Saturday, January 28, 2012


The last few posts have been about the fun and the laughter we have experienced in our new home.  However, the reality of our new home slapped us in the face this week. 

We are so very grateful for technology.  We have repeatedly talked about what it was like for those who have gone before us - getting on a boat and heading across the world knowing that it took months for a letter to reach them and that in all likelihood, they would never return "home."  We are blessed with skype, email, facebook, a Magic Jack, and more.  

Yet, the reality is, there is an ocean between us and family, friends, and the place we called home.

No matter how much technology is available the ocean will never get smaller and life will continue on both sides of the ocean, at times making it feel even wider.  Lives move forward and in different directions.  Relationships change. 

The other reality is that technology does not allow touch.  Zach, our oldest son, called us Thursday evening to let us know he had lost his job.  He was desperately broken on the other side of that piece of technology and there was nothing I could do.  I couldn't reach out and hold him.  I was grateful that I could listen and pray, but more than anything else I wanted to touch him.  And at the same time, as I sat on this side of the ocean broken for my son I wanted to be touched.  Yet there was this incredible ocean between us.

God is faithful to never leave nor forsake and I can proclaim that he provided comfort, encouragement, and even touch in the hours after that call.  Yet the reality is, there will always be an ocean.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Phone Shopping

I know, I am a glutton for punishment!  First car shopping and now we are ready to attack phone shopping.  Unlike in the United States, when you sign your first contract with a phone company you do not qualify for the great free phone deals.  You must buy your first phone outright and then when your contract expires, you can trade up (or down).  You qualify for a discount equivalent to the phone you are trading up.

We bought 20€ prepaid phones when we arrived (without residency you cannot buy any kind of contract phone).  They dial, text, and ring.  Exactly what phones were designed to do, however, living in a foreign country with another language, has caused me to think about additional phone uses and am considering a smart phone.

For example, during the car shopping escapades a dealer responded to an email I had sent by calling my cell phone.  I am pretty sure he said he had the car I was looking for.  However, I had no idea where he was nor the language skills to understand the directions he might give me.  I was already in Madrid and it would have been much easier to go see the car while there.  Unfortunately home is where I went instead.

Of course, like many I thought I needed an iPhone.  That was until I found the price - 500€ (multiply that by 1.3 to see what that is in dollars).  I get a 20€ discount because of my prepared phone and that is still so far over my budget I could only laugh.

We do not have to buy the phone from a company here, we just have to buy an unlocked version that accepts a SIMS card.  I have shopped eBay, amazon, and other places and now feel almost as overwhelmed as car shopping.

So here are my questions for you readers (and I am hoping you might actually answer me - either comment or contact me).....

  • If you have a smart phone that you really like, what is it?  What makes it so great?
  • If you have a smart phone that you don't like, what is it and why?
  • Anybody have a smart phone with a qwerty keyboard that they really like?
  • Of course older models of the iPhone are much cheaper.  For those of you who have a an iPhone 3, are you able to still get apps that work and are you content?
Can't wait to read all your help.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Car and Driving

Quick update - the search for a car is over - or at least we think so!  We have begun the paperwork process to finalize the purchase of a car.  When everything is truly finished and we have keys in our hands, I'll post details.  We are truly grateful to all who financially partnered with us before we left for Spain.  It is because of you that we are able to get a car.  Thank you for all the prayers that have helped get us through the past two weeks of car shopping!

I have survived 13 hours of driving school and only have 6 more to go!  I have two wonderful friends who are taking the class with me which is making it bearable, as well as the fact that the class is in English and the instructor has a great sense of humor.  I promise, there will be a post in the coming days about all the interesting driving laws and the things I have been doing wrong.  I have some serious studying to do before I'll be able to pass the exam.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Necessary Characteristics of Life in Spain - Part II

Just to review (in case you forgot or didn't read yesterday) the two essential characteristics of life here in Spain are 1) the ability to laugh at yourself and 2) strong legs.

If the bus story didn't confirm that, then let me tell you about my pig.  Yep - pig - the four legged animal that goes oink. 

