Saturday, March 31, 2012

Striking Info

As a result of deciding to participate in the General Strike, I have been doing quite a bit of reading about the Spanish economy and its current state, which is quite bleak.  In some expat sites, I was able to find information that even pertains to foreign workers here and the challenges that are being thrown at them.

The most interesting thing that I have seen in my regular life and have read about is the extreme overqualification of the Spanish workforce.  I see it first-hand in my current job, where I myself fall into that category.  I hold a Bachelor's degree and am working at a job that only requires high school graduation.  A workmate of mine is in the same boat except sailing from England instead of the USA.  Two business graduates cleaning diapers for low pay doesn't seem to be the 'Spanish dream' but it turns out is quite a reality for many of the residents.

The average percent of workers in the EU working below thier education level is 19% due to the recession.  However, in Spain that number jumps to 31% according to Eurostat's 2008 figures.  Nowadays, with jobs a dime a dozen, I am sure that number has increased.  If you can find a job - any job - now, you take it and are just happy you have some money to pay your rent.

The last decades in Spain have been focused highly on the construction industry.  With immigration and life booming in the country, new buildings and infrastructure were all the rage right along with tourism (a major cash cow for Spain).  However, during that time, attendance at higher level educational centers rose as well.  Unfortunatley, the money invested in the construction and service industries does not serve all of the highly educated people that were graduating.  Spain failed to invest more in newer fields that would offer jobs to these qualified workerks.  With high unemployment rates ransacking the country, people are taking the opportunity to increase thier qualifications even more - working on second Master's degrees, studying a completely new discipline, etc, which creates an even larger over-qualified working pool.

Specific to foreigners is the sad fact that while the over-qualification rate in the country rests at about one third, for us its almost two thirds - an amazing jump.  Foreigners are also about 15% more likely to fall into poverty.

Looking for a job with these stats is just utterly depressing.  The last Marketing job I saw online had over 226 hopefuls who had submitted thier resumes.  The odds for getting that job were slim, as they are for many.  This, along with the bleak outlook with the current labor reforms was even more reason to strike!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Strike success

 Today, the sun shined down on us as we marched for over 2 hours in the demonstation to support the national general strike.  According to reports, between 60% and 70% of the private sector participated and over 70% of the government sector.  On top of that, more than 85% education workers were on strike today and I am happy to say I was one of them. 

Here are a couple pictures I took from the march today, but many more and better pics are availble on the local newspaper's website here.  As you can see it was packed!  Some people carried flags of the labor unions and some posters that they had made.  My favorite was this one that says 'Jolasa bukatu da' which in Basque means 'The game is over' and the Kings of the deck are represented as bankers, politicians and more. 

The atmosphere was quite jovial.  We managed to do the wave with thousands of people squatting down and then shooting up when it came thier turn.  We did a lot of clapping chants and as we finished we even ran into a drum group who was keeping the striking spirit up!  Last but not least, at the end of the line, we ran into my brother and sister-in law with our little neice!  Her first strike at a whopping 8 months and she was cute as ever!

Since it was a strike day it was a 'no buying' day along with no working, so we had a tasty lunch at home afterwards together.  We will see in the coming days if our efforts made any effect on the government and hopefully our massive strike served for something and our voices were heard!  More to come as updates arrive!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On strike (just not from this blog)

Tomorrow is the first strike I'll be participating in here.  Well, it's the first strike I will have participated in ever, come to think of it.  Thursday, March 29th is a General Strike day in Spain - so it can include everyone and anyone, and I am someone who decided to do it.

Recently, the Spanish Conservative Party (called the PP) took office and is throwing some things around in the government.  As many of you probably hear on the news, the Spanish economy is pretty much in the trash and is in need of some much-needed reform.

The current economic scene in Spain goes a little something like this:  over 20% unemployment (for people 16-24 that number shoots to 48%), over a third of workers with only temporary contracts, economic activity that is highly based around static construction and not so focused on new and growing technologies and an overqualified workforce. 

