Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That's our house to the left and behind the tree!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Visa

We love Spain

I am wild about Spain.  I love it here, more than I ever imagined.  But much to my surprise, Todd is just as enthusiastic.  As we were going into our third year here, he turned to me one day and said, “Let’s stay.  Let’s get the visas going.”  Retirement on the brain, Todd was eager to try out this laid-back Spanish lifestyle I’d been enjoying.

Spain is fun

I was ecstatic.  Having missed more than 8 months of our three years here due to my mom’s illness, I was not ready to go home.  

Oh, Spain.  Land of flamenco and bullfighting…and bureaucracy.   I had not had much to do with Spanish officialdom other than the security office on base and our run-in with the police on our first day in Puerto. Much to my chagrin and absolute disbelief, I kept being told that to get our visas, we had to return to the U.S.  “But all of the paperwork gets sent to Cádiz for approval!” I objected.  “That’s 20 minutes across the bay!"  YES.  "You mean I have to fly all the way to New York ?”  YES.  “To turn in our papers in order for them to be sent to Cádiz for approval?”   YES.  “Isn’t there some way I can turn them directly in to Cádiz?”  NO. 

Not even military might helped me turn in my paperwork to Cádiz

I tried. I really, really tried.  I talked to everyone I knew, including several lawyers, the immigrant advocates, the base, and several people who’d been through the process.  I sent a lawyer friend to Cádiz to talk to the jefe (boss man) of the Extranjeria  (where all the extranjeros have to go—us foreigners, even though I don’t feel foreign here!).  My Spanish military captain friend talked to the admiral of the base, who talked to the big cheeses in Madrid.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  The answer was always the same.  You have to go to the U.S..

Ignacio even put on his best uniform 

So I gave up and made my appointment.  We pulled together all our documents, checked them thoroughly with the jefe de Extrajeria (now our friend), and booked one last military-sponsored trip to  the States.   Taking advantage of this forced trip, we decided to do a whirlwind tour through the East Coast, stopping in the Blue Ridge Mountains to see Todd’s aunt and uncle, passing through Washington, D.C. to pick up the infamous Hague Apostille (don’t ask) for our marriage certificate, traipsing down memory lane in Annapolis for a day (where Todd and I met and fell in love), swinging by New York for our appointment and to see some of the Big Apple, and then visiting for a few days with Todd’s brother Mark up in Boston before zipping back down through New York to pick up the visa and head out on a military flight out of New Jersey. 

On a side note:  The week before we left, just to make things more interesting, the bunny that Sasha had just gotten...added five more bunnies to our household.  Sigh.

You've got to be kidding

We arrived in the Blue Ridge late in the autumn afternoon, the hills ablaze with fall colors.  Unfortunately, Todd had misread his aunt’s email; she was arriving the NEXT DAY!  After several minutes of scolding (we had driven several hours out of our way to make this happen), we had to move towards DC due to our tight schedule.  We're sorry, Aunt Diane and Uncle Ron!

Beautiful Blue Ridge

It was our kids’ first trip to the Capital.  I love this city.  Truly love it.  Todd and I lived here from 1988 to 1993, and while going to school in Annapolis both he and I came here a lot.  It is multi-faceted and beautiful, spacious and in parts a little gritty, impressive and full of character.    

It looks just like the penny!

A shocking piece of history

Holding up the Washington Monument

 The girls loved the monuments, and we had dinner with my friend Chrystal and her husband William, who was about Tia’s age when I was her teacher her at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Anacostia.   Chrystal is now a PAC nurse, and we had a good time reminiscing about “Our Little Prison Home” (as OLPH was affectionately known).


Todd started complaining about his feet.  At first he just started walking slowly, then more slowly, then started talking about gout.   He’d had a mild attack of gout during the summer, and one previously on the ship a number of years ago.  Now things were looking serious.  But he put on his game face and slogged through the touring, even enjoying lunch with friend Pete Fettner.

