Wednesday, January 26, 2011

School-Colegio Larrañazubi

The girls started school last week and it was an adjustment for all of us. They both have a significant amount of homework and there is definitely an "academic language" barrier to work around. Dean and I are both increasing our vocabulary as we also are taken back in time to elementary science concepts, some of my college Spanish linguistics, and then there is math where division problems are set up "upside down and backwards" from how we do it in the US.

The school here is much smaller and it is very family oriented in the sense that the teachers see the school as a big family where all the teachers know all the kids and are in regular communication with parents via an organizer that all the kids carry. They use it for writing down their homework daily and as a place for teachers and parents to communicate/pass messages.

More importantly I suspect that you would like to hear from the girls what they think so far so I decided to interview them. Below are their answers.

What time does school start and end? How do you get there? 
Morgan: school starts at 9am and ends at 2pm. We walk and if it is raining really hard we can go by metro. It takes 20 min. to walk there and there are lots of kitties along the way and you have to dodge dog poop on the sidewalk.
Maia: I walk very carefully because there are some busy streets. There are some little kittens and there is one that waits on its porch every day for us.

What subjects do you study?
Morgan: math, English, Euskera (Basque language), language arts (Spanish), music, physical education. My favorite is music.
Maia: Basque, social studies, science, math, music, language arts, during English I read in English, and while the other kids go to religion I do handcrafts. We have recess before and after lunch.

What is different about gym class?
Morgan: It's in a different building. One time a week you have a double hour and you shower after. There is only one teacher. There is a game where you stack mats and you have to hide behind them. There is one person who counts to 30 or 40 with eyes closed and while you are hiding, after they count they look for people behind the mats. If they find you but say the wrong name you don't have to go in the middle but if they say the right name you have to go in the middle. If she says a special word then you have to run and touch her back while she is counting and run back behind the mats.
Maia: Gym class is more competative as we are on teams and if your team wins you get a prize. Once a week we have a 2 hour class and we have to shower.

What is different about how you do lunch at school? 
Morgan: we have recess then lunch then recess. Lunch is at 2pm. After lunch you go home or do after school activities. We use actual plates, cups, and silverware. We all have a specific spot at our table. They serve the first plate. When most people have finished that one they serve the next plate. Then we get fruit or yogurt for dessert. After lunch you take your plate and put everything on top. Then you take your silverware and put them in water filled buckets, you dump your liquids in a bucket, you scrap your leftover food into the trash, you put your plate and cup on a cart on top of the others.
Maia: The food is fresh and much healthier than at Thoreau and for dessert we always have fruit or yogurt. We are served our food.

What do you do after school?
Morgan: Sports, theater, and painting. And every Wed. instead of staying for lunch we eat at home and go to Sopelana for an art class where we do painting, clay, drawing, and all those fun things.
Maia: I go to PE twice a week and theater once a week. I also have an art class. I have LOTS and LOTS of homework everyday.

What do you like the most?
Morgan: recess because you get to just play with your friends.
Maia: we have our own laptops in fifth grade. I also like my teachers.

What do you like the least?
Morgan: lunch because the food isn't that good. You can't bring your own lunch and the food is all new flavors.
Maia : exams, I have one tomorrow and I think I won't like it.

What other similarities and differences are there between school in Spain and in Madison?
Morgan: everything is different. In Madison you name the teachers Mr./Mrs. LastName but here you call them by their first name. To get to the music room and gym you have to walk outside. I miss having art at school but I like art in Sopelana.
I went on a field trip with 3rd & 4th grade classes and we walked to a port where there was a sailboat. We saw a movie and then we got to tour the sailboat. The sailboat traveled from Bilbao, Spain around Northern Europe and the captains Name was Unai Basurco. They did that trip to save some animals that were going extinct because of pollution in the water. They talked to people along the way that save the animals to find out how to protect them and find out what they do. There was a spoonbill bird that one man protected because the bird would stick their heads in the water with their eyes closed and would end up eating trash instead of fish.
Maia: Both are public schools. Here, we call our teachers by their first names, we have bells that indicate when it is time to switch classes. The littlest kids at the school here are 2 years old and the oldest kids are in 6th grade. There is only one class per grade here. There is no play structure at the playground. It is like the upper playground at Thoreau. At recess we are separated by age. Everything is in Spanish here. Here there is only one school bus and about half of my friends ride the bus and half walk like I do.

