31 Dec 2011

500 Wishes for the New Year

Ha! I'll bet you thought with that title I was going to spring this massive list of wishes/hopes/desires for the New Year on you, right? Don't worry, I may be one for overly long posts (sorry!), but I wouldn't put you through that! ;o)

Nope... it's just that as I was pondering on what to write now that we're on the cusp of a new year, I happened to notice that this is my 500th post! Woah! Major blogging landmark! Sure, a lot of those posts were mostly filler (like the Photo a Day I tried to do during the first half of 2011), but I think I've gotten some pretty decent stuff out there. Looking back I think I'm most proud of the Oceanic Blog-A-Thon which I hosted for World Oceans Day for the past 3 years (and will again in 2012! you've got 6 months to think on that). I'm also really happy with my Fishy Friday posts which I am determined to start up again! I need to think a bit more on their format though... should I continue telling fishy tales from the aquaria I've visited? Or should I go for a more scientific format? What do you think? Related to that, I started sharing some of my Diving adventures with you this year, as a result of my finally being able to take my own photos underwater (and you all know how much I LOVE photography!). Sadly I think I only got a couple of posts out because the Hiking posts all of the sudden demanded my attention! I have to teach these two favourite hobbies of mine to play nice with each other... and get back to the diving posts as they will remind me of the summer as we move into the coldest part of the year. Then there's been the fun of sharing some of the typical Spanish madness (like the Hogueras in Alicante) with readers from around the world! It's also been a hoot taking a trip down Christmas memory lane with you this month! It might not be over, since Christmas for me (and Spain!) doesn't end until January 6th! But the continuation of those posts will depend upon my being able to find more photos! My mom kind of lapsed in her photo album duties for a few years in the early '90s, so we have to go digging through photos in envelopes to find them! oops! :p

Hmmm... I'd better watch out or my musings on my blog's past will take over this post!

I wanted to take some time and look back on 2011, ponder my life... but my life just wouldn't give me the time to do it! These holidays have been so busy with all the celebrations and family visiting, I've barely had any time to even prepare the few classes I had to teach! Woops! So much for reflection! Even now I've just got 2h to get my overnight bag packed, get a shower and get dressed etc. before I head out to my parents' for a low-key New Year's Eve dinner with some neighbours. After the clock in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid strikes the twelve gongs of midnight and we eat our twelve grapes (for good luck in the new year), I'll be heading out to the next town over to meet up with my friends for a night of FIESTA!!! Which will end with me snoozing on a friend's couch so I don't have to worry about driving home in the wee morning with all the other people who shouldn't be driving either... All this has been put together in a bit of a last-minute rush... none of us had any plans other than family dinners... but a few days ago someone proposed meeting up tonight and we all just woke up and said YES!!! I'm doubly happy because it gave me an excuse to get myself a Christmas gift from my grandmother (she always gives her grandkids some money to spend on themselves), a lovely dress I've been eyeing for the past month. Each time I went into the Corte Inglés looking for a Christmas present for someone else that dress would just call to me, and I was like "no! I'm not going out this year, I don't have an excuse to buy a new dress!". Well, now I do! And I did! :o)  (to be fair on myself, I only buy a nice dress like this once every 2-3 years. The previous one has done one New Year's Eve and 2-3 weddings). Want a glimpse?

Still can't believe this redhead is going to wear RED tonight! :p

So, no thinking or contemplating or reflection for me tonight... except when I lose myself in the music. Which I love doing and haven't in months!

One thing I did read today has caught my attention... Kim at Snug Harbor mentioned being inspired by a friend to think of a word for the New Year, instead of a list of Resolutions. The idea is to let that word guide you throughout the new year (I found another post online explaining it very clearly here, very interesting!). I've been pondering two candidates which just seemed to cry out to me: discipline and letting go. The first as in self-discipline, I know what I have to do to get my life back on track, both personally and professionally, but I seem to be lacking the self-discipline to actually do anything about it... But I also need to learn to let go of the clutter in my life (both physical and emotional baggage). This is something that is very hard for me to do. But I did knock one thing to the side of the road this year and I felt so much lighter after and I haven't regretted it once! I'll think on both some more. Not now, I now only have 90' left to get ready! oops! :p

As for the world ending in 2012... I share this:

Have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! :o)

28 Dec 2011

Christmas Feasting and Playing

December 28th... a day for hearing really weird things on the news... things that you should double (and triple!) check before you believe them! For example: Iker Casillas - star goalkeeper and captain of the Real Madrid and Spain's World and European Champion National Football team - announced that he was retiring from football. YIKES!!! I heard it on the radio, he announced it on his Facebook profile, it must be true! Regular news broadcast on TV at lunch time... and the sports section starts with the presentation of Spain's new Davis Cup (tennis) Captain: Alex Corretja (yay!). Not a word about football? In this country? Impossible! So what about that massive news flash I heard on the radio?! FOOLED YOU!!! 

