared not leave my room for fear of seeing the surprises awaiting me in the other room. It was a dilemma – to exit or not to exit? My full bladder told me one thing while my mind told me another. And so I waited anxiously. Perhaps five minutes went by, perhaps ten. But I had to leave, could not stay, my racing mind unable to take the weighted speculation. Seth too was awake, his face lined with the anxiousness I felt. Together we waited impatiently. We raised our high-pitched child voices, stomped around the tiled bathroom, flushed the toilet, all in the hopes of being heard in the other wing of the house. We dared not enter the bounds of the living room, dared not catch a glimpse of the presents awaiting us under the tree, but we longed for our parents to awaken, to venture into our bedrooms and say breathily, “Merry Christmas, my love!” whilst gathering us up in a hug that meant safety, love, and magic. A hug that, in the end, meant Christmas itself.
The presents were never the reason I loved Christmas. They were nice, sure: dolls and sweaters and lip gloss, smelling of everything my girlhood represented. But Christmas, for me, was more than just a box in snowman wrapping paper. It was the smell of cinnamon rolls in the oven, laughter, nose-crinkling smiles, snow falling softly outside my window, mashed potatoes with obscene amounts of butter, spoons on noses at the kids’ table…Christmas could not be contained in a box wrapped in red paper. Christmas was family, was fellowship, was cookies baking in the oven, was the love that my parents and I could not express in words.
To this day, I am unable to say what Christmas means to me. I once heard that when you turn 24, they neglect to tell you that you are still 23, 22, 21 … 1 years old too. So when I wake up this December 25, forgive me for feeling like a child once again, full of hope and anticipation and desire for the magic of Christmas.
People ask, “How do you know?” Well, I knew I liked him, really liked him, in an instant. But how? It’s an easy test.
Call him. Tell him to meet you in a spot, a public one, with lots of people. Agree to meet at a certain time, but go there five minutes after the scheduled meeting time (ten if he tends to run late too). Enter the room (or the plaza, the hall, as the case may be). Locate him. Keep your eyes on him. Try not to smile.
Can you do it? Can you walk toward him, toward this person without a smile creeping, albeit unwittingly, onto your face? Does your pulse quicken (even if just the tiniest bit)? Do you feel more beautiful? Does walking away not even seem like the world’s remotest possibility?
P.S. Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is perfect for this test.
So, I’ve told you the things that annoy me. Why don’t I tell you about the enchanting parts? Here, a post in pictures and in words.
Must I say more? The coffee here is good. I love the richness of the espresso, the whole milk, delicate little glasses and spoons.
The breathtaking beauty of Salamanca.
The walkability. It’s nice to be able to walk, not drive, to appointments, to the grocery store, to a restaurant…
Good memories of great towns like Toledo. I will never forget Spring 2008 there.
What? Are you surprised I’m writing about wine? Good wine, that is. Way cheaper in the U.S. You can get seriously good wine for less than €10. Way less.
My Spanish abuelos. They are everywhere, and they are adorable. They walk with their hands clasped behind their back and say funny things to you if you happen to be running in one of “their” parks. I got told I’d catch a cold by one of them once. I wasn’t surprised. Pepita (Mario’s mother) had probably put them up to it.
Learning Spanish. As much as I piss and moan about it, I am grateful. There is nothing like living in a foreign country to really get a handle on the language.
Seeing what a real, everyday Spanish family is like. Different, and not so different than mine. (P.S. The above picture is the President of Spain, Zapatero, with his two daughters. Goth?)
I’ve already gotten all mushy on you (twice!), so I won’t go there again. But…I really came here to Spain to be with this boy that I kinda sorta dig, ya know? I think he’s worth it, and that makes Spain more beautiful than it could ever have been without him here.
The grass isn’t always greener, at least I hope not. Living here, I’d say the grass is just fine.
