Monday, November 26, 2007

Las navidades!

So tonight was the first night the Christmas lights in Madrid were lit up. Of course I was there to see it! I was so excited for this, since I had been seeing the sad, un-lit lights up for a few weeks and I was ready for the Christmas celebration to begin! Cheryl, our friend Martin, and I went to some of the best parts of Madrid to see all the lights. I couldn't wipe the smile from my face because the city looked so beautiful! I took lots of pictures of it's glorious-ness.

We bought some roasted chestnuts (yes, they actually "roast chestnuts on an open fire" here). Cheryl really liked them, but I thought they were too hard to eat. They have a good flavor, but ehh I wouldn't pay 2 euros for them again. Next time I'm going to buy the corn they roast-- mmm.
So, seeing all the beauty of the lights and of the big city really made me happy to be in Madrid. I am glad I can be joyful in these next few weeks. Being content where you are can often be a hard thing to do (especially me, because I'm a dreamer)...but I've been putting forth an effort and I've been seeing the benefits. So, just a few more weeks (22 days I believe) left en Espana, and then back to the States. While it will definitely be sad to see my time in Madrid coming to an end, I can't wait for school to be over! But, anyway, here are some pictures from tonight for your viewing pleasure:






field trip!


This past weekend, I went on a class field trip to Caceres and Merida, two smaller cities in the south west-ish part of Spain. I had somewhat low expectations for the entire trip, seeing as the last one was mediocre (there's just not too much to do in Zamora!). This trip was a huge pleasant surprise, however!




In Merida, we saw some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Europe (besides those in Rome, of course). There was an amphitheater and a Roman theatre, a forum, and a temple of one of the Roman gods.

In Caceres, we saw some beautiful churches, but overall it was just a beautiful city.


All of our meals were provided for us (besides dinner), and I ate some of the best meals I've had in Spain this weekend. And good food is always a picker upper. We also stayed in a really great hotel in Caceres. I guess it was just nice to be out of the "big city" and seeing the beautiful smaller ones that I wouldn't have ever gone to otherwise.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias!

I must say, "Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias" doesn't have the same ring to it as "HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!" As I'm sitting here, working on my finance project, it is hard for me to envision the glorious day that is unfolding in the United States. I'm convinced if Spaniards even experienced this holiday one time, they would be all over incorporating it into their long list of holidays. After all, who doesn't love eating delicious food in the company of loved ones?


This Thanksgiving, I will be missing out on cooking with my mom and sister all of the favorites: Grandma's homemade stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes, green bean salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie cake, and who can forget the turkey! I always go for a good third helping of stuffing. What can I say, it's my favorite. I must also comment that there is something victorious about that miserable, "I can't believe I just ate that much" feeling. My dad always gets mad at us when we eat so much that we can't move, but I say, hey it's once a year! As class of 2005 would say: Go Big or Go home. hahah.


It does make me sad that most spaniards have never even heard of Thanksgiving. But now that I think about it, it is a most peculiar holiday. For the first time, maybe since Kindergarten, I am remembering why we actually celebrate it. Of course, it is meant to be a time of expressing gratitude for our blessings, but supposedly the origins are the Pilgrims and the Indians. I wonder how much truth that holds to it. Were the Pilgrims and Indians really sitting around eating mashed potatoes and turkey together? If so, that's pretty cool.


Well, this year, being so distant from my closest family and friends has obviously made me realize to the full extent of what I am thankful for. I am thankful for my parents. They are the ones who have worked so hard to provide me everything: my college education, living in Europe, and a roof over my head :) I'm also thankful that we have such a close relationship. I realize not everyone has that, and it is a huge blessing in my life. I am thankful for my brother and sister...there is something incredibly special about siblings. We are all crazy. It makes for verrry fun times. Paul will say stuff that sends me and Carlie into a laughing spell. Carlie is becoming this beautiful young lady who I absolutely LOVE hanging out with. I can't think of a cooler 17 year old. And as far as my friends are concerned, there are too many blessings to list that come from having them as friends. I have often thought about my friends and been dumbfounded as how I could be so blessed! The closeness of these friendships most definitely comes from the bond that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. That changes everything...we have a friendship based on eternal value. It's pretty much amazing.


So, while I don't get to chow down today on some of the world's best food... I guess I can still be in a Thankful mood. I will be content in the knowledge that my mom is so amazing that she has promised me "Second Thanksgiving". Until then, looks like more Jamon Serrano for me!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mi aventura a Sevilla...