We encourage any comments or questions that any of you have. The girls are happy to share/investigate as they learn and experience more.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Portu & Plentzia

This is last weekend's adventures as a photo entry:

Another Visit to Portu...
Return Trip by Boat

Sunday we spent the day in Plentzia with MaLuz, Sara and her nieces...
Views of Plenzia

Peddle Powered Merry-Go-Round

Time on the Beach

Monday, January 17, 2011

Geeky Details

Here are some fun facts about where we're located:
  • Bilbao is about 12 miles farther north than Madison. However, due to its coastal location, the climate is much more moderate.
  • Bilbao is in the Central European timezone, but is very far west. By contrast, Madison is near the eastern edge of the Central Standard timezone. As a result, the sun rises and sets here about an hour later than in Madison.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Things that work: 
  1. Paths. There are 3 running, walking, biking paths within a short distance of where we are living. Two of the three are along the ocean so the views are amazing. The other one provides a bit more of a hilly challenge but less scenery. While we haven't spent much time on them yet, I anticipate we will as we become more settled here. 
  2. Grocery carts. Sounds odd but they don't just move forward and backwards here, they also slide sideways. It takes a little getting used to at first but once one learns to navigate them, the flexibility is really nice.
  3. Taking the girls to the library. I wish I had done that earlier this week. For those of you who don't know, due to the government being on vacation, we still don't have the rubber stamp for them to start school. We should get it tomorrow, Friday. So we have been "homeschooling" with math, spelling, Bill Nye the science guy, and a number of web-based materials I have found for them. They are bored but moving through it. Today we went to the library and they finally are really engaged in some books that they found there. They read for awhile while I worked and have continued with their books since we got home. YEAH!
  4. Art classes in Sopelana. We found an art studio where the girls can take class each week. Its about 4 metro stops away but it's a great place and they will have a chance to create art projects in many forms from clay to drawing and painting, and much more. One of the boys in the class may be in Maia's class at school as well.
  5. The doorbell buzzer. We have figured out how to let people in and finally how to talk to them to ask who it is before buzzing them up. The little things...
  6. A table for working. We just bought a used table that I think will be great for Dean and I to work, although we still don't have chairs for it. Dean is working from a folding chair today and I'm still at the couch, but my feet touch the floor. Always a plus ;-)
  7. The oven. Yes, it works. I'm still having some trouble figuring out some of the settings but I can bake potatoes and my lasagna appears to be cooking. The verdict is out on taste as some ingredients are hard to find, like ricotta. I'm trying something called queso fresco so we'll see.
Things that don't work... so well
  1. The washing machine. It has been bugging me since day 1 that I have to remove half the clothes and run additional spin cycles so they aren't dripping wet before I hang them to dry. Finally the owner got a guy out here to look at it. It's officially not working right and should be replaced. Not worth fixing. 
  2. Receiving packages, or at least ones of a certain size or sent via certain companies. Dean shipped his bike and it is being held hostage in the cargo area of the old airport where he needs to appear in person to the customs officials before 1pm M-F. Not an easy task with no public transportation to that area and a short time frame for anyone we know who has a car and a job. Package number 2 sent by FedEx is being held hostage in Madrid. Again a matter of customs and them needing more information. Hopefully that one will be delivered soon now that they have all the pertinent ID information on file.
  3. Malls. Yes, they now have them. I have seen many changes to this country in my last 25 years of visiting regularly. Malls however, just don't fit. It's too, well, Americanized to feel right. That said, they have bowling which Dean and the girls enjoyed as well as a movie theater. So, I suspect we will be back as it is only a short bus ride away.
As you can see there are more things that work than things that don't so that's a good sign. No big plans for the weekend but we'll see which way the wind blows us. Stay warm, those of you experiencing real winter.

