The Hardest Goodbye

Morgan almost never became our family dog. Nancy had her heart set on a black and brown furball that kept running into the sides of the cardboard box the half a dozen shih tzu puppies had been placed in. It was a dark evening outside of Rockford, Illinois, and my sister and I had finally convinced my parents to do the unthinkable: buy us a dog.

Nancy’s heart melted when we presented the puppy who would become a fifth member of our family: a floppy runt we would call Morgan.

Nearly 17 years later, my mom is sitting on the bed, staring off into space. I popped my head into her bedroom and ask if she’s ok. “Yeah…” she replies, voice wavering. “I’m just going to miss the sound of her little paws on the linoleum.”

Three hours later, we carried Morgan’s old lady body on her death march towards the car. Our first family dog was going to the Puppy Heaven in the sky, where she could run with all of her doggie buddies on a Cheerio-filled stomach.

Grow thick anodyne flowers

The anticipation of Christmas has always gotten to my sister, Margaret, and me. We discovered all of Nancy’s hiding places for our American Girl Doll gear before the ages of 10 and 7, respectively, and it didn’t take us long to find the correlation between Santa’s handwriting and our own mother’s. When something was out of stock, we got a Sunday Saver clipping of it in a box, making Christmas a week-long event.

There was no baby puppy waiting under Nancy’s prized Christmas Tree when the clock struck 7a.m. and Don’s bacon was already frying. Morgan would not be delivered until she’d been six weeks with her mother, making her arrival date December 28th, 1995.

Morgie Baby wasn’t the typical dog who chewed on your shoes and ran to greet you at the door: nothing was more important to her than her walks and her naps. She was so small, she could jump up on my dad’s hip while she was still a puppy and stake her claim. We had lots of ups and downs – failing puppy kindergarten, forgetting where to go to the toilet – and my mother even threatened to give her away when we would “forget” to walk her.


“Morgie, I never wanted to give you away, don’t listen to your sister.” My mom’s head was right next to Morgan’s. The vet had just given her the medicine that would put her half to sleep, giving us some time to say goodbye. We’d spent the morning talking about Morgan memories as if we were pulling the machine’s plug on a loved one.

Not a week before, my mom had called me while at camp to tell me that she and my dad had made the decision to let her go. At nearly 17, she was blind, deaf and really confused, spending the entire day next to her food bowl so she wouldn’t get stepped on. My mom gingerly picked her up so I could learn how to properly hold her and pet her, and they’d long given up taking her for walks, instead just cleaning up after her messes in the house.


Morgan always sensed I was leaving when she bumped into my luggage, strategically placed as close to the front door as possible. The pre-flight routine was always the same: “Ok, Morgie, gimme a kiss!” Morgan would sniff my cheek and then readjust on her ratty pillow, something that came with us from Rockford and had a place on the couch where the midmorning sun would reach her. It’s like she knew, and I always had the fear of never seeing her again creep into my heart. Even coaxing from family members never yielded so much as a single puppy kiss.

It’s alright; I’ve always been her least favorite.


As the vet came in to administer the shot that would stop her little puppy heart, I cried. Saying goodbye to Morgan was something I’d become accustomed to during the five years I’d leave on a flight. In a way, I felt like this would put to rest my feelings of anxiety about going away for so long, even as I watch my family get older. Stoic has never been my thing, so we all were teary as the vet let us have ten minutes with her before collecting her little body.

“Morgan, now you’re up running with Teddy and your cousin Scooter and Quinceman in Doggy Heaven,” my mom cooed as she stroked her paws, something Morgan hated. It got me thinking about my own slice of Heaven and what might be on the other side. Red velvet cupcakes, for sure, and my dad’s potato salad.


A week later, we’re still getting used to not having Morgan around. I would normally walk in right away and open the living room door to let her out; there’s no one using the backyard toilet anymore. My mom finally tossed out her ratty pillow that we brought with us from our house in Rockford, not being able to look at it anymore. Her food bowls are packed up and stowed away in the back of a closet.