Old friends

Soup kitchen--a good history lesson

Glamming in front of the White House

Annapolis, capital of the state of Maryland and home to St. John’s College, was rainy and cool, perfect fall weather.  We made it to the campus and around the downtown, but then Todd started looking up which prescriptions he needed for gout.  This was getting very serious now.   Aspirin, dehydration, lengthy immobilization (on the plane), beer, heavy protein (think jamón), and lots of walking—all of which Todd had experienced in the past week—are all known contributors to a gout attack.  Annapolis was lovely, but we were all a little too preoccupied to really enjoy it.

Welcome to Tia and Sasha's future college

Todd and I waltzed here romantic

Off to New York.  By the time we arrived at the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guard, and Airmen’s Club where we were staying, Todd’s big toe was on fire.  “I’ve never had pain like this—this is the worst I’ve ever experienced,” he said.  “Look!”  Tia pointed.  “Daddy, you can ride up the chair going up the staircase!”  Too proud to do so, Todd collapsed on the bed in our 4th-floor dorm room and sent me off to the pharmacy.  Then, not wanting to disappoint the girls, we bought tickets for the double-decker tour bus, determined to see at least a little of the Big Apple.

Rainy New York

Rain won't stop us...but gout might

The next day, the day of our visa appointment, Todd could not put his foot into his shoe.  We limped off to a taxi and to the Consulate.  In less than two hours we were done; all had gone swimmingly and we were told to return in several days to pick up the visa, so we got back on the tour bus before heading to Boston. 

Daddy rallies!

A new World Trade Center: Proud to be an American


In Boston Todd sequestered himself on the couch and barely moved the whole three days.  I went to the thrift shop in search of old slippers to cut up to get around his swollen toe.  We fed him sour cherry juice and avoided all protein, but still his toe formed a white disgusting gouty tofus that stretched the skin to the breaking point.  Even so, we enjoyed seeing Mark and Bridget, and Tia and Sasha were in heaven surrounded by their five cousins.  We got in a good visit with Todd’s mom Linda, who lives downstairs in the basement apartment of Mark’s house, and were SO sad to leave all too early.


Whoah...that's a lot of cousins

Brothers with bed-head
Our visas were ready. We swung back through New York and picked them up with no problem and stopped to see the Statue of Liberty just for good measure.  Then it was off to New Jersey to try to catch a Space-A flight back to Spain.

Lady Liberty

Peace to the NY skyline

We were in luck.  We caught a flight that day directly to Rota, an exciting ride in a C-17 full of bullets being air-dropped to help fight ISIS in Syria.  Sasha won 20 euros from Todd by calculating how many bullets there were (17 pallets with 88 boxes per pallet, and 800 bullets per box). 

Visa accomplished!    !ÓLE!

Anyone want a bunny?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes...

“Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes…”  sang  Davie Bowie, and that’s how it seems to us in the last couple of months.  Things have been changing all over the place, and you either hunker down in fear or face it straight on! 

We are not afraid of change!
First, Suzi and Ethan took my adored nephews Griffin and Ado and had the gall to LEAVE US!  How dare they!  The house suddenly became ten times bigger and eerily silent as the four of us rattled around our palace.   But due to some unpleasant events and even more unsavory people (the details of which we won’t bore you with), they ended up leaving three weeks earlier than they meant to, and will return in December.   The four of us—Todd, Tia, Sasha, and I—sat looking at each other around the now enormous dining room table.  “Now you’ll have to cook, Mommy,” announced Tia.   “Sigh…no more taco night, no more delicious stir fry, no seared tuna…”  groaned Sasha…WAIT A MINUTE!  I actually CAN cook, I just DIDN’T when Ethan was around. 

Mi familia

Suzi and Ethan are now happily ensconced in a little three-bedroom house in LA, their own house rented until the end of October.  The boys are back at Franklin Elementary in the Spanish immersion program, and are realizing the benefits of their Spanish year.  “It’s so EEEEEEEASY!”  proclaimed Griffin.  Yeah, without Aunt Steph breathing down his neck and making him do endless pages of calligraphy, I guess it would be.  “I am the only one in second grade who can write cursive!” crowed Ado, whose cursive was better than Griffin’s back in April.  “And they are doing 4+7!!  That’s so EEEEEEASY!”  This from the kid who could multiply already back in March. 


