16 days, not that anyone is counting

So it’s been, what, two and half months since I last was here?  I know, that makes me the worst blogger ever, though I doubt many of you are surprised. I’m certainly not.

As of today, I have sixteen days left in this country.  I’m sure that around Day 5 I will freak out briefly about not having seen all the museums, not having taken the cable rail, and the possibility of never returning and eating the most fabulous croissants in the world from La Mallorquina, but for now I cannot wait to get back.  I can’t wait for HEB, Target, The Cheesecake Factory with Laura.  Highways and Aggieland, Kyle Field and potluck (which I’ve had confirmed is still happening, thank the Lord and Rachel).  My good friend’s wedding, at which I will see so many other people I love.  Breakfast dates and bridesmaid dress shopping– I can’t wait for it all. And be prepared, y’all; I am awesome at hello hugs.

The last couple months have been both crazy and very uneventful at the same time.  I finally made it to Sevilla last weekend to go see my old host mom, who is alive and well, and as sweet as ever.  Sevilla is a great town for those who hate change (i.e., me)– the trolley has been extended and the construction projects are done, but the bus routes are still the same, and the city still feels as sunny and restful as ever.  I like it so much more as a tourist destination, though, and have realized that I could theoretically live in Madrid, while I never could in Sevilla.

To be sure, Madrid has grown on me.  Spain has grown on me.  The city of Madrid is engaging rather than entrapping, though there will always be some Spanish customs that make little sense to me.  That being said, I have settled in to the life that I live here, with my glorious friends, picnics in the park, cherries and bananas from the fruterias, gelato in Chueca, meetings and small group and Oasis.  Still, my patience for Valdemoro, my little suburb, has run out, and it is time to get back to everything I love about Texas.  Every day I battle the urge to start packing (it is still way too soon, and I’ll drive myself crazy if I start now).  I am doing my best to stay here until I leave, though, and am looking forward to a movie date on Tuesday with a good friend, and to some final days of exploring.  Spain has been good to me, and I am grateful for what I have learned.  I am, however, more grateful for what I get to come home to.  See y’all in a few weeks.

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Muster…this is how we do it

Aggies gathered together on June 26, 1883 to live over again their college days, the victories and defeats won and lost upon the drill field and classroom. Eventually the annual gathering evolved into a celebration of Texas Independence on San Jacinto Day – April 21st. Over time the tradition has changed, but its very essence has remained: “If there is an A&M man in one hundred miles of you, you are expected to get together, eat a little, and live over the days you spent at the A&M College of Texas.” Muster is celebrated in more than four hundred places worldwide, with the largest ceremony on the Texas A&M campus in College Station. — Aggie Muster History website

While A&M is known for being a bit cultish with its traditions, Aggies know what I’m talking about when I mention Muster.  It’s a point of pride to be a part of something that honors the past and looks to the future.  We love each other like family, regardless of age or graduating class, and Muster is a time to recognize that.

Before I knew my roommate was coming, I didn’t expect to go to Muster, because according to the Muster website, the closest Muster was in Switzerland or North Africa. Seriously.  So no Muster for me, right?  Wrong!  Sarah came, and we had our own fabulous version Saturday night. Starting with making lists on the train, and ending with making a playlist of all the songs that remind us of A&M, watching inspirational football videos (heck yes), and eating peanut butter M&Ms.  Honestly, I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the school we love than this.  How blessed are we?!  So this is what we came up with (it’s kind of long but you’ll survive):

12 Things We Love About A&M:
1. It’s a huge university with lots of opportunities but it doesn’t feel massive and impersonal.
2. Anywhere you go, you see an Aggie Ring and you have something in common.
3. The rec center and exercise classes.  (We miss our Tabata instructor Leah!)
4. The terrible prevalent attitude of service.
5. People are friendly and always ready to help. (Don’t y’all remember walking around campus with a map your first day of school?)
6. The profs are awesome.  They know their stuff, they want us to succeed, and they don’t ignore us for the sake of their research.
7.  The Aggie Network/Cult.
8. The Traditions: Silver Tap, the Century Tree, pond hopping, Muster, “howdy”, the MSC, Reveille…
9. Football games, the Twelfth Man, baseball games. Kyle Field.
10. Christian community/greatest friends and roommates ever.
11. We have awesome graduates who have accomplished things for the world instead of just resting on being “elite”.
12. Our future as Ags: The Bush School of Government and Public Service and the Texas A&M School of Medicine.

