Thursday, September 29, 2011

Auxiliares de Conversación: First Orientation

Last night (Wed.) we had an orientation for my program, auxiliares de conversación.

The program is also called North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain, and I linked that text to the 2011-12 program manual, which explains how to apply.

Let me just preface the rest of this post by saying that things in Spain aren't always done the most efficiently.  One of the things I learned the last time I lived here was that you have to have lots of patience.

At this point, all I know are the names and addresses of two institutos at which I'll be a language assistant.  I know that I'll be spending 8 hours (2 days) at each during the week, and have one day off.  I sent both of them an e-mail in the middle of the summer, as instructed when I got the letters, but only have heard back from one of them.  And what I heard back was simply there is no finalized schedule yet, they're making lots of changes this summer, etc.

So before the orientation, I still have no idea when/where I'm supposed to go to each school, how we get paid, what I'm supposed to do about applying for the NIE/TIE (foreign identity card and number I'll need to open a bank account, get paid, and to be a legal immigrant after 3 months).

So after I finally find the building of this reunión, first a woman comes in to speak to us.  We're split up into two groups on two different floors so that they can give two orientations at once.  She talked to us about the public education system in Madrid, and facts about how many auxiliares were in each type of school and in each area of Madrid -- lots of maps and charts with figures.  I don't have very many notes from when she was giving her powerpoint presentation.

Next was a man from the U.S. Embassy who talked about safety and gave us some Embassy phone numbers.  Nearly everything he said I already knew (pick pockets), but when he mentioned something about taxis, it reminded me of a helpful tip our coordinator of my study abroad program had told us: Put 20 euro in your wallet (separate from where you keep your other money) as emergency taxi money.  Some day (or night), you may find yourself out and about, needing to get home or elsewhere, you'll have spent all your money, and the metros will be closed.  That's when you use your emergency taxi money.  I'll withdraw this money... as soon as I buy a wallet!

Our schedule (the only handout of the orientation) said that the Embassy would talk for 40 minutes until 17.30.  This guy talked until 17.40, then said his coworker was talking to the downstairs group, and that they were supposed to switch 20 minutes in, say whaaa!  So then a woman came up from the Embassy and talked to us about the cultural programs she does.  She said if we're interested in maps of the US or other materials they have for classes, we could e-mail her coworker.

So we're already way behind schedule.  The orientation was originally supposed to go until 19.30.  So we have a brief 5 minute break (the schedule showed a 15 minute break after the Embassy presentations from 17.30-45, but we're long past that).  Then another woman from the program talks to us for a while.  She too has a powerpoint presentation, which just so happens to have many of the same slides or information as the first woman.  And then she finishes.

And we all have so many unanswered questions about the program.  Someone raised their hand and asked her if she was the last speaker of the day.  When she answered "yes," people started to get worried. Then she mentioned to us, "You know you start on Monday, right?  You all go to your schools on Monday."

And the hands go up.
"How do we know when we're supposed to go?  I've tried calling my schools and e-mailing them and haven't heard back."  
"If we have two schools, which one do we go to on Monday?" 
"I went to my school yesterday, and they had no idea who I was or that I'd be working there." 
"I'm in two schools, and one of them told me I'd work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and to tell that to the other school -- but I thought if we have two we weren't supposed to go to both schools on the same day, just two days at one and two at the other."
The woman definitely wasn't expecting these types of questions, but she basically "answered" all those peoples' questions by saying they'd need to work it out with the school.  If you hadn't figured out your schedule yet, call the school tomorrow morning or go there.

Then someone raised their hand and asked about the TIE/NIE, that I guess you have to go to the police office and ask for an appointment, then you go the appointment and bring all the forms you need in order to get this number and foreign ID card.

The woman asked if we had all gone and made our appointment yet.  One person (of 85) raised their hand to say yes, but said "I went to to the police station yesterday, and the earliest appointment they had was June 22."

