Winter in Alcalá.

If you know me at all, you probably know that winter is my least favorite season. I don't mind it so much through Christmas and New Year's, but then January and February come along and winter is still hanging around. The skies are more grey, days are shorter, and piling on clothes and boots and a hat just to get to the grocery store for the milk I forgot when I went to the store two hours prior feels like a metaphor for the weight of my (winter-laden) soul. (Seasonal depression is real, my friends.)

And yet, there is a huge benefit to being in Spain during the winter: it is sunny. Not every day, but the majority of days I see the sun and bright, blue skies. The occasional rainy, cold days are much more manageable when I consider this fact. And even our icebox of an apartment (more about that later) doesn't seem as bad this winter when I realize that all it takes sometimes is getting out under the blue sky and getting some vitamin D to feel a little bit better about the season.

We passed by a park a few days ago that is close to our house, but which neither of us had been to. The park has beautiful, quiet trails leading away from the city, and we've already enjoyed a couple of long walks. While I can't wait to walk these trails when everything is in full bloom in the spring, having somewhere in nature to take walks during the warmest part of the afternoon is a blessing this winter.

New Year's {Reading} Resolutions + Books ONE and TWO

Yesterday the Christmas season ended here in Spain with the celebration of King's Day. (I'm thankful regular restaurant/store/bus hours and schedules will be back in place soon, and that I hopefully won't have to hear high-pitched children's voices singing "Los Peces en el Río"--listen to that link and you will understand why.) Our friend Lina picked up a Christmas package at our apartment today, and the three of us went out for a traditional King's Day specialty: roscón. Slightly sweet and topped with sugary, dried fruit, I decided on some hot chocolate with orange and cinnamon to dip my roscón in. Lina found the surprise toy wrapped up in plastic inside her slice of cake (a traditional symbol of good luck for the new year), and passed it on to me. What a good friend!

We purposefully didn't buy a whole  roscón  to have at home because it would be too much to eat. Turns out the portions were huge at the local café, too!

We purposefully didn't buy a whole roscón to have at home because it would be too much to eat. Turns out the portions were huge at the local café, too!

HOLA! Here's our little cake friend.

HOLA! Here's our little cake friend.

People are really, really into their  roscón  here. Can you tell?

People are really, really into their roscón here. Can you tell?

OK, so enough about cake and the fact that I will not be assaulted by this traditional tune as I walk down the street for another year!

In 2014 I suddenly had a lot more discretionary time on my hands and began to dig into books more than I ever have in the past. And for the first time in my life, I really enjoyed reading. (And yes, I was an English major, but even so, I haven't really loved reading all that much until now.) This past fall I cracked open 14 books and I can't tell you how good that was for my heart and mind.

So my goal for 2015 is to read 50 books. Yes, fifty. And because I love reading the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (and you should, too), I'm going to incorporate a reading challenge that she presents to her readers:

I'll let you know how I'm doing with meeting some of those book requirements, but for starters, here are this year's kick-off books:

BOOK ONE: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer WorthI read Worth's best-seller Call the Midwife last summer before leaving for Spain and loved it. Since Farewell to the East End is a follow-up book in the series, I felt like I already knew the characters and it was a great continuation in Jennifer Worth's memoir of serving as a midwife in the slums of East London. Like Call the Midwife, this book is not for the faint of heart or stomach. It's brutally honest about life in the poorest areas of East London, in a way that opened my eyes to the art and science of midwifery as well as the bravery of the women who served that community 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I wanted to laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Favorite quote: "Why does God so often cause good people to suffer so greatly? It is a question I have often asked myself. Sister Julienne turned the question the other way, and said, 'God loves greatly those whom He requires to suffer greatly.' This is a riddle wrapped in a mystery we cannot comprehend."

BOOK TWO: Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider. It's hard to describe how much this book affected me in the most positive way possible. I felt like I was reading an eloquently, perfectly ordered essay on so many of the ideas and topics that have been floating around in my mind (rather un-eloquently, I might add) for years. Tsh speaks from her own life experience having lived cross-culturally several times, both as a single woman and with a husband and family; upon returning to the U.S., she craved the slower life of living overseas and the intentionality that came with such a lifestyle. Her writing in Blue Bike encourages thinking about how to live a purposefully thought-out life, boldly going against the "buy one get one free," bigger-is-better and faster-is-ideal mentality of the U.S., while still engaging with our home culture and being gracious human beings who know not everyone chooses to live that way. I will be reading this book at least one more time in 2015, and then probably again in 2016, and 2017, etc. Favorite quotes: "Sucking the marrow out of life requires that I sit down in the silence, un-entertained. And then, remarkably, the marrow-sucking becomes the entertainment I crave." And, "People are willing to be brave when they admit their smallness within the enormity of the world, and the best way to understand our smallness is to leave our comfort zones and start exploring, one foot in front of the other. When we go on an adventure, we'd better understand where we truly belong."