living abroad

How Do You Style A Baguette?

by Becky on June 13, 2013

in Food, Travel


Finding the right baguette can be the work of a day. Or a stay. That is, since our arrival in Barcelona, I have been tireless in my quest to track down the tastiest bread.


Good news, folks.  I found it!  It’s the Pan Artesanal at the Forn de Pa down the street from Park Güell. Perfect crunch, perfect texture, perfect flavor. We dip it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or slather La Vieja Fabrica’s peach jam on it. Or just carry it around and gnaw on it.

The great thing about a baguette?  You can style it any way you want, as Miss Lavender aptly demonstrates.

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When Opportunity Knocks

by Becky on January 14, 2013 · 2 comments

in Travel

Door knocker_2938

Sometimes we wonder, What are we doing here? Other times we think, Why didn’t we do this sooner?   For those who may be entertaining the idea of coming abroad with kids, here are my Top Five Challenges and my Top Five Opportunities–thoughts about living in a foreign country as a family.


One.  I miss my books.  I do.  Especially the library in my home.  I’m a bibliophile, and so are my kids.  I likewise often miss having access to city libraries with books in English.  Our library here is beautiful, but for my kids, it’s more of a homework station than a place to browse and borrow from.

Two.  I miss knowing that my dollar buys a dollar’s worth of goods.  The exchange rate has been fluctuating here, and that affects ex-pats of all stripes!

Three.  School.  I have the highest repsect for people who consistently home school.  Wow.  We’re home schooling our younger son, and it’s a full time proposition–both exhilarating and demanding!

Four.  Friends.  My kids often miss friends from home.  We consequently love skpye!

Five.  Kitchen “swag.”  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and sometimes miss my kitchen gadgets.  (Anyone got a waffle iron?)


One.  Spanish!  And Castillian Spanish, no less.  Wow, I love this language.  I love that we live in a place where the majority culture doesn’t speak my kids’ language.

Two.  Living urban.  I love big cities.  I love how each one has a distinct personality.  Barcelona is both cosmopolitan and very intimate.  In character, it’s both big and small at the same time.  I love that we walk everywhere, sometimes many miles in a day, and that I can never quite seem to see it all.

Three.  The religious architecture.  When I walk five blocks south to the Sagrada Familia cathedral, I’m never not in awe.  Whether it’s the small Basilica del Mar in the Born district or the massive Barcelona cathedral, I am often moved to tears when I walk inside.  Entering a European church for the first time–whether in Budapest, Vienna, Amsterdam, or Cadaques (Costa Brava, Spain)  is one of my greatest pleasures.

Four.  Friends.  Yes, some of my kids’ friends are at home.  But some were always here, waiting to collide with my children (not really, but it feels that way!).  My son’s new friends include an Estonian boy whose family lives here in Barcelona, and a Catalan boy whose family lives in our apartment building.  My daughters have acquired wonderful new friends, some from Bolivia and Peru, some from Venezuela, one from Russia.  All are bilingual, some multilingual, and all of them are refreshingly open to widening their circles, a trait that seems to be common in kids whose families have moved frequently.

Five.  Just the sheer differentness of it:  look, feel, food, languages, people, cultures, cityscapes, seascapes.  Brilliant.

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Photo, courtesy of Goose, Esq., who was kind enough to take snapshots of some of his school books for posterity.

Several people have asked me how we’re handling our kids’ schooling while we’re here in Spain, so I thought I’d describe what that looks like.  All three are studying independently or doing home school, an approach that allows us to travel freely and often.

Our girls, ages seventeen and fourteen, are enrolled in a high school transcript program administered through BYU’s Independent Study Office.  Before we left the U.S., we identified the courses they needed, completed the enrollment process (which is fairly involved, so if you’re thinking about this route, allow time for the applications to be processed), and got them started.

To stay on task, they head off to the local library each day, where they can wire up if they need to (since their courses are online) and work in a quiet environment.  Sometimes I accompany them, and I can tell you that the people here in Barcelona maintain a reverence for the idea of “library voices” that borders on the occult!  In other words, no . . . one . . . speaks!  Not kidding.  I’ve never been in a quieter library.  I’m definitely a fan.  My library card is almost as dear to me as my passport.

