December 9, 2018

Little People International Nursery, Albir, Valencia, Spain


Babs attended preschool at Little People International in Spain for the month of November. Mr. Go and I were more apprehensive about it than the child was. Would she be able to understand the other kids? Would she fit in and have fun?? Communication between myself and the director of the school hadn't been real great, but, as per the norm, we needn't have worried.

The school was great. Turns out it was a good thing the director didn't let me pre-pay, because the "registration fee" that the application spoke of, simply didn't occur. And--after living two days in Albir, we realized we didn't want to stay put in one town for the full 2 months, and paid only for 1 month. A whole 410 euro (390/month plus 20 euro supply fee= $465 USD).

The school is located on a nice, quiet side street with a locked front gate. There are three classrooms, one for infants, one for 3 years and up, and one for older children (10ish years old). The kids all get to eat together and play outside together, and according to the director, the middle class kids love to babysit the infants. It was all very cozy and familiar inside.

The majority of the kids are international, from Norway and the Netherlands, but there were several Spanish kids whose families lived in the area. The school focuses on bilingual education, helping the kids all learn Spanish. And all of the teachers also spoke English.

We felt welcomed immediately. Snacks and lunch were provided. They have food catered in, and Babs' teacher also eats gluten-free, so there were no problems there.

We chose this school because it had a website and we were able to communicate with them (sort of) before we arrived in Spain and ensure Babs would be able to attend. But once we arrived in Spain and started exploring these small towns all along the coast, we noticed a million pre-schools and nurseries. We didn't pop in to talk to them, but I imagine one of them might have had room for Babs for a month. So we probably didn't really need to limit ourselves to only what we could find online.



The weekend before we left Albir, the school director had organized a trip for the class to what we in the states would call a Children's Museum or like a children's farm. And I use the term 'organized' loosely. We had asked her if anyone might be able to give us a lift up there, since it was 50km north and we have no car, but then wound up figuring out public transportation anyway. So she definitely didn't think we were going to make it, and so Babs' name was not on the list of children at check-in. It turned out fine, they just added her name to the list, but it just illustrates the level of organization and communication.

Attendance to the Granja Escuela de Baladre cost us 32E, which also was never mentioned to us in any of the conversations prior to arriving there. But it ended up only costing 30, because we paid with a 50 and the guy only had a 20 for change. That seemed to happen sometimes with giving change, people just round down with a shrug.

The day was fun, though I wouldn't say it was worth 30E. They had a 'baking demonstration' where all the kids got to add ingredients for cookies into a bowl and take turns stirring, then kneading the dough and adding chocolate chips. Then the garden visit, where a man ate weeds off the ground to illustrate that everything was edible, but seemed to only encourage kids to put random things from the ground in their mouth. The kids made mud/seed balls, which apparently they use to fertilize the ground? He was speaking Spanish so I only caught about 25% of it.



Then there was a paella lunch (which included a beer), followed by a farm visit, where Babs got to pet a 20-year-old pig. The farm, very admirably, rescued wayward animals, such as 3 pigs, some chickens and a raccoon.

We got a chance to meet some of the families whose kids attended school with ours, and one Spanish family gave great reasons for why she chose to pay to put her kid in this school rather than opt for a public school (which would have been closer to her home and free). Class sizes are smaller, and the focus is really heavy on bilingual education.

Overall we were very happy with the school, and it made living in Albir for a month mostly worth it. Though we laughed at ourselves when we started to complain about living in a tourist town for a month. We escaped the frigid midwestern winter for a while to enjoy the sunshine in Spain... It's all good.


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December 3, 2018

Albir, Valencia, Spain


We've been booked in an apartment in Albir for the month of November while Babs attends school at an international nursery.

Albir is a coastal town. The climate and views are amazing, therefore, the tourism is high. There's a remarkable population of Dutch and English in this tiny village. The beach isn't sandy, but pebbly with medium to small, smooth sea-tumbled rocks. (Not very comfortable to lay on.)