In order to not become the next 'Greece', the right-wingers of the eurozone's 4th largest economy have decided that employment reform is the way to go.  These changes have been met with a lot of opposition here for the fact that a lot of rights are being lost by the employee.  With these reforms, it is much easier for companies to hire and fire people, which is said to give them more flexibility and will boost the employment rate.  While a flexible workforce may help Spain bounce back, the rights that are lost seem to be cut corners:

 - Severance pay will be cut from 45 days to 33 days for each year worked.
 - Young people (all the way up to 30) are likely to be offered 'unpaid internships' with companies that can last up to 3 years instead of being offered a true contract.
 - Companies may fire whomever they want, no questions asked, after 3 consecutive quarters of losses
 - Permanent contracts come with a '1-year trial period' attached and during that period the worker can be fired for no reason and no severance pay given after the fact
 - Part-time workers lose most of thier rights to earn overtime pay
 - If you call in sick, it will be taken as an unpaid day (whereas now it is covered for up to 3 days and then doctor mandated time off is required but still paid for).  Sick days will not be paid unless it is a doctor mandated medical leave of atleast 10 days.
 - Women will lose maternity leave days.

Many people say that these changes seem like a step back 30 years in the Spanish workers rights.  There have already been many protests in response to these changes that were fastracked through the government by the conservative party, however a general strike has been called to create even an even bigger impact.

Legally, as only a European resident, and not a citizen, I am not allowed to vote.  So, in the last presidental election when Rajoy won the race, I was not able to cast a ballot.  However, these changes that he has set in motion directly affect me as I am part of the workforce.  The only way I can see for my voice to be heard about disagreeing with these drastic changes is to participate in the strike.

While 67% of Spainards don't think the strike will have any effect on the legislature, I still intend to have my voice heard.  I plan to attend one of the nationwide demonstrations that will be held in opposition to the changes and hope that although I am only one more person, a collective effort will make a difference, no matter how small.

I will update you after and tell you how it went!  And for your own striking vocabulary, the word for strike in Basque is greba and in Spanish it's huelga.  So, I'm off to go get my strike-greba-huelga on with a march and demonstration.


Monday, March 26, 2012

The joys of parenting

I figured that someday this blog would come - I would get so, hmmm what's the word I'm looking for...shocked, disgusted, annoyed, surprised - something along those lines by the parents of the pre-school that I'd end up writing a blog about what I can't believe that they do.  I am very aware that I am not a parent, so maybe my reactions to some of the following things are misjudged.  Maybe when you become a parent your thinking changes drastically and the things below seem normal, which to empty nesters like me seem way off.  You, kids or not, please be the judge and let me know what you think.

Shopping is sick (as in awesome)!   I was incredibly shocked that one day one of our students came down with a 100.5º fever and when we called the mother, she didn't seem the least bit concerned.  She said she would come a bit early to pick him up if she could, but that basically she would get to school when she got there.  I will grant her the fact that she came about 30 minutes earlier than normal (still 2 hours after we called her; and she doesn't work), but upon seeing her son, said he looked fine and proceeded to, as I found out from a workmate her saw her later that evening, take him with her to the mall!  A kid with a fever does not belong at the mall in my book, but maybe that's my kidlessness talking.  She told us the next day that 'he seemed fine all day yesterday, behaved like a perfect angel at the mall because he barely made any noise at all!'  Wow...a quiet baby for hours, could it have been for his temp??  Appalled.

I don't know where your hands have been.  A couple of weeks ago, one of our students came to school accompanied by her mother who as soon as she entered rushed to tell me that her daughter had a mouth disease - a fungus to be exact.  She kindly asked that I do my best to keep her daughter's fingers out of her own mouth, which anyone who knows a 1-year old knows thats pretty much impossible.  She then advised me that this thing was contagious so to also try to make sure the kids don't play with the toys her daughter plays with after her.  Riiiiiiight.  Maybe she didn't understand how ridiculous it was to ask for students in a daycare not to ever touch the same toys because she only has 1 kid, but I held back rolling my eyes and said I'd do my best.  Pretty sure my best failed in about 2.5 seconds after she left the room.

No kisses allowed.  Here it is very common to greet someone with two kisses (one per cheek).  Even some of the kids give you a little peck when they come or leave.  One day, a very sick little girl came to school - I mean sneezing up the wazzu, snot flying everywhere, coughing up a storm, watery eyes, the works - because her mom said she didn't have a temp so she wasn't sick enough to stay home.  Poor baby.  Anyways, this was when I was just getting over a weeks worth of fever, puking, coughing and more, so I was trying pretty hard to stay away from all the viruses running around our class.  When the mom came to pick her little cough machine up, she said 'give Miss Amanda a kiss' and I said 'no no, blow me a kiss, no real kisses today' and the mom got quite upset.  She asked why I wouldn't kiss her child (as she let out a monster sneeze) and I explained nicely that after weeks of being sick and finally feeling better I being cautious, to which to replied, 'if you haven't caught what she has so far today, one kiss isn't going to pass it to you.'  I disagree and don't feel like being chastised for not giving a running nose lips kid a kiss.  Again, maybe if it were my kid's snot I'd want to give her a million, but alas I am not.  You can keep your kid and her germs thank you very much.

