Dia de Gracias


So somehow we’ve made it to the end of November!  I still can’t imagine where the time has gone, but here we are!  We recently returned from a ten-day vacation to Buenos Aires and Punta del Este, Uruguay.  We had a wonderful time, and even though Molly came down with a terrible virus on the trip (high fever, terrible cough, and really stuffy nose), we managed to see and do a lot—including eat a lot of delicious ice cream as pictured above.

The purpose of the trip was to leave the country so that we could renew our tourist VISAs for another 90 days.  We didn’t need to leave for as long as we did, but since we were going as far as we were (BA is a 9-hour bus ride, and Punta del Este is another 2+ – hour ferry ride, and 1 1/2-hour bus ride), we decided to make the most of it.  The overnight bus ride was an experience in itself.  The kids were thrilled by the big seats that folded down into full beds (with blankets and pillows, even!!!), and the dinner that was served.  At one point, I heard Ben say to Rob, “These are some good meatballs!” To me, “good” seemed like a very strong word in this case, but I was happy that Ben was happy.

Both places we visited had fantastic weather.  We all managed to get sunburned in Punta del Este, and despite the arctic chill, the kids all swam in the water.  Molly’s cold set in almost as soon as we got to Punta del Este, but the good thing about South America is that the pharmacies are really helpful (read: liberal).  I went into one, and told them that my daughter had una fiebre muy grande, and un muy malo tos, and after a few questions about her age and size, I walked away with some awesome fever reducer, and cough medicine. At one point in Buenos Aires, poor Molly was so sick, and we were in between our hotel (where we couldn’t get a late check-out), and our night bus, that we decided to stop for lunch.  We had all ordered and were snacking on bread, when Molly put her on the table, and promptly fell asleep.  Fortunately, it was a nice restaurant, and they had a tablecloth, so the drool that was dripping out of her mouth was soaked up. The people at the restaurant we very nice to us and even wrapped up Molly’s chorizo in a piece of bread so that she could have a snack later. With the hours that families keep in Argentina, I doubt that Molly was the first kid to ever fall asleep in a restaurant.

So all of these things and events (and many others–like the fact that this Thursday is Thanksgiving) have gotten me thinking about the hundreds of things that I’m feeling thankful for this year.  Here’s a quick (not really) list:


*HELADO:  I mean, REALLY!!!! How could ice cream like this NOT make some sort of “thankful” list?

*TRAVEL: This is no surprise to anyone, right? It is exciting and fascinating to see the world through our children’s eyes. To watch our children learning and growing at almost every turn, and to challenge ourselves beyond what we ever could from our safe haven of Portland is a true blessing.

*FRIENDSHIPS FAR: I never knew how much I would appreciate Facebook.  It is wonderful, and gives me such a cozy feeling to be able to keep up with our friends and family on a daily basis.

*FRIENDSHIPS NEAR: I never would have thought that it would be possible to be so warmly embraced in a country where we are strangers to both the culture and language.  Just this weekend we were invited to two asados (had to send our regrets to one because two asados in one day is just madness—even by Argentine standards), Molly and Elliott were each invited to birthday parties, and Ben had a 5-hour playdate! At the asado, our friends asked us what has surprised us about Argentina.  I told them, with as much passionate Castellano as I could muster that we were thrilled and honored that so many people had made the effort to welcome us and include in their circle of friends.  It’s not easy to make time for, and foster a friendship with someone who does not speak the same language as you.  Every day I feel blessed that we have essentially plopped down where we have.

*ROB’S INCREDIBLE PLANNING: Because if I’m honest (and why not be?), I know that this trip would have never happened without it.

*DUMB LUCK: See above.

*FLEXIBLE CHILDREN: Some days are really, really hard, and we just want to throw in the towel.  My understanding of static electricity is thin in English, and then when you wrap it up in Spanish, it does’t get any better.  So sometimes I am completely lost trying to help Elliott with his homework.  And then other days, the boys have their friends over, and they’re all in the pool, and chattering back and forth to each other.  If I’m not looking right at them, I can’t tell if it’s my kids talking, or the kids from the neighborhood.  Their Spanish (or, as everyone here calls it, “Castellano”) has taken off, and it’s at this point when I think, “OK!  THIS is why we’re doing this!  THIS MOMENT!  RIGHT HERE!”


So in honor of Thanksgiving, this Saturday we’re having some Argentine friends over for a Thanksgiving asado.  I have been told that I really shouldn’t use the word asado because we’ll be cooking turkey in our outdoor Chilean oven, not beef, but it’s going to be so much more than just a lunch.  Just like Thanksgiving in the states, we’ll eat too much, probably drink too much, some people may nap, the kids will probably swim (and some of the adults, too!), and we’ll spend the afternoon enjoying each other’s company, and feeling so very, very blessed that we find ourselves in the situation that we do.