We booked our apartment on Airbnb, since 'holiday rentals' were crazy expensive, and 'short term' rentals are 6 months at the least. We were on the 2nd floor with a balcony that has a view of mountains and the village. It has two bedrooms, a lovely little kitchen and a super sweet host named Ange. He was really nice and helpful, and like most Spanish-speaking people who also speak some English, spoke it very well but was super apologetic about it.

We've been very comfortable. A little too comfortable. The area is super tourist-oriented, with signs in English and "English breakfast" on many sidewalk chalkboard menus. Many Norwegian folks have set up businesses here to cater to the Norwegian tourists. (We got the most amazing bratwurst at delicatessen 'Delicioso' from a Norse Goddess of a woman, who very impressively spoke Spanish, English and whatever Nordic language was her native tongue.)

But at least four times I embarrassed myself by speaking Spanish to a waiter or waitress who looked at me blankly and confessed they didn't speak Spanish. Mr. Go and I agreed after two nights in Albir to spend only one month in the area instead of two, as we'd originally planned. And even then, a month there was tough for us. To be fair, a month anywhere while traveling would be hard for us, but here even more so.

Along the main street heading toward the beach, second-hand stores run by Dutch immigrants and English tattoo parlors offered some diversion, but nothing I would call authentic. There's no real 'downtown' area. It's all new developments. Between Albir and the larger city of Benidorm there's nothing but camping and restaurants that cater to tourists. We were disappointed in every paella we ordered.



L'alfas del Pi, 3 km inland and Old Town Benidorm 7km down the coast has offered the best glimpse of the windy-streets and hidden plazas that I love so much about Spain. L'alfas del Pi is a tiny blip of a town, but they were having a fiesta the weekend we visited and the street decorations and parade of reinas y damas in their fancy dresses was charming to the max.



In Benidorm, along the bigger road and along the (nice, sandy) beach there are plenty of 'things' to do, eat and see, but save your lunch for tapas alley. Old Town is at the Southern end of the beach, and the windy pedestrian-only roads with patio chairs crammed in for tapas restaurants are a lively hangout for Spaniards.



Babs has been having a blast. Of course waiters and waitresses love her, pinch her cheeks and give her extra candies and stickers. She loves school, too, and comes home with new Spanish words every day. (More on the school in another post.)

A LA MERCADO

There are five grocery stores within a short walk from our apartment. Aldi, Lidl, Consum, Mercadona and a more regional Supermercado. Mercadona has the best prices and selection. The seafood counter is prodigious, it being a coastal town and all. They're no Super Walmart, their beauty/bath/pharmacy section is small, because there are Farmacias on every other street corner, recognizable by their green plus symbols.

PS: Thank goodness for the big-box Aldi, because everything else was closed for some holiday on our second day in town. All the grocery stores are closed on Sundays, too, except the Lidl and probably the Aldi too.

When you purchase some seafood, such as a lubina (seabass) or calamar (squid), they may ask you if you want them to clean it for you ("Limpia?"). I always said yes, and they used enormous shears to clip off the head, tail and open the belly. PS the squid was really good, despite my overcooking.

Pro Tip: For buying groceries from a deli counter, it's important to know your numbers. It took three deli experiences for me to figure out how to say a quarter kilo. (Doscientos cincuenta = 250 gramos)

Sunday Markets

On Sunday, there's a market in Albir along the main drag. It's like a little canopy city that pops up in a big parking lot and it's filled with clothing, bags, a couple fresh veggie stalls, coffee trucks and even a roast chicken truck. Though the only thing we bought from the Albir market was a pair of 1E sunglasses. Every town seems to have these little pop-up stalls, though not always on Sundays.

Life in Spain has a different pace and vibe to it than America. Most things don't get going until later in the morning. Stores, restaurants and even Babs' school seemed to open later than in America.

Spaniards enjoy their breakfast of croissants, bocadillos or tostadas around 9-10. They have a beer or another coffee and a snack around 11, then their big meal, "comida," at 1:30-2pm. Then it's siesta time. Some stores and restaurants even have signage on their doors to say they will be closed for an hour or two in the middle of the day for siesta.