English is the name of the game.  This one is just odd to me because of where I work.  Being an English school, we speak to the children in English most of the time.  During report card time last year, we commented about one girl to her mother that she was very shy but a good girl.  The mother, offended, said that she asked her daughter why she was so quiet in class and the girl said that it's because we speak 'weird' aka English, which she doesn't understand.  The mother asked that from then on we please speak to her daughter in Spanish so she understands and can enjoy the class more.  Ummmm then why are you paying an arm and a leg for your child to go to an English school?  Beyond me.  

Nap-time or nap-crime?  We have a student who comes late every single day.  I mean it, every day.  The parents don't seem to care that she always is last to arrive and one day when one of them was in a bad mood, explained that it is our fault that thier daughter is always late because she sleeps too much in the nap.  The mother said we need to limit her daughter's nap to 1 hour (while most of them sleep 2) and wake her up so she will be tired enough to go to sleep at night.  Whatever.  We did that for awhile and ended up with a very cranky 2-year old on our hands in the afternoon who still came late the next day.  Now we just let her sleep til she wakes up.  On the flip side, there is a little girl in the 3-year old class who doesn't sleep at all, she just doesn't ever seem to be tired and fall asleep.  Instead of complaing that thier daughter doesn't want to fall asleep at night, these parents complained that their daughter is too tired after school from not sleeping that they cannot meet friends at the bar in the evening without her turning into a brat.  They told us we need to MAKE HER sleep.  How do you do that?  You can only tickle and cuddle a little kid so long before you realize thier wide open eyes are just not going to shut.  Ughhhh the nap. 

Temperature-taking certified.  Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to let you know that along with my Marketing degree, 3 years of teaching experience and language skills, I also am a very good temperature taker.  Turns out, with all those accolades, I never would have guessed that of them, my temperature taking skills would be the ones in question.  One day I took a student's temperature and it turned out it was quite high - a little under 100º.  I called the mom who sent the grandma to pick him up from school.  When I handed him over to the grandma his temperature had risen to about 100.5º, which I told her.  The next day he was back in school again and his mom kindly commented that when she got home from work that he didn't have a fever and was completely fine (amazing what some medicine will do no?).  I assured her that I took the temp more than once and that it had increased as the day went on.  She then had the gall to ask me if I took the temperature correctly.  I was baffled.  YES I took it correctly, I know how to do my job!  Maybe mothers don't think that anyone else besides them knows how to take thier own childrens' temp.  But after she left, I got to wondering...say I HAD taken the temperature incorrectly, don't ask me how you would do that, but suppose I had, then wouldn't the temperature have been super low?  Can you magically heat up a thermometer and quote a higher temp?  I still get angry about it to this day.  Pshhh did I take the temperature right.  Ridiculous.

Ok, enough parent ranting for me.  I again state it must be because I don't have kids because these things just don't seem normal to me.  Maybe it's just Basque parents?  Maybe it's rich parents?  I don't know, but regardless of the cause, I don't think I'll ever understsand it completely.  Maybe you can offer me your best insight?


Sunday, March 25, 2012

A trip to the enchanted mountain

With incredibly sunny weather predicted for Saturday, Joseba and I decided to try a new coastal hike.  Located near where I used to work in Hondarribia, Jaizkibel mountain is the furthest northern point on the Basque Country coast and has amazing views of the small medival town, France and the sea. 

We arrived just after a quick breakfast and set off to the top of the mountain, only about 1750 feet high.  Without a cloud in the sky we could easily see the cathedral tower in the Old Town of Hondarribia towering over the roofs and the boats floating in the port of Hendaye, France.  As we walked along, our town, San Sebastian came into view down the jagged rocky coastline and when we squinted you could even see the iconic mouse mountain where the small fishing town of Getaria is located. 

