Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter 2017

Here in Spain, Easter is a big deal -- I wrote a whole post on it last year -- refresh your memory here.  If you need a quick recap: the whole week is called Semana Santa or Holy Week (and it is actually Spain's version of spring break for all schools -- it doesn't matter when Easter falls, the week before is always spring break for schools but it is called Semana Santa, not spring break)...  And most of the country is closed for the Thursday and Friday of Semana Santa.  Each day of the week, starting on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos), has processions signifying specific biblical events corresponding to the holy day.  Each procession has at least one paso or float that is carried by men, a band and those walking along wearing traditional clothing.

Anyways, we thoroughly enjoyed our experiences of Semana Santa last year that we made it a priority to experience it again this year.  It also helped that lately Serafina has been obsessed with watching videos on my phone, including those videos from last year's processions and the Semana Santa videos are some of her favorite!

So on Palm Sunday, we made our way into the old town area of our little town with some friends who had not experienced Semana Santa processions before.  We watched from a distance as the paso emerged from the church and the band was playing right in front of us.  Serafina was so beyond excited I didn't know who to watch -- our daughter or the actual procession!  When the procession passed us, Serafina was so sad and kept asking for more drums and horse (she thought Jesus was riding on a horse, not a donkey).

the Peanut's favorite paso
We wanted to see more processions and we also knew Serafina would love it so we went again on Thursday (Jueves Santo) as well as Friday (Good Friday or Viernes Santo).  And again, Serafina loved it -- and we loved watching her.  On Friday, she could hear the drums but couldn't see them.... she was so excited, she climbed into her stroller and sat for OVER AN HOUR while the procession slowly made its way towards (and past) us.  Now, if you know our toddler, you know that this is unheard of -- she does not sit still. Ever.  And if you've seen the processions, you know that they are not lively and exciting, but our child loves them -- the drums, the pasos and everything in between!

notice the man walking barefoot (this procession will last for 5+ hours); those walking are showing their penance and mourning

the guys with the burlap on their heads are taking a break from carrying the paso

On Saturday we went to the base's egg hunt and Serafina loved it -- she had a blast finding a whole bunch of eggs and was very sad when it was over.  We have been playing with the plastic eggs ever since!

On Easter, we woke up late and Serafina dug through her Easter basket (she was very confused as to why she was getting presents) -- we actually haven't spent much time talking about the Easter Bunny at our house....  But we did have a seriously yummy American brunch -- complete with torrijas -- traditional Semana Santa food in Spain.  I'll write another post with the recipe, but essentially it is friend french toast!

So once again we celebrated Easter for a full week and it was wonderful.  I can say with confidence that this is one tradition we will miss greatly whenever we return back to the states -- Easter is quickly becoming our favorite holiday, especially in Spain.

Just a little side note -- I really wanted to see a paso emerge from a church and I was able to do so on Thursday and it was as amazing as I had expected.  Thursday's paso was too tall to get out of the church, so the men carrying it most likely had to walk on their knees to get it out of the church -- and when it finally emerged and the men hoisted it up (remember these weight a ton, literally) -- the crowd erupted in cheer!  It was quite the sight to see and one I definitely need to see again.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Being a Civilian

We are considered civilians because Trevor is not active duty military (but he is not a contract worker) -- and this can bring about some challenges being on a military base which provides for and is used to the majority of people being military families.

So first, this is my experience and my experience only.  And if it comes across as negative, it can be very frustrating to explain many times what being a civilian means, however -- everyone we have encountered has been so friendly and helpful in answering our questions and figuring out solutions.  This post is simply to inform those other civilians about what it is like.  And for us, none of this stuff is a deal breaker about living here, just sometimes takes some extra time (and patience from our end)!

Second, while on base, Trevor is considered my sponsor because he is the employee -- everything we do requires his signature or his ID number (this is the same for all military families as well -- whomever is the active duty member, they are considered sponsor).  While it at first drove me nuts that I needed him to do many many tasks, I am now used to it -- again, not a deal breaker, just took some time to get used to!

