Saturday, December 6, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me! I guess it was all that gallivanting around Spain in November that distracted me. So now it's a scramble and only a few short weeks left to prepare for the "big day"!
So here's the plan ....

  • Decorate with as little as I can get away with. I know "more is more" at Christmas, but I plan to keep it as simple as possible using just a few of my favorite decorations .... I mean the tree will give it away! I was looking for a Christmas table cloth for my kitchen, but after searching for something I liked, I decided to buy a piece of green printed fabric that I can use all year around. I'll just stick a red candle or something on it for a Christmas feel.
  • Food - You can't break with tradition too much, so I will be making a few "old stand-bys" like shortbread, cheese balls and peanut butter fudge. (Best to stick with what you know.) Our future daughter-in-law does not eat dairy, so I'm always on the look out for appetizers and sweets that are dairy free. Gingerbread, date squares, peanut butter cookies, and various pies are a few that I've made. Hummus, pate and various antipastos are always good to have on hand too! And I am not above getting a little help from Costco. M&Ms or Mrs. Sobey!
  • Entertaining family and friends is the best part of Christmas! I'm anxious to see my youngest son and his fiance, who live 5 hours away, and this year we are having an "open house" a few days before Christmas. Of course we always look forward to a Boxing Day visit from my friend Diane and her twin sister Karen from the big city of Toronto. Karen has a history of getting storm stayed with us, but that's all part of the fun!
  • Shopping, believe it or not is going quite well! I've done some "online" shopping and hubby has been a great help picking up things for the boys. I plan to buy what I can find and if I need to "top it up" I can always get a gift card!
So there you have it. In a nut shell, I'm going to focus on enjoying family and friends. If I have no time to cook .... I'll buy something (or get hubby to do it!). If I'm not decorated to the hilt ..... nobody will notice anyway!

I made gingerbread cookies (dairy free!) with Anna Olson's recipe and they turned out quite well. Now I am going to decorate them using "Royal Icing" .... never heard of it before. In this icing you use meringue powder ... another thing I had never heard of before! My oldest son is coming for his birthday dinner tomorrow with his girlfriend and her 5 year old daughter so I thought that perhaps she might like to to have a little fun decorating the gingerbread men. I'll keep you posted!

Anna Olsen's Ginger Bread Cookies

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

Our "Six Days in Pedraza" were encased by three days in Madrid and four days in Barcelona, two beautiful cities with two distinctive feelings. Madrid, I felt had a more "high end" European feel, while Barcelona was more Mediterranean with a relaxed atmosphere. 

We arrived in Madrid at about 3:00 pm and our prearranged airport pick up delivered us to our Airbnb flat in a timely fashion. The apartment was typically European, very comfortable with two bedrooms (one with twin beds), two full bathrooms, kitchen and cosy sitting area as well as a balcony. Our neighborhood included restaurants, bakery/coffee shops and a grocery store literally three doors away where not only food but wine and beer could be purchased. 

After a three minute walk we could hop on the metro and explore other parts of the city. The San Miguel Market, an old facility made into a modern, high end show piece for delicious Spanish delicacies was one of our first stops. After a lunch of wine and olives we strolled around old Madrid and later took in Picasso's Guernica, at the Reina Sophia Art Gallery, something I was thrilled to see! One day during our travels we happened upon a wedding where the guests were gathered outside an ancient church dressed in the finest European fashion and wearing hats that would put the Royal family to shame. Madrid definitely gave a sense of old world sophistication.


After our six day "talkathon" in Pedraza we were ready for another adventure but also a little down time. Barcelona fit the bill with its slightly warmer weather and easy going feel. When we arrived at the address of the second flat the we booked, we were standing on the sidewalk waiting for someone to meet us with the keys when we noticed an old woman in a white house coat and slippers a few meters away waving at us. Francine, the apartment owner's aunt was a jolly, chatty lady who seemed delighted to see us and showed us to the apartment.
 During the next four days we enjoyed exploring the sunny streets of Barcelona. We saw Antoio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, watched a multicultural parade, browsed through an open air market and enjoyed a beer near the beach. One day we stumbled across a free exhibit by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and even got a free poster! But even better .... we discovered a used clothing store just a few blocks from our flat. (The Madrid wedding goers might have been horrified, but us Canuks love a bargain!) 
On our last evening we had dinner outdoors with a fine bottle of wine and a propane heater to keep us toasty!