Around 5pm it's snack time, aka merienda. Dinner, "cena," is typically more like a light snack which occurs around 9-10pm. We've been out for cena only once or twice so far, and even then it's been on the early end of it. This post (and her entire blog) offers great info on Spain.

Serra Gelada Nature Park

The best thing we found in Albir was a beautiful hike along the coast from Albir to Benidorm. There are lots of little trails in this green space. One trail goes up to a lighthouse (one of the busiest routes, as it is paved and easy). The longer hike through the entire park was populated by 3 other hikers when we did the route. It took us almost 3 hours traversing over peaks and saddles, stopping occasionally to snap a breathtaking photo of the coastline and mountain ridges, each more beautiful than the last. There were even some rocky parts that got a little technical.



The trail ends at a janky cross in Benidorm, then there's a bit of a walk into Benidorm proper. Make sure you bring snacks and water.

We took the #10 bus back home.

Bottom line on Albir: I wouldn't go back. It was commercialized and a sea of silver-haired Norwegian retirees. We were almost bowled over by a pensioner on a motor scooter more than once. As of this writing, we are 4 days out from Albir and inland is quieter, smaller, and much more our speed.

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November 8, 2018

Three Days in Alicante, Spain


Alicante is a smallish city on the southeastern coast of Spain. We stayed in a cheap Airbnb 2km north of city-center in an awesome area. The closer you get to city-center and to the coast, the more touristy it feels. It's busier, the shops and cafes are more modern and the wait staff speak some English. *thumbs down emoji*


In our area, at the corner of Carrer Colombia y Avinguda Novelda, at the end of a shady-looking alley, we were in prime authentic location. Google Street View tells the story better than I ever could.


With a welcoming front like this, how is the place not booked solid? Even with no hand towels, no paper towels and being given 1.5 rolls of toilet paper by our generous host, we couldn't really complain at $26/night.


On the whole, Spaniards were friendly enough, especially with Babs, pinching her cheeks and waving at her.

There was no shortage of places to eat. Every other shop is a cafeteria or coffee shop. But far and away our favorite place was El Mosquito.

Let me wax poetic about El Mosquito for a moment. It's small and cozy inside, but not crowded. Bathrooms are upstairs. The wait staff were all incredibly friendly and welcoming without being overbearing. They spoke no English. As the waitress was trying to explain menu del dia to us, other customers were chiming in with the handful of English words in their repertoire to help us all out.

We inquired, in a general way, if the entrees were gluten-free ("sin gluten"), which launched an in-depth conversation that no one involved understood. In an effort to be sure we were satisfied, I suspect they may have gone to the mercado next door to purchase a package of sin gluten breadsticks to serve us. We never felt they resented us for being difficult on so many levels, and the waitresses kept pinching Babs' cheeks and even gave us the rest of the package of sin gluten breadsticks to take home with us.

Find El Mosquito here. Maybe there are better places to go in Alicante, but this was the absolute best, most authentic, charming, delicioso restaurante we visited. Five stars, 10/10 would recommend.



What Not To Do:

Being right on the water, Alicante is a popular destination for tourists. We saw two enormous cruise ships dock at the marina and an influx of English and Dutch retirees and young families disembark for a daily venture through the city.

Castell De San Fernando was not much more than a platform on top of a small hill. Castilla de Santa Barbara, however, was a tourist trap.


Sure, it was cool that the castle was built in the 700s, but what wasn't cool was the crowds of people milling around. Some people are into it, it just happens that the Go Family is not.

You could step inside the "castle" proper into smallish chambers housing old pottery and other exhibits. The view of the ocean and the city was nice, though. The Internets said it would cost us money, but everywhere we walked around was free. Maybe we didn't find the paid portion, maybe it was a free day, who knows? My recommendation: Just Don't Do It.

When ready to depart to our next destination, Albir, about 50 km up the coast, we went to the Luceros train station, situated in central Alicante. The L1 tram goes north until it ends at Benidorm, then simply disembark the tram, go to the other side of the rail, where the L9 begins. The L9 goes further north, to Albir, where we are currently sitting pretty in a sweet Airbnb for the next month. The tram journey cost us 9.70 Euro (Babs was free).