Oh. My. Goodness.

The woman said that she doesn't really deal with this part of the program, and doesn't know anything about the TIE/NIE.  She was about to just leave and end it, but someone asked her right away "Well, who does? Who can we ask about the TIE/NIE?  And how do we get paid?"

Thank you -- that's what I wanted to know too.

Then she said, maybe my coworker can answer some of these questions, and she called to some woman that was out in the hall.

So this new woman comes in, and about six Americans go up right away to ask her questions one by one.  Meanwhile there's lots of chatter, and the rest of us are all just sitting there waiting to hear something from her.

Finally when all the individual questions were over with, she told us that they know the appointments are way backed up, so they've been trying for the past two weeks to arrange something with those offices so that people in this program could go earlier than say, June 2012.  It sounds like it was a big hassle for them to arrange, since each person in the different offices would tell them conflicting information.  This is Spain.

The good news was that as of that day, they had secured a certain number of appointments for auxiliares to apply for the TIE the following week.  But they had to one by one assign us the day and time.

First she began with Europeans or people of dual citizenship.  There were three.  So one at a time she took their names, typed them on a word document that was projected on the screen, then explained to those three where to go, what to bring, etc.

Then we had to count off one by one for her to figure out how many Americans would need a TIE.  There were 83 of us left.  Ok, she had enough appointments for us. Phew.

So then she brought up a word document that said all of the documents we'll need to obtain/copy for the appointment.  We all copied it down (why couldn't they just e-mail this to us?).  More people went up for individual questions, during which everyone else would start chattering and it'd get loud.  Then the woman would try to speak again when she was done with the individuals, and have to quiet us down.  Mind you, I'm still sick, hadn't eaten much yet that day, and it would take me an hour to get home after the whole thing finished.

Ok next, the woman brought up an excel spreadsheet with all of our names on it and read them off one by one.  If you were there, you'd raise your hand, then they would paste in a new column your date and time of appointment, and in the next column a number.  Fifteen people had the first day and time, so the number kept track of how many people had been given that time slot.  Thirty people got the next day and time. And so on and so forth.  I was in the second or third group, but once you had a time you could leave.  Again, this could have been done much more efficiently (Jacob, that woman could have used your help with some excel shortcuts -- I was cringing the whole time).

I would have just let us all go, and assigned time slots on the excel sheet on my own time, then e-mailed out the spreadsheet along with the word doc of required documents and the address of the building to us auxiliares.  But bueno.

So it was a long afternoon, and I didn't get home until after 10pm, then eventually ate something.

I'm still sick today; going to look at an apartment at 10 tonight.  I called both of my schools this morning (morning here is before 2), and am planning to go to both tomorrow morning to figure out my schedule.  So hopefully tomorrow I'll know where the heck I'm supposed to go on Monday.  And hopefully I wake up on time tomorrow, because I have not been getting up early at all since I've been here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to get a metro/bus pass (an abono)


Abono joven, abono normal
When I came to Madrid with my study abroad program, we were all simply handed abonos, our metro and bus pass, when we arrived.  The part you buy every month is the coupón mensual (the small ticket at the bottom), which says the month, year, and zone it's valid for.

Currently, the abono joven (youth pass) is 30,50 euros/month, and the abono normal is 47,60 euros/month*.  Two years ago when I was there, you could have the abono joven if you were under 21 years old -- so I got to have the cheaper one all year even though I turned 21 in April.

Since then, they have changed the regulations, and you can now have the abono joven if you are under 23 years old -- score for me!

The coupón mensual is easy enough to purchase each month. When you remove the ticket from your abono, there's a bar code underneath.  In every entrance of every metro stop, there are machines where you scan that bar code, then can pay with either cash or credit card, and the machine dispenses your coupón mensual for the next month.

But how do you get the whole abono to begin with?


You go to an estanco, a tobacco shop:


There are estancos every couple of blocks, just like pharmacies and grocery stores.