Our Spain Adventure

 by Linda Stafford

(Below is a video created by Linda,one of my travel mates, but for some reason it does not show up when viewed on my tablet so it may only be visible to those using a laptop??)


Friday, November 21, 2014

Six Days in Pedraza

Now that I have returned from my two weeks in Spain I can reflect upon the six days I spent in Pedraza speaking English to Spaniards. When my friends ask me how my "volunteer tutoring" went, I think I will say that it was like going somewhere to climb a mountain or participate in a marathon .... not relaxing, but certainly a great experience.

Our program, while taxing at times, was a unique and enriching experience. Our daily marathon began with breakfast at 9:00, followed by a list of people with whom we would spend 50 minutes talking to, one on one. Occasionally we participated in group activities and telephone conversations, but most of our "one on ones" were spent strolling around the beautifully restored medieval town of Pedraza, sometimes stopping to enjoy a coffee at one of the quaint little shops.

Meal times were also opportunities for conversation as the seating arrangements consisted of tables of four, two "Anglos" as we were called, and two Spaniards. The Anglos consisted of volunteers from a variety of English speaking countries. This was done on purpose in order to expose our Spanish friends to a variety of accents (poor things!). Dinner conversation was further encourage by a bottle of red wine on every table, except at breakfast of course!

So what about those Spaniards anyway? Who were they and why were they spending a week (at great expense) to practice speaking English? Well, they came from all walks of life ... doctors, police officers, business people, even a TV producer and a marketer for the French company Loreal! As it was explained to me, English is the language of business in Europe particularly as contacts are made with other countries within the European Union. The common language that is most likely to be understood is English. If a Spanish company has dealings in Italy, or Germany, for example, they speak English to each other in order to communicate. How bizarre it seems that a group of countries communicate with each other in a language that is foreign to all of them!

I have to say that the most rewarding part of my experience in Pedraza was getting to know the Spaniards. Of course, for the most part they are no different than we are ..... but much more stylish! After several days of intense conversation, I found that two themes emerged; thoughtfulness and a strong sense of family. When I say "thoughtful" I mean that they seem to give great thought to life in general,.... how life should be lived, the fairness and effectiveness of the government, how history has shaped today's world and their lives specifically. They are much more philosophical than we are .... and did I mention fashionable? After several conversations I learned that Spanish people are very family oriented. Several young adults on the course stated that they called their parents at least once a day and another was adamant that his parents would never go to a nursing home when they get old. Others explained the great respect for the hardships that their grandparents (or parents) had suffered during the Franco era. By the end of the week I could see that the Spaniards were definitely a more passionate lot! 

So, here is our group! Can you tell the Spaniards from the Anglos?
Below are some candid photos taken by Sonia (one of our fellow Anglos).

Me and Nacho deep in conversation.

Diane and Maria out for a stroll

Linda and Juan B. taking in the evening in Pedraza.

Dinner with Antonio, Nacho and Terry (from Texas)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last Days in Barcelona

As you can see we are enjoying our last few days in Barcelona. We have been covering a lot of ground, seeing the sights, shopping and even stubbling upon an exhibit by Ai Weiwei!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morning Tea in Barcelona!

Just arrived in Barcelona after a fabulous week in Pedraza.  Will have to wait until I get home to do a post about that week!I

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Morning in Pedraza

Here I am early mornini ng the medieval town of Pedraza. You can see my shadow in the early morning sun as I take a pic and head out to look for a coffee shop. Alas ... but nothing is open this early in Spain!  
You must excuse my type os as the internet is sporatic in this beautiful accomodation. We are enjoying our talking gig so far !

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Great First Day in Madrid

Well, we made it to Madrid and checked in to our flat that we booked through Airbnb. The flat is great, two bathrooms for three women should do it! We explored the city today and enjoyed some olives and wine for lunch at San Miguel Market (check out the video I posted on my post called Madrid Research) We also visited the Reina Sophia Center for Art. I was so thrilled to see Picasso's Guernica! Looking forward to more adventures in Madrid, plus alittle relaxation before our talkathon!