More on Albir in the next post!

November 5, 2018

International Travel with Kids: Spain Edition

Well, we're at it again. We liked the southeastern coast of Spain so much last year, we decided to return this year...for two and a half months.

Only time will tell if that was a good idea or not. We might get homesick a month in, we might hate it and want to call it quits. I don't think we will, but if we're to spend, say, six months living in a different location next year, we wanted to get our feet wet with a "small" trip first.

For best prices and options, we drove to Chicago to fly out of O'Hare.

ProTip #1: For the long, over-sea leg of your international journey, make it an overnight flight.



We boarded at 6pm, right around bedtime, and with Babs' teeth brushed and jammies on, she stretched out across 2 1/2 seats and zonked for roughly 6 hours. It was only slightly more difficult for the larger versions of her to get some shut-eye, but we managed a few hours at least.

ProTip #2: BRING SNACKS

We loaded up at Meijer outside of Chicago with packaged foods. They make single-packs of olives without liquid, presumably just so you can take them through airport security! What will they think of next??



We focused on protein snacks, like those grass-fed EPIC brand beef, bison and venison jerky packs, and I made up trail mix of roasted almonds and dark chocolate chips to bring from home.

Especially on budget airline (we took Norwegian air this year, after months of ticket-price-tracking, 3 round-trip tickets totaling 1400 USD), where they charge you for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g., being prepared with snacks is important if you want to travel on the cheap.

ProTip #3: Get a credit card with no international fees. Like an Amazon Prime credit card, which you can then use for extra cash back on all your Amazon purchases, like the boss you are.

After a 3-hour layover at London Gatwick, we went on to Madrid. Instead of staying in an Airbnb in the city, or taking a taxi to the Atocha train station, then a 100 euro train to Alicante, we rented a car for 90 euro and drove to the coast that night. The last hour of the drive was pure misery, jetlagged and having to get my Airbnb key from my host's friend then drive across town and find the place, but then we arrived, took our stinky shoes off and slept for 11 hours.

We returned our car to the Alicante airport the next morning, and took the 3.85 C6 bus to Alicante city center. It departs from the 2nd floor (Departures level) of the Alicante airport.




Note: I watched Airbnb prices go down several dollars/night until I booked two days out from our arrival. If you know you have lots of options for lodging, sit on it and wait and you may get an even better deal.

More on living in Spain in another post. Hasta luego!

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October 30, 2018

DIY Kid's Avengers Black Widow Costume



She's been Hulk, she's been Thor, now Babs has chosen Black Widow for this year's costume. Maybe next year we'll branch out of the Avengers. Maybe not.

Widow Bites Bracelets

2 sheets Black construction paper
Elastic thread & hand sewing needle
Glue

Cut strips 2.5" x 4". (Sizes may vary depending on your child's wrist size.) 2.5" will be the length of the "bullets" and 4" ensures enough layers to be sturdy. Find a marker or glue stick that's the diameter you want the bullets to be. Wrap the strip around the marker and glue liberally.



Babs is 4.5 years old and I used 10 bullets for each bracelet. I should probably have done more, because when the elastic stretched, there were gaps.



Thread the elastic thread onto the needle and take a short stitch through the seam side of the bullet, about 1/2" from the short end. Stitch through each bullet. Cut the elastic with plenty extra. Repeat for the opposite short ends. Tie around your child's wrist, making sure it's tight enough to stay on, but not too tight! Keep in mind if they're going to be wearing multiple layers of clothing under the bracelet.



Black Widow Belt

Buckle
Elastic
Grey sheet of craft foam
Markers

Cut a length of 1"-wide elastic 2" longer than your child's waist. Thread one end through the female buckle end and stitch. Thread the opposite end through the male end.



I practiced my Black Widow hourglass on some paper, then used that as my template to trace onto the sheet of grey foam paper. I drew in the inner shapes and let Babs color them in red and black.



Glue the foam piece onto the front of the buckle.





A long-sleeved black shirt and black pants and she was doing parkour in the living room.



Happy Halloween!

