My mom, ladies and gents, is one of a kind. Her name even proves it: Elin Anderson. How many Elins do you know? Beside's Tiger Woods' ex-wife. The answer is: not many. 

When I was growing up I was a daddy's girl, but when high school hit I turned to my mom for a lot of things that my dad couldn't help me with. Boys, life, what shoes to wear, how to prep my father before telling him I had a car accident, all that fun stuff. She was always there for me, through thick and thin. As much as my mother is there for me as, well, my mother, she is more than that - she is an inspiration. She is one of the most caring, devoted people I have had the pleasure to know who has the heart of a lion. She also has an uncanny amount of determination. When she sets out to do something, she does it and there is no stopping her. Even ask Papa A about that. 

You may be asking why I am being so gooshy and sentimental right now (unless you read the title of my blog post) and the answer is that today is my mother's birthday. She would die of a heart attack if I told you how old she was, so that will be left up to your imagination. Though, I will testify and say she doesn't look a day over 30. I'm obviously not biased or anything. 

Elin doesn't ask for much. She is the kind of person who gives and gives and gives and never wants to take back, so today, Mom, I am giving you the gift of not just the postcard you already received a week ago, and the gifts to come when I return, but also photos, moments, and qualities that I always smile at when I reflect on. Especially today where I am missing out on celebration I always enjoy partaking in. 

My mom is a closet traveler. She loves to go and explore new places and the majority of her life she has been stateside. Before I went to college her and I would go on mother daughter vacations once every two years or so and they secretly have been the best vacations I have ever been on. Besides to Canada on family trips her and I never went out of the country until the summer before college to Mazatlan, Mexico. Elin knows how to have a good time when she is relaxing and enjoying herself on the coast, let me tell you. Other trips have been to Florida, a college tour road trip, Itasca State Park and Duluth, Minnesota many a time, New York City, New York and countless other places. My mother has treated me to many memories, and I only hope to return the favor one day on my dime. 
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Elin and Andrea in New York City, NY summer 2006.
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Andrea and Elin in Mazatlan, Mexico summer 2010.
Family comes first in the Anderson household and my mom and dad are the backbones of the family. My brother and I were always taught that no matter where life takes you and who comes and goes we have each other has constants. Elin reminds me of that every time I call her at home. She is always willing to stop cleaning or come in from gardening just to catch up on my past day or two and then the short conversation turns into a twenty minute conversation. As my time in Spain has passed I have realized how important family is to me. With the many health issues that continue to plague the Anderson clan my dream of doing international journalism has dwindled because I want to be able to be there for my parents and see my brothers family grow. My mom always said to follow my dreams, and I know she has followed hers, so I am going to follow another dream of mine, to always be there there through thick or thin for my mother and never let her down. 
The majority of my family and friends know I have a pet peeve of bad grammar, punctuation and sloppy writing, but the emails my mom sends me crack me up every time. It is not that they are poorly crafted or that my mother is not intelligent - she is one of the smartest people I know - it is just that they are so dang funny and she hates computers. 
  • The subject line is HOWDY almost every time.
  • There are capitalized letters and words done by accident. 
  • A different sign-off is written every once in a while, the standard being MOM.
Needless to say it is never a dull virtual conversation had between my mother and I. 
When I was growing up I never liked being told I looked like my mother. I remember one time when my mother and I were at my Grandma Frans and my grandmother told my mom, her daughter, that the reason she always confuses our names is because every time she seems me I look more and more like my mother. Keep in mind my grandmother saw me about once a week and was as sharp as a tact, which means she is basically right. As I have matured and become older I really do see that we look quite a bit alike, especially when you look at photos of my mother when she was younger. My father will tell you that my mother and I are more alike in other ways, such as our stubbornness and persistence to always be ahead of the game. And the amount of post-it notes and lists we both make. I think her and I kill a tree once a year in the amount of paper we use for lists. 

