El Castillo De San Marcos, December 2011

My sister Stephanie lives in an old palace in Spain right next to a real 13th century castle in a town on the Southwestern coast. The tiles in her entry way are blue and yellow fleur de lis from an ancient world. The hot water system is antiquated too, since none seems to get to the top floor where our room is, but the view of one of the castle’s stone turrets is ripped straight out of Sleeping Beauty.

Christmas Cousins

Griffin and Adrian were so punch drunk from jet lag they ran around the cobble stone streets of Puerto Santa Maria like escaped zoo monkeys, the Christmas decorations strung from building to building lighting up our path. To get them to sleep, I resorted to fear tactics, turning the word “architect” into something dark and scary. “Do you know who lives on the second floor of this palace?” I whispered ominously to Ado after he bounced out of bed for the 5th time, as perky as a morning news anchor on too much caffeine. “An ARCHITECT!”

“A.. a.. awchwitect?” he echoed, his eyes widening.

“Yes!” I snapped, the jet lag long since having consumed any patience I had left.  “Go to sleep now or I’m calling the architect!”  Using my scariest voice and gesturing in the general direction of a cavernous doorway of thick wood, Ado obeyed like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Fleur De Lis

Stephanie moved to Spain in July with her husband Todd, a military doctor stationed at the U.S. Naval base outside Cádiz. Their daughters, Tia, 9, and Sasha, 8, who attended a Spanish immersion school in San Diego before becoming españolas, now speak a perfect Andalusian dialect, pronouncing “c” and “z” like “th”, and leaving the “s” off the end of words.  Hence, gracias, that most gracious of Spanish words, becomes “grathia”.  I stand by like an idiot while my nieces translate since people here speak so fast that entire sentences become one word. These beautiful, bright girls look exotic among the darker Spaniards, their cornflower blue eyes and spun-gold hair surprising and unusual.

Steph And Her Flamenco Friends

Our first night, Steph performed in a Flamenco show in the castle’s courtyard—a fundraiser for (as far as I could tell) two sturdy nuns who accepted a big envelope stuffed with cash at the evening’s end.  They served sherry from big black barrels (a local favorite) and cold Cruz Campo beer, and despite the fact that getting drunk is not the medically advisable way to beat jet lag, we did as the Spaniards do, stumbling home at 2 a.m.

Sisters

At Steph’s Flamenco performance, I took photos with my new camera–the Canon I got before we left L.A. that replaces the Nikon I placed on the roof of my car before driving merrily away to a Christmas party. At the first stop sign, the Nikon slid down the windshield, across the car’s hood and launched for one airborne moment before crashing into deadly pavement. Moronic mistakes like this must be a side effect of aging and mommy-brain as Mother Nature never intended for women in their mid-40’s to have small children. Needless to say, I am not getting a Christmas present this year.

Hottie Flamenco Man

The nationally known Señora who directed Steph’s performance is a prima donna of the highest order, yelling at her charges if they don’t bang their heel with precision or twirl their wrists without moving their arms.  My sister, who could pin a bear in a wrestling match seemed downright scared of her Maestra (teacher), which gave me some secret satisfaction since, as a child, I was always scared of her. Steph’s fear may be partly a consequence of being unable to understand what her Maestra is yelling.

“My sister, the newscaster” is how Steph introduced me to her fellow dancers. I recognized the word “noticias” (news), and shook my head, saying “no mas!” But the fact is, I am going back to work.

Spanish Rooftop

I have two offers (neither in local news), and it’s ironic how, once you stop grasping for something, opportunity plants itself on your doorstep until you trip over it. My dilemma now is deciding which job will work best alongside my mommy gig.

I’ve also been busy with two freelance jobs that have kept me so busy I haven’t had time to post on my blog, go for a run, or spend enough time with my kids.  The wonderful unintended effect of this is that both Ado and Griffin mob me when I come home after dark as if I’d just won American Idol.  One thing I had forgotten: work is hard.

Palace Courtyard

So far, besides watching Steph dance, the highlight of this Christmas trip has been a visit to the thrift store on the Navy base, where we rooted around in the used clothes, toys, and shoes like a couple of happy truffle pigs. We walked out with four sacks of someone else’s fabulous junk—stocking stuffers for the kids and ourselves–the total price tag being $29 American dollars.  And then, we went back to Steph’s palace, its peeling paint, water stains, beamed ceilings, and marble floors creating a crumbling Christmas elegance, to have lunch.