This past weekend, I went on a little adventure all by myself down to Sevilla, Spain. I hopped on a bus in Madrid and took a six hour journey to the south of Spain. Now, what one must know about southern Spain is that it is what most likely comes to mind when "Spain" is mentioned. My roommates and I would say "typical espanish"...in other words, Flamenco is more prominent here, the buildings are white with wrought-iron balconies, and the way of life is slower. In fact, the southerners still stick to the "siesta" time, whereas Madrid has modernized to the point where only a few shops close from 3 to 5.


Anyway, I had the wonderful opportunity to stay with my Aunt Mary and cousin Erica's good friends, Clayton and Jessica Thompson. They are missionaries in Sevilla, and right now are learning Spanish (taking classes for about 20 hours a week!) Also living in Sevilla are Susan and Oscar, other friends of Aunt Mary.
(Susan, me, and Jessica are pictured here!)
Friday night, they all picked me up and we went to a local Tapas restaurant which was deeeelicious. Afterward, we went back to Jessica and Clayton's apartment.


I'm going to step aside and talk about how wonderful it was to stay with them. First of all, when I entered their apartment, it smelled like Yankee Candle Pumpkin Pie. Besides that being wonderful enough, it was decorated beautifully, like an American apartment. This made me SO happy since I've become accustomed to the "Spanish apartment"(which equals 1970s fall colored curtains and knick-knacks scattered around anywhere there is a flat surface). I stayed in their guest room which had the most comfortable queen sized bed. I rolled around in it (hey, I've been sleeping in a single bed for the past three months). On my bed, Jessica had left a card welcoming me, a mini yankee candle, a new minty chapstick, and a tootsie roll pop. It was SO sweet! One day, I want to be just as good of a hostess.


Moving along, the next day Susan took me around to see all of Sevilla. She is a GREAT tour guide, and knew so much about the city. We went on a tour of their Plaza de Toros (bullfighting ring) and learned about the whole history of bullfighting...super interesting! We also went to a local mercado, where I saw bunny rabbits hanging in the meat market for sale (to eat). After that, we saw the "Callejon de la Inquisicion" where people were taken down to be executed for NOT being catholic. Que fuerte! Also, we saw the Plaza de Espana, where (shout out to Jordan, Michael, Ahren, Christian, and all Star Wars lovers) part of Star Wars 2 was filmed! We saw many more sights, and I am thoroughly convinced Sevilla is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Spain!

That afternoon, I went back to Jessica and Clayton's apartment and took a much needed two hour nap back in the comfy queen. It was glorious. When I woke up, I had a cup of American coffee (mind you, I, Sarah Miller--queen of Coffee--has not had a normal cup of drip grind coffee since August 21st...until this weekend.) I was maybe the happiest person in the world to drink that cup of coffee. I was so happy, in fact, that I drank yet another cup. I should also mention that I ate two of the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I've ever had this weekend. You have no idea how good peanut butter can taste after three months of complete separation from the stuff.

Jessica and I sat at the dinner table and talked for two hours until we realized that it was 9 and we hadn't eaten dinner yet (no biggie for me...dinner time is 10:30 in the Pilar household)...so we ate dinner and crawled up on the couch with Susan to watch, oh yes, Bend it Like Beckham. The next day, I enjoyed another cup of coffee and an overall "American breakfast". In a lot of ways, felt as if I got to be in the States for a weekend. I think it was just what I needed. They sent me off from the bus station, and I was back home to Madrid.

I could not have asked for a better weekend! It is crazy for me to think that now I have a remainder of 29 days left in Spain...que locura. I am going to put forth my best efforts to soak it up in these next four weeks. Then, back to an endless supply of peanut butter, coffee, and all things american! Woo!









Thursday, November 15, 2007

mornings and holidays

Ahhh this semester, some of my favorite days have been Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don't have class till 3:30 (which happens to be my Latin Rhythms dance class: so fun!). This means, I have plenty of time to sleep in, eat delicious breakfast of hot chocolate and magdalenas, read a bit, and just relax. It's quite wonderful. My mom and I both share a love for unhurried mornings, no matter the cost. This means, if I have to be somewhere at nine in the morning, I will wake up at seven so that I don't have to hurry around all flustered. One of my favorite parts of the day is taking a long time to put on my makeup. I'm convinced this isn't because of vanity of any sort, but more because of a desire to be artistic.


This Thursday morning's wonderfullness has been amplified by the fact that I'm listening to Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album. If I can suggest any Christmas CD, it would be this one. It's actually not 100% about "Santa Clause"...in fact I would say a good 3/4 of it are songs about Jesus' birth! The album came out in '94, and if we all remember correctly, that was when Mariah was fresh out of her Gospel choir singing roots. The songs are beautiful! It's getting me very excited about this holiday season.


Speaking of the holiday season, I would like to talk about how new this holiday season is going to be for me. First of all, it is very different already, considering that I will not be eating Thanksgiving this year. Luckily enough for me, my mom has promised "Second Thanksgiving" on Christmas, so that I may enjoy Turkey, stuffing, marshmallow yams, and all the goodies. But I can't help but be a little sad to think that next Thursday I will be doing nothing festive.