Additionally, tutors are available for the courses the girls are registered for, though timing the help sessions has been really tricky because of the time difference between there and here.  That, as much as anything, has been our biggest challenge.  Overall, though, I’m pleased with the efficiency of BYU’s IS Program and its materials.  We also brought an e-Reader (a Nook), so we can download books when necessary–like when my older daughter changed English courses midstream a couple of months ago.

The Gooseman.  Hmm.  He’s nine, bright, energetic, easily distracted.  We brought all kinds of books and materials for him (some we carried with us, some we shipped).  I’ll give you the rundown, then tell you what his school looks like from day to day.  This is a big experiment.

For social studies/history:  the McGraw-Hill Complete Book of World History for Grades 4-8.  We won’t make it through this, not by a long shot, but I love the format.  It’s got short, readable chapters, great timelines, and super accessible illustrations and facsimiles.  I wish we had teacher materials to go with this; if I wanted to quiz/test him, I’d have to generate those myself, and we’re more focused this year on math skills and literature/personal reading/language arts.

On to math, then.  We’re using a 4th grade math workwork by Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley–a text given to us by a friend of ours and California  elementary school teacher.  If you’re interested in ordering one (I don’t know whether they’re available, but you could certainly check), look for a paperback copy titled “Interactive Homework Workbook, Grade 4” at the top, and at the bottom, “enVisionMATH, California.”  The cover is black, with an illustration in blue of an insect looking through a telescope (not sure I get the connection there).  Our little guy is in 3rd grade but good at math, and likes it, so we’re pushing him.  My husband also has designed some little math facts programs on the computer, basically timed math facts tests on multiplication and division.  We’ve tried an online program called Timez Attack, which feels a lot like a video game.  However, he’s so competitive, he goes into orbit if he misses even one problem, so we had to put a moratorium on that one.

Language arts.  I brought a few books for him, but I’m SO glad we have the Nook (Barnes & Noble’s color e-Reader).  He’s read the five books in the Percy Jackson Lightning Thief series; the first book in the Red Pyramid series, and the first one in the sequel to The Lightning Thief–all by author Rick Riordan, who knows very well how to connect with young readers.  We’re also in the middle right now of a FABULOUS book by fantasy master Neil Gaiman (a favorite), The Graveyard Book, which won both the Newberry and the Carnegie Award (British) a few years back.  I’m reading this aloud to him, a task/pleasure I reserve for myself, since I love reading aloud almost more than anything on earth.  For cursive, he has a workbook given to us by the same resourceful California teacher friend.  My son loathes and likes cursive in equal proportions, owing to the fact that it’s hard work and also that he’s pretty decent at it, his strokes round and elegant (which earns him plenty of necessary praise).  And he has a critical reading/thinking workbook, Read & Think Skill Sheets, Grade 4, with short reading selections on a variety of themes and topics, and multiple choice tests that follow.  I like this because I think it’s great training for standardized testing back home.  Spelling I’m not stressed about.  I figure we’ll catch up at some point if we need to.

Science.  Again, a suggestion from our friend–an online Scott Foresman program she uses with her class.  (Check  It’s also helpful to have the California science standards and one of the end-of-year science tests our friend uses for her own class.

The kicker:  writing!  Ouch!  Somehow, he became convinced that he can’t write.  I’m talking a major block.  He’ll shake his head and swear he is no good at it, will never be good at it, and tears usually follow–big, real ones that make your heart hurt.  I finally decided I’m going to have him do just one sentence a day, on a topic we select together, using an adaptation of an old method, where you hang a new idea on a well-known structure.  (I plan to give some examples for teen writers in a future post.)  The point will be to help him master basic sentence writing without him realizing he’s doing it–just through repetition of the formula, and friendly topics that change daily.  Eventually, I hope the tears subside because all the sadness over writing even one sentence makes me want to cry, too.

School days with him are always interesting.  It’s tempting to let him read read read, because he’ll do it all day.  However, while I think reading is brilliant, I know he’ll end up with lopsided strengths if he spends all his time in his fiction books.  Moreover, since we plan to enroll him in public school again next year, I’m very aware of where he needs to be across the board.

That’s about it.  I have deep, newfound respect for people who consistently home school their children.  It obviously takes tremendous imagination, discipline, and patience.  If you’re home schooling your kids and have some ideas or suggestions. feel free to comment here.  I know those of us who are doing it would love to hear from others!

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