Prom junior year in high school my mom was so happy to see me all dolled up and it was in one moment when I was with my closest and lifelong friend Lisa where I could see in her eyes that she was proud of the woman I was becoming, and that made me happy. I remember thinking then, if I could be half of the person my mom is then I will consider life a success. I still think this to this day, almost every time she sends me an email or we get off of the phone I am reminded of her larger than life sneezes and big smile. She is one incredible lady. 

So, this is to you mom. May you have the best 30th birthday a lady could ask for. I love you and can't wait to give you a big bear hug like we used to share in four days. 

Feliz cumple mamá, I love ya. 
 - Bugs
 
It's a strange thing, social media. It can notify you of the happiest things in life: engagements, birthdays, new jobs and internships. But it also can bring to attention horrendous things like what occurred today in Newtown, Conn. 

My heart and deepest sympathy go out to the families, friends and employees involved in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where, as stated by CNN in an early report 26 people, 20 being children, were killed by a man who entered the school around 9:30 in the morning. 

This year we have seen a number of tragedies related to gun violence, but I do not wish to focus on the gun violence but rather the tragedy and people effected. Now is not a time to politicize over whether there needs to be stricter laws regarding gun control in the United States, it is the time to reflect on how our country, how humanity needs to pull together and be there for those who have lost someone near and dear to their heart. 

This summer in Wisconsin we as a state came together to mourn the lives lost in the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek only weeks after the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. I was an intern this summer at the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, Wisc. and never had I witnessed such compassionate reporting but more importantly compassionate souls. 
 
Today's shooting is one of the deadliest school shootings our nation has seen in its history. I can not imagine the sorrow the parents of the children whose lives were taken too soon feel. I can not imagine the feeling of receiving a phone call or text message that delivered such horrendous news. I simply just can't imagine at all. 

This evening when I went to gather more information about the elementary school online their website directed me to this message:
Due to an extremely high service demand as a result of the events that have occured today, this website is temporarily being redirected to this page rather than the school system's usual home page.
To help deal with the events of today, there will be a memorial mass this evening at 7:00pm at St. Rose Church.

As a journalist my mind goes to one thing: fact-checking and the hunt for information. As a compassionate person my mind goes to a more important realization: people care. That is what I want people in Newtown, Conn. to know today, that we care and are their for them to lean on. 

Regardless of our political standpoint, our stance on gun control, or our views on whether mental health is an illness, there is one thing these families and classmates need to know - that we are here. 

I also am proud to say I am a student of Marquette University where today the flags fly at half-staff and the university sent out a Peace Prayer to be said by the students, faculty and alumni. The actions of Marquette show that there are at least 12,000 people who are sending their support and condolences to the victims out east. 

So, I ask you all today to set aside the negative energy and the political banter and show your support. You can prey, you can talk to a friend, or you can write it out like me, but whatever you do don't forget to show the compassion humanity is capable of because there are people out there who are waiting to see it. 
 
You know those days when all you want to do is call a friend to chat because you have time to kill? I remember those days, and they are fast approaching. This countdown post is short and sweet. 

I can't wait for the day where I have time to kill between class or meetings and I can just press call and not have to worry about a time change. It will be nice to have that luxury. On the other hand I will miss the twenty minute email spree with my friends and family. There is something about refreshing your inbox multiple times in twenty minutes and each time there is a response to an email you just sent. I takes me back to those good old middle school days. Gotta love 'em.
 
Yesterday on the bus I saw a girl with the same Christmas socks I just had to throw away in the garbage because I wore them too much. A hole had formed and despite my hopes that it could defy the rules of physics and wear and tear, the hole grew. They were bright red socks, with green, gold, and blue presents on them, atop each present was a different bow and white snowflakes covered the ankle joint area of the socks. The snowflakes made me think: BAM! Christmas time! Needless to say they were pretty cool. 