On a happier note, I must say there is a HUGE benefit to being in a 'catholic' country. They LOVE Christmas! And, seeing as I also love Christmas, Spain and I are getting along wonderfully. All the streets have lights up already. Principe Pio, my metro stop/mall is decorated to the brim with Christmas flair. It makes me very happy. I can't believe, though, that I will be spending a majority of "Christmas season" in Madrid. I will be in the states for a total of 6 days before Christmas. Crazy!!!


Well, this post is a little long...tomorrow I leave for Sevilla and am staying with family friends. I am so excited to see Andalucia and meet the church plant there! Let's see how I handle their accents (supposedly, it's a little harder to understand...) More later!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

geneva!

Well, what a weekend! Cheryl, Kate, and I went to Geneva, Switzerland. I was blown away by its breathtaking beauty! The trees' leaves were changing color, and ranged from deep yellow to bright red. The clean, cold, and crisp air even made breathing a nice activity...the weather was a little gloomy but all in all it was a perfect contrast and escape from Madrid. The people in Switzerland smile at one another on the street, and in general are a more helpful people. We learned this at the Red Cross Museum...which was founded by Henry Dsomething from Switzerland. The Red Cross truly is an amazing humanitarian foundation that has helped and continues to help millions across the globe. We also saw the outside of the United Nations and envisioned how many important diplomats had been in our same exact steps. Besides that, we roamed the streets and soaked up the cute Swiss architecture which is what one would envision "Switzerland" to look like. We saw the Jet d'Eau which is simply a fountain that shoots up from Lake Geneva. It does go freakishly high though. Later on, as night fell the lights of the buildings fell upon Lake Geneva, leaving a beautiful sight to see. We met up Cheryl's friend Joe for dinner and he took us to one of his favorite Chinese restaurants. It was delicious.

The next day, we continued sightseeing, and saw the Rolex rose garden, a protestant cathedral, as well as a huge memorial to the founders of the Protestant reformation. This was really neat for me to see since I had read most of their works in my Christian Heritage class at Baylor. We ate at a wonderful french restaurant, which was surprisingly inexpensive. I think I ate half of a hen (for real). Later on, we went to the first real grocery store I've been to since I've entered Europe, called Manor. It actually looked like HEB in there. It made me realllllly miss grocery stores. But anyway, we were there on a mission for Swiss chocolate. And boy did we succeed. I got some chocolate alright :) After that, we went to Starbucks as a shelter/warm up from the freezing cold. I drank a gingerbread latte which was practically heaven in my mouth since Starbucks in Madrid doesn't offer the Christmas flavors(saddest thing ever, I know). Even though the coffee should have woken us up, we decided to go back to the hostel and re-group with a little nap after that. It was just the break we needed before we went to our amazing dinner: Cheese Fondue. I was so happy to get to eat some fondue. It's so creamy and melty and amazing! Someone had warned me not to drink water with it because it "congeales the cheese in your stomach"...so I drank Coca Cola light and hoped that that was all a wives tale anyway. I'm feeling fine today, hahaha, so it must not be true.

So, we ended our trip on a very high note...it could not have gone any smoother. It is rare that one returns from a weekend of travelling more refreshed than when one left, but I can say that Switzerland had that effect on me! What a wonderful place!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

health is good thing

Praise God that I am now healthy. My sickness was really interesting...it was the quickest, most intense sickness I have ever had. I went from having a 103.8 fever on Monday night to feeling more than fine on Tuesday night, with no fever. Now, it is Thursday and even though I am still on a strict schedule of antibiotics, I would say I am fully recovered! Hallelujah! I hate being sick. But, then again, who likes it?


These past few days I've spent a lot of time pressing into God's word and in prayer and I can make one conclusion: there is nothing better than being in God's presence. He truly is the All in All, the bread of life, living water, in that in Him all needs are satisfied. When one's soul is satisfied, it's hard even to notice physical needs. It is absolutely glorious. I am praying for more and more and more of that each day. I am thankful that "when we are weak, He is strong" because my flesh is weak. But I am trusting that Jesus will guide me through a strong finish to this semester in Madrid. I want to finish here victoriously, in awe of everything this semester has taught me.


On another note, tomorrow my roommates, Kate Peeler, and I fly out to Geneva, Switzerland. We have on our itinerary: The United Nations, some nature sites, and a little visit to a Fondue restaurant. I'm extremely excited about the fondue. I intend on eating cheese fondue for dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert :) I have wanted to go to Switzerland ever since my brother brought back pictures from his trip to Europe in high school. It seemed like the most beautiful country, with rustic cottages and lush countryside. We will experience a little less of that in Geneva, but it's possible we'll take a bus to a little bit outside of the city. Katie Pluhowski described Switzerland as "A little piece of Heaven on Earth"...and that makes me pretty darn excited.