Mention that you need an abono, and they'll hand you a short form to be filled out. You will need to attach a copy of your passport and a passport photo to the form, and pay a mere 1,20 euros.  Be prepared to give an address and phone number on the form. You will select the type of abono, and the region (if you're using it within the central part of Madrid, select "Zona A".  You then mark if you want to pick it up by correos, in the mail, or estanco, by returning to the tabacos stand.

I asked which was faster, and the girl in front of me said estanco, because sending it in the mail holds up the process.  The man looked over my application, stamped some numbers onto it, then handed me a small piece of paper with my application number and said to come back in 15 days.

I'm going to try back in a week and see if it's not there earlier, because in the meantime, I'm paying 9,30 euro for 10 trip tickets (which will usually add up to going to 5 places -- I use one trip on the way there, then when I re-enter the metro on the way home, that uses another trip).  So when I'm going to see apartments (I saw three today), the trips get used up quickly.  I think I'll probably need to buy another 10 trip ticket on Thursday.

New Public Transportation Cards, 2012

Tarjeta transporte público
UPDATE Summer 2012: Madrid's metro system is slowly rolling out metro cards (the size/shape of an ID card or credit card) to replace the abonos and small monthly tickets.

Through July 31, 2012 they were switching over youth (under 23) to the new card for free.  After that point, changing to the public transportation card will cost 4 euros.

These public transportation cards will last 7 years from the date they are issued.

Pay attention to metro announcements and flyers, as the roll-out will probably continue through 2013.

*Current as of the date of publishing, 9/27/11.  Rates have since increased, and as of July 2013 are the following:

Abono transporte mensual (precio en euros)

Cell phones in Spain

I started off this morning by finally getting a cell phone (móvil).

Look! I have a móvil!

I had brought my cell phone to Spain from the US this time (a Kin), hoping to use it instead of renting one like I did last time I lived here (5 euro/month).  I took my cell phone to our chino on Saturday afternoon, because to use a phone from the US with a Spanish company (or anytime you switch companies in Spain but want to use the same phone) you have to liberar your cell phone.  I believe you can also have this done at your cell phone company before you leave the states, but that would mean you can't use it after they "free" it -- and I used my phone up until we had to turn them off on my final flight from New Jersey to Madrid.

Almost all chino-shops offer services of liberación del móvil, so I didn't worry about having it done ahead of time.  When I took my phone to our chino, he said he didn't think he could liberarlo.  He wrote it down and said he'd ask someone, but he'd never heard of the brand, and didn't see the right things inside when he opened up the battery.

I thanked him, and walked down the block to an electronic shop that advertised "liberación del móvil" on the outside of their shop.  I asked if they could do mine, and he took it apart, looked inside, and told me no.  Later when I looked myself, I realized there's no place in my phone to put a SIM card, which is what I would have needed anyway.

So then I walked a block down to calle Alcalá to start looking at phone plans at different companies.  The awesome thing about living in a city like Madrid is that everything you could need is within a few blocks. For example, from Gregorio's piso where I'm currently staying, there is a grocery store at the corner of the block - a few steps away.  The chino-shop is across the street from his apartment, on the corner, right across from the grocery store.  If you head to the other corner of the block, there's a frutería with fresh fruit and vegetables. There are restaurants. Electronic shops. Book shops on that block.

Walk one more block from the apartment and you've hit calle Alcalá, which is filled with shops and food places. So, there's no need to hop in the car and drive to the mall to look at phone plans.  I just walked two blocks to c/ Alcalá and had many cell phone company stores at my fingertips (rather, at my feet?).

To help others who have just moved to Madrid, I'm going to go into a bit more detail about the different cell phones/plans here.

The main cell phone companies in Spain are:


In Spain, all incoming anythings are free.  So an incoming call from any number - no matter where the person is calling you from - and texts from anywhere are both free.

It's the outgoing that charges you.