My grandmother and I had a habit of giving one another holiday and destination themed socks and this happened to be a pair she had given me several years back. When I saw the girls socks peaking out from the cuff of her jeans I became a little excited. I know that is strange, really strange actually, but I couldn't help but think how wonderfully random and coincidental it was that when I just threw a pair of my favorite holiday socks away, another person was sporting them. My grandmother obviously had great taste if a female Spaniard had the same socks and decided to wear them when it was still light out. But then my excitement hit a roadblock and I found myself asking: Do they have Macy's here? That is where Grandma Fran always purchased them...

After mulling over where the girl purchased her socks my stream of consciousness brought me back to the dinner table Monday night with Irene. How are the two related? I'm not quite sure myself yet. 

I was not having the best evening and for the first time in my whole time here I just wanted to be home with my family but Irene had a uncharacteristically sad look on her face that made me snap out of my own stupor. Monday, December 10, 2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of Irene's husband's death. When she told us tears began to swell in her eyes and she tried to discretely wipe them away with her black sweater that had red roses on the sleeves. A peculiar choice for a day of such significance. My roommate and I had no idea what to say to her. My thoughts switched back and forth from English to Spanish and I became frazzled. I didn't want to see such a wonderful women be so sad. At this moment she reminded me of my grandmother when it was the anniversary of my grandfather's death. Grandma Fran never let it show, but inside I knew she was torn to pieces each St. Patrick's Day. Irene, unlike Grandma Fran, showed her emotions and wanted to talk about it. So, after my brain became less frantic I muttered out the most pathetic thing possible: Lo siento. I have been here four months and all I could muster up was an "I'm sorry" to my favorite señora in the world? It was a shame but she smiled and was glad we cared. 

Irene is a strong women and adores her children, even her unofficial children like myself. When she began to talk about the memories her and her husband shared I couldn't help but smile. She explained how he died, how the following months were hard for her, and how she just had to keep busy otherwise she would become overwhelmed with sadness. One reason why she began hosting foreign exchange students was because she didn't like how the house was so quiet after her husband died. She said he brought so much life to her life, and then she smiled that big smile and chuckled. Clearly she was having an internal dialogue or recollection of memories. After dinner she didn't do the dishes, nor did she hum a happy tune per ritual, instead she talked on the phone with her daughter for a few minutes and headed to bed. It was disheartening to see her in such sad spirits and not like herself. 

The next morning Irene was up bright and early gabbing away on the phone with, what I am assuming was her daughter who lives in Switzerland by the conversation. She had a smile on her face and sipped her coffee as she sat on the couch. As I left for school Tuesday morning I was relieved to see her in a happier mood. That night at dinner we then shared memories we had of Christmas and what traditions we had. Irene became very excited when she was talking about all the toys she had purchased for her two youngest grandchildren and how she has to go to Zara to look at for a nice piece of clothing or accessory for her niece and then a jewelry store for a necklace for her daughter. 

After telling me all of the things she had to do in preparation for the holidays I told her my sock story. She laughed. 
She asked how something so simple can make me think about such unrelated things. I didn't know the term for stream of consciousness, but I think she understood what I was trying to get at. At one point I honestly just told her I was weird, and she said everyone has their quirks. She continued to laugh for a bit and said she was feeling much better today. She said it is much better to talk about how she is feeling with someone than to let it bottle up inside. She is 100 percent right, something my grandmother and I could learn a lesson or two in. Suddenly the sad disposition I saw the night before came back and Irene quickly explained why - she didn't want us to leave. She looks forward to having the new girls in January and is thankful that the weeks between our departure and their arrival will be busy, but it still eerie to be alone in her apartment with no one there to talk to. 

Not long after reassuring her that the holidays will be fun Irene asked me if I was ready to go home. I couldn't lie to such a sweet woman so I said yes, but that I was going to come back and see her and while I was back at school I would write to her. She understood that I needed to go back home, she is a mother after all. So then, after I finished my clementine at the dinner table in the kitchen she bid me goodnight, but not after saying she liked the pair of Christmas socks I had on. I told her they were from my grandmother. She laughed. 