December 28th is the Día de los Santos Inocentes in Spain. Traditionally it's the Day of the Holy Innocents in the Catholic Church, in honour of the children massacred in Bethlehem by Herod's order (with Mary, Joseph and Jesus just barely escaping to Egypt). But in Spanish an "inocente" is also what you call someone who is naive, easy to fool or trick. So this day has become the equivalent of "April Fool's Day" in Spain and Latin America! Not so much tricks as fake funny news and jokes. Or sticking a white paper doll on someone's back. In any case, don't believe anything you hear until you've verified it! :p

Today was also the 4th Day of Christmas, and in my family the 3rd day of leftovers! Or is it 4th meal? I've lost count! My Dad totally overdid it this year with the feasts... I think he's loosing his sense of proportion... Not that I'm complaining, Christmas leftovers are the best kind!

It all started on Christmas Eve with the crazy 15 kg (33lb) turkey my Dad had ordered (to be fair he asked for "at least 10kg", just got more than expected)... for 6 people! (the 2 year old doesn't eat enough to count) I think it was even bigger than my niece! But at least it gave my Dad a chance to show off his fancy new oven he's been smiling about for the past 6 months! :p

24 Dec 2011


Just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a ¡¡¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!!! from sunny Alicante. I hope it's filled with joy and you're surrounded by your loved ones. Best wishes!

Christmas Trip Down Memory Lane: the mid '80s

I've been trying to divide up these Memory Lane posts thematically... the "just me" years, the "Saudi years", but I've found so few photos from the 4 year period in the mid-'80s (specially Xmas 86 and 87, there have to be more photos somewhere!) that it seemed a bit silly to split them up!

We start with Christmas 1984, our first back in the U.S., when we were living in Potomac, Maryland (my dad worked in D.C.), only an hour and a half away from my Grandmother in Purcelville, VA and my Uncle, Aunt and cousins in Leesburg, VA. So that means big family Christmas at last! Well, for Christmas Day -American style-, since we still had our big meal just us on Christmas Eve -Spanish style-. I think it's the first year I went carolling -around our neighbourhood, with my dad playing the guitar-

23 Dec 2011

The Belén, a big Spanish Christmas tradition

Kim from Snug Harbor Bay asked me a while back about difference between Christmas in Spain and the US. Well that's a question for another post (I'm still trying to figure it out!), but decoration-wise I'd say the biggest difference lies in the holiday centrepiece in one's home: the Christmas Tree (in Anglo-Saxon/Celtic tradition), or the Belén (for the Latin community i.e. Spain, all of Latin America and I think Italy as well). You'd call it the Nativity Scene or Crèche, but that word is too small for us! Belén is the Spanish name for Bethlehem. We don't just recreate the Nativity in the Stable, we go for the whole town!!! When space allows it of course. ;o)

My mother shares memories of setting up the Belén with her Grandmother in Altea (small town up the coast). She remembers that for a long time before Christmas kids would save the silvery wrapping paper from chocolates and candies to use as part of the construction material for the Belén. And they would get bits of coal from the train tracks... Now most everything needed for the "construction" is bought in the supermarket.

When we lived in Mexico we had lots and LOTS of space to set up the Belén, now in a somewhat overstuffed apartment it can be hard to find just the right spot. This year I set it up (over at my parents') on a table under a window on the balcony, close to the tree (for extra effect with the twinkle lights!).

That table seems a bit "blah"... let's put in a background!

18 Dec 2011

Mission: possible? Hiking up the Puig Campana!