We passed two dolmens, or better stated, the remains of them.  A rock-formation (normally 3 or more stones vertically placed and one horizontal one on top), they are placed on top of a tomb and date back as far as the Neolithic period over 3000 years BC.  Since it is believed that Basques existed all the way back to caveman times, there are these type of dolmens all over and if it hadn't been marked, I probably wouldn't have even have noticed this mass grave.  A bit of a hill with stones scattered atop it, I am sure it was much more impressive when it was made, but the fact that it even remains in any state is impressive.

The hike continued on and instead of taking us along the side of the mountain that looked over the land, we soon turned towards the coast and headed downwards towards the shore.  A massive coast full of inlets, we kept wishing it had been a bit warmer and we could scale down to the water and dip in.  The calas, these inlets are called in Spanish, aren't really little beaches, but just merely rocks that reach the water and dive in.  On a summer day, you lay your towel on the large rock and just enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves crashing around you, and if you get hot, you just jump in!  Returning here is already on our summer to-do list.

As we walked along the trail more, a pathside sign informed us of the rich but dark past of Jaizkibel mountain.  Sorginak, a Basque version of the word witches, are said to have inhabited this mountain years ago and danced, met and conspired.  The word sorginak can signify the Basque goddess Mari's assistants as well as pagan preistess, which makes it difficult to decide which those who lived in Jaizkibel were. 

The sorginak were known to dance each Friday night, which was the day of the witches' sabbath, or akelarre locally.  This word has even converted itself into the name of the dance that was performed during these meetings.  The name is said to come from a mix of two Basque words - aker (man-goat) and lerre (meadow).  This worship in the mountains of a half man half goat only added to the dark aura surrounded these ladies who are also said to eat children, turning into the mean cats and poison crops. 

With the Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts began with abundance in Spain.  The most force was applied in the previous Basque region of Navarre, in a town called Logroño.  With over 300 women accused and killed of witchcraft, many were even burned at the stake or tortured to death.  The search for these sorginak is said to be one of the most famous witch hunts in Europe!

Leaving this harsh history aside, we continued along our walk all the way back to the start, only to find that while we were gone, a car rally race had been set up and our car blocked into a parking lot with police tape.  After 5 hours of walking we just wanted to go home, but weren't allowed to leave until the race finished!  Luckily a restaurant was open and we were able to sit down and fill up our bellies and then headed back down to some of the little inlets where we took a siesta on a rock in the sun.  Finally at 7:30 we were allowed to leave!  Maybe it was the sorginak who cursed us!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All pintxos go to heaven

As many of you know, I am lucky to live in the city that claims to have the best pintxos in the world.  All over Spain you can find tapas, which are a small bar food snack served along with your drink.  However, pintxos are only found in the Basque Country and are essentially the Basque's take on the little dishes.  More or less the same in the sense that they are a tasty treat that accompanies your drink, pintxos and tapas don't have much more in common.

In the Basque Country you can pass any bar practically and see the entire counter filled with plate of pintxos ready to be plucked and devoured.  When you go into a bar, you can either ask or a plate for your pintxo or just grab one and start to chow down.  You order your drink and then on egin (enjoy in Euskera).  When you have licked the plate clean, you tell the bartender how many pintxos and drinks you had, he charges you and voila, you've just had a true Basque experience.  

When people come to visit, they always ask 'What is your favorite pintxo bar?' and I never had an answer for them.  Here, it is customary to kind of do a bar crawl, but for pintxos - a pintxo crawl I guess you could call it.  You go to a bar, get the pintxo you crave, wash it down with some delicious Rioja wine, Basque txakoli or a beer and then move on.  This actually has a name in Basque - txikiteo - the Euskera way to say 'pintxo crawl' and is widly popular.

Here in Donostia, we have multiple bars who have won the Txapelduna of pintxos (best pintxo competition) and proudly display the embroidered Basque boina (a special hat worn here) on thier wall for all to see.  While some pintxos are merely bar food and not too exciting (potato omelet, a bit of bread with Spanish ham on top, etc) there are some that really blow you out of the water.

Recently, with two couchsurfing guests we were showing around, we stopped into a modern pintxo bar for a change.  We had already eaten some pintxos at old-school type bars (all wood, pig legs hanging from the ceiling, scruffy men behind the bar, etc) and decided to change it up.  The bar, called Zeruko was much more than a pintxo bar though, it was a artistic pintxo display as well!  The bar was overflowing with plates upon plates of pintxos, most of which were barely recognizable.  In Euskera, Zeruko would translate to something like 'from the sky' or 'from the heavens' and these pintxos were exactly that.  