NO I do not have a live pig, but I got a good portion of a pig yesterday.  On the menu for lunch today was pulled pork bar-b-q sandwiches.  I have found that most co-workers or friends use tenderloin to make pulled pork (no, bar-b-q is not a food that Spaniards eat).  Being the good southern that I am, I actually preferred to use the Boston Butt - more fat and thus juicier.

So first my lesson in butchering - a Boston Butt does not come from the butt of a pig, it comes from the shoulder.  Now my Spanish lesson - how to say shoulder (hombro - being careful not to say hambre for hunger or hombre for man).  Armed with my butcher and language knowledge I headed to the butcher shop.

Stop - you need a few more details for this make sense - Earlier in the day I had been to Madrid to look at a possible used car (liked the car, but it had been a smoker's car - so it is off the list).  I was running late getting back into town and had to get meat before they closed for siesta.  I decided to park as close to the meat store as possible instead of our apartment.

I went into the meat store and attempted to ask for the hombro de cerdo (the shoulder of a pig).  The meat guys are fabulous - they have a ton of patience and laugh with me.  We acted it out, we repeated it and finally he appeared to understand.  He headed into the cooler with his big knife, came back out with the big knife, propped the cooler opened, disappeared for a minute, and then my mouth fell open - he was carrying the entire leg (including skin and hoof) of a pig!  I mean the entire leg!  Had I just committed to buying more than I wanted?  Picture that conversation - me trying to tell Scott why I bought an entire leg of a pick?!

I sighed a huge sigh of relief when he pulled out his knife and pointed to the shoulder and asked how much.  I was cooking for a friend, so I asked for 3 or 4 kilos - between 6 and 9 pounds.  Then he asked if I wanted the skin or not - that was an easy question - NO!  He cut out the entire shoulder and weighed it - 3.75 kilos so I took it - the whole thing!  He was a little overwhelmed that I really wanted the whole thing.

He cut it apart, I ordered chicken for another meal, and headed out the door with the entire shoulder of a pig.  I went across the street for onions, tomatoes, and avocados.  Still needed to go to the bread store, but decided I'd rather carry it all instead of trying to move the car and find a new parking place.  Walked the 5 minutes to the bread store, ordered my bread, walked another 5 minutes to our apartment, set down my bags to get my keys out and realized my keys were in my coat pocket.  And guess where my coat was?

Yep, in the car.... a 5 - 7 minute walk back - and oh yeah, did you remember I was carrying the entire shoulder of a pig around this whole time?

Again, two necessary characteristics - sense of humor at oneself and strong feet (and strong arm and backs if you intend to carry around a pig's shoulder).  By the way, the bar-b-q today was fabulous!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Necessary Characteristics of Life in Spain - Part 1

If you are considering moving to Spain (or any other foreign country) I have decided there are at least two required characteristics..... 1) the ability to laugh at yourself and 2) strong legs.   If in doubt, read on - if the next two stories don't convince you of that.... then you might need to laugh a little more.

Monday I needed to go to Madrid and it was also my language tutor day.  My tutor lives between me and Madrid so I offered to go to her house instead of her come to mine (allowed me to get to Madrid quicker).  She called and gave me bus directions and I felt prepared.  I was slightly worried about getting off the bus at the right stop, but had practiced the language needed to ask the driver to help me and had even looked at google map street view for the bus stop location so that I would know exactly where I was going.... however the problem wasn't on the end of getting off the bus - it was at the beginning - getting on the bus.

It should take about 40 minutes to get to her house, so I left at about 9:15 (needed to be there at 10:30).  All along, I thought if I get to her town early, I'll just stop for coffee first.  Uh, should maybe have thought about lunch instead. 

Apparently (uh, duh!) you should read all 3 numerals on the bus numbers at a bus stop.  I needed bus 223 - but went to our common bus stop where I knew for sure there was a green bus (green buses cross communities, red buses stay in your town - this will be important again in a minute).  I knew it started with 22, so of course it would be 223 - uh no - after standing there for about 5 mintues I decided to read the sign just to double check - it was a bus stop for 227 - uh oh!  But where was the 223 bus stop?