Learning language as a family has been a wonderful, yet challenging experience for all of us.  It’s been fascinating to see how we each learn differently over the past 4 months.   A big part of life for us here is simply the ability to communicate.  Each action requires advance thought on what we need to say and how.  Talking on the phone is incredibly difficult.  For the kids it’s simply been trial by fire with school.  Molly’s been in her daycare for a month now and is showing progress already.  The boys have been at Zorrilla for nearly 3 months now!  Both schools are 100% Spanish.   Needless to say , we all have good days and bad days.  I thought since we’re coming up on 3 months in Argentina I’d sum up how we’re each individually doing on this front.

A little background on all of our language and Spanish instruction prior to leaving the States first…Erica’s minor in college was French, so I like to think she’s sort of cheating on all of this.  French is so similar in structure to Spanish her progress has been great.  She and I also took several intensive courses in Portland last winter.  My two years of Spanish in high school have been embarrassingly worthless (sorry Ms. Boyer-Root) as was my investment in Rosetta Stone 2 years ago.  Ben completed Spanish immersion kindergarten at Beach School in Portland in June, and Elliott completed 4th grade.  Our time in Costa Rica was intended to provide Erica and I with the basics and sharpen the boys.   Erica and I have now had two months of one-on-one instruction at a local language school here in Cordoba.

I describe my Spanish as muy basico on a regular basis.  I’m very good at saying, “Me Espanol no es bueno, lo siento.”  Despite my language disabilities, it has been amazing to reflect on how far I’ve come individually since July.  Each day I try to set small goals and study for an hour.  My most recent trick is to jot down 3 or 4 verbs or phrases to memorize on the walk or run back from the boy’s school.  I think the Argentine moms dropping off their kids wonder about the mumbling gringo in workout gear.  I’m also trying to have the local news on the TV in the mornings when getting ready.  Poco y poco as they say.  With the kids in school and other activities, we are fortunately forced to regularly be in situations where we have to speak Spanish and interact, rather than be isolated in our own little world.  Learning Spanish for me is a roller coaster.  One day I walked out of 3 hours of class feeling confident and a woman asked me for the time.  I was stumped.  Nada.  I had to show her my watch.  Then again, yesterday two different people asked me for directions (happens to Erica and I all the time here!) and not only did I understand them, but I was able to give them directions!

It took all of 2 days in Costa Rica for our teacher to recognize that Erica was the better half in terms of learning language.  We’ve been in different classes ever since.  Having had a strong background in French, the transition to Spanish has gone great for her.  She tends to understand far more in a conversation that I do and has become fluid in speech.

Witnessing the kids learn a language has undoubtedly been the most rewarding part of our time so far.  Yes, the boys attended a Spanish immersion school in Portland, but it was nothing compared to this immersion!  Ben and Elliott had a disagreement the other day about whether Castellano was truly Spanish.  Castellano is the Spanish dialect that’s spoken here.  Right now I’m listening to the boys play a board game with a friend in Spanish.  School, rugby and play with friends in general is totally in Spanish.  Ben has gained the most in terms of speech and comprehension.  He is completely fluent and seems to be at the perfect age for this experience.  He regularly corrects our Spanish and seems amused at our pronunciation.  Erica overheard Ben and a friend playing the other day and couldn’t discern who was who.  Rugby has had a big impact on Elliott’s learning.  He tends to be more cautious about making a mistake and doesn’t speak as much as Ben, but play and sport removes a lot of that.  Molly’s beginning to try out new words now and then.  I heard her say, “gracias” in her sleep the other night.  Despite the fact that no one at her daycare speaks English, she’s unfazed.  We’ve been told that after 6 months or so she should be conversational.

That’s not to say it’s all rosy though.  With the exception maybe being Ben, we all have our daily challenges learning and adapting to the language here.  Molly seems to think that boys at her daycare are mean to her since she doesn’t understand them.  Elliott struggles to understand lessons in school and homework.  While Elliott is our social butterfly, school and learning here has been rough.  His learning difficulties go way back and are certainly exacerbated by the complete language barrier here.  We hope we’ve made some progress after a meeting with his teachers this past week.  Reading, writing and processing remains his challenge rather than speech and oral communication.  Ben’s challenge remains the tallest 6th grade girl with her heart set on him.

The past 4 months have been a great reminder of how much we take for granted our own language.  Simply stepping out the door to run an errand can become exhausting sometimes.   One of our primary reasons for planning such an extended experience was to ensure that we integrated within the community and truly learned the language.  We are certainly witnessing how valuable it can be to have plenty of time to do so.  Everyday Erica and I seem to pick up new words and comprehend more.  The kids seem less homesick and more comfortable in their surroundings as the language gets easier.

Off to Buenos Aires tonight on a night bus for our first border crossing trip.  After a few days in BA we will spend about a week at Punta del Este, Uruguay.  More on that soon!  Chau chau!