Thursday, December 18, 2008

I did it!

Been up all night publishing changes to the website.

The pages that have not been made pretty will be in Jan. I'm only paid for a set number of hours a month. ~

Monday, December 08, 2008

In which after many days of irritation and hormones, we go to Tarragona

Saturday and Monday were holidays (Constitution Day and the Immaculate Conception), so we had today, Monday, off work and school. Most locals were disgruntled that Constitution day fell on a Saturday. Sometimes it will fall on a Wednesday or Tuesday and the Immaculate Conception on the Thursday or Friday, resulting in numerous days off work. Just a sorry ol' 3-day weekend this year, folks.

All week Oli brought up how he wanted to rent a car and drive up north to a Pyrenean village and ramble in the woods, which is what most people do to get away from the city at this colder time of year. in the summer, you go to coastal towns and beach it up.

For various reasons (money, lack of proper preparation, Oliver not having his driver's license here in Spain, me being very hormonal, etc) we kept going back and forth about this plan. In the end, we did a fair amount of research and have pinpointed a couple places we'd like to go (Olot, Llívia, Parc Nacional d'Aigüestortes) Feb, March or April, either with the VW if it's here, or in a rented car.

This weekend, we took a sensibly priced day-trip by train to Tarragona, and it was just what the doctor ordered.

As usual, we left our house running like maniacs, throwing stroller, coats, bookbag, shoes, Lily, into the elevator ten minutes before the train left the station next door. In the end we caught a train that left 30 minutes later, but still made it to Tarragone for noon.

The train station is on the sea, so we hiked up a big hill that took us to the top of the New Rambla, the main thoroughfare of Tarragona, which dead ends at a cliff overlooking the sea. Then we rambled down he rambla, quickly getting off it and wandering up little side streets, coming across tiny plazas where Lily rode a merry-go-round and we found a reasonable place for a tapas lunch. Luckily, it was 57 degrees F so we sat out on the terrace in the plaza. We were ignored by the waiter, normal treatment for guiris, but it was particularly annoying this time since Lily was getting tired and cranky. Eventually, after many waves indicating we needed service, I went inside carrying a crying Lily and guilted the waiter into coming to serve us....8 more minutes later, about 35 minutes after we had arrived.

At this point Americans and British might say, why didn't you just leave? Well, they probably would have done that to us anywhere; even in BCN you come across plenty of restaurants where if you look foreign you get ignored because the proprietors know they don't have to cater to you because there are enough local clients. We were in a proper Catalan city, thus the ignoring only increased. We already had drinks and the food looked good, so why bother changing to start the same process over?

Anyway, the food was good. After lunch we went searching for a warm sunny place to lay down and rest. Siesta fever had set in. We headed toward the Roman amphitheatre, which we thought would be perfect, but never made it since we had so much fun wandering and playing in the crumbly streets behind the cathedral. I cannot stress how quiet it was here, we decided due to a combination of people being out paseando as it was Sunday, resting during siesta, and being away in the countryside for the long weekend. The silence, coupled with the fresh air was enough to make the trip worth it. I kept taking deep breaths and feeling my nerves healing themselves. Ah.

Eventually we came upon the cathedral itself, at which point Lily attacked Oli, pinning him on the ground. As street vendors packed up boxes of junk into their cars, my husband and child rolled around their plaza in the sun.

Check out Oli's face and body in these close-ups. I have not laughed out loud, and so hard, in a long time. Wow. Wowy wowza.

From the cathedral, we went in search of a good place for coffee. Oli and I got caught up in discussion, Lily fell deep asleep in her stroller, and we were enjoying walking too much to stop, so it was a good hour or so before we ever got that coffee, which turned into an overpriced Irish coffee for Oli and a weak yucky tea for me at a cheezy place on the rambla.

Lily awoke cranky, but some walking along the rambla, past the Christmas tree and main fountain helped, as well as reassurance that we were indeed on our way to the train station, which we were.

We caught a cramped express train home, but Lily made it all fun by wandering between Oli and I, who were sitting in different parts of the car, asking Oli for permission to play with a noisy fold-down chair, receiving an answer of 'no' because many people were sleeping, walking to me to tell me why she wanted to play with it, that Daddy had said 'no,' and that she didn't understand why because he likes noise, then returning to start the process over. Everyone around us was amused to see a little blonde thing speaking ever so seriously in an English/Spanish mix to her mom, responding to mom's Spanish questions, and reporting back to Dad. Made it hard to read the interview with Clint Eastwood I was sooo in to (sarcasm) but easy to pass the hour ride.