We went to my grandparent’s house after we put her down. My cousins’ dog, Scooter, had to be put down earlier in the year, too, and my grandma told us that Aunt Doreen was still torn up about it.

“Well, we’re going to get another dog,” my mom affirmed, “Probably another shih tzu.” Having taught English for the last five years, I knew that using “going to” in the future was much more probable than using “will.”

I congratulated her on that usage and added, “She could never be as great as Morgan, but we’ll love her all the same.” Plus, we’ve got a whole lot of cans of wet dog food to go through.

Seville Snapshots: Red line, Jackson station

My heart still thunders every time the L thunders past me. The whoosh throws me off-kilter as it heads south towards the Dan Ryan. People filter in and out, not even aware that we’re all clustered in this rank-smelling station on Jackson together.

The tiles are interesting to me, the worn steps as familiar to me as they were twenty years ago. We’d hop on the Blue Line at Cumberland and get off right in the Marshall Field’s basement to the minty smell of Frango samples, often on our way to shop on Michigan Avenue. I actually got lost one wintery afternoon while walking down the stairs of the Red Line on State, befriending a homeless woman named Magnolia as I waited for my mother to find me.

While Madrid’s metro is far superior, the L was the first public mass transit that I ever learned to use and the one I feel a kinship to. Tipsy rides up the Red to Wrigley, ringing around the Loop like Spiderman between the skyscrapers, disappearing into the underground stations and watching the light of a bright summer day get swallowed up as I descend.

Ok, so this isn’t a shot of Seville, but my life in consumed by a perfect summer in Chicago. It’s honestly my favorite city in this wide, wide world and a place I’m lucky enough to have my roots in. While I stuff my face full of Italian beef and free pop refills, I couldn’t resist testing out Camarón during my long afternoons catching up with friends. Maybe next week I’ll sneak a picture of Seville in, but If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Eight Simple Rules for Surviving Your Spanish Apartment

It’s January, time for a new start, or perhaps a new outlook. Or maybe even a new living situation.

When you’re abroad, you undoubtedly expect the best when it comes to language acquisition, looking for new friends and lessening the effects of culture shock. In that way, of course, it was like going to college, just with a little bit more life experience, for me. Being a journalist by college degree, I delved into my research about neighborhoods, pricing and what to not expect in my new casa dulce casa in Spain. But you never know when a few strangers are picked to live in a house, work together to survive convivencia and have their lives changed.


In living abroad, one is often faced with questions like, what do you mean there’s no dryer / oven / Walmart nearby? There’s not enough hot water for me to take a shower? What exactly do I do when I spill olive oil all over the floor? Add a language barrier, a mix of personalities (and maybe nationalities) and an ever-present landlord, and convivenciathe art of living together without throwing the compañero off the terraza and hoping he hits all the clothes lines on the way down – becomes ever-important. After three years of a shared piso, four roommates and countless frustrating situations, here are  eight simple rules to help you survive convivencia.

1. Be clear about the conditions from the beginning.

My first roommate is called Erin, and we shared a love for Lite beer, college football and the movie Center Stage. But we were also comm majors, so we learned early on that the easiest way to live with one another was to be able to communicate. When I say be clear from the beginning, I mean to lay down the rules and conditions until your ears bleed.

Some questions to clear up could be:

  • Can I have guests spend the night?
  • What day must the rent be paid by?
  • How will we split utilities?
  • Are we sharing food, just a few communal things, or nothing?
  • What’s your relationship like with the landlord?
  • Is there Internet? How does it work?

When each party is able to understand just how you’ll deal with tricky situation, a roommate who can’t pay, and cleaning, your convivencía will be ten times easier to achieve.

2. Make a chore chart.

It sounds silly, but when you get to a foreign country and are confused by pretty much every label, they help. When in Spain, for example, Mr. Clean doesn’t exist. instead, he’s called Don Limpio, and he can be used for all sorts of stuff in the kitchen and bathroom. Cilit Bang becomes the miracle liquid, and detergent pills are more common than its liquid counterpart. As Hayley points out, there’s a methodology behind the clean floors issue: vacuum, sweep, wipe down. As Spaniards don’t have carpet – at least in the South – you’ll find that cleaning your apartment can sometimes be a drawn-out, hair-pulling sunday morning routine.