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October 8, 2018

DIY Greek Yogurt Recipe

I LOVE greek yogurt. It's high in protein, great for your digestive and immune systems, plus it tastes delicious.

But a tub of that stuff runs $6 a pop at our hometown store. An expensive habit like Chobani really adds up. So the DIY-er in me wondered, Can I make that myself? Turns out you can!

Save 2-3 TBSP from your store-bought tub of Greek yogurt to use as your starter culture and incubate your own batch in the dehydrator.


Supplies:

  • Starter culture from store-bought Greek yogurt (straight-up, not the "blended" kind with sugar flavorings)
  • Candy thermometer or a meat thermometer
  • Sieve
  • Cheesecloth
  • Jars
  • Dehydrator (you can use other things for incubators, like an oven on low temp)

1: Heat 4 cups (1 pint) whole milk to 160 F. We're killing off any bad bacteria.


2: Cool it off to 120-115.


3: Scoop out 1 cup and add your 2-3 TBSP of starter culture. Stir it up real good, get those cultures allllll incorporated. Then add it back into the main pot and stir that up real good.

4: Transfer them all to heat-proof containers, cover (not airtight--simply to keep dust/bacteria out of the jars) and set in dehydrator at 110 F for 8-10 hours. Mine typically go more toward the 10-hour end to make sure it's completely set. (Try not to check on it, but to test if it's set, tilt the jar. If the yogurt comes off the side of the jar in one mass, it's done.)



5: Let cool for 2ish hours. This step is actually important. Impatient Me has skipped this before and been disappointed. Cooling allows the yogurt to firm up even more, otherwise if you pour fresh warm yogurt into your cheesecloth, you'll get a lot of white unformed yogurt in the whey.

6: Pour into cheesecloth-lined sieve, set over a pot to catch the whey. Let strain for 1-2 hours, depending on how thick you like your yogurt. (Check out this post on what to do with that liquid gold whey you strained out.)




The yogurt will come off the cheesecloth in one creamy lump of glorious nutrition.


Store in the fridge for a week or so, I guess; ours never lasts that long. Don't forget to save 2-3 TB for your next batch!

BONUS MUESLI "RECIPE"

Muesli is traditionally an oat-based granola/cereal, but use coconut flakes and nuts instead for a lower-carb option. A couple scoops add the perfect crunch to a big bowl of homemade yogurt.

1 cup roasted salted sunflower seeds
1 cup roasted salted pepitas (aka pumpkin seeds)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Add in some sliced strawberries or bananas (and mayyyyybe a dollop of honey on special occasions) and enjoy.


October 1, 2018

Resources for At Home Learning

I almost entitled this post "The Failure of Standardized Education to Adequately Educate Children," having just finished this book by Ben Sasse, but I toned it down a little. Preschool might be a little early for me to get up in arms about the ways in which our beureaucratized school system is an embarrassment, but oh well. I might as well just get a Mom Haircut and roll with it.

But really, you cannot leave the education of your children primarily to their school. At least, not if you want a well-rounded, conscientious and engaged adult. Taking a hands-on (and indeed primary) role in Babs' education is something we look forward to. Watching her learn is so fun! To see her grasp concepts and then apply them: magical! (And not just readin' writin' and 'rithmetic, but problem-solving, empathy and confidence.) We are crafting a bourgeoning human being!

I haven't dipped into the 'homeschooling' realm (yet) but I've dipped my toes in the Google water of at-home worksheets, and one resource rises above for actual education: the aptly named Education.com.

Googling coloring sheets for whatever Babs is into at the moment is well and good, but Education.com has THIRTEEN pages of coloring activities, all with subtle number- and letter-recognition reinforcement.

You can find worksheets on an array of subjects, such as math, science, and a breakdown of social studies, for kids from preschool to 5th grade.



"Scare up some fun word recognition with this Halloween themed matching activity. For more engaging educational activities, go to Education.com!"

Games like word searches, crosswords, connect the dots and match games make learning fun, and with the vast array of themes and worksheets, it'll always seem new and different. They even have online computer games too.

But don't take my word for it, check it out at education.com. Just make sure your printer has paper.