From there, home, found bookshelf outside on curb, took it in and added it to Lily's room, dinnered, and bedded.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Check out what I've been working on:

Old page
Draft of new page (New photos are being taken this Friday and when on the homepage, will fill the space next to the text.)

School's YouTube channel

Monday, November 24, 2008

How Mondays (ought to) roll in Barcelona

Having one of those rare Mondays when I feel on the ball.

Lily came into our bed some time in the night and since she didn't kick or roll, she was permitted to stay. At 8 the alarm went off and we let it do that a few more times. I can drop Lily off at and pick her up from her daycare whenever I want, but I used to stress about getting her there as close to 9 as possible. We now have a 'between 9 and 10 at the latest' policy, although she generally gets there by 9:20.

Anyway, the three of us had oatmeal and whizzed through the rest of the morning routine, I dropped Lil at school then went off to the market with my trusty canvas shopping bag from England. The walk from school through the sunny old streets to the market at 9:20 is one of my favorite things, period. The fruit/veg stand I go to in the market is run by a man, wife and his sister. We're now at the stage in our vendor/client relationship that if there is no line of old biddies waiting their turns, we chat for a while. Today I had a nice long talk with the wife who had many reassuring thing to say about not letting Catalans or children get me down.

From there, I took the bag of produce home, grabbed my shopping trolley (the big bag with wheels that old Mexican ladies use in Chicago) and went to the supermarket to load up on water, juice and milk, stopping on the way to leave a load of laundry with the wash lady down the road, since our STUPID washing machine has broken again. I've sent an email to the agency indicating it were high time we get a new one up in here.

Back home, phone Telefónica to contract a new service in which I can make unlimited phone calls from our home phone to mobile phones for 4 euros a month, research People Agency, a modelling agency I'm taking Lily to later this week (read more later, I promise we won't turn her strange), warm up homemade chicken soup and eat it with lots of buttery crusty bread.

Go pick up laundry. Have loooong chat in building foyer with my nextdoor neighbor Paco. Return home and hang wet clothes out to dry.

Make tea.

Write blog.

Now will do a couple hours of work for Oxford House, then make Lily's snacks, go pick her up, go to the park with the swings, pick up my blood test results from doctor (just routine stuff, folks), and swing by the library.

How I do LOVE that I can walk everywhere. All of these things above, within 10 minutes walk. Ah.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marriage counseling (featuring Lil Wayne)


What a week. What a week.

I flew to Chicago via Munich for Brian's wedding last week. I've never flown from Germany before, and so didn't think about the fact that we'd be further north when crossing the Atlantic. Got to see lots of icebergs as we approached and passed Greenland, and got to see Greenland, which was a most impressive desert of snow dunes. Wowza. The elderly German man sitting next to me took this photo of the icebergs. I didn't have the heart to ask him if I could try it myself after seeing that this one didn't turn out so well. Anyway, I'll always have the memories, or at least until I go senile.

I arrived in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon where my parents picked me up from the airport. They're cute. We had a nice dinner at home with my bro and I enjoyed hanging out with them without Lily and Oli. We actually talked. Whoa.

Dad and mom are now unemployed. They are no longer partners in Family Security Door and Window and, man, the difference in that household is PALPABLE. Mom is still giving yoga classes most days of the week, but it's more dramatic to say they're unemployed. Anyway, they're collecting government funds and will be ok for some months. In the meantime, Dad is investigating an idea he's had for a looong time: opening a healthy hotdog restaurant, basically, somewhere you can get a beef sandwich or a garbanzo bean salad. The name he's had in mind for a long time is Yoga Dog and Oli and I LOVE this. Oli does a great impression of my dad saying 'Hm, I'm just a yoga dog.' Although, I don't think my dad has ever uttered these words.

For those of you who don't know, my dad can COOK and he's learned his skills almost exclusively from watching TV. It's pretty awesome. Anyway, his thought is to have a place with a limited menu, half Chicago meat stuff and half lighter healthier fare, plus some soup-and-sandwich-of-the-day. If he can offer people something healthy, fresh, homey and inexpensive in these poor economic times during which places like McDonald's and WalMart are thriving, he thinks he'll have filled a niche. He's found the location below near my sister's house. It looks a bit crazy now but is actually really perfect in that it's like a little old cottage with indoor and outdoor seating. It's fully equipped, he can rent to own, and the owner is keen to help him out in this poor economy. Dad's also been out picking the brains of other area restauranteurs. Who knows what will come of it, but my niece and nephew already picture themselves working there weekends.