So last Sunday was THE hike, the one I've been kind of worried about all season since I saw it on the Centro Excursionista's calendar of activities: hiking up the Puig Campana, Alicante's second highest peak (1410m above sea level, ~ 4625 ft). Possibly the toughest hike you can do in this province (at least that's what I'm told). Anybody who's visited the northern coast of Alicante (or driven down the AP-7 on their way north or south) has seen this mountain, it's very recognisable. For starters it's big. Kind of dominates the highway and the view back behind Benidorm. Then there's that big cube-shaped hole in it. Seriously! See for yourselves:

Puig Campana behind Benidorm, seen from the island

I won't go into the various and sundry legends as to how that happened (a kick from a giant, Roland slicing it with his sword...), I'll just tell you that they all end up with the missing mountain chunk flying through the air and ending up in the bay just in front of Benidorm (and geologists say the shape and type and age of the rocks are a good fit).

In any case, it's a mountain that I've been conscious of since my earliest visits to Alicante in childhood, and one that I rarely gave any thought of hiking up because I've always been told it's very gruelling and difficult.

still not convinced I want to do this in my present physical condition (or lack thereof)

Here's a map of the route so you can kind of have a visual in your mind of where we are as we go around. Basically we circled the mountain clockwise along the PRV-289, starting at the southern tip just above point 1. At point 4 we left the main track for the mountain peak track, and then returned down it to continuing the base circuit. All in all about 16 km (~ 10 miles) and a climb of about 1250 m (~ 4100 ft). I apologise in advance for the large number of photos, after several days of weeding through them I just couldn't bring myself to delete any more and still tell a full story! :p

13 Dec 2011

Christmas Trip Down Memory Lane: the early '80s

The early '80s were the "Saudi Years"... celebrating the season half a world away from family, in a place where Christmas isn't even a holiday! They were also the years during which our family kept growing, giving me two younger sisters to tease and torment (and take care of) for the rest of our lives. ;o)

So we start with Christmas 1980 in Riyadh, when I discovered that Christmas trees came out of a box and had to be assembled!

You remember that "intruder alert" I mentioned in the previous Christmas post? Well here's the result of that big "bump", another bright little redhead (who to this day still sighs whenever she sees pictures of her "Dumbo" ears!):

8 Dec 2011

A sunny hike around the Sierra de Olta

Well this Sunday was the complete opposite of the previous one weather-wise! Gorgeous sunshine and temperatures near 20ºC (68F) in the middle of the day! A perfect day to hit the trails! :o)

This time I joined up with a new hiking group, one I'd found mention of online last Spring, but could never manage to get hold of! Finally someone in another group helped me locate them and after a couple of weeks I finally joined one of their hikes! They're called "El Trenet Senderista" (the hiking train) because originally they would take people up the on Alicante's small coastal "narrow-rail" train and then start the hikes at the train stations. Now they go by bus. Not as "romantic" but much more practical (plus it allows them to pick up people at several points along the route)! The downside of this group is the fee, 15€ each time I want to join a hike? Once in a while ok, but if I went every week with them, ouch!

Sierra de Oltà, seen as we approach from the North on the bus

7 Dec 2011

Christmas Trip Down Memory Lane: the '70s

Care to join me as I latch on to the Ghost of Christmas past and visit my past Christmases while I prepare for the jolly season?

Let's start at the very beginning (after all, it's a very good place to start!):

Yeah, I know... you can't see me anywhere in there, right? Well look again! But with an ultrasound this time! (it seems they were already "in the know" having recently gone to the doctor to check up on a little "constipation" problem...) ;o)  They fled north to spend the holidays with the family in Virginia, apparently fed up of the "fake Christmas trees" on the grass in Panama... :p

On to my first full Christmas experience... rocking the bell-bottoms in Virginia (visiting from Minneapolis)!

6 Dec 2011

Happy Saint Nicolas!

Look what I got in the mail yesterday from a wonderful friend:

merci Kyt!!!

Yummy Belgian chocolate!!! Just in time to celebrate Saint Nicolas today! :o)

What's that? You didn't know today was Saint Nick's day? The original guy behind Santa Claus? Well, I did! You can't have lived in Belgium and NOT know it! Saint Nicolas is a very big deal for kids in Belgium, northern France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands... He comes to their house (and their grandparents' and other family members' houses) and leaves them candy and cakes and toys. It's a good thing the kids never stopped to ask why he doesn't always show up on his day (Dec. 6th, not an official holiday) but conveniently drops off his packages on the closest weekend... ;o)

5 Dec 2011

Why did the salmon cross the road?

