Suddenly I'm feeling a big boost in my Spanish. While it can't hurt that we've made more non-Dominican Spanish-speaking friends (almost any other country's Spanish is easier to understand) with whom to practice, I actually came up with an unusual theory as to why Owen and I both have gone up a level in our Spanish.
We did almost no work to practice Spanish while we were in the states for five weeks. I was a little terrified that I'd find I'd lost a lot of ground when I got back. But you know of that phenomenon when you're struggling to solve some kind of problem and just can't come up with the answer? And then you take a nap or wash dishes or do something mindless--and then the answer comes to you?
I think my five week break in the states was the equivalent of a nap. I was frustrated and tired of struggling with Spanish and I just set it down for a while. And then when I came back to it, it was like my brain had figured out a few things while I wasn't using it.