So it looks like an adventuresome weekend in store for me, followed by a hard week of class (one test, lots of Finance, management group project...) But this is the nerdy in me when I say I'm kind of glad because it will keep me busy. This is gonna fly by...

Monday, November 5, 2007

tonsilitis and life lessons

Well, I'm sitting in my bed right now sick with what I believe to be either tonsilitis or strep throat. The thing is, I went to the doctor to see what I had, and the system is a bit different than that in the United States. In the U.S., a nurse would take your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse and tell you to wait till the real doctor comes in. Then, once the doctor was there he would probably swab the tonsil, look at it under a microscope, and give you amazing drugs that cure tonsilitis extremely quickly. Not in Spain. In Spain, you go into a sort of office, tell the doctor your symptoms, and then he decides to give you generic antibiotic and ibuprofen. How does he know that the antibiotic is going to work perfectly for what I have? He doesn't even know what I have...

This whole experience is of course making me really homesick. I just want to go to good ole Dr. Ovella, get some meds, sit on my comfy green couch and let my mommy take care of me. I miss the United States so much right now. I miss my family, my friends, and the way of life. Right now, I just miss hanging out at the Gilbert's for hours upon hours, talking about sometimes deep life issues and other times foolishness. I would eat all their food and we would all be together and everything would be magical. But I still have to wait a month and a half for that. That makes me pretty sad.

Praise Jesus though, for Pilar, my host mom. She has taken such good care of me up to this point. She took me to the doctor this morning, and now she is making me lunch even though that's not part of the meal plan. She is an angel.

Speaking of Jesus, this weekend I hit rock bottom. It is so hard to live in Madrid sometimes because the culture is SUCH a party culture. In spanish, they say "todo vale" which pretty much means "anything goes." So instead of living a lifestyle honorable to Jesus, I had been making my own decisions. Well, I learned this weekend that if I am going to claim to be a follower of Jesus, I have to live like it. Not because following Jesus is going by the rule book, counting up my "good doings" versus "bad doings". Rather, he sets up these "guidelines" of how to live so that we may experience His "abundant life". Jesus says, "I have told you these things so that you will be filled with joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!"--John 15: 11-12 To put it simply, He has the most amazing things in store for us if we follow His will. And I can't do His will on my own, as I've learned. I need Him SO much! While it is easy to beat myself up for what I have done, I have to keep in mind that His grace is free and cannot be earned.

So, while I'm sitting here in bed, sick as ever, I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone. I have the Creator of the Universe who unconditionally loves me and will provide everything I need. And that's nothing to be sad about.

Friday, November 2, 2007

crazy/beautiful

Yesterday, I saw a disturbing sight. Cheryl's friend Dom from U Miami (who is studying in Rome) is currently on fall break visiting Madrid. So, we were showing him some sights and just walking around the city when I saw these three little kids. I would say the oldest boy was probably ten and the other girl and boy were most likely eight or nine. They looked like they were up to no good and I remember Cheryl had told me she had seen a couple get robbed by a group of young kids at an ATM machine. Well, we just so happened to be walking right by an ATM with a man getting money out, and the little boy stood on one side while the other kids took up the other. When the money came out, the boy on the right snatched for it!!! Thank God, the man at the ATM had such an extreme reaction that the kids ran away with no money, but I was still in disbelief. This world is in a sad state of affairs if we've come to the point where we can't even trust children anymore. Apparently, these children can't be punished for their actions, either, because there is a lack of the equivalent of "juvenile hall" in Spain.

We continued on, in a little bit of shock. We passed a bakery that had little pastry balls filled with whipped cream, chocolate, coffee, mousse, and pretty much anything that you can think of that is delicious. We drooled in the window for a little bit before we decided we HAD to buy some. We purchased a couple each and went on to the "rosales" which is this beautiful rose garden. It has soo many different types of roses and the whole place is absolutely gorgeous. After that, we decided to go on a ride at the Teleferico which is a cart that rides over Madrid's Casa de Campo. It was really cool because we got to see Madrid from an aerial view. Luckily enough for us, they had the same two 1989 Phil Collins songs playing on a loop, which made it realllly romantic. We laughed pretty hard about the music selection, to say the least.

All in all, yesterday I experienced some of the ugliest and prettiest aspects of Madrid. Today we're being touristy again, which I really enjoy since sometimes I forget that I truly need to experience this city everyday, and not sit back complacently. We will be going to the world renowned Parque del Retiro and row some boats in the big lake. I'm so excited!