Apparently because it was confused by the flooding in Washington State last week! Click on it to go to the YouTube page for more info.

Definitely WEIRD!!!

3 Dec 2011

Monthly Movies: Fall 2011

Hmmm... for some reason I haven't been able to keep up my Monthly Movies this year! I keep playing catch-up by writing about several months at a time like I did with the Summer Movies. Not good... I need to get into the habit of signing in and writing a quick something about each movie when I get home right after having seen it, 'cause otherwise when it comes time to write the post I don't always remember what I wanted to say! This Fall it hasn't helped that I haven't been too inspired by what I saw on-screen, and those I did really enjoy I told you about in Movie Magic or Madness posts. Anyhow, in an attempt to get things back on track, here's a brisk run down of the movies I've seen this Fall. They include some spy tales, romance, drama, fantasy, period drama... Let me know if you've seen them and what you thought of them!

Sharing some music

I just want to say thanks to one of the blogs I follow - e-clecticism - for bringing a fabulous little music video to my attention! It's a brief history of the world (from the Big Bang to the Space Age and beyond) in stop-motion animation, and it's the music video for the song "Thick as Thieves" by Canadian Kalle Mattson, a group I've never heard of before... but I'm listening to the album this song is from right now (Anchors) and I'm loving it! Added bonus to a new (for me) musical discovery? Well they've got the album available for free download right now on their website! :o)

So here's the video, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! ;o)

And here's an interview I found with the group's lead singer-songwriter Kalle Wainio.

2 Dec 2011

La Fábrica de Sueños - Lotería de Navidad!

You know Christmas is on the way in Spain when the advertisement for the special Christmas lottery finally airs! I've seen it twice in the movie theatre so far, and it's lovely! It's a short film that metaphorically tells the tale of the Lotería de Navidad. They say the Lotería de Navidad is a "Fábrica de los Sueños" or "Dream Factory" whose doors open so that the dream-hunting children can go out and reach every city and town in Spain (or further afield since Spaniards living outside of Spain frequently have their family members send them a "décimo"). The children collect the dreams and bring them back saying that our dreams are what bring the lottery to life, a lottery which will fulfill many peoples' dreams.

I wrote in detail about Spain's famous Christmas lottery (celebrated yearly since 1812!) two years ago, if you missed it or want a refresher on an major piece of Spanish culture then you can find it here (plus Wikipedia has a great entry here). This year's film is as moving as always, with a haunting melody, but I kind of miss the bald guy from years gone by! Whenever I spotted an Observer on Fringe they always reminded me of him. ;o)

If I buy a ticket (or two) this year it will be from some non-profit association which tags on a couple of extra euros to the sales price to help with their fundraising (traditional here, we - the Biology students association - did it in University to help raise funds for our trips), like that of an animal shelter where a friend of mine volunteers or my hiking group.

1 Dec 2011

December's finally here!

I smell Christmas in the air! :o)

Well, ok, maybe not really... but I want to! I want to do something to help me start feeling festive, and it's not as easy here in Alicante as it was in Belgium with all the decorations in the streets and the music and most specially the Christmas markets!!! I miss the smells, the sounds, and yes, even the chill in the morning! All signs that Christmas is fast approaching.

The signs can be found here as well, but only in the TV-ads or in the supermarkets. Those have decked out their special holiday sweets, with tables overflowing with various kinds of turrón and polvorones and mazapanes... a sugary heaven! ;o)

Turrón anyone? (read more here)

The poinsettas are also out en masse. Both in the supermarkets, street markets and plant shops... Maybe I should try and keep one alive this year? ;o)

Nochebuena - Flor de Pascua - Poinsetta - Rose de Noël... however you want to call it!

I didn't do anything Christmassy here on the Blog last year. Too busy wrapping up my classes (and playing in the snow) before leaving Belgium to spend the Holidays with my sister in New Zealand. Two years ago (so Christmas 2009) I had a "12 Days of Christmas" series up which was a lot of fun! Then in 2008 I did a series of posts on Christmas traditions that I didn't quite finish (only managed to talk about Spain's Christmas lottery, the Christmas feasts, and New Year's resolutions), so maybe I'll work a bit more on those this year? Dunno yet... I'll think of something!

I've also got to clean up / organise this apartment and pull out the Christmas decorations! And start shopping for gifts! I'm always running late on those...

How do you plan on preparing for Christmas?