Man, I'm going to miss her. 
 
Call me sentimental, or a young aunt, but ever since I have left the United States I have missed one little guy more than I ever thought possible, my nephew Nolan. He has been growing up so fast and I have been reading all about my brother and sister-in-laws daily adventures in parenting on their blog, but it is not the same. Seeing the pictures of him on Halloween dressed up as the cutest monkey I have ever seen (I could be a little biased) made me a little sad because I was missing out, and the photos of him trying to eat peas but just not liking them made me miss him and also made me wonder how many other stories I have missed out on hearing. I can't wait to see Nolan and see firsthand how much he has grown! I only hope he remembers who I am since it has been a little over six months since I have seen him! 

On the other hand, I will miss the three girls I tutor in English once a week. They have progressed so much and The youngest and shyest of the three has finally opened up and starting practicing her shapes. Her favorite is a heart and every Wednesday she wears a pink long sleeve shirt with a bejeweled pink heart on the front and points at it saying "heart."  The girls, ages five, six, and seven, are a joy to work with and I can't help but wonder if they will remember me, their first English tutor, and how much their next tutor will have as much fun with them as I did. 
 
Thanksgiving was hard to celebrate away from our families, but it was also difficult to celebrate this year with the Madrid family because we were missing one key member, Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle. 

After Femy's death in September we all grieved in different ways. Some liked to talk about it, others kept their feelings quiet and some were upfront and said they didn't accept the fact that she was gone. I think I had a mixture of all three. For the past two months we all have been going about our daily routines and remembering Femy for the wonderful person she was when the topic came up, but none of us dwelled on her death and I think we all have moved on from it as best as we have been able to, however after receiving a comment on a blog entry I wrote on the death of Femy, the emotions could not help but come flooding back. 

Her name is Jackie Curbishley and she met Femy when she was an au pair in London, England. Curbishley shared a story that none of the students knew and after conversations with faculty here I don't think they did either. 

Excerpt: 
I first met her through one of my Spanish teachers when I was studying the language as a mature student in London. I was married with two children and a working mum. My teacher, Teresa Rubio told me she had met a young Spanish girl in Bourne & Hollingsworth (a famous old London store, now long gone,) one lunchtime. She said this girl had come to London via an agency in Spain as an au pair, for the purpose of learning English. The family she had been placed with were Indian, they spoke no English at home and wouldn't allow the girl to attend any classes. They had taken away her passport and she was allowed only one day a week off. 
This to me seemed like modern slavery, and ever the campaigner for liberty, I decided to free her.
I was in the music business in those days, managing bands like The Who, so I had access to some pretty heavy security men. That night I sent one of them to the address Teresa had given me with the express orders not to leave without the girl and her passport and if necessary, to call the police.
To cut a long story short, he had to call the police, but Femy arrived at my house that night, aged 23, nervous and bemused as she had no idea how this miracle had come about. 
So began a lifelong friendship. 

Not a single soul in our group knew this about Femy and I never would have expected it. When I first received the email with the blog comment I planned on reading it back at my piso, but decided to read it while I was around friends. As I read it aloud to Emily we both couldn't help up and think about how strong of a woman Femy was. No matter how difficult the situation was she never complained, she never let anyone know how she truly felt if she did not like something and she always turned a horrible situation into a positive one. 

As I continued to read the letter aloud to Emily we kept learning things about our dear Femy that we never knew. She lived with Curbishley and her family in England for three years, becoming fluent in English while she taught them Spanish; Femy was forced to withdraw from her education in Salamanca, Spain because her college grant was taken away due to austerity reasons; she thought the best way to learn English was to be a stewardess but she decided to be an au pair instead; when her college grant was reinstated she went back to her university in Salamanca and never mentioned how she was doing until she told her family and Jackie that she was getting her doctorate and heading to teach in Michigan as a professor. 