Thursday afternoon I went with my sister to pick my niece and nephew up from school. They're little adults. Jeez, old people are right when they say time flies. It's pretty cool actually because Jake and Marisa are adult-like in their conversational abilities, a mixture of adult-like and childlike in their reasoning, and childlike in their propensity for jumping on me. Overall, a good mix.

Thursday night it was off to Brian's for the bachelor/ette party and to reconnect with everyone. The whole gang was there! It was just like that song. A great part about Thursday was getting to know Liz better and listening to her and Brian's baby plans and concerns. Megan and I both teared up when at the end of a long list of concerns, Liz sighed and said offhandedly something to the effect of, 'Oh, but Brian's said we'll just do whatever we need to...that everything will be ok." Such a little statement, but to find out your friend is a good husband is really quite touching.

Liz also humored us by drinking a lot (Hey, the woman had an intense week!), the highlight of which was when she couldn't remember her hotmail password so several of us girls could see the photos of her wedding dress. She kept saying, "I'm working so hard!" and finally Megan gently suggested, "I think you're looking for the 'Have you forgotten your password' link?" By the end of it, there were like five of us cheering her on, letting out a big "Hoorah!" when we finally got to take a gander. Well worth it since Liz chose a truly flattering gown.

After the party it was off to MegaMart's where Dave and Mendy were also staying, having taken some time out from their round-the-world travels to attend the wedding. Megan and Marty are living in a highrise downtown for the following very good reasons: 1) They've just returned to Chicago from living in London and hope that moving to a different part of the city to where they lived before will make it not feel like a step backward (I hear you!), 2) Why not when you don't have kids, and 3) They don't want a car and in fewer and fewer neighborhoods now in Chicago can you live without a car; surprisingly it's like downtown or 53rd and the Dan Ryan. This fact seriously depresses me since it is a MAJOR deterrent to my return to Chicago. I understand big box stores bring big tax revenue, but man, even if we can't allow mom and pop corner supermarkets that people can walk to from their homes to survive, can Jewel and Co start developing small store-front supermarkets within neighborhoods? If they don't soon, I hope Tesco will and will teach 'em all a lesson. They're already opening some Tesco Metros in California.......

Megan, Marty, Mendy, Dave and I certainly broke lots of stereotypes about married people. Do married people start fires?! The morning after the bachelor/ette party Megan was going to make us some blueberry pancakes. While heating the oil in a pan, it burst into massive flames. Mendy was in the kitchen with her and while Megan lifted the flaming pan off the stove, Mendy uttered a quiet, "Help." All they knew was you don't put water on grease fires, but what do you put? In the end pancake mix was used and Mendy and I later divulged that we both felt a little weak at the prospect of wasting pancake mix. Megan made another attempt and this one, too, almost caught fire. I went to the bathroom to do my hair thinking I wouldn't interfere and tell Megan to quit while she was ahead. She was a big girl who would probably come to that conclusion on her own, but wasn't ready to at the moment. To my surprise, 30 minutes later we had the most stunningly exquisite blueberry pancakes, made with real blueberries! We engorged ourselves while Mendy and Dave regaled us with tales of Russia. Ah, Russia.

Friday night was the rehearsal dinner, which Brian and Liz were cool enough to invite key non-wedding-party members to. This little gesture, and about 50 other things, all indicated that Brian and Liz have a firm grasp of what will be important to them later, when looking back on the wedding. I did NOT have a firm grasp on what would be on this list when we planned our wedding. My mother and mother-in-law tried to help, but I was a stubborn pregnant child. Sigh. In any case, well done. Such a good job on their part.

On the way to the dinner, we were listening to 103.5 and the Lil Wayne song Mrs Officer came on, and man, did we take to it. We worked out the lyrics so that by half-way through the song we were already singing along and we were really pleased with ourselves when we worked out how appropriate it was, being in town for a cop wedding and all, to listen to a song about a guy who fantasizes about sleeping with the female officer that just pulled him over. Definitely the theme song for the trip.

After the dinner, it was off to I-Bar, a most appropriate choice hatched by Kevin and Megan. It was really nice to see everyone together, although I got a bit grumpy because I get overwhelmed at big gatherings now (you know, in my old age), finding that I get caught up in the usual jokes thrown about amongst our friends and forget to ask people real things and listen to them. Sometimes when I leave I feel like I've not actually spoken to anyone. Oh well, it was I-Bar and the night before Brian's wedding; what more did you want, grumpasaurus???

"It's the day of the show, y'all!" Remember that classic line uttered by Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman? No? Well it was really appropriate on Saturday morning. After a sloooow morning complete with Marty Omelettes, the married people got prepared to induct two new members into the club.

