The new year

Everyone feels optimistic about this year. I do, too. But I also have that slightly itchy feeling that comes with not knowing what I’ll be doing for the second half of the year. AND I also have that grungy feeling that comes from it being January. January in Spain is much better than January in Canada, but it is still, after all, January. My mind and body are in mild hibernation mode.

I don’t make real new year’s resolutions. According to highly scientific surveys, no one keeps them anyway. I do have some plans. January antidotes? There is a half marathon on the horizon, 12 weeks away. It comes with sexy new shoes and a training plan.

Last year in March or April I decided I would try to read more books than I watched movies. Last year I did, and I think it’s on the agenda for this year too.

Other plans go as follows: There is an Easter holiday in Ireland, probably. Lots of weekend trips to be booked. There are some visits on the horizon (I will describe them after the fact so as not to jinx anything – but hint: visits are awesome).

And there are, as always, just under a thousand children ages 2 to 10 to imbue with a love of English – in the next weeks my kindergarten teaching extends to pre-schoolers too.

In the meantime, there is half a month of January to go. Remedies involve books, splurging on 6 euro bottles of wine, and watching the seconds tick by.

In school news:

I am now well-versed in the cool toys after hearing ALL about my students’ Christmas and Epiphany gifts. In case you were wondering, Nancy dolls, remote-controlled helicopters (!!!) and all things Wii and Nintendo 3DS are in, as is, thank goodness, Playmobil.

I got a few Happy New Year cards (my first ever, I believe). One is tied shut with a plastic ribbon and reads HAPPY NEYW YEAR and was made during the class that I was teaching.

I had the following conversation with a coworker this week:

-Is Alberta close to where you live in Canada?
I show her Canada on Google maps, showing the distance between Alberta and Ontario.
-My cousin is going to Alberta on exchange.
-Oh, which city? Do you know? Edmonton or Calgary?
-No, she’s going to Alberta.
-Oh, I see. It gets pretty cold there!
-Well, where we’re from in the North of Spain, it’s very cold in winter, like -5 sometimes at night.

So you see, Spain and Canada aren’t so different after all.



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Happy Merry Almost Christmas

It’s my last Thursday before the Christmas holidays. That was a great motivating factor in getting out of bed today… So anyway, I’m seeing classes for the last time this year.

And I asked my first class (my favourite class, but don’t tell?) what we say for Christmas, to which they responded “Merry Happy Christmas!”

All of them!

“Merry Happy Christmas!” is the best expression ever.

A close second is “It’s my happy birthday!”

No, not, “It’s my birthday.”

“It’s my HAPPY birthday.”

Speaking of birthdays, last week was my happy birthday. Oh, and today, after an hour of singing and dancing to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my class of fourth-graders sang me happy birthday belatedly. It was lovely.

For said birthday, I was with my Dad in Bilbao. We went to the Guggenheim, and it is a really great museum. Bilbao gets a bad rap, but, in my opinion, it’s totally undeserved. People say it’s industrial and not beautiful. But really, it’s a pretty city. We also went to Santander, which has great beaches and lots of nice places to walk. I understand why the royal family would summer there.

As of today I have four days of school left. Next Wednesday I journey back to Canada. 6:40 am flight from Madrid to Brussels, then Brussels to Montreal, then Montreal to Ottawa. I have decided that I have a big enough inventory of travel disaster stories already and don’t need any more to add to my collection, so everything should go smoothly. As long as it’s a complete 180 from last year’s adventure I should be ok? Last December, 12 hours stretched into something like 36 or 40. Anyway. This year is my year.

Cross your fingers for me! Wednesday, remember. Send me good air currents (?) and pray to the weather gods and whatever else you can manage. In the meantime I will be Christmas shopping, cookie baking, carol singing and suitcase packing. ‘Tis the season.

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Los niños

Last week was Turkey week at school – we celebrated American Thanksgiving. The timing on Canadian Thanksgiving was too awkward back in October. So the week featured lots of hand turkeys and story telling.

I wrote a little story about Thanksgiving for my 3rd and 4th graders. It involves turkey, mashed potatoes and apple pie. When I was trying to get the kids to guess what “mashed potatoes” were I made (I thought) a mashing motion with my hand. One kid raises his hand and goes: “Stabbed potatoes!?” Also, they thought my potato picture showed rocks. (Me, to them: “You’d eat rocks for Thanksgiving??” Them: “Umm… yes!”)

I also talked to my fifth graders about their timetables. I was asking them their favourite day of the week, in terms of classes, and one kid answers, “Every no day.” Every no day? “No day. Every day is work.” He’s ten.