Then came the startling news from our friends Cheti and Pat that they were being PSC’ed (that’s Navy lingo for being moved) back to Washington, D.C., and that the palace—I should say, The Palace!—that I originally begged Pat to give to me back when we arrived here in 2011 would actually be available in early September.  “Why should we move??  No WAY!”  said Todd.  “I like our place.  I like the pool.  I like my cave.  That’s a lot of work to move.” 

Tia dining!

Glorious princesses

Into the kitchen

Out of the kitchen

Living large

Zebra-themed to the ceilings

Out to the patio and pool

Master bedroom

But I begged and cajoled and took him to tour The Palace, and after the first ten minutes he agreed—as long as I would do all the work of moving, give up some of my extracurricular classes, and take the trash out at least half the time.  I quickly agreed, and we signed the lease last week.  It is a residence with a history, and a setting that is straight out of the 17th century, complete with a coat of arms over the copper-studded wooden entrance, a statue of Jesus, massive oil paintings of the Madonna and other religious figures, interior columns flanking an enormous covered patio, and an Olympic-sized pool set into an English garden.  

Front door complete with coat of arms

Cristalera interior courtyard

Staircase with San Jose

Todd is facing an ENORMOUS change: Yep, he is actually getting out of the Navy.  He vacillates between exhilaration and terror; leaving the nest of the Nav after 26 years is both hotly desired (no more deployments to Iraq, yay!) and fear-provoking (why am I walking away from a perfectly good job in this economy????).  I tell him about how good the life is here in Spain—flamenco, padel, horsebackriding, fiestas, cooking, traveling—so we have all our visa materials together, have reviewed it with the Extranjeria in Cádiz, and fly to New York mid-October to make it official.  We’ll stay here in Spain at least another year so that Todd can finally learn to play the bulerias, become a competent padel partner, and surf his heart out this winter.  Not to mention travel a lot!

Todd is going completely native
And speaking of change, Tia has some changes going on, too: getting rid of her braces, having her own room for the first time (yes, The Palace is big enough for that!), and starting a new school.  Tia graduated from her primaria (elementary school) to the secundaria, the Spanish high school.  We tease her about having to go back to first grade, because that’s what they call it: first grade of secundaria.  Sasha is relishing having a room of her own, too, and is already making lavish plans for decorating it.  The girls decided to change in their hamster for a bunny, and while initially skeptical about The Palace, they are already planning a big pool party.

Look Mom, no braces!  AND a mini-horse!

Growing up

A very sad set of changes occurred in the pet department, aside from the hamster/bunny exchange.  Our cat, Circles, jumped off the balcony back at the end of July.  We searched diligently for her, making the rounds with posters and flyers, calling all of the veterinarians and animal protection agencies, posting on Facebook, and doing everything we could think of to find her.  I finally located her microchip number and sent it out to everyone.  A week later, we got a call from a private animal kennel saying they had her!  We joyously went to pick her up, only to learn that they couldn’t locate her.  Two days and many phone calls later, we learned that she had been moved to the quarantine area due to a respiratory infection, and had died the next day.  The girls were heartbroken.  Todd and I felt terrible: she was so close to being home, and it was such a bitter lesson. 

A young Circles in IB

Pretty kitty

We love you, Circles

While trying to assimilate this loss around the dinner table that night, we heard a loud “thump” outside.  Flipper, our ancient 17-year-old cat, had just fallen off the upstairs balcony onto the hard patio concrete.  His kidneys failing, blind in his left eye, and skeleton-thin, he still purred as we held him and bawled.  Our wonderful veterinarian, Nathalie, took him home with her over the weekend, but then called us with the results of the blood analysis.  In short, it was time to put him to sleep.  He was the most amazing cat I’ve ever had, strong and calm, loyal and affectionate, and we will miss him dearly.

Flipper in his prime--our big cat!

Getting old in Spain

We love you, Flipper

Now the only other furry reminder of Suzi and Ethan’s whirlwind year with us is their cat, Smokey.  The airline didn’t allow animals to travel during the summer, so Smokey stayed with us as a furry hostage, one way to ensure that the Rico-Dubrows must return sooner or later.  And so they will!  If you didn’t have a reason to visit before, The Palace has an old-world guest room, too.  Come visit!

Smokey hanging in the fountain

 (pics of new casa, link to photo album)