Having a chore chart that’s agreed upon by all can be the most helpful way to ensure buena convivencia. I often waged small battles against roommates who didn’t clean or asked me to do it instead. And, when all else fails, you can hire a limpiadora. With the economic crisis rampant in Spain, many unemployed people are offering their cleaning services for as low as 6€/hour. Look on websites like Loquo or even on lampposts for fliers.

3. Communicate openly, especially about money, upkeep and type of contract.

This goes back to laying down the law upfront, and then holding your compañeros to it. If you get a contract, know the conditions (and brush up on your housing vocab) and be clear about how any communal money will be spent. Before moving in with the Novio, I lived in a shared flat with two other girls. The Spanish girl was in charge of handling the money and paying the landlady, so we gave her our rent plus an agreed amount each month. Anything we didn’t spend in utilities was used for cleaning supplies, household items like onions and oil, and the occasional Telepizza for us. Honestly, it worked, and we rarely squabbled about money. Don’t be afraid to confront your roommate if there’s a discrepancy, you need some doubt resolved or you think there’s a better way to do things.

4. Ask for a contract.

I found out the hard way that having a housing contract can be to your advantage if you plan on staying in Spain for more than a year or two. On the negative side, the contract makes you liable for damage to the apartment and to pay each month. When you’re an auxiliar, living in your piso for just eight months while you’re visiting America over the summer could be a hassle, especially if your landlady was not too keen on the idea of having subletters like mine was. On the other hand, having a contract serves as proof of residency, which could be handy if you need an empadronamiento, which is a legal acknowledgment of your residency. I ran into the problem of not having one because my landlady wasn’t paying takes to the government on me, so she outright refused to help me out. The plus side? I left a few months before I said I would and didn’t need to pay the last few months’ rent.

5. Tell your señora you’re not coming for lunch/merienda/dinner.

Call it a personal story (or maybe one I have heard a trillion times), but part of respecting your host family is a simple, Yo, Pepa, I won’t be joining you for another stew made of whatever it is that’s in your fridge. My little old host mom, Aurora, she of Radio María and fish head-eating fame, was never quiet about how much trouble it was for her to find a suitable meal for us. It was the great sequía of 2005 (when all of Spain suffered heat and a drought), and we barely ate a thing. Aurora took this personally and chided us to stuff our bellies. The problem was, I happened to be living with a vegetarian who couldn’t stomach fish, and I myself didn’t eat fish. We had a steady diet of Cola Cao, tomatoes and tortilla de patatas with plenty of cheese and nocilla chocolate (and I swore I lost about six pounds!). Still, Aurora nearly took the Lord’s name in vain when we didn’t turn up for lunch one day, and she’d finally figured out how to turn on the oven to make us pizza.

She just shook her head in disappointment. I realized then that we had become like family to her, and she was hurt that we hadn’t advised her that we chose Pans and Company sandwiches over her culinary delights. If you’re living in someone else’s house, abide by the rules and keep them informed. You may be an adult, but being on an exchange program means they’re also in charge (and many times, invested) in your well-being.

6. Respect the rules and the neighbors.

You may never exchange a word with the little old lady in 3ºD, but don’t go out of your way to piss her off, either. Little ladies in Spain pack a lot of heat, I’m telling you, and they chatter away with one another about you. I found out the hard way during my first few weeks at my apartment in Triana. My friends were visiting from nearby Huelva, and upon leaving the cathedral, ran into a group of minstrels. They day turned into evening turned into we were hammered enough to invite them to my house for a party. We stocked up on cheap whiskey and canapés before the tunos showed up, and transformed my tiny piso into a heathen paradise. I will forever associate the term “sexy bones” with Kait Alley and the 14-year-old we all swooned over.