When my mom was my age, she had a kid. That kid, you see, was me. Is me, actually. Thinking about this boggles my mind, really. I can’t imagine anyone entrusting me with a baby, let alone having one myself. Sometimes I wonder if there is some secret book you read to become a mom because, if I’m honest, it seems like the hardest damn job in the whole world. My mom would agree, but I’m also sure she’d say it’s the most rewarding one, too.
My mom’s just like that.
My mom is the kind of mom that got up everyday at 5:55 a.m. to get ready before us, so she could make us oatmeal or help us finish last-minute projects. She’s the kind of mom who attended every single sporting event we were in (and still does). She’s the kind of mom who flew to Spain to be with her desperately homesick daughter. She’s the kind of mom who makes sure the fridge is stocked with all her daughter’s favorites when she comes home. She’s the kind of mom who only once took a sick day for herself, but often took sick days for her ill children. She’s the one who has been to O’Hare airport and said goodbye too many times to count.
But my mom is more than just a mom. She’s a great woman, too.
This woman was born 40-some years ago in a small town called Crawfordsville. Her best friend growing up was her twin sister Diane, with whom she caused mild scandals, including one incident of the word fart written on a neighbor’s driveway. She once washed her sister Beth’s car for a pack of gum (she refused to do it for just one stick). She started dating a scoundrel named Randy when she was just fourteen, still in middle school. She has had the same job for over twenty years and, like I said, has almost never called in sick on her own account. She taught my brother to tie his shoes in a car in the state of Connecticut. She likes chocolate chip cookies more than most any other dessert and can’t stay away from a pan of brownies. (It’s no coincidence that her sister has the nickname “Diane Full of Brownies.”) Every year, an elderly patient gives her Snickers Bars in a brown paper bag with the nickname “Cupcake” written in marker on it. She is fiendishly devoted to watering her flowers in the summer. Her tablecloth is always seasonal. She may have eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches more times than just about anyone else on the planet, but who’s counting? She gives the world’s greatest hugs (a tie with a certain boy named Mario). She doesn’t speak Spanish, but can generally tell when I’m talking about her, due to her sensors picking up on the word, “Madre.” Her favorite medicines are ibuprofen and tough love. (“Take an ibuprofen and tough it out!”)
I can’t sum up my mother in a pithy sentence. I can’t express in words who she is to me or to the many other people she blesses on a daily basis. What I can say is this: I am the most blessed daughter in the world to have been born to a mom like her.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.
P.S. See you on Thursday!
I’m about to get real. Maybe a bit too real; I might wake up in the middle of the night and think seriously about deleting this post, who knows? But sometimes, just sometimes, being real is liberating, like the first breath of fresh air when you’ve been underwater, a gulp of precious o2, a sensation unlike any other.
I read other study abroad / expatriate blogs and I think, WTF am I doing wrong? I mean, I’d like what they’ve got, please and thank you. I’d like a big dose of “I am in love with Spain and Spaniards and learning Spanish!” Stat. I’m sure the high from a shot of that would really, really do me some good right about now.
‘Cause right now I am in hate-mode. I thought I’d left that mode behind, you know, when I was 7 and whiny in the grocery store because Mom wouldn’t buy me Iron Kids bread. Nope. Turns out I haven’t. I secretly would love to flop angrily down upon my bed, pound my fists, and scream into my pillow. If I were going to be really bad, I might even thrown a dagnabbit or two. Who knows!
You may be wondering what there is to hate about sunny Spain. Oh, plenty…
I really better stop this before I convince myself. Next post: why I love Spain, being a foreigner, and learning a new language. Keep your fingers crossed for me, mmmkay?
As Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat so aptly put, it’s lucky I’m in love with my best friend.
My best friend is Mario. Mario knows me, knows my hopes and dreams, fears, worries, goals, idiosyncrasies, faults, pet peeves, skills, loves, habits, hobbies, affictions. (And he loves me just the same.) He knows how I like my coffee and which Christmas cookie is my favorite. He knows I’m vegetables’ worst enemy. He knows I love cooking for him, knows it makes my heart sing when he closes his eyes and just says, “Mmmm.” He knows I get cold easily and that “la mantita azul” is perfect for such occasions. Most of all, though, he knows I love him. I remind him of it daily, hourly, as often as I can. It’s never too much for the best man I’ve ever met.
