the true meaning of christmas

Yesterday Verena bought me an advent calendar, so we can both spend the whole month eating surprise chocolate every day. Advent calendars are one of my favorite things about Christmas.

Anyway, this calendar is a little bit odd. The picture on the front is what appears to be a normal Christmas scene – the Nativity surrounded by all its visitors – but there are some things that are seriously wrong with it:

-While Mary appears virgin-like as always, Joseph looks much like a burly Scottish highlander, with a really thick red beard and moustache, and some sort of Rambo-like headband.

-There is a snowman present…even though there is no snow on the ground in the scene.

-Santa is in his sleigh in the sky, following the Three Kings, who are riding on the magic carpet of a genie with gold earrings. He looks a lot like the genie from Aladdin.

-The Three Kings are not bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh, but rather things that look like sticks with Christmas lights on them. I have no idea what they’re really supposed to be.

-There is also a man present who looks suspiciously like Robin Hood. He is carrying a bag, which in the picture, appears to be moving.

-There is a log present. Who has a nose. Actually he has a whole face. And a hat.

-Baby Jesus appears to be giving the thumbs-up sign to the genie-kings-santa parade in the sky.

I wasn’t aware that a log, a snowman, Robin Hood, Santa, AND a genie were all present at the birth of Jesus. The things you learn from advent calendars!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I could not sleep last night. I woke up at 6am, after restlessly tossing and turning since I went to bed at 2:30, and I could only think of one thing: turkey. At 7:30 I had already planned the entire menu and mapped out my route to the market to find fresh turkey breast. At 12:30 I was walking home with bags full of fresh lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, oranges, and of course, two kilos of fresh turkey meat. It doesn’t get any fresher than the market – next to the dark lumps of breast meat behind the glass counter are whole yellow chickens with rolled-back eyes, their necks twisted and the blood still congealed on their half-feathered bodies. That’s freshness for you, I guess.

I didn’t think I would be able to pull off a Thanksgiving dinner at all, since I usually get home from work at 10pm and that doesn’t really give me time to cook a 3-hour turkey. But this morning, with visions of pumpkin bars dancing in my head, I realized that I could do it. Today. Now. So I called all my friends, and went to the market. About five stores later, I had everything, and my already-baked pumpkin bars were cooling on the counter. I had to go to work, but ran home in between my classes to stuff the turkey in the oven and cut the potatoes. At 10:00, everyone arrived, and we sat down to a veritable feast:

-lemon herb roasted turkey breast
-au gratin potatoes
-brown sugar orange glazed carrots
-green salad with escarole and romaine lettuces
-mini croissants
-cranberry sauce! (of course, cranberries don’t exist here, but I had some leftover cranberry jam that I found in the “exotic food” section of an expensive grocery store, so I boiled it down and added a splash of rum and a splash of orange juice….sooo goooood!)

The turkey was BEAUTIFUL…I could not have asked for it to come out better than it did. It was perfectly browned and juicy white inside, with good herb flavoring. The secret is rubbing the herbs/butter under the skin. It makes a huge difference. There were ten of us total, and before we sat down to eat, I mentioned that it’s generally a tradition to name one thing you are thankful for before beginning the meal. It was really nice to hear how happy everyone was to have become friends…some people were really touched. Anyway, back to the food….for dessert we had pumpkin bars (Mome’s special recipe), which disappeared, as they always do, even though people claim not to like pumpkin. There was also some leftover plum cake, which was still moist and tastes better with age. There were bottles of wine and happy chatter, and the satisfied sighs of full stomachs and light hearts. I could not have asked for things to work out better than they did, and all on the spur of the moment.

Being able to have had a Thanksgiving dinner (my first official Thanksgiving “on my own,” so to speak!) makes me even happier because it was a little bit of home, and now I can officially begin the Christmas season (meaning, it’s officially okay for me to start listening incessantly to Christmas music and to put up my lights). And tomorrow I don’t have to work until 5pm, which means…Christmas shopping (and leftovers!)!!! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(p.s. some free publicity – almost this entire meal was made possible courtesy of http://www.allrecipes.com, my new favorite website)

Extravaganza!

Things are quiet here, uneventful, but there have been happy developments this week. I got four new classes (!), which means that I now have 17 classes, and each class needs an individual and specialized plan. It’s like having 17 jobs. That’s a lot of work, and I refuse to use a book, so I make all my materials myself. I know I make it harder on myself but I feel like using a book is cheating, and also no fun. Anyway, with these new additions, if I have a month where nobody cancels and there are no holidays (which won’t happen, but it’s nice to dream), I could feasibly make about 650 euros. Sweet! I can finally afford my rent!