While gazing at all the lovely creations we made out a gel-like egg on bread, an exploding artichoke dusted with golden edible paint, a little package of something wrapped in zucchini slices, a croquette filled with mean on a skewer sticking out of a vase...crazy stuff!  A regular pintxo was not to be seen.  We ordered a smorgasbord of treats, not really even knowing what we were getting into and all were delicious in the end.  I tried a green onion that was sticking out of a crepe like base filled with pate and Spanish ham, our friends tried a sea porcupine cut in half and filled with a seafood puree, a breadstick boat in the shape of a fish with sea snakes and a fried egg on top and a little piece of bread topped with caviar, and Joseba had the best one - a pasty ball stuff with goat cheese and veggies with pine seeds and an edible flower!  What a table we had!

While not your run of the mill pintxos, these little works of art were equally delectible.  It is definitley a place I would recommend for anyone here visiting!  While incredibly modern and trendy, the people behind the bar were a regular friendly Basque family and there were napkins all over the ground.  Normally at pintxo bars you grab a little napkin from the holder, wipe your face and fingers and then just let go.  The more napkins on the ground the better - more people are eating there!

Little gems like this keep the city new and exciting, and I always love stumbling upon fun bars like this and risking my taste buds to try some odd looking pintxos. 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Queen Bee

Battling the cold and flu season day after day is quite rough on the immune system and it seems that this year I'm fighting quite the losing battle.  Joseba has had his bouts with coughs and colds too.  So, when he saw some 'jalea real' (Royal Jelly) on sale, he snatched up a supply for each of us to help us make it to Spring healthy.

Living in the States, I had never heard of this Royal Jelly, but here, in ecological and bio shops it's a top seller.  Essentially it is a small dose of 'jelly' (actually a liquid) that nurse bees use to create a queen bee.  Apparently, I did not know this, queen bees are not born, but are made by only eating this special type of jelly.  Filled with vitamins, amino acids, protiens and more, it helps the queens grow 60% bigger than the worker bees and prolongs her life by 42% as well.  Every bee gets 3 days worth of royal jelly, which comes from the head glands of worker bees, but the queens receive a lifelong supply.

Put some beekeepers in the mix and this juice, extremely rich in nutrients, becomes something that humans want too!  The Royal Jelly claims many health benefits due to the fact that it is packed with multiple types of Vitamin B, protiens, amino acids and fatty acids.  Among a laundry list of benefits (fatigue, memory, skin, infertility, diabetes, ulcers and tons more), we buy it for the fact that it helps boost your immune system.

Keeping with the hive craze, here you can also find another bee product - propolis.  Collected from tree buds, sap and other natural sources, the bees create this sticky gel to close up unwanted holes in thier hives.  A dark brown color and definitley not tasty, it is also said to have beneficial effects on the immune system when attacked by viruses.  While the bees use this propolis to make thier hives stronger and protect them from disease and vibration, us humans use it in various different ways too; not only do we mix it with water to combat a cold, but it can be found in car wax, instrument wood polish and even in gum (anyone every tried Propolis Gum?  I imagine it's gross).

Before shopping in bio shops, I never would have had any ideas bees could give me such amazing products besides honey!  Next time you have a cold, maybe stop by your local natural food or bio shop and see if it offers this - because it seems to be working wonders for us!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Tick tock goes the clock of my age

This morning, much to my surprise, I found a white hair, on my own head.  GASP I know.  At the ripe age of 27 it seems I can now officially classify myself as 'getting old'.  I didn't feel like doing that, so I pulled it out and went on with my day.  However, I have heard that for each white hair you pull out, 3 more grow back in its place, so if that's the case, I'm in trouble.

Throughout the day, I kept thinking about myself as old, and if I was or not.  In the States, being 27 kind of means you have a pretty decent job; you are either renting a place you plan to stay in awhile, looking to buy or have bought; have a steady guy; have your life pretty much together.  I guess with all that I can see where I get the feeling that I am 'old'.  I don't like it's old like 75 old or anything - I know that as late 20's people, we still party, travel more and enjoy time with our friends, but as we get older our hangovers happen to get worse, we can't sleep on the floor as often without have aches and pains and we start to enjoy dinner parties at home more than we used to.  I guess in a sense, being 27 just means we are more mature.