Monday, January 10, 2011


So we finally made it inside the Guggenheim. I know many of you are wondering how I can say finally when we have only been here for a two weeks but, we have visited many times since before and after it was built and never entered. The building itself is pretty amazing as you can see from the outside.

The girls had the typical modern art questions like, "you mean someone just painted that giant canvas with one color, splashed another color on the edge and it got put in a museum?" There was a large section of photography as well as a newspaper art clippings area where the clippings were all from my childhood. 1970s US and world news in English. There were some unique rooms with special lighting and portraits hanging of random people. Again, 70s and 80s. Much of the photography had a rather dark side and wasn't appropriate for the kids so we had to move them to other areas accordingly. The upper level hosted older paintings and still art which was of greater interest to the girls, particularly to Maia. They offer classes for kids so we may look into some of those options once we are more settled into a routine.

I think we may also have found a nice art studio for them to take classes in the evenings once a week in Sopalana, a few metro stops away and only steps from my sister MaLuz's flat. One more step forward to finding interesting opportunities for them.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Adjustments-Part I

We have had lots to adjust to but we will soon start a more routine life here. For now, I'll provide you with highlights of what we have learned along the way.

Maia, who hasn't enjoyed the food much, learned that the way food tastes is a direct result of the food that the animal eats before it produced food for her. So, eggs, cheese and meat don't taste the same. It is taking a little bit to adjust but slowly we are finding what she likes and is willing to eat. She has yet to find chocolate that she doesn't like though.

With respect to food preparation and shopping, I have learned a ton. There are many items that are hard if not impossible to find here that we are used to having at home. For example, relish, sauces & dressings, black beans in a can, natural peanut butter, brown sugar with molasses in it (did you know that is why US brown sugar is sticky?), instant oatmeal, ricotta cheese,  health-ish cereals without chocolate in them, pancake syrup, pre-packaged juice without added sugar...

However, this brings us to the new skills category... Our morning orange juice we squeeze fresh daily and there are always both juice and eating oranges available at the fruit and vegetable market. Morgan has become an expert juicer and both girls have learned the correct way to slice open an orange for that purpose.

Groceries are a daily event but the food we are eating is much fresher. At the meat store when I ask for ground beef it is ground on the spot. When asking for chicken breasts, he cuts up a whole chicken and packages up the breasts. I now know how to debone a chicken, or at least the thighs. If I asked, he would probably do it for me but it was good to learn. Of course when buying fish, which is sold whole, they are more than willing to open it up for you but will only cut the head off when specifically requested. They then ask if I want the head or if they should throw it out. In the category of being sure the kids are willing to eat fish, head removal and disposal before its arrival home is required.

Getting Around
We've done quite well and are enjoying a car free life. Most everything is in walking distance and anything that isn't can be reached by metro.

When we need to go to a neighboring town we either walk or metro depending on how far we need to go. We have gone into Bilbao a few times by metro and that takes about 30 minutes. It's a good opportunity to read. It makes us really realize how unfortunate it is that no train service is going to be hitting Madison as that might have led to improved public transit as well.

For school on rainy days the girls will take the metro but on other days it will be about a 20 minute walk.  On the way we pass by the public library which I suspect we will stop in to on occasion, as well as the sports facility that has a pool. There are a number of nice biking, running and inline skating paths within a short distance. For now we only have tennis shoes but we will explore other means of transporting ourselves in the future. For me, adjusting to only 1 kind of exercise is difficult. Variety keeps me interested. Dean's road bike will arrive soon and the weather is so nice I'm sure he will hop on it quickly.

Yesterday evening we went for a walk and found a nice beach. I'm sure we will visit there again. Overlooking the beach was a skate park built into part of the side of a mountain. On the way back Morgan asked "can we go to a bar near the house?" You can take the girl out of Wisconsin but not Wisconsin out of the girl. So we did find a place to sit and have something to drink only a few steps from our flat. It is common here to see people out with kids between 7-9pm, stopping at a bar for Mosto (grape juice) and pinxtos (also known as tapas), small appetizer size portions of food.

I'm not sure what "Adjustments-Part II" will be or when but I suspect that will be a future entry. Thanks for reading.