Soon after, I heard a knock on the door, and ran away on instinct. Alfonso opened the door and told me the cops had come. They let me off with a warning, not the 100€ disorderly house fine. My German roommate begged me not to tell the Spanish one, but she found out soon enough. When I admitted the whole thing to her, she wasn’t too angry but asked me to be more respectful. After all, she’d been living in the building for ages, and instead demanded to know who had used her brush, which was full of long blonde locks.

Other ways to piss off your neighbors is having your shower leak (happened to us), getting locked on your balcony (the lady told me not to drink early in the morning), tanning on your terrace or having all of your guiri friends over Saturday night for a botellón.

7. Don’t settle

If you’re not happy with your living situation or you find something better, just move out. I know, it’s a huge pain in the ass to cart your stuff across town and up a few flights of stairs in the heat, but in the end you may be happier. I was excited to have an acquaintance a mere three minutes away, but not halfway into the year, she was moving out and into the center, where she shared a villa with an eclectic mix and was much, much happier. Offers come and go, so don’t be afraid to look for something that better fits your bill. Most auxiliares or Erasmus students freak out in coming to Spain and having just a few days to adjust to the language, jet lag and sunshine, and then think about trekking all over town to find a place at the height of the season (early September and mid-January, as the student turnover during this time is quite high).

I had a beer with a friend a few weeks ago who told me she’d moved from one neighborhood to another in Seville just recently. Her reasoning was that she was paying too much – although in a great locations with many amenities – to only live in Seville two-three days a week. She now shares a bedroom and pays a fraction of a cost. Be practical – know what you want in your future home, and move on if you can’t get it.

8.  Develop a penchant for beer.

Just trust me on this one. (Ok, I couldn’t think of an eighth rule, either).

People ask me all the time how it was that I came to call Seville home (including International House Hunters!!), and how I went about finding a place to live. There are tons of online sites and placement agencies, but I did all of the work myself. While I can’t say I loved the noise from the nearby soccer pitches or having to take cold showers every now and then, I did survive convivencia, Spanish temperaments and even a weirdo landlord who always came round when I was just stepping out of the shower (FOR REAL). Melissa, Sanne, Eva and Megan will forever be compis, even though it’s been ages since I’ve seen most of them. They may not be my bestest friends, but we dealt with different languages (English was the lingua franca), painting the walls ourselves, a neighbor who always cooked naked, a stampede of Chinese people in the teeny apartment above us, getting locked on the balcony and rockhard beds. And we survived. So much, so, that I now have bedbugs and the boyfriend on the daily. O-freaking-lé.

Tell me your roommate horror stories! Landlord fracasos! About living under a bridge down by the river!

If January Marks the Start…My 2011 Travel Round-up

Let me tell you a little story about peer pressure.

When I was 11, my parents informed me that the dog had taken the news well. She faintly wagged her tail.

“What news?” I asked, hoping for the trampoline I’d begged my parents to buy us for ages.

Oh no, it was the M-word. We were moving. I’d have no friends. Maybe there wasn’t a Kohl’s there. Was Chicagoland > Rockford, or had my mother just confused after consumering too many kosher hot dogs growing up and was going crazy?

Well, I wanted to fit in. I did so by going to the Von Maur and using my birthday money to buy a pair of Jnco jeans because all of the popular girls had them.

I strutted into Edison middle school the next morning and was immediately dismissed as a poser.

Well, I didn’t learn my lesson. Now that I’m blogging, I give into the peer pressure of comparing stats, doing those dumb surveys and, as the new year has already crept up on us, a year in review. In 2011, I added two new countries to the list, had five visitors from the US, got my work/residence visa paperwork all together and turned 26.  I can’t say 2011 will be the greatest I’ve had (dude, 2010 was pretty, pretty good), but I managed to see some new things, meet some new people and probably consume a new pig part.


Amy and I rang in the New Year with oysters, an old boxing legend and a broken camera in Lausanne, Switzerland. I moped through Season Three of Sex and the City the next day while Amy was bed ridden. Colds and booze do not mix, people.

From there, I met several  friends in Berlin, Germany and got my history nerd on as I explored a concentration camp, museums and the off-beat Berlin.


Apart from the usual routine, I got to go to my first flamenco fashion show and a wine festival. Cheap wine, that is.