So, I walked back to the apartment and grabbed the bus map.  I found bus 223's route and looked for the closest bus stop - or so I thought.  I grabbed another local bus and took it to where I expected to catch bus 227 now - however, those bus colors were now important.  On the bus map there are dots where all the bus stops are.  I found a dot (but was red, and remember I need a green bus) along the 223 route and walked to it (about a 5 minute walk), and although I am a slow learner I do learn, so I immediately read the sign and there were no green #s - relooked at map to double check and found that the stop only had red dots - apparently if you want a green bus you need a green dot on the map.

So, searching the map for the nearest green dot along 223's route, I discover it is about a 15 minute walk back the other direction.... ugh!  Off I go and pray all along the way I don't see a 223 bus pass me -

Well, God answered that prayer, but I didn't pray quite specific enough because as I turned the corner to the bus station (where all buses that are going to Madrid originate) I see the #s 223 on the back of a bus and I begin to sigh in relief, until I realize that bus is moving..... out of the station and on the way to Madrid, without me.

It is now 10:30 - yes, an hour and fifteen minutes later and I am still in my town, so I call my tutor, tell her I'll be a little late (this bus only runs every 30 minutes... so maybe a little more late than a "little"), go into a coffee shop and grab a cup of coffee and a chocolate neopolitan (because chocolate always makes laughing a little easier) and stand firmly at the bus stop pole with my eyes glued in the direction the bus will be coming.

Finally the bus comes, I get on, find the right stop and arrive at tutoring - unfortunately it was now 11:30 - it only took 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to her house.... at least she had hot tea to warm me up (did I forget to mention it was about 35 degrees and raining this whole time?) and we had a great language lesson.

What did I tell you - you definitely need to be able to laugh at yourself and have strong legs - the day would have been a total waste without those two characteristics.....

Wait until tomorrow's post - you'll get to laugh about an entire pig's shoulder and me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Car Update

Our supervisor approved the vehicle we had picked out, but after Scott and I had more discussion and prayer, we have decided to go a different direction.  We have picked out a new make and model and are searching for one within our budget.  Keep praying that we will find the exact car that will fit us as a family and be useful in the coming days of ministry.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shopping for a Car in Spain

A dear friend in Ukraine posted on Scott's facebook page earlier this weekend, remember, T.I.N.A. - This Is Not America.  If that was ever doubted, the process of shopping for and buying a car is a definite reminder.
We are extremely grateful to all those partners who either gave one time gifts or started their ongoing partnerships before we arrived in Spain.  It is because of those givers that we are able to shop for a car.  Although there is public transportation, it is not available everywhere we go and not always easily accessible.  The kids ride city buses to school and we do a lot of walking, but there are many times that a car is a necessity.  We have been blessed by the ability to use borrowed cars from teammates who are on homeservice up until now, but it is time to buy our own.

First, a few rules about car shopping in Spain:
  • There is no negotiation - the price on the car is the price - bottom line, no hidden charges.
  • There are no test drives - sit in, crank it, open all the doors, put the seats up and down, etc... but no test drives.
  • Just because it is shown on the internet as being in their inventory doesn't mean it really is - and vice versa, just because they don't show a model you are looking for doesn't mean they don't have it
  • Mileage (or Kilometers) affects the price of the vehicle very little
  • Be prepared for this process to take days
After much discussion with our supervisor and others here on the field we made a list of requirements:

  • Fits our budget
  • 7 seats - a van or similar type car - although there are only four of us, ministry will be much easier with 7 seats
  • Less than 40,000 km (approximately 20,000 miles)
  • No more than 2 years old
  • Automatic
  • Diesel
  • Has a warranty
Armed with our list we began internet searches.  There is no Craigslist here, but several good websites.  Most of the websites are not really user friendly and this process took hours.  This process allowed us to narrow down our options in regards to models and we thought we were ready to start looking.

Last week I headed to several dealers with Alex was in soccer.  Remember, my Spanish is that of a toddler and I am using it to shop for a car.  Would you let your two year old do the talking for you?  I wasn't sure whether I was petrified, the comedian of the year, or superwoman!

First thing I learned - car lots are nowhere near the size of those in the states.  If  dealer had a total of 50 cars (new and used) they were a big dealer.  Next I learned that what you see outside the dealer's showroom isn't usually what is for sale - what is for sale is inside (guess since you can't test drive they don't need to be able to get them out easily).  And surprisingly to this American, there are no sales people waiting at the door to fight over the possibility of you being their next sale.  You have to ask for someone to help you (you can't see the cars without their help) and it is all low key.