A&M iTunes Playlist:
Roger Creagor: “Love”
Bart Crow Band: “Wear My Ring”
Robert Earl Keen: “The Road Goes On”
Josh Abbott Band: “Oh, Tonight”
Granger Smith: “We Bleed Maroon”
Dixie Chicks: “Wide Open Spaces”
Stoney LaRue: “Velvet”
Lee Brice: “Love Like Crazy”
anything by Eli Young Band, Kyle Park, Randy Rogers, or Eric Church

Best Texas A&M Videos: (yeah we get chills, too)
Welcome to Aggieland:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5kkdYO7QeQ&feature=related
There is a Spirit (narrated by Roger Creagor):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVpx6JN1A4U&feature=related

…and then there’s us.  Best Muster ever.

Berlin is a Tease

Most of y’all know this about me– I hate cold weather.  I hate snow, hate brisk wind, hate having to wear fifteen shirts in order to not get frostbitten.  Also, I’m from Texas, so my definition of “cold” might not fit that of someone who lives north of the Mason-Dixon line.  Deal with it.

This is where the story gets a teensy bit sad.  A dear, dear friend of mine lives in Berlin, Germany, and I had been planning to visit her over Easter for a while.  A couple from church came back from Berlin a couple weeks earlier and had only rave reviews about the weather: “It’s so warm!  We didn’t even need our jackets!”  All of this made me extraordinarily happy, since the last time I was in Berlin it was two days before Christmas and the city was covered in snow.  By the time I got there, though, Berlin was like the rest of Europe– cold, with precipitation….snow flurries!  Granted, they didn’t stick to the ground, but come on, snow in April?  What?

Despite my near-constant complaining, however, I absolutely loved my Easter break.  Germany is great.  German bread is great.  German people are great.  German friends are fantastic.  Some highlights:
–Swiss Airlines.  Seriously, y’all.  I flew with them from Madrid to Geneva, Geneva to Zürich, and Zürich to Berlin.  Each time I got Swiss chocolate, and they usually fed us.  The first flight they gave us these amazing pizza roll things that I’m still thinking about.
–As is tradition, I was travelling in an A&M t-shirt (that way the plane won’t crash), and the sandwich guy at the Geneva airport got very excited.  “You’re from Texas?!”  “Yes?” “Hey guys, she’s from Texas!”  You would have thought that I handed him the keys to a Ferrari.  Even considering how much I don’t know French, it was terribly obvious that meeting a girl from Texas was probably going to be the best part of his week.  When I left, he waved like crazy, which partially made up for the expensive, bland sandwich.
–Movie nights!  I finally got caught up on seeing Up and Inception.  I know, I know, I missed the boat, but I watched them, finally, and they were so good!  I may or may not have cried about eight times during Up.
–Chocolate-covered bananas with sprinkles.

The best part, though, hands down, was seeing my friend.  Berlin was gorgeous, and I loved walking around with her, who was way more useful than any tour guide.  I love visiting places and staying with locals: they speak the language, know how to use the transit system, know where the good places to eat are, and usually you get to stay at their house!  I am so grateful that my friend hosted me for such a fun weekend, and that I was able to get out of Spain for a while.  There is something about Germany that feels just a little bit more like home, and so a weekend in Berlin was exactly what I needed.

General Strike (aka Things I am Grateful For)

When we were kids, when our grandparents used to visit from Michigan, we would all go to Main Event for some bowling.  It was always a blast, and we were bad enough at bowling that our mom felt comfortable enough to offer monetary rewards for strikes and spares.  Depending on the current morale, $.50 for spares, and $1 for strikes.  I mention this for two reasons: I went bowling on Tuesday, and would definitely not have raked in the money (I miss the days of bumpers), and today is Spain’s general strike.

All across the country Spaniards are striking against austerity measures and labor reforms.  Transportation systems are running at the bare minimum (trains from our town to Madrid are running every two hours).  Shops are closed, schools are closed, flights are canceled, and protesters are everywhere.  It seems like no trip of mine to Spain is complete without a strike, and today’s is supposed to be huge. 

Because of the strike, my host father is home today, and the girls did not go to school.  I am sitting in my attic grumpily wishing that I wasn’t here (strikes make me cranky) and I am trying not to compose retorts for getting chastised at for using the phone.  Thus, I am making a list of all the things I am thankful for, in order to combat my own attitude:

  • I got a package today from my mother, with lots of candy.  Candy (and socks and a stuffed bunny and oatmeal) is a beautiful thing, and I already feel myself simmering down a bit, thanks to a Snickers egg.
  • There are these two old ladies who walk every morning, and the girls and I pass them on our way to school.  I first noticed them one day when I had tripped on a grate in the street and fallen, and they were there to pick me up and fuss over me until for the three hundredth time I assured them that I was fine.  Now every time we pass them the women smile and say hello, and call us beautiful, and generally just make my day.  I will miss them.
  • Our walks home from school have been progressively getting better.  They used to take forever, and were filled with screaming, threats of abandonment, and disgruntlement.  Now we sing songs in English, play “how-do-you-say” (a very complex game I could never explain satisfactorily), and only slightly dawdle. 
  • The old people are so wonderful.  They’re sweet, of course, but as a generation they are so terribly perfect.  They are always dressed well, with perfect hair, and they move so smoothly (never jarringly).  Last night this older woman dressed in this fabulous coat literally pulled out a wooden fan from her purse to cool herself on the train.  I had no idea people actually did that!
  • La Mallorquina exists.  It has, in fact, since the 1890s, but the chocolate neopolitans are quickly becoming a tradition/obsession of mine.  It does not help that the bakery is right across from church, and across the plaza from the train station.  What a way to go, though.

So.  Lots of things to be thankful for, and believe me, for the most part I am a happy camper.  There are definitely days, though, when my feelings toward Spain actually resemble my feelings toward camping (they’re not pretty), so if you are reading this, please keep me accountable in being thankful, not only for the things I have and experience, but more importantly for who God is, and what he does in my life.  love y’all!

Community (theological concept, not the supposedly awesome show)

It’s always the same: I see a strawberry and immediately think to myself, “Hello, roommate.”  There are a million things that remind me of my roommate (Celine Dion [whom she can’t stand], the Houston Rodeo, the Phi Lamb shirt that I may or may not have stolen), and fruit is at the top of that list.  All kinds, too: strawberries, because she loves them but only eats three or four at a time, which has always seemed a bit pointless to me (eat more!).  Watermelon, because of the time it ended all over the carpet thanks to a stomach bug.  Oranges, because we bought them all the time, and we both have high standards for them.  Bananas because she doesn’t eat them, and kiwis because she does.  Apples because she doesn’t love them and will only eat them if there’s nothing else, and pears because I have never seen her eat them, not once.  The only fruit that belongs to me alone is the grape, and I don’t exactly know why.

Anyhow, all of this is to say I tend to take my people along with me when I go places.  I hear a Matchbox Twenty song on the radio and immediately I’m in the kitchen laughing with my mother.  I see anything Texas-shaped and there’s Mauri, cooking Texas-shaped waffles and lecturing on how Texas is better than anywhere else.  I see two friends laughing and smiling and all of a sudden it’s Tori and Jane, making fun of each other.

This week at Oasis we’ve been talking about community: its importance and how necessary it is for changing our world around us.  Timothy Keller, in his “Gospel in Life” book, notes that we cannot know God or change deeply apart from community.  We were not created to be solitary creatures; from Adam and Eve to the church in Acts, we see countless examples of Christians going at it together.  Even Jesus modeled it for us with his disciples.

A few days later I was listening to a Breakaway podcast about Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.  Paul loves these guys.  He longs to see them, and calls them his “glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:20).  And as I’m running, Ben Stuart asks, “Are you in a community like this?  Do you have people you love like this, and they love you?”  And with every footfall I just kept thinking, “Yes.  Yes, I do, and they are wonderful.”

So.  If you are reading this, you are what makes my community so wonderful.  I have been so blessed, both by the fantastic people I’ve met here through Oasis, and by the people back home who still keep up with me, who keep me in the loop, who deal with my constant requests for skype dates (ahem, Andrea Braugh).  I’m thankful for the FBC Bryan group, for the potluck crowd, for those I’ve met through various small groups and through different organizations.  You are my glory and joy, and I love you.

A Little Less Comfortable

I know that when you read this title your mind immediately jumped to an enormously popular country song about a marriage that’s gone a smidge cold, but fear not, y’all, my marriage is just fine.  Spicy, caliente, the whole bit.  Fear not.

For the great majority of you who did not get Carter’s Chord’s “A Little Less Comfortable” for free on iTunes and have just missed that offbeat redneck reference, what I am actually referring to is not a relatively unimpressive country song, but my new resolution.  I’m not calling it a New Year’s Resolution, because for one, it’s now the middle of February (how exactly that happened, I don’t know), and two, I don’t really do those.  I’m just as critical of myself on every other day of the year, so I don’t even bother.

To be honest, when I look back on my time spent in Sevilla, in the fall of 2010, I see a lot of wasted time.  Most of those three months was spent wishing that I was back home, and I can’t say with certainty that I made the most out of my time there.  Yes, I travelled quite a bit, and I got to know a fabulous Spanish woman whom I grew to adore.  I explored a continent and visited friends in Germany, and that’s something.  But I put little effort into making friends, Spanish or American, because I had enough in Texas, thank you very much.  And yes, my language skills improved, but even that could have been more of a priority.  Aside from great travelling experiences and a deeper appreciation for life back home, what did I gain except more student loans?

