1 Year Since

Somehow, it’s been one year since we left Córdoba.  I’m not quite sure how that happened.  In so many, many ways it seems like just yesterday that we were packing up our house in Portland getting ready to set out on our big adventure, and now the calendar has turned so that it’s been one year since we woke in the dark and cold of a winter morning to start out trip back to the states.


Some of us couldn’t hide our feelings with a smile.

I wouldn’t say that there have been any earth-shattering changes for our family in the year that we’ve been home, more like a series of smaller changes and things that I notice:



I think the kids would say the fact that we got a dog is the biggest change. Tulip, our Australian Shepherd puppy, joined our family in February, and has brought with her all the joys and challenges of puppy-ownership. Although I have to say, really, we got an awesome dog.

2.) The kids have had an easier time transitioning back to being home than Rob and I have.  I think this is because Rob and I have a much fuller sense of what it took to pull our trip off.  We know that it’s going to be quite a while before we are able to do something like our year abroad again.  I’m not saying that we’ll NEVER do it again.  I would hate to say something like that, but I would be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that sometimes, life gets in the way of life!  I also think that for Rob and I, the trip was much more of a “vacation” from our regular life and stresses. That is not to say that it was easy and all we did was sit around drinking umbrella drinks and swimming in the pool.  We mostly drank wine, and the pool took us a while to get up and running……but seriously, although the trip was a break for Rob from an office job, it was indeed stressful navigating an unknown language and culture (the guy who opens the door to your exercise class, and your students all expect kisses of greeting from you, but the guy the comes to fix your air conditioner doesn’t).

3.)  It is more difficult to carry over the awesomeness-es of the Argentine culture into our American life than I thought it would be.  But why don’t people just stop by at 6pm and drink maté with you while you simply hang out and let the kids do whatever? Because it’s get-ready-for-dinner-where-is-your-homework-feed-the-dog-put-away-your-left-over-lunch-time at 6pm in most US houses, that’s why! Summer is a little bit more fluid, but because we’re living our “normal” life in Portland, it includes many of the things that our life in Córdoba did not: full-time working parents, cars, clubs, meetings, pets, and other obligations that we were joyously free from in Argentina. And our American friends are all in the same boat as we are.  And, no, I still have not figured out how just about everyone in Argentina stays up so late and functions the next day.  Not EVERYONE in the country takes a siesta.

4.) Even more than I suspected I would, I desperately want our Argentine friends to come visit us in Oregon.  The kindness and hospitality we were shown can only possibly be repaid by our friends coming here.  For that reason (and many others), we are thrilled that our friends’ niece will be coming to stay with us for three months in December!  Although we keep laughing at how early she’ll think we eat dinner and go to bed.

5.) In all of the crazy, though, I do feel like our family has something unique and special to share.  There is a meat market near our public library that has an outdoor grill, and we often end up there around the time they’re lighting the fire.  The kids invariably sniff the air and sigh saying:  “Ahhhh!!!!  Someone’s having an asado!” We have special family memories that we can share with each other and talk about:  how incredible it was to see things like the Puerito Moreno Glacier in the south of Argentina; the Incan Child Mummies in Salta, Argentina; and Iguazú Falls in Argentina and Brazil.  To see and experience these wonders not only myself, but also through the eyes of my children is a gift for which I will be forever thankful.


We’re ready for the next adventures that come our way!

Firsts & Lasts

Just a couple of weeks ago we took our last overnight bus in Argentina from Mendoza back home to Córdoba. The kids were just as thrilled with it as they were the first time we took an overnight bus from Córdoba to Buenos Aires. The fancy “suite class” buses in Argentina are quite deluxe, and have approximately one million times more room than any coach seat on an airplane. If you have the time, I would recommend an overnight bus over a flight just about any day.

Molly enjoying her own video screen on Andesmar bus lines.

Molly enjoying her own video screen on Andesmar bus lines.

I don’t think that I’m making a revolutionary statement when I say that over the years, air travel has become less and less enjoyable, although, maybe that’s because in those earlier times, I traveled by myself or with Rob, and now I travel with three children under the age of eleven. I write this and slap my forehead at the same time because we are about to embark on about six flights over two weeks that will take us through Brazil and back home to Portland. WHAT AM I THINKING?!?!?