As I left each showroom I would write down what I think they told me.  Who knows if I was anywhere near right!  I'd also call Scott (he was at home supposed to be studying for Spanish class) and get him to do research on the additional models I had found.  It took 1 1/2 hours to stop at 4 dealers (all next door to each other) and to see a total of 4 cars.  One dealer had someone who spoke a little English so that was a nice break in the evening.

The next day was a repeat - coffee moms, grocery shop, errands, and then yes - car shop - several more dealers and only one car on the list of maybes.

Friday evening we decided to attack the list head on.  We printed out all the possibilities from the internet, found their locations, plugged them all into google maps, designed a route to see them, and headed out.  We had 5 possible cars all at 5 different locations.  If we had driven straight from one place to the next without stopping Google said we had 2 hours of driving. 

  • First stop - turned out to be a private, one bay garage in the middle of no where - closed, and of course this was off the list because it would not have given a warranty
  • Second stop - we never found - GPS and Google and even the street name and # matched, but no sign of a dealer, garage, or used car.
  • Third stop - yeah - we finally got to see cars. We learned here that salesmen do not make commission, they are on a flat salary, explains a lot of the process.  The receptionist realized we spoke little Spanish (yes, it is that obvious) and preferred English so she called someone specific to help us - the computer guy.  Yep, the computer guy became our salesman.  Imagine that happening in the US.  He was great.  We looked at quite a few cars and successfully took one model off our list and added a new one to it.  At least we finally got to sit in several and realize something we had not considered - Scott is bigger than the average Spaniard (I'm on the average size - always been on the short size - feels kind of nice for once).  That means several of the vans are never going to be comfortable for Scott to drive.  Found a car we liked, but it was out of our price range.  The computer guy gave us some great information for car shopping and off we went to the fourth stop.
  • Fourth stop - no luck
  • Fifth stop - found the address and it was a restaurant and it was late so we kept on driving - we were now supposedly only 20 minutes from home.  Set the GPS for home and made a turn and there sat the dealer - just because they have moved doesn't mean they update their information.  (In one town we saw the KIA dealer sign and thought we'd stop while it was convenient and guess what, it had moved more than 10 years ago).  Parked, walked to the door and it had closed 10 minutes earlier.  Looked in the windows, marked the location on the GPS and headed home.
Yesterday we went back to the computer.  Revised our searches based on all the information we had gathered and made a new list of cars to go see (guess we could call, but with the limited Spanish we have, talking on the phone is very difficult).  We realized that one of the dealers (actually one of the largest used car dealers around - they actually have  A LOT of cars, getting close to America's normal stock at a major dealer) had at least one of almost every model that was still on the list, was only a 20 minute drive away, and was open until 8:30.

So here we went again.  After getting turned around a few times we finally arrived.  Gave the receptionist our information and while we waited for an available salesman we walked around and looked in the windows of the cars we were searching for (and even added a few to the list).  About 20 minutes later a very nice gentleman became available to help.  He spoke NO English - I mean no English, as in none!  But he was patient with our Spanish so off to look we went.

We sat in several, opened many, asked questions - oh for you to have been a fly on the wall - we could have won some comedy award - and narrowed it down to one.  One model and one car - at least for the day.

Now we are praying over this model and waiting to talk with our supervisor about this vehicle.  Perhaps on Monday morning we will put a deposit down on this car to hold it for us while we ask more questions and have time to deal with the logistics of buying a car here in Spain.  That is a whole different blog post!

Keep watching - will keep you posted - because as my friend said on facebook - T.I.N.A. so I am sure there are surprises ahead.

Friday, January 13, 2012

We are Official

After a crazy process that spanned since October 3, yesterday we picked up our residency cards and we are all official residents of Spain for one year.  Not only does this mean we survived this process, it also means we can now open a "real" bank account ( we have had a temporary one since arriving), we can look for cell phones, we can get frequent buyer cards for local stores, and more. 