On the flip side, in Spain, 27 is still quite young.  Heck, a lot of 27-year olds still live with thier parents!  Most people go to college close enough to thier home so they don't have to leave.  In the case that they DO go 'away' its normally within driving distance and they make the trek home each weekend to be with thier family.  An 18-year old American who has just moved out of his parents' house and finally has freedom would gauf at that fact.  After the university years, they continue living at home, which shocks me!  Granted, they must be able to save up a boat-load of money, but I can't imagine living at home right now.

At 27 here, it seems it is still assumed that you party every weekend, have a so-so job and not a lot of responsibility.  There are obviously the exceptions too, don't get me wrong.  So according to Basque standards, I'm young!

When I had my 25th birthday, I remember going through a 'quarter-century life crisis' in which I tried to see how I stacked up to the American ideal of a 25-year old - car, house, boyfriend, good job.  At the time, I didn't have a car OR a house OR a boyfriend, just a job I liked but obviously wasn't going to be what I was doing when I was 55.  I fell into crisis mode, but then after meeting with some local friends realized that for here I was right on track - having fun, travelling and living life.  I like these standards much more!  It's a much different mentality and one that I think us Americans should consider a bit more.

So, my 'first white hair' crisis has been averted, because be it 23, 25, 27 or 30, I'm happy where I am in life and I match up to my own standards - to enjoy my life!  Regardless, I still hope those 3 hairs don't grow back...


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

1, 2 Bucke My Shoe, 3, 4, Read Some More!

Until I had this job, I probably couldn't remember that last time I sang a nursery rhyme.  My first few weeks of work, I was surprised at how many I had forgotten - or atleast a lot of the lyrics slipped my mind.  Now, six months in, I know every nursery rhyme word for word it seems, and even some from England that I had never heard before.

While the kids learn them without thought and have fun doing actions along with the words, as an adult doing them, I started to wonder who Miss Muffet was, why the blind mice were running and how Humpty Dumpty fell.  In turn, the following is some nursery rhyme history that I found quite interesting and hope you do too.  I highly doubt you know half of it, but can surely repeat the rhyme without thinking twice!

Ring Around the Rosy - 
Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes ashes, we all fall down.
This rhyme dates back to England's bubonic plague outbreak in the mid 1600s.  Symptoms of the plague started with a ring-shaped red rash.  During the plague, it was thought that the disease was caught by smelling bad, so people carried herbs such as posies in thier pockets.  Ashes ashes alludes to the cremation of those who were infected and died.  Growing up it was such a fun song to sing, running in cirlcles and then falling down at the know its origins is not too humourous.

Three Blind Mice - 
3 blind mice (2x), see how they run (2x), They all ran after the farmer's wife, who cut off thier tails with a carving knife, Have you ever seen such a sight in your life as 3 blind mice.
Equally morbid as the previous rhyme, this one is based on Queen Mary I of England.  She was a staunch Catholic and with her religious persecution of Protestants, earned herself the name 'Bloody Mary'.  The 3 blind mice in this saying are said to be 3 noblemen who changed over to the Protestant faith and plotted to kill her.  While she did not run after them with a knife and cut them to pieces, she did have them burned at the stake for thier plan.  

Little Miss Muffet - 
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey, along came a spider and sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.  
If a spider came and sat next to me, I would probably both scream and run away.  But why is this little Miss Muffet so special she gets a rhyme about it?  Well, it turns out her father. Dr. Muffet, was the entomologist who wrote the first scientific catalogue of British Insects.  The poor daughter was probably surrounded by yucky bugs all the time!

Rock a Bye Baby -
Rock a bye baby on the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock, when the bough breaks the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all.  
This one I found interesting because it's an American rhyme and although widly popular is still quite young if you compare it to other nursery rhymes.   It is thought that these lyrics were made to reflect the account of a young pilgrim boy who had seen a Native American mother rocking her baby to sleep - and had suspended the cradle on a birch branch. 

Humpty Dumpty -
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the King's horses and all the King's men, couldn't put Humpty together again.
When we sing this song, the image of an egg-shaped man comes to mind and when he falls he cracks and no one can put him together again, but that is not what the original meaning signifies!  Humpty Dumpty, in 15th century England, was a way to describe an obese person.  Taking this 'large' connotation, the English named a massive cannon Humpty Dumpty.  During the English Civil war, Humpty Dumpty was atop a roof ready to fire, but the church above which it is sat is bombed and blown to pieces and Humpty Dumpty falls to bits. 

