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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Two weeks to go.  One of the agreements that I made with my current landlord Isabel was to show our apartment to interested parties before I left.  I was happy enough to do this; after all, she rented to me with a month-to-month agreement and no local job or Spanish bank account which is UNHEARD of in Spain due to certain tenants' rights. (Usually a twelve-month contract is standard.)   Isabel rented her one-bedroom apartment to a foreigner with two small children, because she could tell I was "a nice person."

A kind, interesting and lovely young woman who I will call Carmen came to look at the apartment, and requested a second visit a few days later.  It was awful timing for me.  I wanted to spend every precious moment with my friends, or doing what I needed to do in order to leave without a chaotic departure, but I felt loyal to my word, and happy to help.  Also, Carmen was so wonderful and I wanted to accommodate as much as possible.  She was also very nervous, as she had never rented before and was concerned about signing a contract that she had not yet seen; understandably, she wanted as much information as possible before she signed any papers. Between visits she had wanted to come prior to what was convenient for me, but I had only three days of children in school, and was not willing to give up that precious time. The morning of her scheduled visit,  I had thought to catch the metro to the center but in the end decided to finally go to a few locales in the neighborhood that I had not yet visited and had been curious to explore.

In any neighborhood in Madrid one might count upwards of 350,000 people; it doesn't take long to get to over 6,000,000 in such a condensed space. The small stores and boutiques that are on every block hold treasures: my favorites are for hanging laundry out to dry and for cleaning, go figure.  The store I visited this morning was on the edge of the neighborhood a ten minute walk from home and I was glad to finally get in and have a look around.

As I shopped for gifts the store's attendant was talking on the phone, giving advice on how to write a rental agreement.  I listened with abnormal interest, thinking that perhaps this apartment might serve Carmen well should mine not work out to her liking, but really I suppose it was relevant to me considering my situation.  A friend of the store's owner had entered shortly after me and waited for Owner Pilar to finish her phone call, to wish her a Happy Birthday.  Pilar began to explain to her friend that she was helping another friend who had just returned from Australia and was desperately seeking a rental with very specific conditions. In that moment, upon hearing Australia, I turned and asked if the woman's name was Carmen, by chance.  It was. We shared information, and verified that we were discussing the same Carmen.  In a barrio of a couple hundred thousand people, in a store I had never entered, I happened to saunter in right when Carmen and Pilar were talking about my current house.   That's some crazy shid right there. 

Later that day I saw Carmen, who arrived late and harried. I asked her if she was still concerned about her decision; she told me that she was and had, in her nervousness, offered more of a deposit than she felt comfortable with. I told her that I had a story for her that might ease her mind and, depending upon her philosophy about coincidences, might make her feel she was on the right track.  We discussed if coincidences existed, or rather if they were intentional or not, as their name implies. We talked about rental contracts, deposits and the subject any reasonable person would expect to follow such themes: the Meaning of Life. She then hurried off to meet the landlord and sign the contract.

I will miss our little apartment's great light, fantastic neighbors, kind doorman and ease of living. Although I do not expect Carmen and I to continue in regular contact, I will enjoy an occasional word about how she is doing and What's Up on floor five.  I love the thought of her here, staring out the window at the view I know so well, miles and miles away.  From the United States to Spain and Australia, I repeat that it is a small, small world.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Oh, the Glory!

Oh, today. Today was a cumulation of so many wonderful advances.  First of all, we were all healthy. We were together.  We had a free day to do whatever we wanted to. We felt freeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!  I do not think it a coincidence that these satisfying, memorable days follow on the heels of a time of reflection or discomfort. We were going to be appreciative of ANY experience that did not involve vomiting, headaches or high fevers. And this really is the secret to a more satisfying, happier life - it is always in the choices of outlook on ANY given topic. Extreme heat? Scoff! Big deal! It is SUMMER and not a crappy, cold and soggy day! Walking all over town? Oh, it feels so good to move our bodies!!  A late lunch? How delicious is a meal on an empty stomach, and how lovely to avoid the crowds when in a hurry. We were on fire!

We thought it would be fair to leave it up to Lauren to decide what to do, since the past 12 days were not exactly what she had planned nor hoped for, and yet she never voiced a single complaint. Our smartest choices were between Toledo, El Escorial and Segovia, and Lauren picked the latter.  We slept in, jumped on a bus at 1 PM and arrived in time for that late lunch.   

We are slick, well-oiled machines. Our return tickets were for 7:30 PM that evening, so we had to keep things moving. Hugation, Lady-sister (Atticus’s new name for Lauren,)Ah-tee-coos and myself were prepared with water, maps, treasure-hunt activity pamphlets, pens, comfortable shoes and a strong desire to Seize This Moment of health, perfect weather and togetherness.   Lauren picked a fantastic restaurant where we enjoyed a perfect meal; Hugo even had time for a cat nap in his chair, head in his arms on the table.  We later investigated the acueducto, a Roman-engineered marvel that has stood the test of 2,000 years.  