Emily asked a good question, how could we have known Femy so well but not have known all of this? Our minds were racing with questions but then we came to a conclusion: we were meant to receive this comment on Thanksgiving, when we all would be together later that evening and be able to process it together, just like we had two months earlier. 

I am not one for fate and I will be honest, I don't know if there is a higher power or not, but you can't help but think we were meant to receive this on a day where we would be missing our families and be leaning on one another already to help us forget about missing a family orientated holiday. 

When I posted the comment in our group Facebook page the responses were positive, one student even said they had chills. We all knew we lost an incredible women but we never knew she could continue to amaze us without even being present in our lives. Curbishley said it best in her closing statement:
 I will never forget her and we have all been touched by her to greater and lesser degrees. That was Femy. Always loving, always giving of herself, and always a shining example of the best of humanity. She will be sorely missed.
- Jackie Curbishley.

 
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It is perhaps the most acceptable holiday to refill your plate more times than you care to remember and still gorge out on pie afterwards all while being surrounded by family and friends. You eat, drink, tell stories and laugh that hearty laugh and the delicious aroma of hot, homemade turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie, biscuits (I could obviously go on) fills the home. It is Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday. 

This year Thanksgiving Day was quite different than what I am used to, and what many United States citizens are used to. While students back in the United States have part of this week off to celebrate the holiday, us here in Madrid, Spain still have classes, and while you watched football, the 2012 National Dog Show, or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade we, or rather I, watched the season finale of Covert Affairs. Needless to say, the beginning and middle of my Thanksgiving were no match to the customary holiday music, family-filled day I have had since I was just a wee little kid. However, the day took a turn for the best when Dani, my intercambio, and I walked around the city of Madrid and he showed me a breathtaking view of Madrid from the top of a hotel. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at the time. It was a pristine view. While I was with my intercambio I couldn't help but think that there was something about speaking Spanish on Thanksgiving that made me miss home even more, but it helped that Dani was intreagued by the American holiday and asked why we liked our potatoes to be mashed. Several confused faces and cheerful laughs were shared while I tried to explain that phenomenon.

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After chatting for a few hours he walked me to Sol where I met the rest of the Marquette University  students were dressed in our finest attire, that we brought with us that is, and we headed to have our Thanksgiving dinner at Restaurante Botín. For over 30 years Marquette has celebrated the holiday at Botín and it was a pleasure to carry on the tradition, even if it meant swaying from your own, and it was an incredible experience to eat a meal at the world's oldest restaurant opening in 1725, according to the Guinness Book of Records

What made the dinner more special was the presence of Femy's brother and sister-in-law who came to have dinner with us, he said they came in honor of her. It was very sweet of them and made all of us reflect on how we are grateful for the time we had with Femy before her death. In addition to Femy's family a few of our professors from the semester and orientation class came. The table was segregated with profesores on one side and estudiantes on another. It was a blast to see them outside of the classroom, share our traditions, and watch them be confused over why we thought this meal was the best meal of the year. Needless to say our plates were spotless by the end of the meal and they had barely touched theirs.

We did not know what to really expect. Paloma and Lilliana told us it would be an authentic dinner, but we did not really know what their version of authentic would be. But when we saw the turkey, and the vegetables we became overjoyed and could not wait to dive into the meal. 

These were the best parts of the evenings delicacies: 
  • Potatoes, they were not mashed but they were very good.
  • Cranberries. They were from a can, but that did not bother me because I love cranberries mixed with turkey mixed with gravy. It was delish
  • The turkey. Oh my goodness gracious it was heavenly. I like dark and white meat and they gave me both by chance and I could not believe how wonderful it tasted. 
  • Last but not least, the pumpkin and apple pie. To die for. I am a big fan of cinnamon and there was a strong taste of the spice in the apple pie. And the sheer fact that the restaurant served pumpkin pie made my heart melt of happiness.
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We were served one plate of food, going back for more was not an option, but it was plenty to eat. We could barely finish our pie, but we obviously did. While enjoying our pie we also were serenaded by local university students who sang "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and classic Spanish hymns that our professors sang along to. It was an evening full of sharing stories, laughing at jokes and embarrassing moments and our professors and directors witnessing some of us dance to the live music. All in all, it was a success don't you think? 