In all honesty I’m thinking that I cannot possibly believe that our “1 Year in Argentina” has just about come to a close.  This past year has been replete with new experiences:


  • Have I ever had really, REALLY carbonated water delivered to my house once a week in adorable seltzer bottles?  No!  Do I LOVE it? YES!!!!
  • Have I ever lived in a house with a pool?
  • Have I ever, in all my adult life, spent eight hours at someone’s house for lunch, and then felt like I was hurting their feelings by “leaving so early.  What is the hurry?”
  • Have I ever relied on my YOUNG children to help me get my point across to another adult?

Have I ever spent so much time together with my family?  NO!  This has been an exciting (and sometimes exhausting) year of learning.  While in Salta, a city with incredible colonial architecture in northern Argentina, we visited the MA’AM museum.  This was one of my favorite museum visits, by far in Argentina.  The museum houses a small collection of artifacts collected from tombs found high in the Andes Mountains, and three incredibly preserved mummies.  Only one of the mummies is on display at a time, for preservation purposes, and we were lucky enough to see the boy.  These mummies are children who were part of an Incan ritual that helped to protect the people who lived in the areas surrounding the Andes. The children were brought to the mountain peaks alive, and dressed in beautiful, ornate ceremonial clothes.  They were given a sort of corn alcohol to drink and cocoa leaves to chew, and then buried in stone tombs on the mountain.  The museum was very quiet as people shuffled trough the small space looking at the artifacts and reading the descriptions. As we quietly walked into the room containing the small mummy (in a special plexiglass cylinder kept at near freezing temperatures and low humidity), Ben said to me, “Mom, do you think the kids KNEW what was going to happen to them when they were walking up the mountain?” I still get the feeling of someone punching me in the gut when I think of that question. I had no answer for Ben, and told him as much. I tried to talk about how it was a very different culture, and it was a very different time, but those words didn’t begin to address what he was wrestling with inside his seven-year-old brain.

Have I ever been to so many rugby games?  Heck, no!  But really, is it all that much different from fall soccer on Saturdays?  Not too much.  The drinks of choice for both adults and kids are different:  mate instead of coffee for adults, and Coke or Powerade instead of water for kids, but other than that it’s still a bunch of kids running around having fun while their parents stand by and snap pictures and visit with other parents. I will say this, though:  the bonds of rugby are STRONG, and more often than not, the son plays for the same club that his father and uncles played for, and many rugby families have known each other for generations.

Have I ever lived in such close proximity with so many large insect-type things? Heavens, NO!  Cockroaches AND scorpions?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!?!?  Let’s just say that this one will fall in the “LAST” category, too. And I have to say that even though I have a great deal of respect for cockroaches–I really do!–they were around with the dinosaurs, that doesn’t mean I won’t spray the heck out of one, or smash it with a shoe the minute I see it.

Have I ever been so lax about the kids riding around in cars without seat belts, or cramming onto laps in cars? Of course not, but lots of paradigms had to shift to live here, and I can guarantee that once back state-side, we’ll be back on track.  Much to the dismay of my children, I’m sure. Another one for the “LAST” category, I guess.


  • Insects:  see above!
  • Clown-car-ing it:  see above!
  • Quite luxurious overnight bus:  see above!
  • Long-term living without a dishwasher:  Please GOD make this a last! I can’t afford the glasses and dishes I break!
  • Living in a house with an absolutely spectacular quincho:  I sincerely hope this ISN’T a “LAST,” and Rob and I are determined to do everything we can to recreate this incredible structure back home.
This is only part of it, but this quincho is my absolute favorite part of the house!

This is only part of it, but this quincho is my absolute favorite part of the house!

  • Spending lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoons eating, drinking, and visiting with friends and family.  I certainly hope this, too, ISN’T a “LAST,” but as Americans, we always seem to be in a hurry to move on to the “next thing.”  It seems that often we are looking ahead without recognizing the preciousness and beauty of the moment.  Tomorrow we have been invited to an afternoon asado with friends, and I find that recently, I am thinking, “Ohhhh!  This could be the last time that we have asado with …………..” I know that when it truly IS our last Argentine asado (at least as pertains to this adventure), I will cry my heart out, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.  The kids have all come to love the practice of asado. What’s not to love?  The kids run around and play, and come back for quick snack breaks, while the parents sit around without paying much attention to what the kids are up to!