So this time is going to be different.  I’m telling you all for accountability purposes: this is going to be a semester of significance.  I’m not going to waste seven more months in this country pining for what I can’t have.  And while I have had valid reasons for staying comfortable in my attic (a lack of monthly transit pass and a cold front from Siberia, literally, to name a few), the Lord has put me here, and I’m going to actually be used where I am.  I keep being reminding of the time when God tells the exiles in Babylon to plant gardens, make homes, marry off their kids– to make lives for themselves in this foreign land.  And Paul tells us his readers to make the best of the situation we are in, no matter what that may be.  So that’s the plan.  Because I am here for a reason, and I don’t want to add this time to my list of months already squandered, or at least partially squandered.

So the theme of this month is to live less comfortably.  Quite a bit of my time here is spent in my attic, skyping, facebooking, watching tv, or playing Puzzle Express (a highly addicting Tetris-like game perfect for wasting time).  And while I certainly don’t plan to do less skyping/facebooking, the tv and games could be cut back on. 

So some things I’m going to do:
–Read all the books I brought with me.  Seriously, I brought a million books that I didn’t have time to read at home, and I haven’t touched them even now.  So I’m going to start those.
–I’m going to call the transit company and have an adult conversation in Spanish about the glove I accidentally left on the bus on Wednesday (sorry, Mommy).
–I’m going to get at least one intercambio (conversation partner).
–I am going to explore Valdemoro and will meet at least three people this month. 
–I will research clubs or language classes in Valdemoro.

A lot of these are uncomfortable for me.  Phone calls in Spanish are a bit unnerving, though I’m getting better with them now that Nuria has chastised me for not answering the phone.  Meeting up with strangers for conversation will take some nerve as well; let’s face it, y’all, I am not always a people person.  But tonight at church I felt deeply convicted that I was not to waste my time here, and that I needed to invest, so here goes.  Hold me accountable, and I’ll keep you posted.

My impending doom

Y’all, something bad is going to happen.  I can feel it in the wind, in my bones.

They want me to learn to drive.

This is a terrible idea, y’all.  I know, my father and a few more of you are already agreeing with me because of that whole giant-red-truck incident a year and a half ago, but I am not even talking about that.  Since that little mishap, I have been accident- and ticket-free.  My driving is fine, thank you very much.

But that’s driving in America.  Driving in Spain is a whole different beast, a monstrous beast complete with claws, fangs, and horns made out of small children.  To speed this up, I’ve compiled a list of all the dangers associated with me learning to drive here:

1. Their cars are stick shifts.  I don’t know how to drive a stick shift, and I’m not willing to practice on one of theirs.  The last time I drove anything slightly stickshifty was a dirtbike when I was 16, and I didn’t like it then either. 
2. Where would I practice?  It’s not like there are giant parking lots here.  No Prestonwood with its own little world of stop signs, no giant SuperWalMart with a parking lot bigger than most neighborhoods.
3. Their driveway is really narrow, and I know I’m going to break off a mirror.  Or two. 
4.  There are very few radio stations in English.  The whole point of driving is listening to music very loudly.
5. I’d be driving their children.  Why would anyone let me drive small children?  Especially in these tiny cars that likely offer very little impact protection.  Again, it’s one thing in America where I know all the traffic laws, know the city really well, know my car really well, and understand the mentality of other drivers.  None of those apply in Spain.  I don’t even know how to turn on the windshield wipers (which is important to know; see #6).
6. The whole point of me learning is that when it’s too cold or rainy to walk to school, we could drive.  Why would I want to drive in the rain?
7. I am not quite up on my Spanish road signs or road rules, which are more different from ours than you’d expect.  For example, here, pedestrians can just walk out in front of cars (In the crosswalks) and cars are expected to stop.  In the US, if you walk out in front of moving traffic without a “Walk” sign, you’re really just asking for a trip to the ER.
8. Roundabouts, y’all.  Enough said.
9. Parallel parking.  Can’t do it, and never have been able to.  Unfortunately Spain’s not real big on parking lots or wide open spaces (see #2).
9. And finally, the reason that underwrites all the others– Spanish drivers are CRAZY.  They drive on the sidewalk, for heaven’s sake.  I am not kidding.  This happens frequently. You’re walking on the sidewalk, minding your own business, and out of nowhere a car is backing up toward you until it is completely on the sidewalk, about six inches from where you stood.   They consider those little white lines on the sides of the road to be guidelines rather than mandates.  They see your lane and think, “Oh, we can both fit here, so let’s share!”  Seriously, y’all, I am going to die. 

Prayers would be appreciated.  I’ll keep you posted on how I wreck their car.