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt -
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name too.  Whenever we go out, the people always SHOUT, there goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
I distinctly recall singing this one in elementary school and shouting at the top of my lungs the word shout.  It was great.  Little did I know that this American nursery rhyme was made to reflect the massive amount of German immigrants in our country.  Both -heimer and Schmidt have German roots.  With  my last name being German, I felt this one was quite funny because in the end the song is made to make fun of the difficult to say last names by creating the word Jingleheimer, which is obviously not as cool as a last name as Gonser!

Mary Mary Quite Contrary - 
Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?  With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.
I love flowers of all kinds so it's not surprising that I always liked this nursery rhyme!  What little girl doesn't like rhyming about flowers?  But, while I knew and liked bell flowers, I never could figure out what a cockle shell was.  Turns out, it's nothing pretty or smell-goody at all!  In fact, cockle shells were a torture instrument that was attached to the genitals of men.  With that in mind, silver bells can't be pretty blue flowers right?  What they really are were screws that were used to bolt someone's thumbs by the tightening of the screw.  The pretty maids, or Maiden as it was called, is nowadays known as the guillotine - used for beheading!  How did this garden get so bloody red?  This rhyme was in reference to the Bloody Mary we talked about earlier and her 'garden' or graveyard of Protestant faith followers.  Not the kind of garden I would like to stroll through.

These are just some of the many songs that the kids are learning that I am in a sense re-learning.  It's kind of funny to think how much history is packed into a couple lines of a rhyme.  Hopefully you were whisked back to your childhood for a minute and maybe even learned something!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back to life

As many of you know, the past few weekends, I have been quite the couch potato.  Between fevers, colds, coughs and more, I basically trapped myself in so I could get better.  Relaxing is all good, but movies, books and internet surfing get pretty boring pretty fast.  So, finally I started feeling better this week and by some sort of miracle, my good health coincided with good weather, and Joseba and I decided to take advantage by making a hiking weekend out of it. 

We started off easy on Saturday morning by going to a mountain we have been to time and time before, Ernio.  When Joseba used to live in Orio, we would go a few weekends a month, but now that we live a bit farther away, we go less frequently.  As a result, when we do manage to get out there, it kind of brings back memories of our first hikes together over two years ago. 

Whenever we go, I always happen to forget how beautiful just the drive to the parking area is, and each time am delighted and mesmerized by how breath-taking the Basque landscape is.  Grass covers the rolling green hills and if you look you can see white dots slowing moving along, sheep chomping away.  With it being 'twitterpateing' season to use Bambi's vocab, this trip we were able to see so many little lambs prancing about as well.  With acres and acres of land to roam, the sheep do of course pass the typical Basque farmhouses that man the land.  With massive stones and whitewashed walls, you can't help but want to live in one; the red or green (Basque Country colors) shutters framing the windows that sport overflowing flower baskets add another incentive to wanting to be a farm girl.

The hike starts out in a wooded part of the mountain and with piles of stones as the pathway, you watch your step closely.  Soon it opens up to a large valley with expansive views - the mountains to one side and the sea to the other - perfect on a sunny day like we had.  As we continue up, the landscape changes to slate-type rocks and new flower buds are far and few between, but after some sideways walking and hearing rocks you knock falling you make it to a landing called Zelatun.  Here, there are two restaurants whose smells woft through the air as you pass, but we never let ourselves stop there on the way up.  Instead we continue up more slatey rock up a steep hill towards the top where the peak is covered with crosses.  Some are just nameless, some like a tombstone dedicated to a loved one, some quirky and others very old-fashioned Basque metal work.  From here the view is even more astounding - the beach, France and the Pyrenees are all in sight!

After having worked up a sweat we descend and normally treat ourselves to little pintxo at the restaurants in the landing - a little chorizo (a type of sausage) sandwich and sometimes even some cider.  When the sun is shining the location is unbeatable and we bask in the sun as we eat our little delights.  The return is the same as the ascent, but being downhill we do it much quicker.  All together the hike is only about 3 hours and after having done it so many times it feels like a comfy pair of pajamas, which it why we like it so much. 

So, Saturday was a 'back to basics' kind of afternoon and Sunday we decided to break out a new hike.  For this one we drove about an hour inland for a different type of scenery.  Again, just arriving was a treat - farmhouses, enchanting little towns with church steeples staring down at the brick-red rooftops, grazing sheep and the occasional Basque sheperd with his boina cap.  This particular hike took us to a mountain called Aizkorri (red rock), near the small village of Oñati, where I imagine only Basque is spoken.  Right beyond the village is the famous monastery named Arantzazu.

