Mom is going to try and work on her blog this weekend - so hopefully we'll get a neat picture or two, but until then - this is our weekly updated letter from dad and a picture from when we were at Zion National Park, UT in June this year. ENJOY!
It’s time once again to chronicle our adventures here in Spain. We’ve made it thru another week of learning and we’ve only been a little lost (probably because we haven’t been in the car since last Saturday). Our predecessors (Jones) left notes about where they did some of their food shopping but didn’t describe how to get there so we asked the Elders on Thursday if they knew where the stores are that the Jones used and they drew a map showing us how to get to a couple of them – short enough that we could walk. When we got home from the office that evening we decided to take a walk to see if we could find the stores they’d named – unfortunately we forgot to take the map with us. Near the Metro station we had to make a decision to go left or right around a building directly in our path – we chose left and should have chosen right. We walked half a mile to the end of that street and hadn’t found the store so we thought we’d go back on the street we could have chosen – it was another ¼-mile or so to the next street (remember – it seems that no two streets run parallel or perpendicular to each other) but we turned and headed in the direction of our piso. Soon that street split so we had to make a decision about which way to go – we looked a bit and before our eyes was one of the stores we’d set out to find right next to us. We checked out the store from the outside (didn’t want to be tempted) then continued up the street and saw a second store the Jones had mentioned so we went in and did some shopping (think we found oatmeal but not the powdered sugar Sister Jones says she’d bought there). We got back to the piso just before it started raining in earnest – our first real rain storm here – and it was still raining when we got up Friday morning but both thought the walk was well worthwhile.
After church last Sunday, the branch president asked me if I could meet with them on Tuesday evening – of course I could. So I went there, they discovered their English was considerably better than my Spanish and we had a pleasant time getting acquainted. He lives in a town about 100KM south of Bilbao, is an immigrant via Italy from Peru and was called a few months ago to be the branch president here. He works in Bilbao and commutes each day so it’s not quite as difficult as it would be if he only had to come here for church work but it’s still a major commitment of time and expense. In Peru he was a counselor in the stake presidency and a bishop twice – each time for 5 years so he’s had some experience in the church. He’s happy to have us here to help in the branch and we’ll be glad to get our language skills to a point where we’re useful.
We finally got our rent and deposit paid this week – it’s been something of a nightmare for us but, thankfully, our landlady has been very patient. We didn’t work on it last week because we needed a contract drawn up with names and dates applicable to us so, when we got that done, I went to an ATM to get cash using my Visa debit card (that’s apparently been the arrangement for a long time with our piso) and was limited by my credit union to a 300€ ($500) withdrawal – I needed 1630€. I began an email exchange with the credit union and they eventually raised the limit. That’ll work okay with the current exchange rate but if it changes much (negative to the dollar) I’ll still be in trouble. I’d been withdrawing as much as I could each day and it still took me several days to get the money to pay for our piso. That was frustrating enough but, to add insult to injury, with each withdrawal, they’ve charged my account 1% of the amount as an ‘international transaction fee’ and the last withdrawal they charged me a $1 ATM transaction fee. So, in the first two weeks we’ve been here I’ve paid over $26 in fees to spend my own money. If you don’t know I’m too cheap to stand by without trying to do something about that, you don’t know me. I’ve been sending emails and looking at web sites of other financial institutions to see if I have another option. As an added irony, Flo has been buying the food with her Visa debit card and hasn’t been charged anything (but I’m not going to raise that as an argument with my CU)!
We got letters and forms this week from our health insurance company telling us that, under new legislation, we can disenroll in Medicare Parts B & D while we’re in Spain then reenroll before we come home and not be penalized. I sent email to confirm our understanding and they assured me we’d get a letter of creditable insurance for that period of time. If that works it’ll save us nearly $200/month (not enough to offset the DMBA insurance but it’ll help) so that was a bit of good news for us. I might mention that those letters closely followed a letter to each of us informing us that our health insurance premiums were being raised from $120/month to $161/month (each) “to help build their reserves”.