We worked our way through town, stopping and peering, taking 500,000 photos and meeting so many wonderful people along the way. A kind priest helped Hugo fill in his activity pamphlet with the name of the street that really has three names.  We met a delightful family from northern Spain who offered to help us with any questions the kids might have on their pamphlets. Two lively and chatty women who had to be in their late eighties or early nineties directed us to the bus station, and even advised us when to cross the street (in this town of less than 60,000 people...)  Over and over again we verbalized how kind Spaniards are, how helpful and generous of spirit, how much fun we are having with them. 

Our Machine managed to visit and tour the cathedral, as well as the Alcazar. For hours and hours we walked and walked, and my little boys trudged along with positive attitudes, giving their all. They had perfect manners at the table. They asked questions, pondered, savored.   They climbed those 150 stairs with vigor, and were proud of the rubber legs that followed.  They are rock stars, embodied awesomeness, amazing, intelligent, kind and fun young people who are growing up in powerful, exciting, unique ways.  And all along, we get to enjoy our beloved cousin/niece as she experienced our beloved Spain for the first time. I can think of fewer gifts that are as meaningful and fulfilling. 

Oh, today was a wonderful day. 


Sunday, June 10, 2012

“Don’t Come Around Here No More”

L, H, A and J in the two-hour "wellness"
block between sick kids. 
I’m breaking up with Murphy.  I’m done with him.  I’m sick of his stupid Law, and its inevitable, annoying effects.  I’m going to make a clean cut, and never look back.  And with all my heart I hope he forgets me, and moves on quickly to another.  
For literally MONTHS, perhaps even years, I have been dreaming of taking our nieces with us to Spain.  When we lived here before, our youngest niece was born; I remember sitting on the bench outside our house, hearing the exciting news. That year no one in our family came to visit us, and it was not convenient for anyone this time around either. My mother briefly entertained the idea of coming por fin, but she preferred to stay with her horses and gazillion other beloved animals.  Our eldest niece had a theatre performance, a brother in law is already planning on a trip to Germany, my FIL and MIL just returned from Europe last fall. So when our youngest niece Lauren said that she would like to go, I got very, very excited.  
Lauren is fourteen years old and has spent a couple of wonderful weeks with us every summer; we look forward to it so very much and greatly value our time together.  Traditionally, we grab the camper and meet some friends at Silverwood Amusement Park in Idaho, followed by hiking on the beach in Oregon or tide-pooling and sea-kayaking in the San Juan Islands. She is positive, energetic, fun, kind, smart, talented, easy-going and just plain amazing, and we love her more than words can say. (And if I can take a moment to brag about my other niece as well, she is ALSO positive, energetic, fun, kind, smart, funny, talented and just plain amazing!!! We’re pretty dang lucky. )  
Niece Hannah

It was arranged that L could come and stay for a month, after which we would return to the States together along with a friend from Salamanca. The countdown began.  We dreamed about what we would do together, what she would think about our new community, the look on her face when she saw our city’s beauty.  We waited, life went on, and countdown began.
Lauren and Janell
We later became doubly excited, because we got the great news that my mom’s cousin Janell from Prague would also be coming to visit! We had gone to meet her a couple of months ago for a quick weekend trip and had a fantastic time; we were now lucky enough to have her company in Madrid for 3 days as well.  Two family members coming to see us! We were going to have an amazing time.  We would take them everywhere, showing off Madrid and her surroundings, proud and excited to be a part of it all. 
Lauren and Janell
But oh, that MF Murphy. It is my fault.  I entertained him, included him, validated him.  I knew his reputation!  Other than a fever that my eldest suffered for a few days after arriving, our boys have been in perfect health - until the day before L was to arrive. 104.4 F fever. Headaches. Emergency room visit. Calls to the pediatrician. Little Cousin was not feeling so hot. Or better said, was feeling REALLY hot. Our generous and loving friend Ana stayed with him while her husband Jose drove me to the airport, and L was welcomed into her new home by a cheerful sign and her cousin running past her down the hall in his underpants, carrying a bucket while he puked his guts out.   ¡BIENVENIDA A ESPAÑA! She covered her eyes.
He felt awful until Saturday morning, just in time to hand the torch over to his older brother. Cousin Janell had arrived the day before, excited to see the city and spend time with the boys.  You couldn’t ask for a more child-friendly tourist-guest. See the Prado? Whatever the kids want. Historical walk? What do the kids want? Alas, it wasn’t to be.  Here we are at home, the cousins out getting their hair done, shopping and dining, while we watch Pingüinos de Madagascar for the 36,000th time.
And did I mention that a fun, kind and wonderful family with kids the ages of A and H and from our home town are in Madrid until Sunday? 
I haven’t really been out of the house since Tuesday morning (it is now Saturday.) I haven’t gotten to take my family to the places I had hoped. Outside of a quick tour of the Plaza Mayor, I have been home, in our tiny apartment with no balcony or terrace, cleaning, writing, cooking. And I’m just fine. I have my boys, I have my health, they will get better. We will get over this, and more greatly appreciate our time together. I’m not sick; I’m able to take care of my boys as they deserve. Janell is a good sport and will make herself happy. Lauren will get to have a little time on her own to process and observe.  As long as we are safe, together and healthy, we have everything we need.  And I have sent that Mr. Murphy walking. 

Laura, Niece H, Niece L, A, H

L makes activity books for the boys. Chapters. Activities. Impressive.

Look how young and sweet!

H - our niece that couldn't come!