So as we prepare to say, “Goodbye for now,” to Argentina, and, “Hey!  We missed you!” to the US, I must ask our US friends to forgive us for a couple of things:

  • If you invite us over for dinner, and we’ve been there for four hours, and show no sign of leaving, just remind us gently that we’re not in Argentina anymore (sniff, sniff!).  We’ll eventually leave, but we just don’t want to hurt your feelings by leaving too early!
  • The besos (kisses) hello and goodbye have become second nature for us (even Rob!), so don’t be weirded out if we come in for a kiss:  it’s been a long time since we’ve seen you anyway, so give us a kiss!
  • If we invite you over for dinner that very same night, or the next day, don’t think that we’re bored at the last minute:  we just want to see you NOW!  We don’t want to wait a week or two, so come on over, and don’t be in a hurry to leave:  we like spending time with you!

Quick Trip

Recently, we had Rob’s cousin, Shannon, visiting us from the Boston area. Although the weather didn’t completely cooperate, it was significantly warmer than the 26 degree (Fahrenheit) highs that Shannon was coming from.

After my parents leaving over a month ago, the kids were ready and excited for a new visitor. And after a solid day and a half of relaxing (and an asado), we filled Shannon’s time here with exploring in and around the city of Cordoba.

First we bused to a little town called Mina Clavero which is southwest of the city of Cordoba. It took about 2 hours on a bus along windy roads (and some of them very narrow with a sharp drop-off to one side). I was glad that the kids slept on the bus most of the way, and there were points where I was wishing for sleep myself.

Usually, people go to Mina Clavero because two rivers flow through town: the Rio Panaholma and the Rio de los Sauces. The town sits at the confluence of these rivers, and it makes for some fantastic swimming among the boulders and pools. The only problem was the timing of our trip: Cordoba has been experiencing a huge amount of rain lately, which has resulted in flooding in many areas. So not only was it too cold in Mina Clavero to swim, the rivers were so swollen, and the water was running so high, that with children, we hesitated even walking too close to it!

Mina Clavero

Here is a picture of the river in Mina Clavero in good weather.


And here is a picture of the river when we were there.

It is always interesting to try to find things to do to entertain children when you are in a rainy climate, and we found a “museum” of sorts near Mina Clavero called “Museo Polifacetio Rocsen.”  http://www.museorocsen.org/rocsen/  I’m not sure how else to describe this place other than a “museum of the weird.”  This museum had everything……and I mean EVERYTHING!  Name on thing, and I am pretty sure the museum had it:  old cars?  Yep!  Old printing presses/typewriters/adding machines/computers?  Yep!  Shrunken heads?  Yep! Taxidermied animals? Yep!  Beautifully beaded flapper dresses?  Yep!  Old medical equipment?  Yep!  Weapons?  OF COURSE!


A collection of car “things.”


How could I have forgotten to mention the goucho gear!?!?


Weapons, of course.


This picture gives a particularly good idea of just how much “stuff” is crammed into each room.


And some of the “stuff” is just a tad bit dusty.


After two days in Mina Clavero, we decided to head back to Cordoba.  There is some excellent condor-viewing near Mina Clavero, and we had hoped to take a day trip to hike around, but the weather was rainy and cold, so we just headed straight home.

A couple more days in Cordoba, then we rented a car and drove to our friends’ farm north of the city of Cordoba. Our friends had invited us to their farm before, but had said that we would need to rent a car to get there.  “Isn’t there a bus that goes near it?” I had asked.  After an hour of bouncing and bumping along winding dirt/mud roads and driving across little (and not-s0-little) creeks and streams, I began to understand why Carla had told us that we would need to rent a car.

Driving in Argentina is always an adventure, and when you cram six of us into a small sedan with fold-down back seats, throw in a 4-year-old who HATES to wear seat belts (thank you, Argentina) and add terrible weather to the whole thing, it makes for a really GREAT car ride—NOT! I’m pretty sure I kissed the ground when we got to the farm first, and helped the kids out of the car second.

The farm is in an incredibly gorgeous spot not far (as the crow flies) from Jesus Maria, Cordoba.


The lovely farm house of our friends, Carla Dawson and Sebastian Olocco.

We spent a fantastic two days (despite rainy weather) with Sebastian and Carla.  The kids ran free, played with animals, waded in the pond, caught tadpoles, lit fires (for the water heater and asado), and basically had a wonderful time doing kid things.  The adults relaxed, took walks, relaxed some more, and ate really, really wonderful meals.

