Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A princess! Firefighter! Doctor of animals!

Above are some of the answers my sweet little students gave me when I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up.

My favorite responder was seven-year old Jose.
“I want to be a hard-een-arrow like the brother of my mother,” he beamed proudly.
“I’m sorry, you want to be a what?”
He scrunched his little face up in exasperation and raised his voice about ten syllables. “Har-deen-ARROW. Just like the BROTHER OF MY MOTHER!”
Right when I was about to make him write it down for me, Marcos chimed in, “He wants to be a jardinero.”
Thank goodness for Marcos.

Back to Jose.
“Ohhhh a gardener! That’s wonderful. So your uncle is a gardener in Madrid?”
“No, the brother of my motherrrrrrrrrrr!”
“Your uncle.”
“NOOOOOOOOO.” He roared like a little, angry Spanish lion.
“Okay, well, technically it’s the same thing, but okay.” I threw my hands up in mock defeat. 

With slightly less enthusiasm than Jose I want to write that I finally have found what I want to be when I grow up. Wait, am I already grown up?


 Well, it took me a little bit longer to figure it out. 

I love living abroad and teaching, but teaching isn’t my passion.  I don’t want to improve children’s pronunciation of the word “thousand” or “three” or any of the other words they have trouble with. I want to write/blog for humanitarian photographers and non-profits. A few things in particular are really on my heart: mental health, refugees and water wells. I want to give people hope and peace and the knowledge that someone cares. Someone is paying attention. I want to tell people’s stories and connect human needs with resources.

Initially, I started researching companies who bring clean water to undeveloped communities. I was so moved by the photographs and images on the sites that I started researching humanitarian photographers. And then I started sending emails simply saying I want to help and will work for free if there is any need. The cynical, insecure parts of me tried to convince myself this was a waste of time and no one would want to work with me. Within a few minutes I got a huge YES email reply.

Nothing is certain at this point, but I know I won’t ever regret trying. At best, it could lead to getting to contribute to something that is bigger than myself. At worst, it won’t work out.

Everyone has a gift, a passion, a heart for something and I’m finally learning to have a little more trust and a little more faith in dreaming the impossible. Life is too beautiful and too short to wonder what if...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tiny Monsters

Recently, I’ve discovered that children are actually tiny monsters. Very cute, of course, but monsters nonetheless. On good days, they are hilarious, sweet and adorable. However, on bad days, they are straight up hellions. For a few rough days in July the kids decided they hated English class and therefore, hated me. I got slapped, bit, and dealt with stomping feet, rolling eyes and huge sighs of frustration. To them I was undoubtedly the worst English teacher since the language was first created.

Thankfully, I won back their good graces by revealing I had an unopened jar of peanut butter and told them if they behaved we could make chocolate peanut butter cake balls. Kisses, hugs, declarations of profuse love for me were made and life became pleasant again. I'm not above bribes.

A few days into the summer they approached on the beach me like a small, sun-burned gang.
"Elizabeth is too long." They grumbled. "We can't call you that."
"But we should we call her?" They asked each other.
"We shall call you Ellie! Is that alright? Great, ok come on Ellie pretend like we are in Africa on a safari now OK."

And it was settled. I’m Ellie. (Except sometimes I forget that’s my nickname and don’t respond to it, oops.)

Later, Victoria found me skyping with my friend Hannah who just had a baby. Incredulously she stared me down, "your friend has a baby and YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE A BOYFRIEND!?" If I've learned anything this year it's that children feed off reactions so without looking up from my computer screen I just murmured “mmmhmmm” in the most nonchalant manner possible. I was hoping she would lose interest.

From the mixed look of horror and disgust, you really would have thought it was 1914 and she’d just learned Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated and Europe was at war. "MADRE MIA!" she ran off screaming, "Charles and Ana, we have to find Ellie a boyfriend BEFORE SHE GETS ANY OLDER."

Very tiny, very hilarious monsters. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer in the South of Spain

Soooo summer life at the beach is pretty fantastic aka my life is kind of a joke right now. Cadiz, the southern region of Spain is so so so gorgeous. I am living with a British/Spanish family whose kids I tutor in their beautiful home that has white-washed walls and a red stucco roof. Sitting on a hill, it is surrounded by pine trees and flowers. The view from the south side of the house is not joking…. Africa. You can’t see like zebras or tall women with baskets of water on their heads of anything, but you can see the outline of the Atlas Mountains. 

The best part of the deal is the dad. He points out where every single battle ever fought on the coast of Spain occurred. "See that rock? The largest maritime warfare battle occurred right here, the Battle of Trafalgar in the early 1800's! The British lost their commander, Lord Admiral Nelson, but won valiantly!" My favorite quote of his this summer has been, "No British person would ever name their child Jesus like the Spanish do. It's bloody weird I tell you!" Oh, and he gave me the entire history of the development of the longbow by the British to win the Hundred Years War against the French.

In the mornings, I give the kids an english lesson or creative writing prompt like what superpower would you choose or what are you thankful for and why. Afterward, we spend the day at the beach swimming/surfing, crab hunting, playing tennis or whatever. It's a tough job, lemme tell ya. At the end of June, Madrid was started to feel a bit overwhelming and stressful so I am blessed by this chance to chill out.. Besos! 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#NoFilter Madrid

I'm excited and honored to contribute to London City Airport's #NoFilter photography competition featuring an unedited portrait of Europe's greatest cities. And yes, unedited means absolutely no Instagram, Mueller, Photo plus or other popular photo enhancing programs. The project's purpose is to celebrate a city's beauty without deepening sunset hues, brightening flower-filled parks, or adding a sparkle to full wine glasses and perfectly arranged macaroons.