So, that was my Thanksgiving experience. It was different than what I am accustom to but it turned into one of the best nights I have had in Madrid because I was surrounded by my friends who are like my family. We all are grateful for this opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, and as fate would have it Thanksgiving marked the beginning of our last thirty days. Studying abroad has been one of the greatest gifts given to me but I wouldn't be able to do it without my parents, so I give thanks to my parents Elin and LeRoy Anderson; to my brother and sister-in-law and their new son, Nolan (he is such a cutie); to my friends I have back home who are as solid as rocks; to the new friends I have made here; to Paloma and Lilliana for being there for us after Femy passed away; to my health; to all the traveling and cultures I have been able to experience; and my education. I hope you had a wonderful Turkey Day, we sure did.

 
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Christmas wreath outside Starbucks entrance.
Sitting in a Starbucks is far from what I would call a cultural experience, but sometimes you need a little taste of home. So as a treat from studying since nine this morning at the apartment (it is now 7:30 p.m.,  almost eleven hours of straight studying) I decided I needed a pick-me-up and a Starbucks apple crumble latte sounded like it would tickle my fancy.

After walking around the neighborhood for a bit and printing some things for class I ventured to the Starbucks a block away from the apartment in Arguelles and saw my first Christmas wreath in Madrid hanging on the door. I entered and what greeted me? "Jingle Bells," possibly my favorite Christmas song ever. OK, maybe not ever it’s a close call between "The Christmas Song" by James Taylor, "All I Want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey and any version of "Jingle Bells." 

I know, I know, it is not even Thanksgiving, but it’s midterms and I love Christmas because it is the one time my whole family is together and the bickering is at a minimal. Sorry mom, it’s true. 

Now, back to Starbucks. 

If you have never had an apple crumble latte you absolutely need to try one. It’s everything about Christmas in one sip: the apple, the cinnamon, the whipped cream, a smile can’t help but spread across your face when the hot milk reaches your tongue and you taste the delicious taste of, dare I say it again… Christmas.

As I type this The Beach Boys's "Little Saint Nick"  just came on and another smile can’t help but creep onto my face, you can’t not be happy during the Holiday season. Music tells you to be joyful (and triumphant), you are close to spending a nonstop, possibly too much, amount of time with your family and you get to eat delicious food. That all sounds incredibly wonderful, I don’t know what there is to be grumpy about. 

Currently, my cute, red, Christmas Starbucks coffee cup that contains my delicious apple crumble latte, is sitting on the table next to my computer as I plow away on Theology. My once disgruntled face is now relaxed as I recall all the unforgettable holidays I have had in my life and the fact that I am very lucky to be abroad and to have had the experiences I have had in my life. It was almost a year ago to this day that I was processing my visa applications to go to India with Diederich College of Communication, and now after a great journey there I am here. It is crazy what the world has in store for you. 

I leave you with a question posed by the great Charlie Brown:  "Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know what my answer is, but do you?   

That being said, as I take my last sip of the Christmas-in-a-cup-latte, I sign off from this blog post and wish you a happy start to the week. Christmas countdown: 37 days. 


 
When people say they are bored in Madrid, Spain my nose and lips become scrunched  together and my eyes become a little narrower, it's a look of confusion and wonder. I ask myself, how do people get bored in Madrid? 