I have almost no pictures from the wedding! Had too good of a time. Quickly decided it wasn't worth it. What I do have are the photos the already-married people took in the photo booth at the reception (what a cool idea!) and pasted into a memory book for the bride and groom. Motivations for photos: Surprised, confused, kicked in the crotch, happy.

I cried on Brian on the dance floor. The night before the wedding I was up from 3:00-6:00 (By the way, yeah, I stayed on Spanish time during the visit so each night I got about 4 hours of sleep made up of 3 hours crashed out, a 2-3 hour awake gap and then another hour or so.), watching the lights on the top of the Wrigley Building change color, thinking about how I didn't want to leave without making sure Brian knew how happy I was for him and Liz, what a good job they're doing, what an important friend he is even though we hardly see each other, and that as we get older and need more from our friends, I'll be there. I know we're all friends, but I also know I rarely say the mushy stuff, and as I get older, it seems more important to say it than assume it. Thus, a slow dance Brian invited me for turned into happy waterworks, and I promise, I wasn't even drunk! In any case, this little episode made me feel reaallllly good.

In fact, the whole trip was like therapy, therapy made possible by Liz and Brian's wedding. I know this post should be all about the newlyweds, but this visit meant a lot to me personally, because I felt like I actually listened to people, asked them the things I wonder about them when I'm away, and felt understood by people who know where I'm from. It's enough to make one feel truly alive. It's a shame I didn't get to really talk with everyone, and I am bummed I saw the Hartrichs for what seemed all of two minutes, but I'll put a lid on it. In a nutshell, we're all changing and trying new things in our lives, but I think it's official: we weren't just college drinking buddies, we'll actually be there for each other in all the ways adulthood requires, despite the change and challenges ahead. Sounds obvious, but it doesn't hurt to say it.

Sunday after a farewell brunch with everyone at the hotel, it was off to a lunch with my family, including all grandparents, and my dad's sister and brother-in-law. We ate at Mama Luigi's in Bridgeview. Talk about old school, but that's how the Ruiters do things. My grandpa (mom's dad) and uncle (dad's brother-in-law) are incorrigible. My aunt and grandmothers, lovely.

14 or so hours later, it was back to these faces:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The cost of freedom

I depart for Chicago via Munich today at 7:55am (It's 5:50 right now). I've spent the last two days cooking, buying gifts, cleaning and writing instructions for Oli regarding Lily's school routines. Here you see some unappetizing photos of:

Roast chicken (good for sandwich making or slathering with mashed potato);

Sweet potato and pork stew (A Hartrich Family Cookbook find) in an unappealing plastic container;

At the end of the two days I have left a fridge o' food: In addition to the above, includes Minestrone soup (Best with crusty bread and butter. Mm. Had some tonight.), mince for shepherd's pie, mountains of Greek yogurts (for Oli) and fruit puree cups (Lily), serrano and cooked hams for sandwiches, peach juice boxes for after school. There's also some warm apple/carrot cake on the counter.

Notey McNotersons.

Gifts and things to share at parties, comprised of Spanish/Catalan cava, wines, canned seafoods, and baked goods, as well as Kinder chocolates.

Thusly, through household preparation, I buy myself 5 days in Chicago celebrating Brian's wedding with the rest of the extended Taylor Street crew.


Lily got some new clay today when we went to this learning toys shop Abacus with another mom and kid from school (Arlene and Gerard, we've been spending our afternoons with them regularly). Here she is 'cooking' it while wearing an improvised apron of bib and tea towel.


Went for a nice cycle ride to Plaza Tripi on Sunday on the Bicing bikes.

Friday, November 07, 2008

My child, the genius.

Lily and I were just brushing our teeth when she said, "Mom, I speak Catalan at school. And I speak Spanish." And after a few more brush strokes and a thoughtful look, "Hm. I speak English."

Happy parent sigh.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Thanks, Yaya.

My mom sent Lily a cool Halloween card in an envelope filled with tons of random stickers her house has collected over the years.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Halloween isn't really celebrated in Spain, although notably, there was a special aisle of decorations and costumes added to our supermarket in the last couple weeks. In any case, All Saints Day is much more celebrated here in Catalunya with the traditional preparation of roast chestnuts (castanyas), sweet potatoes (moniatos) and small marzapan balls rolled in pine nuts (panellets), all eaten at chestnut parties (castanyadas) - all high-energy foods for staying up into the night with spirits, though most people don't practice this part of the tradition any more. For weeks Lily's been learning about autumn (tardor) and castanyas and how they are often carried in a basket with handkerchief by an old lady (la castanyera!). Almost every day they've sung chestnut and autumn songs and they recently sent the words home, so I've been trying to coax the melodies that go with the lyrics out of Lil, to little avail. Consider that your Catalan lesson for the day.