March came in like a león, as I spent a raucous night in Cádiz as a third-of the blind mice group at the annual Carnavales celebrations.

My first visitors of the year, Jason and Christine, spent a rainy sojourn in Sevilla,

but then Beth came during the Azahar and warm weather, and we drank in Granada, Jeréz and Cádiz (and then I got strep).


Ahh, a Sevillian primavera. I spent Easter Week in Romania with my camp buddies, driving a beat up Dacia from one forlorn corner of Romania to another. I loved it, and consider it a budget-lovers paradise – I spent in one week less than I did on my airfare! And ate a ton of pickles. I am like the Snooki of Spain when it comes to pickles.


The first week of May brought flamenco dresses, sherry and my five-year win over Spanish bureaucracy during Feria week. I spent nine days riding in horse carriages and proving I have plenty of enchufe.

A few weeks later, Jackie and her brother came to visit, and we took off to Córdoba for another fair.

Also, Luna turned one, Betis worked its way back into the premiere league, and summer was just on the horizon.


Switched to half days at work just as it was impossible to take the heat. Got to watch Lauren walk down the aisle and party all night (only to fly to Madrid for a conference the next morning. I made it!). And I got my first real year of teaching done, too!

I may have, at time, been a professional baby handler, but having a peek into a kid’s world is something magical. Magical if you like boogers, of course.


The first of the month brought a huge triumph: I was finally given my five-year resident card and had won my battle with extranjería. For the third summer in a row, I headed up north to Galicia and to summer camp. Instead of teaching, I was given the role of Director of Studies, so I got a work phone and unlimited photocopies. Perks. Teachers got crap weather, but I a not-crap team (they were awesome.)

The Novio, finally back from pirate-hunting, met me in Madrid for a few days. We got the chance to, um, do what we do in Seville (eat tapas and drink beer) before making a day-trip to the sprawling El Escorial palace.


A is for August and America and fAtty, as I spent 23 days eating up all of my favorite American goodies, like real salads and Cheez-its. I had help celebrating a birthday, as my dear amigas from Spain, Meag and Bri, came to Chicago for a few days. I also got to visit Margaret in her New Kentucky Home.

What I thought would be a good little sojourn was much too short, and I boarded a Dublin-bound plane and stayed overnight on the Emerald Isle.


School started again September first, and my change to first grade resulted in more naps, more work and more responsibility. Thankfully, I had my great kiddos back in my (own!!!) classroom. Life resumed as normal.


Though I vowed to make my fifth year in Spain new (and I have been doing hiking trips, seeing theatre and exhibitions, etc.), I fell in to normal school routine. In October, this was punctuated by a work trip to Madrid for a conference, studying for the DELE and endless barbeques. When in Spainlandia, I suppose.


The new month meant cooler air, a focus on studying and a visit from my final visitor, Lisa. I sprinted out of the DELE to catch a train, meet her and take her to Granada. We laughed at all of our college memories and she broke out of her little mundo to try new foods and explore Seville on her own.

Bri came, so we had a small Thanksgiving dinner, and I shared it with my not-so-anxious-about-pie goodness at school.


Amid lots of school work and the looming Christmas play, I enjoyed the Christmas season in the city. Brilliant lights, snacking on chestnuts, window-shopping. The Novio went to the States for work, and I followed him soon after to travel around the Southwest with my parents and sister. The Valley of the Sun, Vegas and the Grand Canyon were on the itinerary, but the extra $640.55 I won on a slot machine win weren’t!

Sadly, the year ended on a sour note when I got news that the child I had repped during my years in Dance Marathon passed away after a long battle with cancer. I don’t want to preach, but you can visit the website to see what the Dance Marathon at the University of Iowa does for kids and their families who are battling cancer.

Goals for the next year? Plenty, both personal and professional. Just be better, I guess. The second part of the year has been a huge slump, so it’s time to find me again. Be a better partner, teacher, friend. Fill up those last two pages of my passport. Figure out where to go next.

I want you to share your biggest accomplishment and goals for 2011-2012! I need some inspiration, readers!