We celebrated yesterday with cheese dip (A co-worker had just returned from the US and brought back Velveeta and Rotel to prepare for the celebration.  She too received her residency cards yesterday), fried chicken, mashed potatoes, Napa Salad, and chocolate neopolitans from a local bakery.  Thank goodness we don't have big celebrations like this too often or every pound I have lost since arriving would be found.

Thanks for all your prayers!  Although there were some "bumps" along the way, the process went relatively smooth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beef Stew

No good Spanish kitchen will be without a pressure cooker, so trying to fit in, I asked for a pressure cooker for Christmas.  Then after getting the pressure cooker and reading the manual in Spanish I set out to try to find some Spanish recipes that my family would eat.

This recipe was a hit!  And in Spanish style, you serve it with roasted potatoes (crispy) or french fries.  Put the stew on your plate and your fries beside it.  Yes, the fries will get a little soggy, but they are actually really good that way.

Madrid Style Beef Stew


  • 1 yellow or white onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2.2 lbs (1 kg) veal or beef (stew meat cut into chunks)
  • 4-5 Tbsp (approximately) flour for coating meat
  • 5-6 Tbsp Spanish virgin olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 20 whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1-2 parsley stems
  • 2 cups (500 ml) white wine
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 lb (500 gr) potatoes
  • 1 sweet green pepper
  • 2 cups (500 ml) Spanish virgin olive oil for frying


  • Peel and slice onion and garlic into thin strips. 
  • Chop parsley. Set aside.
  • Pour flour and a tsp salt onto a large dinner plate and mix together. 
  • Pour a few tablespoons of Spanish olive oil into a large pot or casserole dish and heat on medium. 
  • Pat dry meat and dredge through flour.
  • When oil is hot, brown meat on all sides. 
  • Add onion and garlic. Sauté for 3-5 minutes. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, except potatoes and green pepper. 
  • Adjust salt to taste. 
  • Stir well. 
  • Cover and simmer for 60-90 minutes.

Pressure Cooker Note: If using a pressure cooker, once all ingredients have been added to the pot, close lid and bring to high pressure. Then lower heat and cook for 20-25 minutes.

  • While the stew is cooking, peel potatoes and fry in a large frying pan. When potatoes are done, remove from pan and drain on a paper towel.
  • (I did not do the peppers) Remove stem and seeds from pepper. 
  • Cut into long strips. 
  • Pour oil into small frying pan. (Oil should be about 1/4-inch deep in the pan.) 
  • Heat the oil on medium heat and fry peppers until soft.

When meat is tender, place potatoes and peppers into wide, shallow bowls and ladle stew into bowls.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Retiro Park

I know, I know.... I am way behind in blogging.  I have so much I want to share but have had little time.  Hopefully in the next couple days I will have some serious blogging time and share with you about our Christmas (more than just pictures), our holiday to the south, King's Day, language progress, friendships, cooking, a new favorite recipe, and more... but for today, I just want to share with you about my the rocks.

The weather has been gorgeous here (60ish during the days) so after church today (by the way, we are settled into a single church while we learn language - another blog post to come about that) we headed to one of the largest parks in Madrid.  After navigating the metro system (and learning that there are parts of the system that require separate tickets) we finally made it there.

It is gorgeous.  Reminds me a little of Central Park in New York City.  Stretches for as far as the eye can see.  There are paths that run every direction.  In the middle is a lake where you can rent a row boat.  Restaurants are sprinkled throughout.  Vendors line the walkways.  People are climbing on rocks, walking the paths, roller blading and biking.  And yet, in the middle of it was a reminder that we are living in a country that is desperate need of the hope of Christ.

All along the walkway were fortune tellers - you could have your palms read or future told through a crystal ball.  And yes, people were paying for these services and several of them had lines of people waiting.  If that wasn't your method, then stop and see what the Tarot Cards have to say.  There wasn't just one of these tables, but numerous ones. 

In the middle of this beautiful park full of God's glorious creation, the only thing I could think of was Luke 19:40 "I tell you, he replied, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." 

Tomorrow I return to language studies and I pray that I will keep this vision in my head - a motivator to really learn the language.  I pray that God will change the hearts of the people and perhaps there will be no need for the stones to cry out.