Last Friday I was guilty of being bored. I was tired of studying, I was sleepy and I really just did not want to learn anymore about the book of Judith in the Old Testament. I'm all for an empowered woman, but three hours was enough time with her for one day. Luckily, it was puente (an official three-day weekend holiday) for the Festival of the Virgen de la Almudena, the female patron saint of Madrid, and two other girls and myself decided to immerse ourselves one step further into the Spanish culture and see what a religious festival in Madrid was like. 
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Virgen de la Almudena exiting the Catholic cathedral.
History:
The Virgen de la Almudena (Virgin of Almudena) is the icon of the Virgin Mary and is the image of the advocation, or summoning, of the Virgin that also is the patroness of Madrid. The devotion to la Virgen de la Almudena began in the 11th century and is celebrated every ninth of November. 

According to the history of Our Lady and the history of Spain under the ruling of Dom Alfonso VI it was when Alfonso reconquered Madrid in 1083 from the Moors, who conquered the city in the eighth century, that Almudena made her presence known in a rather spooky manner. King Alfonso VI wanted the Catholic cathedral, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, to be purified after being neglected and misused by the Moors. The statue of Our Lady, placed by the Apostle St. James in Santa María, had disappeared and the King, along with other religious administrators and powers, held a procession to find the statue. They walked throughout the city and around the walls praying to God for help in order to find the statue of Almudena. They sang and prayed while waving scents along the way until at one point part of the wall fell and they found the statue of la Virgen de la Almudena, which had apparently been there, hidden, for over 300 years. The even more spooky part is that next to the statue were two candles that were still burning. At this point in history the statue was named Our Lady, not Almudena. It was when Alfonso and his religious authorities found the statue that they named her Almudena, meaning market or granary, because she was hidden near the Moorish granary.

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Madrileños watching the procession in front of Santa María.
Experience:
When we arrived at the metro stop Ópera the number of people walking around the area was greater than usual. The holiday was only for Madrid and with a number of banks, shops and museums being closed as well as schools and other employees being off for the holiday the streets were buzzing with traffic. 

We headed to Santa María la Real de La Almudena next to Palacio Real where the mass, celebration, and procession were taking place. Along the way were vendors selling flowers, people young and old, the occasional newborn babies dressed in all white and bonnets on their heads, and whole families in tow were at the festival. I had never seen so many Madrileños in one place, except for a Real Madrid game. 

When we arrived at Plaza de la Almudena the square was full. The service, traditionally held outdoors at Plaza de España, was moved inside the cathedral due to the rain, drawing even more people to the plaza. We ventured towards the end of the square farther from the busy streets to watch the offerings of the flowers and listen to the service. Though none of us in our group of three are terribly religious, we found it nice to follow the service while standing in the crowd and take in the aroma of the thousands of flowers that were continuing to fill the temporary wall that was built for the holiday. As we stood for an hour or so we watched people pray, sing, gab and really just be happy to pay respects to their female patron saint. I was in awe with how many people were coming and going, if they had to work they paid their respects to the Virgen de la Almudena and quickly left after saying a prayer, others arrived before us and left after listening to the mass over the speakers. 

After watching the flowers multiply we moved closer to the cathedral to watch the procession that would begin soon. I am not sure what I expected, but seeing hundreds of people exit the cathedral in black dresses and vales, alter boys and priests in white cloaks and superbly dressed people of importance (though we couldn't tell you who they were or why they are of significance) was not what I was expecting. I was thinking it would be an intimate crowd that would exit the church and that maybe they would also say a few words to the crowd outside in the rain, and even walk over to the wall of flowers and give an offering, but none of that happened. I'm not saying it is good or bad, it's just not what I expected. 