So to start, you can either have a contract or a tarjeta.  I asked about a contract when I was in the Orange shop, and the guy working told me it lasted for 18 months. So if you're staying for less than a year, you'll probably go with a tarjeta like I did.  You get a SIM card that goes into your phone, and then you put money into it, or "recharge it" (recargarlo) whenever necessary.  This way, you know exactly how much you're spending on your phone.  When you run out of money (or have no saldo), you can't make calls or send texts until you recargarlo (but you can still receive calls/texts).

What many people will do when they run out of saldo while they're out and about is call the person they're trying to reach, let it ring once, then hang up.  By leaving the person a llamada perdida, they'll call you back, and then you can talk on their dime. Hehe.

My phone came with five hours on it (I think), so I haven't had to put more money on it yet, but it's really easy to do so.  You can add saldo to a phone at grocery stores (in the check-out lines, you'll have to tell the cashier the name of your phone company, how much money you want to add, and then tell them your phone number twice), locutorios (at machines, just type in the above inforamtion), ATMs, the cell company's shop -- all over.  All you need to know is your cell phone number.

Now let's talk charges.  The standard I've seen for texts is 0,15 euro (15 cents, yeah?  With numbers here they use the comma instead of the period, and use the period where we would use the comma - so the number one thousand is: 1.000).  This listed price (0,15) is almost always without the 16% IVA (tax).

Then there will be a rate/minute for calls.  In Spain, companies often distinguish between calls to móviles and calls to landlines (fijos), and have different rates depending on the type of call you're making.  There is also often a connection fee (establecimiento de llamada) for every call you make.  It's usually around 0,15.  So if the person answers, you'll get charged the connection fee, plus however many minutes you end up talking.

Some plans don't charge connection fees between certain hours, or on weekends. Some don't charge anything for calls between certain hours (One of Gregorio's cell phones has free calls after 6pm.  His cell phone for his business has free calls between 10am and 2pm).

Here are the three tarjeta plans I was looking at with Orange:

I got the Ardilla plan, which is 0,09 euro/min with any company (within Spain), 24 hours/day.  Texts are 0,15 euro/sms and the connection fee is also 0,15 euro per call.

[Note: Be careful with your phone if you're traveling out of Spain.  I would probably turn it off so as not to accidentally use it, because the charges when you're out of country are ridiculously high per minute and for the connection.]

I bought the cheapest phone that would work with my Ardilla plan -- for 19 euro!

Look how cute it is!
After opening it at home I discovered it has a radio!  Which is super awesome.  As I found last time, it seems as though some of their cheapest phones are more advanced than our $50-70 basic phones in the United States.  This phone even has a game! My old phone didn't have any games whatsoever, and no radio.

It was also very easy to buy.  The man working asked to see my passport (I carry around a copy of it in my purse and handed him that), and my address (I gave him Gregorio's even though my address will change).  Then I paid 19 euro and I was good to go.  Really, the whole interaction took less than 4 minutes -- so much less of a pain than getting a cell phone in the states (under a contract), in my opinion.

So anyways, I'm pleased with the purchase, and pleased to have a cell phone (even though it doesn't get that much action...)

I spent all day today looking for an apartment (haven't found one yet), but I'll blog all about that tomorrow.  It's approaching 3am and somebody needs to get some sleep, so her cold and cough will go away. *cough* Rebe *cough* (haha, get it?)  Ok, I need sleep.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some Happy Birthdays


Happy Golden Birthday Sister!

Secondly, Happy Birthday Breanne!

Look, even Google is celebrating for you two:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chino Shops

I keep finding myself using the phrase "chino shop" in blog posts, so I figured I'd better explain what I mean by that before I publish more posts and you all think I'm a racist.

Throughout Madrid (and Spain) are small corner shops and alimentaciones run by Chinese people or families.  The small corner shops (sometimes called "bazar"s on signs) are packed with all sorts of things at cheap prices: school supplies, toys, games, electronics, kitchen stuff, shoes, purses, picture frames, fabric, yarn, lightbulbs, glue, hair ties, umbrellas, maps, etc.