In other news, I am starting a month-long feasting extravaganza. It began today with the spiced plum cake I baked, like the one Julia used to bring to Adrienne’s every Christmas. Sooo good. Also on the menu before Christmas arrives:
– Thanksgiving dinner for me + friends (turkey breast fillets, au gratin potatoes, pumpkin bars, etc.)
– Hanukkah dinner for me + friends (potato pancakes, brisket, applesauce, etc.)
– Chicken pot pie (I have four pounds of celery to use up, so…)
– Rum balls!
– Almond crescent cookies
– Chocolate-dipped shortbread fingers
– Toll House chocolate chip cookies
– Gingerbread
– Cheese ball?
– Shrimp cocktail
– Rum apple cider
– Eggnog!

I’m sure there’ll be more to come. Let the extravaganza begin!

get up, get down with the sickness

I am sick again, this time with a terrible fever that gives me sweats, chills, and other unpleasant effects. It is a widely-held belief that first-year teachers (especially with little kids) get sick a lot more often because they are not used to being around so many germs. Okay, but enough is enough. Let’s have a look at the polls:

Number of weeks I’ve been in Santiago: 9
Number of illnesses I’ve had since arriving in Santiago: 5
Number of illnesses I usually have per year: <1
Number of times I’ve been to the hospital: 1
Number of times I’ve been to the hospital in the rest of my life: 0
Number of medicines I regularly take: 1
Number of medicines currently stuffing my nightstand drawer: 10
Number of children who regularly sneeze/cough all over me during class: all of them
Number of times I’ve gone to the bathroom in my pants as a result of aforementioned illnesses: 2
(that’s gross.)

I am tired of being ill. If this continues I will be forced to quit one of my jobs.

* * *

Also, I have been depressed and lonely lately. And happy at the same time. With the holiday season drawing ever nearer, a feeling of homesickness is creeping slowly into me with each passing day. The one saving grace of the holidays here is a wonderful and elusive creature called the Polvoron. The polvoron is a cookie unlike any other. Aside from the obscene amounts of shrimp I ate when I spent Christmas here five years ago, the one thing that I remember most about Christmastime in Spain is the polvoron. Polvo, in Spanish, means dust, and it is a fitting description for this delectable goodie. These thick round cookies are extremely dense, but have a dusty texture that crumbles easily and melts in your mouth. They are usually almond-flavored and dusted with powdered sugar, but they also make them in cinnamon, lemon, and chocolate varieties, among others. I hadn’t realized it was a seasonal treat, so when I arrived in Spain a few months ago, I kept my eye out for these delicacies, with no luck. And then one not-so-special day last week, while browsing my local grocery store for lemons and yogurt, I saw a new section of shelves set up, full of the freshest shipments of various Christmas delights. There was the beloved turron, the almond paste-brittle which I smuggled home from Spain and never ate, and then there was a huge section of every kind of polvoron imaginable. I think I let out an audible gasp of delight. The prices weren’t even up, but I took the first bag of assorted polvorones and, upon arriving home, immediately sampled three of them. They were everything I had remembered and more – these hidden treasures were well worth the wait. I’m pretty sure I will be purchasing several more bags of delicious goodness before the Christmas season is over. This is one of the reasons I like Spain so much. 🙂

marvels and wonders

I seem to always accidentally come across very strange and wonderful things here. This is a list of just a few of the strange and wonderful things I have seen recently:

-On a particularly rainy day, the sky suddenly cleared and a brilliant rainbow appeared in the pink-orange sky, situated almost purposely right above the cathedral. If that wasn’t a postcard moment, I don’t know what is.

-Last night on our way to a club at about 3:00am, a man rode by on a unicycle. My friends didn’t even notice.

-Friday night, as we wandered around in search of a bar we had heard about, we came across a secret plaza where many people were gathered. Three musicians, two drummers and a bagpiper, were playing lively gallego tunes and six twentysomethings, in sweatpants and sweaters, were dancing traditional gallego dance (like Scottish dance) in the middle of the street, for no apparent reason at all.

-In one corner of the cathedral, at midnight, a shadow shines down from the moon just so, so that a perfect silhouette of the pilgrim Santiago, with hat, cane, shell, and everything, is projected perfectly onto the stone wall. I still can’t quite figure it out.

-A few weeks ago, there was a pilgrim seen in the Plaza Obradoiro (in front of the cathedral)…with his donkey, who he had brought along on the journey to carry his things, all medieval-like. That’s pretty sweet.

-I realized that there are several locations in town which serve the fabled and mysterious Absinthe. I’m not planning on trying it anytime soon, but it’s very bohemian all the same.

Sometimes we live in a circus.