Three Ways to Beat Holiday Blues Abroad

Author’s Note: I was overwhelmed at the personal responses I got from my last post, from friends and other bloggers alike. I am by no means giving up on Spain or planning a move home, but I merely wanted to make people aware that leaving one’s home country and striking out elsewhere has its downfalls, too. Even moving to a different city in your state can bring on feelings of isolation and homesickness, so it’s only natural that doing it all in a different country does, too. I woke up with a better attitude after having spilled my guts, but your words of encouragement certainly helped. As they say, a mal tiempo, buena cara.

Ho, ho, ho, I’m a huge Scrooge. Despite my usually cheery personality (please excuse my last post), I am not listening for sleigh bells or roasting chestnuts over an open fire (though I do love snacking on them). In fact, I chose to come to Seville because there was no snow, no Santa Claus and no Black Friday.

But what to do when everyone thinks the days are merry and bright, and you’re hoping for lumps of coal in your stocking to match your mood? Beating the holiday blues, especially when abroad and missing your family (and maybe even a few corny Christmas specials), can be as easy as finding your American friends and clinging onto what American traditions you can. So, amigos, without further ado, your holiday sneer cheer.

Bake until your mini primer burns out!

Although I’ve loathed Christmas for as long as I can remember, I remember all of the afternoons spent baking with my mother and sister in our kitchen growing up. Sugar cookies, chocolate chip for my dad, anise-laced wafers, fudge fingers, Mexican wedding balls – Nancy laid down a schedule and we stuck to it, often hastily stuffing my father’s christmas cookies into a tin and not even bothering to wrap them on Christmas Eve before Mass.

Using Lauren’s recipe for sugar cookies, I gleefully pulled out my new purchase from IKEA (a flour sifter), the vanilla Lisa brought me from home and the last lone egg Kike left me for baking purposes. I made a mess, as usual, and might have broken my mini primer (Santa Baby, hurry down my non-chimney tonight with a hand mixer, please!), but the elation of uncovering the hardened dough and using cookie cutters bought at a hardware store hidden in Bellavista brought me all kinds of elation. And since I’m home alone till Christmas, they’re all mine!

Thankfully, my group of guiritas and I will be having our second-annual cookie exchange this afternoon, so I can expect mulled wine, Love Actually and plenty more cookies to bring more holiday cheer.  If not, there are always pig-lard delicacies to enjoy!

Watch American Football and not feel bad about it

I get homesick a lot in the Fall with important holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving making us scrambling to find turkeys and a Halloween costume not resembling anything dead. And, duh, it’s football season. I love me a good conference rivalry and the taste of Natty Lite on my lips before the sun’s even up, so being away from the Hawkeye State during September, October and November is torturous.

But, when my holiday esteem has sunk so low, it seems impossible to fix, I repeat my affirmation: There’s no place like Monday Night Football. There’s no place like Monday Night Football… Given Spain’s six- to nine-hour time difference, I can’t always watch the Packers (first Super Bowl win in my lifetime I had the stomach flu, the second time I had to go to bed to get up for school). But even watching the Saints with my NOLA pal this weekend, drinking a Budwesier was enough to make me enjoy the Christmas Lights when we left halfway into the second quarter of the Packers game.

For American and British sports coverage in Spain, look no further than the Irish pubs: Tex Mex on C/ Placentines, O’Neill’s across from the San Bernardo train station and Merchant’s Malthouse on C/ Canalejas. Since they’re catered to study abroad students and tourists alike, many have game day specials or Anglo-friendly activities (Sunday brunch!? Sí!!)

See the Christmas Lights

I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, a mid-sized city near the Wisconsin border. Margaret and I looked forward to driving through the annual Festival of Lights, noses pressed to the windows. It was nothing special, but it was loads better than the lady down the street whose lawn barfed out Christmas lights and plastic Santas. And, really, Rudolph’s nose is much more delightful when it’s lit up.