Jade Conroy, editor of MSN Travel UK and former Madrid expat, is evaluating local blogger's posts to see who best shows an authentic portrait of selected European cities beginning with Madrid. Some upcoming cities to look forward to are Dublin, Geneva, Rome and Stockholm. 

Moving ten months ago, Madrid won me over with its history, architecture, food, wine, art and sunshine. Plans to live here and teach English for a year quickly extended to two years after I fell in love with the city. My advice for a first time visitor is to slow down and appreciate the Spanish lifestyle. Take your time. Sit down for a cup of coffee. Enjoy a two-hour lunch on a terrace. 

My amateur tips for a traveler with a smart phone or digital camera:
1. Take photos of the same subject from different angles. You´ll be surprised by what you will find when you change perspective.
2. Take advantage of natural lighting. The flash feature on smart phones can make subjects look over processed.
3. To make a travel album more interesting, vary your photo subjects from architecture to food, people, landscapes, hotel room views, parks, etc. A few weeks after first moving, I started noticing most of my photos were of sunsets and wine glasses and realized I needed more picture variety!

Photos from top to bottom: rooftop view from Circulo de Bellas Artes, Puerta del Rey, Plaza Mayor and Temple de Debod

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Feria de Abril in Seville

If the Texas State Fair, Mardi Gras, Kentucky Derby, and San Antonio’s Fiesta all combined, it would explode into Feria de Sevilla. I really don’t know how to explain it because it kind of blew my mind. And the most mind-blowing of all was that everything happening there was completely normal to Spanish people. Of course we put on these traditional dresses and cowboy outfits and ride horses to a plaza where everyone makes out with their date. Of course you wear a huge flower on top of your head and ride in carriages to get around while drinking sherry with sprite.

La feria originally started as a cattle trading fair in 1847 and has evolved into an amazing week of Spanish-style celebrations based on flamenco music and culture. The parties take place on the streets and inside private casetas, which are made of brightly-colored canvas and are decorated with thousands of paper lanterns and traditional spanish paintings. 

In April, my very American friends and I started taking Sevillianas dance classes from Maria Jose (who we lovingly call our feria godmother). There are five traditional dances and #3-5 are hard as heck. The boys have it really easy and just kind of stomp and wave while the girl does all the work. Maria Jose also loaned beautiful Sevillanas dresses to my friend, Laura, and me. We were so so grateful because they can be really expensive to rent. The weekend was amazing. It was definitely one of the most fun experiences I’ve had since moving here and I’m really grateful to all our gracious Sevilla hosts who made it so memorable!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Libros Favoritos

My favorites: sunshine, honey, swimming, wine, traveling, basil, taking pictures, puppies, taking pictures of puppies, European Christmas markets and BOOKS. 

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas

The story follows Sira, a young Spanish dressmaker, first to Morocco during the Spanish Civil War and later, to Madrid during World War II. It’s beautifully written and one of my favorite novels.

“Over the years there have been many times when my destiny has delivered me unexpected moments, unforeseen twists and turns that I’ve had to handle on the fly as they appeared. Occasionally I was ready for them; very often I wasn’t. Never, however, was I so aware of entering a new stage as I was that afternoon in October when I finally dared to cross the threshold and my steps sounded hollowly in the unfurnished apartment. Behind me was a complicated past, and in front of me, like an omen, I could see a space opening out, a great empty space that time would take care of filling up. But with what?  With things, and affections. With moments, sensations, and people: with life.”

Shining Through by Susan Isaacs

SO CUTE. I couldn’t stop giggling. I think the protagonist, Linda Voss, is hilarious. It starts in the late 1930’s with a legal secretary falling for her married boss and evolves into her becoming a German spy for the US in Berlin. Dum dum dummm…. Perfect vacation read.

In 1940, when I was thirty-one and an old maid, while the whole world waited for war, I fell in love with John Berringer.

An office crush. Big deal. Since the invention of the steno pad, a day hasn’t gone by without some secretary glancing up from her Pitman squiggles and suddenly realizing that the man who was mumbling “...and therefore, pursuant to the above...” was the only man in her life who could ever bring her joy.So there I was, a cliché with a number 2 yellow pencil; a working girl from Queens who’d lost her heart to the pride of the Ivy League.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Completely whimsical writing about a family who moves from England to Greece and all of the youngest son’s adventures in the 1920’s.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted me gruffly; “you are the foreigner... the little English lord?”
By then I was used to the curious peasant idea that all English people were lords, and I admitted that that's who I was.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Really sweet and funny. I love John Green’s writing style and the way he develops his characters. It’s a laugher and a crier.

My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.

Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer

Dry and a bit boring, but super insightful about how much our thoughts shape our attitudes, relationships, lives, etc. I found it really encouraging and highlighted a ton of passages.

I am convinced, after many years in ministry, that about 85 perent of our problems stem from the way we feel about ourselves.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

A most charming book I hadn’t read since high school. Laughed, cried and was reminded why I love novels so much.

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Biarritz, France

I mean, why not take a day trip to France? Normal.

Biarritz is gorgeous. We loved it so much we accidentally missed our train back to San Sebastian. We were running around the closed train station trying to figure out how to get back and finally decided it would be less expensive to take a cab back to Spain than to pay for a hotel in Biarritz AND San Sebastian. Travel woes…. Oh well, completely worth it!