So as not to completely forsake Halloween, Lily and I decided at the last minute to attend a Halloween party thrown at the Hard Rock Cafe in the center by some American social league of sorts. Lily, of course, went as a ballerina, a costume we threw together from her play clothes. It is not much to boast about as far as costumes go (we'll go all out next year!!!), but the kid was thrilled to be able to wear such a combination of things, especially play jewellery, out into the world. (Look, Mrs. Hughes, I'm wearing the tutu you sent Lily!)

There was an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet, adults dressed up leading activities and enough multilingual semi-American children in costumes to make your head spin. Due to the loud music, general mayhem, and witch that greeted us as we entered, Lily wouldn't let me put her down for the first hour. Even before the event I knew there would be a cling risk since things like this can be overwhelming for little ones, especially Lil. But I decided to risk it, even without Oli (who was away all day Fri, Sat and Sun competing in an international Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Castelldefels), because if she did like the party, it would totally be worth the gamble.

In any case, I made it through a buffet line somehow managing to get us food and drink with only one arm available. After food time, the two adult leaders (the ladies in costumes in the photos) started teaching the kids a dance to Thriller. There was one dad dressed in drag and he pretty much became one of the leaders as well. Watching the older kids lightened Lil up, and when it was free dance time, we got down.

Balloon animals helped her even more, and when there was only half of an hour left, we made our way to the foyer where various children were chasing and beating each other with the balloon creations the ladies had made them. Lily and a cheetah boy proceeded to chase one another gleefully around the Hard Rock Cafe, the cheetah attacking with a balloon sword and Lily alternately with a balloon flower and her magic wand.

From there, we poured out into the sunny midday havoc of Plaza Catalunya (the centermost plaza of Barcelona) on a Saturday. It rained almost constantly this entire week right through today, so there were massive puddles everywhere. We ballerinas proceeded to splash in them, since we cleverly wore boots, as ballerinas do. This became wildly more fun as we grew bolder and bolder in our splashing, until thirty minutes later the smaller of us was soaked from bottom to toes. I had extra clothes but she declined to change, so we grabbed the metro home. When Lil sat with her feet up on the seat, giant rivers poured out of her boots filling the seat with water. It was pretty funny. We laughed.

Once back in our hood we stopped in the frutería where it was very funny so see a small wet blonde ballerina wandering around with this celery she insisted on holding for me.


Last night Matty babysat for Lil while Oli and I attended our friend Eddie's (aka Edwin, Eddie-san, Eddie Wong, Eddie Chang) goodbye party. We know Eddie in a roundabout way: We once lived with Timo in Barcelona who once went to high school with Eddie back in Bristol and later reconnected with him by accident in Barcelona and ended up living with him. Eddie's Chinese by heritage but grew up in the Barcelona area and went to high school and college in the UK, so he speaks Spanish and Catalan like he's one of them and English as if he were British. It's funny. Alas, though, his Mandarin ain't what it ought to be and he's bored here, so off to Hong Kong he goes tomorrow where he'll live with his older sister for a bit before breaking out on his own in the China (That's right, the China.). It was sad to say goodbye to Eddie, especially since he cooks really well. He made so much food last night (with help from others): rolls of all kinds, tempura, dumplings, ahhhhh. People pitched in and got him a journal that we all wrote in and when it was presented to him, we all laughed about what a crappy journal it was, being made in China and all. (Ha.)


Today Lil and I attempted to go to a castanyada and kids' play at Poble Espanyol, this replica Spanish village about a 25-minute walk from our house. Many events, particularly for kids, are held there so it is nice being close to it. We made it out the house just in time and it wasn't even raining, so I ran pushing Lily in the stroller all the way there, uphill! Just as we arrived I realized Lil had dozed, so I talked to her to see if she would reawaken. She did and smiled so paid my entrance fee and got into the village with 2 minutes to spare. But, Lil was once again out and this time for good. After several useless attempts to elecit a response from her, I got my money back and began walking home in torrential downpour. Thank goodness for massive umbrellas and stroller rain covers. Both walks, to and from, were really nice so I didn't mind the change in plans, although it was disappointing that Lil wouldn't get to see the performance. Of course she woke up just as we arrived at out building, rather than staying asleep for a decent amount of time, and was instantly shocked that we were home (last she remembers we were about to see the performance). Angry tears were shed in a way that broke my heart for the poor kid, but it was nothing that couldn't be put right by cuddling in bed with a cup of warm milk. Thankfully it's theatre season and there's plenty more on next weekend.