In Spain, the holiday season officially begins with the alumbrado of the Christmas lights on the Inmaculate Concpetion Day, December 8 (Yes, in case you’re wondering, I was off school. ¡Viva la Virgen María!) All along main shopping streets and city avenues, brightly-colored lights are strung, causing the city to cough up half a million euracos and people to stop mid-tracks in front of the oncoming light rail.

But, really, they’re lovely. Spots to hit in Seville include Avenida de la Constitución, Calle San Fernando, Calle San Eloy and Plaza Nueva. I have to settle with the pathetic display on the Alcampo supermarket nextdoor, but it’ll do, especially since the building next to mine blocks the light.

Now that our bellies are full of cookies and beer and our retinas burned from all those bulbs, who wants to scrooge it up with me?

An Open Letter to the State of Iowa

There was a night that will go down in infamy dubbed the Valencia Bar Crawl night.

I was in Valencia, Spain with three girls I’d met on my study abroad program – Megan, Ashley and Anne – and we’d decided to nurse our Ibiza hangover with a few beers on a quiet night that involved more than a few beers, moto rides on slick city pavements and even a male stripper.

But I digress.

The night started by ducking into a brightly lit old man bar – the kind where the bartenders wear crisp white shirts and black pants, and the beer is always cheaper. In our half drunk state, we wrote love notes in Spanish to the bartender’s son, Miguel, and he asked, “¿De dónde venis?”

Ioooooooowaaaaa, said Meg, and I realized I was in the company of all Iowans. All of the sudden, that cartoon bombilla went off over the man’s head.

“Ah, yes, the Iowa of Walt Whitman! I love his poetry. Iowa must be beautiful.”

Sure, if you consider acre of acre after cornfields beautiful, then Iowa is your Garden of Eden (though I really, really do love corn on the cob). I only had the pleasure of calling Iowa home from August – May each year while in college, but I adore that state.  I got a degree from their flagship university. I was taught by engaging professors who had succumbed to the charm of Iowa City. I bled black and gold (and still do). I met my closest friends there. I studied abroad thanks to a grant made possible through the state, which may have arguably led me to end up in Spain. Yes, Iowa is more than just the Hawkeye State to me.

During my sophomore year of college, I was finally able to vote in a presidential election. After having sat through hours of civics classes, I wanted to exercise my freedom to. Iowa’s important role in our nation’s changing – or not – of leaders made for the first few months of that school year to be interesting and dotted with celebrity sighting (rumor is I let Tom Arnold stumble past me while under the influence).

Let me remind you that I went to the Iowa J-School. I never had Stephen Bloom as a professor, despite seeing him in the hallways of the Adler Building and smiling, as Iowans do. When his name kept cropping up on my Facebook feed this week, I figured he was some kind of political analyst before I thought, Hey, he shares a name with a professor I almost  took a course from.

Sure enough, when I looked for the Atlantic Weekly article where he lambasted the geographic center of America, the face with the straight nose and shiny, dark curls was smirking right back at me. I read the article. I furled my eyebrows as to why anyone would find a problem with people relating pigs with money (um, HOLA, I live in Spain). I hated on Bloom in Spanish. If I had the actual article in my hands, it would have gotten ripped up and thrown in the recycling.

In it, Bloom states that, to be Iowan – not a transplant like he and I – one must hunt, fish and love Hawkeye Football. I only fall into one of those categories, same as good old Steve, as I was born in Detroit and have called Illinois my home since I was four. But it stung to have someone throwing all of what I love about Iowa back in my face.

Iowa never seemed foreign to me, just an extension of the things I learned to love living in a bustling suburb. Iowa exemplifies rural America, sure, but Bloom glosses over its thriving arts scene, its sustainability achievements and the world-class universities, one of which employs him.

I may never be able to claim Iowa roots, but the Hawkeye State is more than cornfield, swines and kids named Bud. Field of Dreams, which takes place in Eastern Iowa, claims that “If you build it, they will come.” I think Iowa is trying to reinvent itself, offering incentives to teachers who stay in the state, pioneering sustainable agriculture ideas and playing up its arts scene. Iowa may not be a utopia, but I love hundreds of things about it.