I wanted to tell you of a few differences we’ve run into in Spain: in addition to having no straight streets and highways with sane intersections, it seems like most of the buildings here are built with stores on the ground floor (a lot have underground car garages) and apartments above them – 3 or 4 floors. But they don’t start numbering the floors until you’re above the store level so, while we live on the ‘3rd’ floor, we walk up 3 flights of stairs. At the office, we’re on the ‘4th’ floor but have 4 sets of stairs to walk – it’s about our only exercise so we take the elevator only when we have heavy things to bring up. Bread, fruits and vegetables are among the bright spots for us – they’re good, they’re usually not more expensive than in the USA and there are so many small stores selling them it’s never inconvenient to buy them. Milk is a little different story – we buy it in liter cartons, usually 6 packaged together and it has a shelf life (unrefrigerated as long as it hasn’t been opened) of several months. That seems pretty amazing but the problem is the taste. Our first batch is apparently equivalent to skim milk and it is no fun to drink. We have it on our cereal and I love drinking milk for breakfast but this stuff is hard to take. We haven’t started drinking our second batch yet but it’s supposed to be equivalent to 2% and I’m hoping a little cream in it will help the taste – we’ll see. They say it’s here but I haven’t even seen milk that has to be refrigerated like we have at home. The toilets here are sort of rectangular shaped, the water’s a long way down and I have yet to see a flush handle like we’re used to. Ours has a button that you push (like the new one in our master bath at home) and the one at the office has a button that you pull up – none of them seem to be low flow and they run a lot of water thru them. We’re trying to get used to the gas water heater – if we open a faucet pulling any water from the hot line, the heater immediately fires up (we stand next to the water heater when we’re at the sink in the kitchen). There’s a tank there so I’d assumed we pull water from the tank a little bit before the heater starts – not so.
We’ve been asked about the daily schedule and attire – we get up about 7:00, get ready for the office (white shirt & tie, coat is optional; Flo in dress or skirt & blouse), have a light breakfast, assemble the stuff we want for the day and are there between 9:30 & 10:00. We usually take a quick look at email we’ve received, dump the junk email and do follow up on any email that needs it. I’m by myself in a back room (my office, but there are lots of files and supplies that are accessed thru the day by the Elders) while Flo is at the front desk working at answering the phone, opening the door for visitors (electronic locks), processing a lot of mail (virtually all mail to the missionaries comes thru the office) and doing other secretary-type work. I’ve finished inputting to the computer the data from surveys completed by the missionaries (came to me in two batches, 60-70 of them, 5-pages per survey) and someone in SLC has run a program to compile results and emailed them back to me. I forwarded them to the President and his Assistants from which they hope to get ideas for strengthening the mission and missionaries. The survey dealt with study habits, keeping of rules, use of Preach My Gospel, teaching, planning and conversion success. It’d be interesting to see data comparing our results with those of other missions but I don’t think that’ll happen. Much of this last week was spent in working thru piso reports that come from district leaders who inspect pisos once per transfer, complete & sign a report and send it to us. They try to detail any problems in each piso – furniture & appliance condition, walls & floors, any mold visible (it’s a chronic problem here because of the humidity) and general cleanliness. My job while entering the results into the computer is to suggest solutions to problems (as if I knew how to repair a Persiana!), follow up on previous reports and make sure inspections are done and reports are filed – for me it’s been a very slow process. We leave the office between 1:30–2:30 to come home for mediodía (mid-day time) – we prepare and eat our main meal for the day and usually do the dishes then return to the office where we work until 5:30–7:00 (usually closer to the latter). It’s been so hot and humid that we like to take off as many clothes as we dare when we’re kicking around the piso but we don’t usually change clothes unless we’re going out for a walk or shopping. Saturday is our P-day so, unless we have a church related event, we’re in our casual clothes all day to do some shopping, clean the piso, study and work thru some laundry. It’s taken us a couple of weeks to get there but the cupboards are pretty well stocked, we’ve got a variety of soaps (unbelievable how difficult it’s been to find bar soap!) and Flo has done a marvelous job of transforming what we have on hand into something good to eat – we had pizza today with chorizo as a topping.
The office elders had an appointment with an investigator who’s here for vacation and they asked if they could meet with her at our piso Friday evening. We had a pleasant discussion, we bore our testimonies about prayer, they set up an appointment for Saturday evening and asked Flo during a shopping trip Saturday morning if they could meet here again. So after shopping, cleaning, studying and relaxing we got into missionary attire and waited – no one came. They told us this morning at church the lady had canceled the appointment and they’d forgotten to call us. We’re getting a little better acquainted in the branch and I think I perceive that speakers are starting to ‘slow down’ a bit for us but it’s still real fast.
We love our family and hope all’s well with each of you. Don’t be reluctant to send us a note so we know how things are going. May God bless each of you.