Really, if you need some type of household item, you can find it in a chino shop.

There are also alimentaciones, which are small shops that have food and drinks -- kind of like what you'd find on the shelves in an American gas station.  The reason you might buy something there instead of in a grocery store is because they're open later during the weekdays, and on Sundays.  Whatever you buy at an alimentación will probably be a bit more expensive than what you'd pay in a Dia or another grocery store, but hey -- you're paying for convenience.

While searching for any type of previously written material about all of these chino shops in Spain, I found this video - it's an interview with a Chinese owner of an alimentación.  He says his shop is open 12-13 hours a day, plus weekends.  His wife and son live in China, but come to Spain two months every year to live with him.  You can see what an alimentación looks like in the video, and hearing his views about life in Spain as a foreigner is quite interesting. (Video has English subtitles)

There are Chinese people that own Chinese restaurants, clothing stores, or shoe/accessory shops -- which are also open on Sundays when most other businesses are closed.

Now to the other half of this matter: the shops are owned by Chinese people, but why would that be taken into account when referring to the shop itself?

I remember when I was first adjusting to Spain when I studied abroad here two years ago, I was surprised by the amount of racial language used to describe or label people.  For example, Gregorio has an African American friend that he refers to as el negro (the black person -- a term that can be offensive) when he tells me stories about him.

In addition to americana, I have been called a gringa or a yanqui - terms you will often hear when referring to North Americans.  It hasn't been used towards me in a negative way; Gregorio will use it in a joking manner sometimes: ¡Qué yanqui eres! for example.

The word for Chinese people in Spanish is "chinos", but their shops are often called the same in conversation.  On Friday evening when we took my clock necklace to the chino shop, Gregorio had said "Vamos al chino".  He knows the man that runs the store, his name is "Joni" (Johnny), yet I've still only ever heard Gregorio refer to Johnny as el chino, the same word we use to refer to the shop itself.

As Gregorio says, here they don't care as much about using politically correct terms as we do in the United States.

So when in Spain, if you hear someone say the word chino, they may be referring to (1) a Chinese person, (2) a bazar or alimentación shop run by a Chinese person, or I suppose (3) a Chinese restaurant.  Do not be offended when you hear this term, as that is not intended.  And if you'll be living here for any extended period of time, I can assure you the word "chino" will become a part of your daily vocabulary.

Below are a few more links that may be of interest if you want to learn more about this topic:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ok, Last Time, I Promise

Gregorio asked if it was hot or cold in Phoenix.  I said hot, then googled their weather today.

Then I couldn't resist doing this:

I'm here!

The air smells just as I'd remembered it.

Instead of sleeping on my flight from New Jersey to Madrid, I watched Bridesmaids (really funny), He's Just Not That Into You, most of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and an episode of Parks and Rec.

Gregorio, one of my roommates the last time I lived here, picked me up from the airport (around 11am).  We came back to the apartment, chatted for a bit, then I slept from 12:30 until 8 or so.

As some of you know, I have this necklace with a small clock that I bought at the Rastro the last time I was here.  About a month ago, the battery gave out.  Gregorio asked me if I had a watch when we got to the apartment today (he had bought some in Paris the last time he went), and I mentioned that story to him.

When I woke up from my nap, we were going to go eat some kebap, and he asked if I had the watch/necklace with me.  I grabbed it, and we made a stop at the chino-shop on the corner.

The guy working opened it up and put in a new battery -- less than a euro!  A new necklace would have cost 15 euro, and I have no idea how much clock batteries are in the US.