Anyway, sometimes the kids do get to have some fun. Like when their teacher breaks down slightly. In one uncontrollable third grade class at 5:00 pm*, realizing the activity I was trying to accomplish was just not going to happen that day, I taught the kids the Hokey Pokey. Which usefully teaches left, right, body parts AND in and out. Super educational. And I left with (most of) my sanity (somewhat) intact.

Here is a very nice picture that a tiny 8 year old with a devilish smile and a slight unibrow gave to me.

When I leave this school, one thing I’m going to miss in an unbearable kind of way is the affection of these kids. I am regularly accosted by hugging mobs. In a first grade class I bent down to talk to a kid with a question, and after he mumbled incoherently I pulled on my ear and said, “Speak up,” to which he responded with a kiss on the cheek. Okkk…

And speaking of affection, this week I ventured downstairs to hang with the babies of the school, the kindergarteners.

The difference between the four and five year olds is mindblowing. The five year olds are incredible. Such fun. Such smiles. They learn REALLY quickly. We played games and sang songs about Christmas. Today I was gifted a picture – DRAWN IN PEN (big deal for a five year old) – of snow. It is addressed to AƧLNI.

The kids walk in with huge smiles. A couple go, “Oh, you look so pretty” (Ah, ¡que guapa estás!)… Then as more people come in, the kids point: “Mira, que guapa está hoy.” (Look at how pretty she looks today).

One girl, hearing this, nods approvingly, says “Si, igual que mi madre.” (Yeah, like my mom.)

I have this afternoon off, and as I was leaving, the kids crowded me in the hallway – When are you coming back? When will we see you again?

January, I told them. It took them a while to remember what January means. “Ok. But don’t forget.”

 *Let’s not get into the logic behind keeping young kids in school until 5:30 pm.


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Autorización de Regreso, or in English: Ridiculousness

At the beginning of the month we had a long weekend (“long bridge” in common Spanglish). I spent five days in Porto, which is a beautiful, calm, nice city. I stayed at the best hostel I’ve ever been to, too – the Oporto Poet’s Hostel.

But I’m not here to talk about beautiful, nice, calm things. I’m going to tell you about my most recent experience with the Spanish bureaucracy.

This morning, I had an appointment to get a piece of paper called an “Autorización de Regreso” – permission to return to Spain after leaving, since my residency card (NIE) has expired and is in the process of being renewed.

Carrying your renewal documents around is just not good enough, and you need this form to re-enter the country any time you leave, if your NIE isn’t valid. I thought for non-EU countries, but no, it’s actually for ANY other country.

So, you pay 10 euros, bring them copies of the stamped forms that THEY gave you, and then they give you a piece of paper that says you can come back. Mine expires February 14th – they are valid 90 days. It is only valid once. Once you show it at passport control, they take it, then that’s it. If you want to leave and return again, you need another form.

No, you can’t get more than one form at a time. Even if you pay.

Technically, though, I imagine that you could have an appointment at 9:00 am, give them the photocopies, get the Autorización, have an appointment at 9:15 am, repeat, and have two forms …

Here’s what gets me. I am living in Spain legally. I don’t have a current NIE, which would permit me to come and go as I want (and as I feel is my right, but that’s a feeling and a perhaps not a fact, I don’t know, so never mind). But the REASON I don’t have a current NIE isn’t through any fault of my own, it’s because I’m waiting on the government to give it to me. And I’ve been in the process of renewing it since two months before it even expired. Which puts me four and a half months into the process, with no end in sight.

Here’s what I propose. When you have your appointment to renew your NIE and bring the twelve pounds of required photocopies, and pay the 16.32 tax, you can, at that time, pay a 10 euro fee for an Autorización de Regreso form, and get it, and it is valid until such time as they get their act together and give you your NIE card. It could even have a limit, for example, three months. Why not keep it at 90 days? And then the onus would be on them to get you your NIE within three months.

Because, dear Spain, as much as you are doing me a favour by giving me a job and letting me live and work in your awesome country, at some point, there has to be a little give and take. Am I not doing you a favour by helping some of your children speak better English? I am offering to keep the ridiculous 10 euro fee so that you don’t miss out on any cash (I hear you’re short of cash these days).

Back to today.

The appointment was near metro Aluche at 9:00 am – the address they gave me for the appointment was “Avenida de los Poblados, S/N, 28044). As in, Poblados Avenue, no number. Seriously Spanish. Giving someone a street and postal code and saying “Go!” is considered adequate direction this country. But really, it was easy to find.