Located on the site where the Virgin appeared to a shepherd in the 1400s, the sanctuary and monastery are housed in a buildling of diamond-shaped rocks.  When the Virgin appeared, it is said that she was hidden in a hawthorne bush and upon seeing her he exclaimed 'arantzan zu?' which loosely translates to 'you among thorns?'.  For this reason, the thorn-like spikes take over the buildings built in 1954.

From this spot we set off on our hike which led us up a winding road through naked trees and sparse landscape.  In other seasons I imagine it is bursting with color because the bare trees looked like they were just waiting to bloom and with many waterfalls and bushes, it looked ready to come alive.  After quite an up-hill climb we came to a valley named Urbia that was surprisingly covered in snow!  During that European cold wave, the interior Basque Country got dumped on and what stayed we crunchily clomped through.  The small valley soon opened up to a large meadow that was situated right in front of Aizkorri!  With blue sky and high clouds flying across the sky, the sun shone down on us and we happily hiked along.  From the flat valley, the incline was a drastic shock when we started heading up the mountain. 

Standing at 5,088 feet, it is the highest mountain in the Basque Country  but the rocky craggs make the ascent just like walking up a staircase, albeit an almost never-ending one.  We were quite excited to get to the top, but just as we got to about the peak, the mountain became shrouded in a huge cloud and we weren't able to see barely anything.  With snow covering the path and without snowsticks, we decided that it was best if we turn around and not risk it.  We were so close!  We made it down lickity-split and when we got back to the meadow decided to take a rest in front of the farmhouse/restaurant to feel the sun for a few minutes. 

The walk back was brisk, sometimes even jogging pace as we were hungry.  Just after leaving the path, about 4 hours after starting, we stopped off at the first place to eat there was - the Arantzazu Hotel's restaurant.  With an entire wall of windows, the views of the sanctuary and the surrounding mountainous area were picture-perfect and with the having picked up, we were happy to be inside, warm with happy bellies - although our hiking clothes were a bit out of place with the people who came to this cliffside spot for a fancy lunch! 

Our tired legs rejoyced when we finally took off our hiking boots and sat down for the ride home.  After so many weekends without being in the fresh mountain air, it was a perfect way to get back into it.  And now I can only hope it's nice again next weekend! 


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When are you going to have kids?

After getting married and moving in together, the most common question I get now is 'and when are you guys going to have kids?' to which I normally answer 'not for a good long time...I already have 13!'  Granted, the 13 kids I have 40 hours a week aren't technically MINE but I think that have 13 kids for 5 long days a week pretty much constitutes as them being partially mine right?

While not exactly the job a Marketing major saw herself doing, the kids, I will admit, are pretty adorable (when they aren't pooping, picking boogers and/or screaming).  Since I have started, I haven't written a blog to show you about the kiddos, so I thought one was in order.

From the moment I walk in the door to the moment I escape, I am positive I hear my name more times than a rockstar.  Here, the word for mom is 'ama' and grandma is 'amona', so 'Amanda' isn't much of a stretch for these babies!  From Amana to Mana or Manda, almost every child can say my name at all volume levels.  At the beginning of the course when all the kids were shouting my name for my attention, Begoña, my workmate, got a bit sad because no one was screeching her name.  The Ñ is quite hard for little tykes to say, and now she realizes she was kind of lucky.  Instead of hearing her name a million times a day, I am the 'fortunate' one.

Since the kids can't really talk, we have to rely on body language a lot to figure out what the kids are feeling/want.  It is with this body language that I can see that the kids, although they cannot say it, like Miss Amanda.  From hand-holding to cuddling to big running hugs, the kids know how to turn on the charm.  Some of thier smiles just melt your heart and make you want to squeeze thier cheeks like an old aunt.

However gratifying it is to have a little one grab your hand or run to you when they have pupa (owey in Spanish), I also think they are amazing birth control.  I always take a big breath of relief when I leave the school and have a few hours without top volume baby chatter.  But, each morning when I return a chorus of hellos and holas greet me along with a few hugs.  My most common hug fan is this little one, Daniela, who every morning like clockwork gives me a shy smile and then slowly comes towards me with her arms open for a hug.  Too cute!  Her twin brother, does the same.

So, caring for 13 kids at the same time is enough baby time for me right about now.  Wish I could write that on a sandwich board and wear it around so I stop getting asked the same question!