Iowa City: University town and UNESCO World City of Literature

I come from the concrete jungle of Chicago, so choosing not to go to journalism school at Northwestern shocked my parents – I didn’t want to stay in the city. I wanted somewhere wide open, an extension of my high school years (I actually enjoyed mine). Besides, I’ve never been too artsy fartsy – I much prefer a cold beer and sports (see below).

Iowa City has been haunted by plenty in the past (Ashton Kutcher, duh!), but it’s especially known for its Writer’s Workshop, a world-renowned center for literature. Even Kurt Vonnegut was a director of the program, which has garnered Iowa City the title of a UNESCO World City of Literature – the only in the States. Sidewalks are paved with verse and independent bookstores thrive. The hours I spent running my hands over bindings in Prairie Lights are only rivaled to those spent at Brother’s during FAC, but as someone who loves words, Iowa City was just it for me. And, funny story, I spent time calling the Hancher Performing Arts Center pool without having ever seen a show there!

People say Iowa is all bacon and beer, but even the artsy fartsy can get their kicks.

Where else can drinking be acceptable before sunrise?

I am a self-proclaimed beer lover, so I clearly enjoy being able to have a beer for lunch and go back to work.

Iowans like beer, too. Not just for lunch, but many like it for breakfast, too.

But this isn’t what I love about Iowa. In a professional sports team-less state, everybody becomes a Hawkeye Football fan (you did pick up on that, Stephen). There’s little else to say, expect for that people came across the heartland to watch the Hawks run onto the field, followed by Herky on his little trolley waving the Iowa flag wildly. I came from a high school with a strong football program, so buying into the Hawkeye fever was an easy decision.

I have so many wonderful memories of other black and gold embraces in Kinnick, of other fans sharing their chili and space heaters in the back of their trucks, kids decked out in Hawkeye gear. I’ve never felt the spirit of how a sports team can bring people together until I went to my first Hawkeye game freshman year. I still follow the games from Spain, feeling the crush of defeat when we lose and yelling IIIIII as if I were in the student section. I love football, I love the taste of the second Natty Lite on Melrose, and I love sharing Gameday Iowa with Iowans.

The Fabric of Our Lives

Ok, so clearly cotton isn’t the main export from Iowa, but Iowans are about as down-home, country-loving as they come. And I love that about them.

Passing the I-80 Truckstop, deemed the largest in the world, the radio stations suddenly switched to country. All of them. My dad searched for anything else before cursing and turning off the radio to give me a pre-college visit pep-talk.

“Don’t rush into it. you’ll know when it’s right.” Ah, Don. You so smart.

We pulled off the exit towards Iowa City, a welcome break from the miles of endless highways that crisscross the Midwest. Rolling down Dubuque Street, I gawked at frat houses as my dad recounted his own years as president of his chapter. We parked near the Iowa Memorial Union and began our tour. After scaling what is seemingly the only hill in the city, upon which sits the Pentacrest, we toured the new business building, exiting in front of a crumbling brick church. An old man tottered by and tapped me, saying I wouldn’t regret being a Hawkeye.

I asked my dad to buy me a hoodie, convinced I would be calling Iowa City home for a few years’ time. Even after visits to Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana, I knew I had my mind made up.

When he asked why, it was simple – the openness of the people who smiled on the street, the simplicity of the Iowans. I was never once disappointed with the people of Iowa who take their family traditions seriously, who open their homes and hearts to anyone who asks. When a tornado ripped through downtown Iowa City in 2006 just hours before a busy Thursday night in the area popular for nightlife, I was overwhelmed by the support I saw from friends of the University, lifetime Iowans and the president.

Iowans are, for lack of better words, great people. With hearts the size of their state. I’ve met some of my dearest friends there, as they were always the ones to turn to when I needed someone to talk to, the ones who send me cards here in Spain, the ones who invited me to Easter brunch at their houses. Those religious freaks over in Iowa know where they come from, and are proud of it.

Come January, people will be watching Iowa. For better or for worse, a seemingly homogenous state will help determine the political course for one person. Maybe Bloom’s words really have taken roots. Here’s hoping they haven’t…

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