Apparently it’s on the grounds of Franco’s big prison in Madrid – Cárcel de Carabanchel. Next to the driveway into the Oficina de Extranjeros, there is a mysterious door. Like, the rest of the building has been demolished, but they left the door and a few bricks around it. A cursory internet search yielded nothing, so anyway, mystery door.

My appointment was at 9:00, so I arrived at 8:45 and got into line – there were hundreds of people about, and about 20 or so of them in line for the Autorización de Regreso. I was seen by about 9:20, and out by 9:30. The people who had 9:00 am appointments and actually arrived at 9:00 had a really, really long wait. They have photocopy machines there, outside, for people who forget a photocopy of one document or another. I know I did.

I have a lot of friends who aren’t bothering to get the Autorización de Regreso, and are just going to take their chances. Im not really a risk-taker, and don’t think I have particularly good luck, so I’m not going that route. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get the form itself. It’s just the logic, or lack thereof, behind it that defies understanding.

Checklist for Autorización de Regreso:

  • EX-13 Solicitud de autorización de regreso (I left empty the section where it asks you to explain why you need to leave and how long you expect to be away.)
  • Tasa Modelo 790 – Codigo 052. Tick off 1.6.3 Autorización de regreso. Take to any bank. Pay 10 euro fee. Cry a bit inside.
  • EX-00 Solicitud de autorización de estancia y prórrogas. The stamped form from your NIE appointment. And a photocopy.
  • NIE card and a photocopy
  • Passport and a photocopy of the main page
  • Also bring the printout of your “justificante de cita” (proof of appointment) OR (like me) just write down the number and have it handy
You can make the appointment itself online here:


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Sunday morning

Mom is an early riser. I call her regularly at 6:00 am Canada time and she’s usually been awake for at least an hour.

The rest of us, not so much. Aran and Ilannah could probably sleep forever if left to it.

Dad likes a good lie-in. I am in between… But I definitely do best with an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. I don’t make a good twenty-something. I think at this age you’re supposed to be going to bed late and sleeping in at every opportunity? In Spain, especially. Obviously I’m more suited to middle age.

Lately I’ve been leaning to the Mom side of things, waking up an hour or two before my alarm. It gives me lots of time to read. And take pictures of the sun coming up. And bake.

Today I woke up early. And decided that it was as good a day as any to try something new, which led me to a) making a french tart shell for the first time, then b) caramelizing sugar for the first time, followed by c) making a chocolate tart (more or less this recipe) in its entirety.

(Crumbly) shell baking

Melting sugar

Full disclosure: It isn’t perfect.  But how bad could it be, when you have chocolate, butter, sugar, and flour combined and turned out into a pie plate? It is pretty close to perfect.

Still. I might have slightly overcooked the sugar, so the toffee flavour was very strong. Or maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. In any case, I added more chocolate to make up for it. (Ahem… Any excuse to add more chocolate.) And I think I got the flour/butter ratio wrong in the tart dough, and it needed more flour. I added 4 big teaspoons on top of what the recipe called for, but it still needed more. AND I overbaked it a tiny bit. And you know how you’re supposed to wait until it’s cool before slicing? That didn’t happen either.





Yum, yum. Family, I will make this at Christmas. Friends, it’s now available on request.

Love, Aesclinn

Ps- Anyone want to give me a lesson in formatting pictures in WordPress posts? It’s driving me crazy.

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Updates on life and the NIE renewal process

Before I get to the good stuff (bureaucracy), let’s talk about me.

Some updates on life. First of all, it hasn’t rained yet since I arrived in Madrid on September 3rd. Cue Blind Melon – “And I start to complain that there’s no rain…” For someone who lived in Halifax for the better part of four years, that lyric is hitting a little close to home.

But in the last couple of days, there’s been a bit of a cold bite to the air, and when asked about the weather, my students have finally had to say something other than “sunny and hot!” Now it’s “sunny and cool!”

Halloween (and Halloween games, and songs, and candy) is around the corner, and there’s an election coming up on November 20. 20n is also the day that Franco died. Not a coincidence.

This newspaper clip that my Spanish teacher brought to class yesterday seems a fairly astute summary of the national sentiment going into the election.

From "El Periodico" (I believe)

I vote.

You win.

He loses.

We put up with it.

You get richer.

They lose their jobs.

This is the most accurate definition, and the third person plural can be out of a home, not receiving any assistance, etc.





Finally, I have some updates on the renewal process. (But not its outcome. Not yet.)

I made an appointment for for “empadronamiento” – to register to live where I do, essentially (? I think) for 12:40 on Wednesday the 19th. I don’t work Wednesdays.