Now it's midnight and Gregorio is showering to go out.  Although I'm still super tired, he's guilted me into coming out for a bit ("I come and pick you up from the airport and now you're just going to sleep!  You already took a nap, you don't need to sleep, this is Spain, bla bla")

I only have to stay out until 3.  At first he was saying "Come on, you have to come out, it'll just be until 5 or 6am!"  It will take a bit to readjust to the Spanish nightlife.  But when in Spain...

UPDATE: We actually got home at 6am, and now it's 4pm Saturday and I'm just waking up.  Goodness! I'd hoped to get a phone plan today, so I can start apartment hunting.  Vamos a ver.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Packing a Paper Bag

Many people have asked me if I've started packing yet.

Up until this weekend, I didn't even have both of my suitcases.

[Side note: Last time I went to Spain, I borrowed a suitcase from Cathleen, and another from my friend Rachel.

Thanks Cathleen!
Thanks Rachel!

This time, I'm borrowing one from my grandma, and one from the family.

Thanks family!

Thanks Grandma!

End Side note]

Anyways, so a week or two ago I opened a paper bag in my room, which became my "Take To Spain" bag.  Whenever a thought flew into my head of something I shouldn't forget to pack, I'd just grab the item and drop it in the bag.

My "Take To Spain" Paper Bag
The contents of my paper bag to date:

  • My WIP Program Handbook from 2009-10 -- so much useful information inside
  • Frisbee
  • Mittens and winter hat
  • Yes, those are goldfish (gift for someone)
  • Checks
  • Socks
  • External hard drive
  • Two scarves (narrowed down all of my scarves to two this weekend)
  • Hair straightener
  • Toothpaste
  • Scissors
  • Passport photos
  • Sunscreen (it's super expensive in Spain)
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Fan
  • My old abono (metro/bus pass)
  • Passport
  • Air-born
  • Nintendo DS (to keep practicing the French)
  • Callejero de Madrid
  • Passport carrier around neck thing
  • Plug thing I bought last time I was in Spain that will let me plug in US plugs into Spain's outlets
I figure the rest is just clothes and a toothbrush.  I'll do some laundry this weekend, then decide which clothes will come with me.

So, have I started packing yet?  I've packed a paper bag.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

To-Do List Progress

I got so much done this weekend on my "Pre-Spain To Do List"!  A good night's sleep is key to productive days.

Here's the list's state after today:

  • Clean room (Nearly done, just need to vacuum but didn't want to wake people Sunday night)
  • Laundry
  • Apply for International Driver's License Went to AAA today after work
  • Submit Peace Corps Reimbursement
  • Call student loans lenders
  • Call Verizon
  • Call bank to notify my debit card will be used in Spain
  • Research what's necessary for residency card application in Madrid
  • Figure out luggage
  • Carry on backpack (Think I found one on Craigslist... crossing my fingers that I can take a look at it in person, then purchase -- before anyone else does)
  • Buy more passport photos  Got two free ones at AAA today because I have a membership!
  • Buy travel towel
  • Order photos
  • Transfer docs/photos from my old desktop to new laptop
  • Transfer docs/photos from old laptop to new laptop  This one is a more satisfying cross-off than the rest - spent hours on Saturday and Sunday transferring files!
  • Take microwave to Bill's

My old roommate from Madrid, Gregorio, sent me an e-mail today reminding me that I have 10 days left until I make my way back to Madrid.  He also asked for my flight information, since he'll be picking me up from the airport.

The plan is to crash at my old apartment (well, the new one Gregorio moved into 10 days before I returned to the US last July) until I find a place to live.

I've been browsing websites for pisos compartidos just to see what's available near my schools, but I won't look seriously until I'm over there -- next week!

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I just returned from my final trip to Chicago -- visa in hand!

It's been quite a process getting the student visa that will allow me to be in the country legally.  The visa is actually only good for 90 days; I'll need to apply for some residency card when I get to Madrid, which will allow me to stay for a year.  I still need to look into the details and requirements of that process.