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Wall of flower offerings before the mass began at 11:00 a.m.
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Number of flower offerings grew until it filled that evening.
Following the beginning of the procession and the first round of incense being swayed into the air and wafted by the public the heavily decorated gold wagon with a statue of Almudena was brought out from the center isle of the church and down the red ramp for the Madrid community to see. Suddenly the crowd began to clap, then the clapping turned to singing lead by the priest inside the cathedral. While the singing continued the clapping regained momentum and I watched as people in the crowd began to radiate happiness with their smiles. Those who were close to the ramp stretched out their arms to touch the flowers on the wagon and reached further to wards the top, as if every inch that was closer to Almudena would change their lives. The passion during the entire festival was profound. I have never seen so many people in one place to pay respects to a patron saint, or any saint for that matter. At this point I felt really lucky to be a part of a community celebration that I would never get the chance to experience in the United States or possibly ever again. 
The statue of Our Lady and the entire procession then left the Plaza de la Almudena and walked through the streets of Madrid. The street procession went through the standard route of Puerta de Sol, Plaza Isabell II, and the Plaza Oriente. As we left the streets were beginning to become less crowded but people followed the patron saint down the street at a gradual pace. One last glance behind me showed the flowers adding a brilliant hue to the overcast sky and an aroma that reminded me of newly blossomed flowers in my garden at home. All I could wonder right then and there was , Who could ever be bored in Madrid?
 
LeRoy Edward Anderson Jr. is not old, he is well-aged like a nice bottle of wine. He loves his family and his work, even though he gripes about the latter, he doesn't like the holiday season except for the delicious food, and he certainly doesn't like being reminded that he is getting older - unless it reinforces the fact that he can retire soon. 

I'm not going to say my dad is better than your dad, but he is pretty awesome. He took me under his wing as a wee little girl and let me into the garage at our cabin, a sacred ground, where he would watch over me when I would try to build numerous things that would soon fall apart. On duck hunting weekends he would wake me up well before dawn, hand me my pink snow pants and coat and we would ride out in the rickety white Ford pickup truck to the pond. Barbie dolls in one hand, hot chocolate in another. There, in the camouflage duck boat we sat for hours, freezing I might add. While he watched for ducks and complained about our neighbors hunting on our land I did my dolls hair and dreamed I was someplace warmer. When the beaver periodically peaked its head out from the water, I would snap back to reality and become excited, antsy to try and become friends with the big toothed animal. My dad would just smile at me, sometimes laugh, and go back to watching for ducks. I'm almost positive I was the cause of many failed shots due to my numerous questions like, "What type of duck is that, dad?" "Can we go get more hot chocolate?" "Don't shoot it if it's a female duck!" I'm surprised he didn't throw my dolls in the water. 

My dad is a funny guy too. He finds humor in sticky situations and attempts to lighten the mood by cracking a joke here and there, but if that doesn't work he tends to avoid a situation. Not the best idea in my opinion, but then again I do the same thing. Like father like daughter, I guess. 

LeRoy is a tough guy on the outside, but on the inside he is a big marshmallow - my brother takes after that, though he won't admit it. I like to think he secretly loves his birthday for the sweets, but I know he likes the day because he gets to spend it with the people he loves and who love him. That being said it's a little hard being away from Papa A on his big day, on the flip side though it makes me remember all the great memories I have had with him. So, here is a list of some of my favorite father-daughter moments. (Mom, don't cry). 

- Drinking hot chocolate and playing with Barbies while you hunted
- Learning how to check the oil in my car
- Spending time with you in the garage
- Breaking my arm by falling backwards down the stairs with my rollerblades on, you saying it is fine, mom coming home and saying it is broken. 
- Hearing all about your adventures in Africa and seeing you happy - When we're driving and you're listening to Larry the Cable Guy and I'm obviously being tortured, but secretly like how it makes you laugh
- Watching Frasier, M*A*S*H, Antiques Roadshow, RedGreen and British comedies with you
- Singing Eric Clapton and B.B. King together in the car.
- When a good photo of us is taken, and then putting it in my father-daughter picture frame from JoDee
- Eating peanut butter on saltine crackers as a midnight snack, falling asleep in your and mom's bed and then mom coming home from work and being upset that I was not sleeping in my own bed

These are just a few of many, dad! You deserve a great birthday and I know you will spend it well. Just think, it is one year closer to retirement! 

Feliz cumpleaños papá, I love ya. 
- Bugs