The appointment was at “Plaza de Moncloa.” I wasn’t exactly sure if the building I was thinking of was actually “Plaza de Moncloa,” because if you google “Plaza de Moncloa” it doesn’t really show up as being one place or another. Anyway, as it turned out, the building is right across the street from my place so I was there 20 minutes early, having left my house at 12:20 for the 12:40 appointment.

The receptionist, a lovely, lovely young woman, gave me a number and a form to fill out, and directed me to the waiting room, where my number was already up.

Another nice young lady patiently showed me exactly how to fill out the form, and looked over my passport and housing contract. With the form filled out and documents in order, she printed off the form (called a “volante” apparently) that I need for the NIE renewal.

With the certificate in hand, I now had all the documentation required to finish up the NIE application. I asked the girl if she knew what I had to do, and she told me I had to go back to the original office where I’d started. Non.

I went back out and spoke with the receptionist. At my first appointment, they’d told me that I had to bring the documents to any Junta Municipal – and this building is the Junta Municipal del Distrito de Moncloa/Aravaca. I explained the situation to her and she looked over the papers, then told me I’d have to fill out a form as a cover letter. “But it might be a little bit difficult for you… Here, let me do it.” And she did. And then she filled out a second copy so that I would have one to keep. All I had to do was read, sign, and date.

Then she gave me another number, I went in and talked to yet another nice person, who took the papers and, fingers crossed, sent them off to the right place, so that at some point in the future, I get a shiny new NIE card.

All in all, this whole thing Wednesday took half an hour, and everyone was incredibly nice and helpful. I left seriously considering whether I should bake them cookies and bring them over, but I wasn’t sure how that’d be received.


FYI – The second form I filled out as a cover letter says:

Datos Solicitante: (DNI/NIF/NIE, Nombre, Apellidos)

Domicilio a efectos de notificaciones:

Expone: “En referencia al expediente # — por la solicitud de autorización de prórroga de estancia por estudios, aporto documentación requerida.”

Solicita: “Sea aportada dicha documentación a mi expediente.”

Documentación adjunta: “Documentación medios económicos, seguro médico (fotocopia), certificado del centro de estudio, certificado de empadronamiento (fotocopia).”

Administración/Organismo al que se dirige el presente escrito: “Área de trabajo e inmigración – OFICINA DE EXTRANJEROS”

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Welcome to Spanish Banking in English

This year, the BEDA higher-ups opened accounts for all their auxiliares a big Spanish bank called La Caixa. La Caixa has an “English” website that we were eagerly informed about. Not surprisingly, it turns out to be Spanglish at best, incomprehensible English at worst, and just plain Spanish half of the time.

When doing an internet transfer, after filling in the details of the transaction, it invites you to “Compruebe los datos,” meaning, to verify that all the information is correct before proceeding.

Also, in the “Amount” section – “Price applied to service”? “Price applied to SMS”? … If it’s going to be in English, at least let it be proper English.

Nota: Our legalese makes even less sense than normal legalese! And they could at least use the spell check. “Delincuency?” Please.

Although I would love to take part in “serious forms of organized delincuency” if anyone is up for it.

How does it development!!!???You can ask to receive a text message confirmation that your internet transfer has worked. Enter your mobile number then, instead of clicking “Send,” you hit “Enviar.” And then stare at your screen confused for a few minutes wondering who wrote the sentence “How does it development?” and why they thought to precede it by an inverted question mark.

You might also wonder why you would need a text message confirmation of the internet transfer that you just completed on the screen in front of you. It is probably better not to think about these things.

I got this screen when trying to put cash on my prepaid Visa Electron, which is the only (sort of) free option that La Caixa offers for debit or credit cards. For a normal debit? You don’t even want to know the fees.

I’m not going to get into this one. Periodicity? Recharge? Punctual?

“Now”? or “Orden recarga fecha fija”? As if those are two sides of the same coin.



This one is really, really good, so click to magnify.

1. Spanish. (“Would you like the notify the recipient of the transaction?”)

2. English. Kind of. Who says “beneficiary”? Try “recipient.”

3. English. This isn’t a notification email or text. It’s a WARNING.

4. Read the following Terms and Conditions carefully.

Terms and Conditions: The good stuff. The important stuff. The stuff you don’t overlook in a country like this one. Allllll Spanish.

Then some more Spanish.

Last one: I go to Holiday Gym, and this is from their website.

 When it’s not a bank I am forgiving and this is actually kind of cute. “Who we are?” and “Sugestions.” It wouldn’t be Spain if at least one thing didn’t go untranslated, and so we have “Anúnciate con nosotros” to finish things off.

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