When you first arrive, you have to check in (everyone does this but civilians have some extra steps).  Because only the employee has base access in the states, Serafina and I both had to get registered into the military system -- we just had to prove I was married to Trevor and that Serafina was our daughter.  It was a pretty painless process and now Serafina and I both have base access (Serafina is too young to have her own dependent card, but I have one -- and my card makes it very clear that I have access to bases only overseas).  We had a little trouble getting Serafina actually registered into the system because she was not on our official orders papers.  While it was frustrating, everyone was very nice and we got it taken care of within 48 hours -- just required a little running around getting a few signatures.  So just make sure every single person in your family is on your official orders, regardless of how old they are!

The other part of checking in requires going to the hospital (which is also a regular doctors office and everything else relating to the medical field), its just all in one building so everyone calls it the hospital.  This part was tricky for us because Serafina wasn't registered into the system right away -- and we needed an immediate appointment to get paperwork for her (at the time) egg allergy for her to be able to go to the daycare of base while Trevor and I attended the mandatory welcome class.  Again, while very frustrating to a super jet lagged and tired mom, there was a wonderful guy working in administration that took pity on me and went above and beyond to get us an appointment.

The hospital is where we continue to see the most challenges with being civilian.  First, we do not have the military health insurance and so we have to pay for our medical visits while also billing our own insurance.  The billing process could easily be it's own post but the short gist is that I do my own insurance billing which is a lot of paperwork.  This part has been the most frustrating as of late because it involves a lot of different departments (both here in Spain and in the states) and a lot of work on my end to get a bill from start to finish, but I am learning how to best make it work for me.  Second, it can be difficult for civilians to get an appointment since we are not considered a top priority.  This really only causes problems when you have a really sick child that needs to be seen but it isn't really considered an emergency -- but we are very lucky to have a wonderful ER at our hospital and we have gone there if needed.  I also just let the ER staff know that we are civilian (meaning we can't get doctor appointments easily and we pay for our medical care) and while I understand this is not technically an emergency, my child is sick....  We also need a referral to see any type of specialist, even the pediatrician.  Again, as a mom of a toddler, this annoyed me quite a bit, but we have found a few wonderful family practice doctors at the hospital so it has worked out.  And because we are not top priority, we are unable to see the dentist on base but we have heard there are plenty amazing dentists off base (and they are even cheaper) -- so I just have to gather up the courage to go make us appointments.  Finally, because this is the first time we have been to a military medical facility we are not in any military system which includes no medical records, immunization records, etc.  This can confuse a lot of people until I explain that we are civilian and what that means.  It also means that before we left the states, I received copies of every single medical record any of us had every had -- including my allergist that I hadn't seen in over five years -- and I bring these to every single appointment.  So while it has been a steep learning curve for me, it is all manageable once I figured out a system to make it work.  

But there are many benefits to being a civilian overseas (besides getting to live overseas) that easily outweigh any of the negatives we have experienced.  We have access to many of the base facilities, events and offerings.  I go to the gym almost daily and attend some amazing workout classes where I have met a wonderful group of women.  I take Spanish classes on base -- again, with a great group of ladies and I have learned so much.  We sent Serafina to the daycare on base for the first year here and we absolutely loved it.  There is seriously the best Education and Development Center (not really called this but this is essentially that it is) specializing in birth to three development; we go to their monthly play dates and I have met so many great moms and other kids for the Peanut to play with.  We have access to the stores on base which allows us to still have many of our American comforts from home, yet still get the overseas experience.

So overall, I am constantly explaining about what it means to be a civilian and sometimes I feel like a broken record, but none of it is a deal breaker.  We absolutely love it here and are so happy we moved to Spain!

And then a picture of what Serafina did at school the other day -- I love that I get pictures and videos about her day!
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