Hopefully getting the residency card won't take as long or be as frustrating as it was to get my student visa.  That whole adventure went as follows:

March 1: Got my fingerprints taken at the UW Police Department, which was required for the FBI background check - part of the program application.  You have to apply for a background check when you apply to the program because the FBI background checks take about 12 weeks to process.
March 7: Mailed FBI background check application and finger prints to DC, sent in a copy of that application with my other program application materials
     March 28: Interview with Peace Corps
April 7: Received letter in mail that I forgot to write my credit card's expiration date on the FBI background check's application form, so they haven't started processing anything yet.  I let the letter and form sit in my room for a couple of weeks because:
     April 11: Receive nomination from Peace Corps - start to forget about Spain application...
Late April/Early May: One day I re-fill out the credit card info. form for the FBI background check and send it in on a whim.  Just in case.
June 2: Check I wrote out for FBI background check shows up on my bank statement.
June 27: Receive e-mail offering me a spot in the Auxiliares program
July 4: Panic and e-mail FBI Records office, because I still haven't received the background check (needed for the visa)
July 6: Receive background check from DC in the mail.
July 7: Write another check and mail background check to the Department of State in DC for the required Apostille seal.  I'm thinking I'll get it by the end of the month and can apply for my visa by the beginning of August.
July 12: My Apostille request and FBI document arrive to the Department of State
[In the mean time, I'm collecting all of the other documents I need for my visa, the passport photos, the money order, proof of funds, etc.]
July 26: Still no Apostille.  I call office asking for update.  The phone goes to the answering machine because all lines are busy.  The answering machine asks that I leave certain information and they'll get back to me.  *Beep* A voice tells me that the answering machine is full, so I can't leave a message.
July 28: Mother calls the office of authentications for me while I'm at work.  The people tell her there is now an 8 week processing time due to low staff. !!!! *Rebecca freaks out here*
August 5: Receive August's newsletter from the Auxiliares program.  One short paragraph says that as of August 1, consulates are now accepting state background checks with the state apostille in place of the federal background check and federal apostille.
August 6: I send an e-mail to Chicago's consulate to make sure that little paragraph was true, that I can indeed use a state background check/apostille instead of the federal one I was waiting to get in DC.
August 8: Receive reply from Chicago's consulate saying indeed, they will accept a state background check/apostille instead of the federal (why didn't someone tell us this earlier??)
August 9: Get the paperwork together and mail in two checks and two application forms for the state background check and a rushed Apostille
August 10: My federal background check with federal Apostille arrives in the mail.  I can now schedule my visa appointment in Chicago.
August 16: Bus to Chicago to apply for my visa in person.  When it's finally my turn, I have all the required documents.  The man tells me it will take 3-4 weeks to process, and they'll e-mail me when it's ready to pick up.  While I'm at the consulate, I get a call and let it go to voicemail.  It's the WI Records Department, saying my criminal background results with state apostille are ready to be picked up.  (Which reminds me... I never did go pick those up)
August 29: I send an e-mail to the Spanish Consulate in Chicago, asking if my visa is ready to be picked up. (Because they haven't e-mailed me yet, and it's probably ready.)
August 30: The Spanish Consulate responds to my e-mail saying yes, I can come pick up my visa whenever it's convenient.
September 7: I go back to Chicago a second time, spend less than 5 minutes in the consulate, picking up my visa.  Success!

So that was the fun adventure of getting my visa.  Some of you may be wondering how much this governmental piece of paper costs.  Here's the breakdown:

Fingerprints for FBI background check - $20
FBI Background check - $18
Passport photos (4) - $20
Visa Application Fee - $140
Money Order Fee - $5
Apostille stamp on background check - $8.00
Postage to send FBI Background check to DC for Apostille - About $9.00
State Background check - $12
State Apostille (Rush) - $35
Round trip bus to Chicago to apply for visa - $58
Round trip bus to Chicago to pick up visa - $58
Total cost of visa: PRICELESS
Just kidding, $383!