When I was a little girl, I made a list about my future husband. I no longer have the list, but its contents are ingrained in my mind. I described a noble man, not a perfect man, but a man who was striving to be the best for his wife, his family, his children. Imagine my surprise when, one day in 2009, I met that man. I met the man I had always dreamed of, the faceless, nameless man who was no longer faceless nor nameless. In October 2009, Mario put a face and a name to him. And everyday I get to hug that man, kiss him, and tell him that I love him.
What I’m trying to say is this: I know that, just as easily, Mario’s and my paths could have missed each other. I could have chosen a different one, and never found him. Yet somehow, some way, I did. This world is crazy; we live on separate continents, speak different languages. But here we are. I am so lucky.
“Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” – Emily Bronte
The light does not trickle in, shut out by the impermeable Persian blinds, their density and power a force to be reckoned with. What does trickle, or rather blast, in is the sound of the cell phone’s tinkling alarm, its melody increasing gradually, annoyingly, until I can fumble in the dark to shut the darn thing up, for goodness sake.
I sigh, swing my legs over the edge, and stick my feet into my slippers, an indispensable item of clothing, something any good Spaniard must, by obligation, wear inside his or her house, lest he or she “catch cold.” The bathroom awaits me, but first, first comes coffee. I stick a mug in the microwave, wipe my bleary eyes, and trudge slowly into the bathroom, hoping for a fresh blast of energy that never seems to come until the sweet nectar of coffee makes contact with my taste buds.
The first taste is best, no doubt. The rest is a sort of take-it-or-leave-it necessity, something my blood cells need to continue pulsing with energy. My head is fuzzy until that first bit of caffeine rushes into my eagerly awaiting bloodstream, depleted from its overnight fast from its favorite stimulant.
After coffee, hair brushing (sometimes), and bundling up, I head out onto the street, the cold air biting at my face. The early morning streets in Zamora hold little evidence of life: city workers and little children with their mothers and not much else. The stores aren’t even open this early. It is 9 o’clock.
Upon arrival at school, I ring the doorbell located at the back of the school, the teachers’ entrance. They buzz me in (it’s never failed), and I enter school. The school here feels nothing like my high school, its classrooms void of decorations, the lack of lockers, the absence of a cafeteria. The teachers are also different, with more stylish, but often less formal, clothing. They come and go at will, not required to stay the whole day if they only have classes from 8-11. They are young and old, fat and thin, funny and serious. In short, normal people.
My first class is always intimidating in its own small way. I begin each week, each day, anew, full of hopes and fears. The children in each class are different, some loud and obnoxious, others quiet and reticent. I speak slowly, e-nun-ci-ate, repeat, smile, joke…in short, I try my best to engage them. They are loath to talk aloud in English, embarrassed to be seen as stupid in front of their classmates. I hate this attitude and wish badly to rid them of a fear of what others will think. I realize this is hypocritical of me at the same time as I wish it for them – my greatest fear is how others will perceive and consequently judge me. I empathize and yet wish so badly that these fears would dissipate and a new, freer attitude would arise among them.
At 11:10, we break, the students to the courtyard, toting ham sandwiches and bags of chips, the professors to a nearby café, excited at the prospect of a coffee the size of a shot, a little pithy glass that’s not worthy of being called a mug. It costs €1. I always leave smelling faintly of a smoke, although the smokers make an intent to blow the smoke away from the table. (It never works.) The café is typically Spanish, a leg of ham resting in the corner, a special wine refrigerator at the other side of the bar. We have our own table, reserved everyday at 11:10. We talk politics, teaching, anything that comes up. I try to follow along, but I admit I get distracted, my eyes glazing over at my lack of understanding of the Spanish parliament.
We all begrudgingly head back at 11:35, walking in groups of twos or threes, finishing the conversations that lingered. Only three more hours of class.