A spring-fed pond at the farm.  Tadpole catching was good, but fishing with rocks was not.  For the record, it was definitely NOT warm enough to go wading/swimming, but that didn't stop Ben.

A spring-fed pond at the farm. Tadpole catching was good, but fishing with rocks was not. For the record, it was definitely NOT warm enough to go wading/swimming, but that didn’t stop Ben.

Lighting the "globos" was the high light of the evening. Here, Rob holds the globo, and Sebastian helps Elliott light it.

Lighting the “globos” was the high light of the evening. Here, Rob holds the globo, and Sebastian helps Elliott light it.

Globos for each kid.  We lit them individually and watched them until the burnt out.

Globos for each kid. We lit them individually and watched them until they burnt out.

Molly's pure joy was pretty clear.

Molly’s pure joy was pretty clear.

The beauty that was the beginning of our asado on Sunday.

The beauty that was the beginning of our asado on Sunday.

What's better than a delicious asado on a wooden table with good friends?  Pretty sure nothin'!

What’s better than a delicious asado on a wooden table with good friends? Pretty sure nothin’!

After two wonderful days with Carla and Sebastian, we headed to Capilla del Monte, which is known around here for it’s alien presence.  We didn’t see any aliens, but we did manage a short little hike (maybe 20 minutes) with Ben complaining the entire time as if we had been stranded in the desert for 40 days.

Mysterious Mount Uritorco.  No aliens spotten on our watch.

Mysterious Mount Uritorco. No aliens spotten on our watch.

Now here we are back in Cordoba.  Cousin Shannon headed back to Boston after a couple of days exploring Buenos Aires on her own, and the kids have all started back to school this week.

Molly on her first day of school in her "guarda polvo."

Molly on her first day of school in her “guarda polvo.”


The boys ready to head out to school on their first day. Just like Portland, teacher’s strike averted!

Rob and I are so glad to have the kids back into the routine of school. It’s been a busy, busy summer going from place to place, and I think everyone is ready for a return to “normalcy.”

Now just two weeks until Rob’s sister and her family arrive!  SOTERS:  WE ARE READY FOR YOU!

Multi-generational Travel

It was just four days ago that we landed back in Cordoba.  An over-night bus brought us home from Buenos Aires, and although I was sad to leave my parents after having them with us for five weeks, and I felt wonky after not sleeping very well on the bus, I was thrilled to have not one, but THREE Christmas cards from friends in the states waiting for us.  And I have to admit, it has been nice to start getting back into our “routine” here.  I think I may finally be seeing the end of the laundry tunnel.  I remember a friend once saying that she was tackling the Mount Everest of laundry, and these past few days, I know exactly what she meant.

After spending about 10 days in and around Cordoba, we hopped a flight south to Bariloche.  Bariloche is a gorgeous place in the mountains, and we rented a large house with an incredible view of the Lake Nahuel Huapi.  This was, honestly, our view of the lake from the house:

Really, it does not get much more beautiful than that!
It was nice to have a big space to spread out in Bariloche, but like so many, many things in Argentina, this house had little things about it that made us wonder.  What are those wires hanging out of the ceiling?  What is that hole in the fireplace?  Were they going to build a deck, and just ran out of money, or is this house built on an old foundation?
Bariloche was great because everyone got to do a little bit of what they wanted to do.  My dad and Rob went fly fishing:
DSCN4867 DSCN4872
My mom and I ate a lot of chocolate and ice cream (photos unavailable), and the kids got a lot of great outside play time:
IMG_7935 IMG_7937
Bariloche is very windy, though, and one morning, after a particularly bad wind storm, I woke up to find all three kids in Molly’s bed:
I would say that we moved on further south to El Calafate because we had our fill of chocolate (Bariloche is known for its chocolate), but anyone who knows me would know that that’s a lie.  There is no such thing as too much chocolate, but our time was up in Bariloche, so we checked out of the house, and headed to the airport to catch our flight to El Calafate.
When traveling with seven people, you can guarantee that there will be at least a couple of wrinkles, and our flight from Bariloche to El Calafate was one of them.  We arrived at the airport with enough time to grab some water, and make a trip to the bathroom.  After waiting for a flight that was “delayed” for about two hours, we were told by the airlines (actually, Rob had to go up and ask, and right after he asked, there was an announcement over the intercom) that our flight had been cancelled, and we would have to wait until the flight five hours later that evening.  As happens anywhere, the crew for our original flight were over their flight time after the delay, so they couldn’t fly.  We were disappointed, and feeling tired, but what could we do?  We decided to take a cab back into town and get some lunch, or at least, I thought ice cream!
This was a case where it paid off BIG TIME to be traveling with small children (and I don’t usually say that!).  When we went to the ticket counter to ask if we could store our bags at the airport, the ticket agent said, “Well, aren’t you a family with young children?”
“Yes,” we replied, wondering, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well,” the ticket agent said, “your children are probably tired.  We will get you a room in town so they can rest.”
Rob and I exchanged looks that said, “Are you serious?”
It was siesta time in Argentina, and you don’t mess with siesta!  So we happily took two cabs back into town (paid for by the airlines), then checked into the hotel for the afternoon.  For whatever reason, I told the woman at the hotel counter that we could really all just fit in one room.
She looked at me like I was crazy:  “But you’re seven people!  How will you fit?  We’ll give you three rooms.”  Luckily, at that point, I decided to shut up.
This was a time when what could have been a very frustrating situation turned out much better than we could have imagined.
We arrived in El Calafate much later than we had planned, but settled into our rooms and decided to hit the little town the next day, and figure out how we would spend our time there.
El Calafate is a lovely little town.  The town is very clean by Argentine standards (maybe it’s all the wind?), the streets are wide, and the pavement is smooth, and they have wonderful sidewalks throughout.  Also, this is the home town of the president of Argentina.  That’s all I’m going to say on that matter.
We spent four days in Calafate seeing amazing things, the likes of which, I don’t think I will ever see again.  Glaciers:
Sheep shearing by hand:
And some really, REALLY big icebergs:
Some of us had a better view than others:
That’s my dad shooting from the first-class cabin.
And others of us didn’t really care about the view:
Molly slept through the first two hours of the boat ride, and woke up next to a huge iceberg.  Needless to say, she was a little confused.
After a couple of days of icebergs and glaciers, Rob and I were off…….SIN CHICOS…….to El Chalten for three days of hiking.  El Chalten is about a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride north of El Calafate.  It is a haven for hikers and backpackers, and Rob and I had flashback after flashback of our backpacking trip to Asia almost 13 years ago.  We came into El Chalten much older, much wiser (I would like to think), and much more discriminating than many of the other hikers.  Although we stayed in a modest hostel it was fantastic to have our own bathroom, a fairly comfortable bed (on a frame off the floor–unlike many of the beds we slept on in Asia), and enough cash to have fantastic dinners out.
We decided to do the longer hike the first day (28 km round trip!!!!!), and were rewarded with views of Cerro Torre like this:
After which we rewarded ourselves with desserts like this:
Tired and sore after a long hike the first day, we took a “shorter” hike the second day to the Fitz Roy range, and although I told Rob I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way to the look-out (10 km one-way), I am so, so, SO glad that I did:
Our trip to El Chalten would never have been possible if it hadn’t been for my amazing parents, DAVE AND CATHY STEVENS, who volunteered to watch the kids for us so we could have some time away.  The cottage/hotel they stayed at in El Calafate was cozy but cramped, and we are so GRATEFUL to them for taking on three of their busy, rambunctious grandchildren in a country where they speak very little of the language.
A couple hot baths with epsom salt, a bus ride, and plane trip later, we were in Buenos Aires, back in the heat and humidity of the Argentine summer.
Upon arriving at the house that we had rented in the Palermo Soho neighborhood of BA, we ran into another “snag” in our travel plans. Electricity use in Buenos Aires has grown immensely over the past 15 years, and the supply has not kept up with the demand.  Power outages are common in the summer, and can last anywhere from half an hour, to two weeks.  Do you see where I’m going with this?
We were hot and tired after a long travel day of over 1700 miles, and ready to just sit and relax.  When we arrived at the house, however, the power was out.  The caretaker told us that the power should be coming on within the hour, so we decided to stay and hope for the best.  After a fantastic dinner out (really, it was amazing—-or maybe I’m just remembering their air conditioners), we came back to the house, and still, no power.  I walked around the block talking with neighbors and store owners, and found out that the power in our house, and the neighbor’s house had been out for three days, and they had no idea of when it would be back on.  “Maybe tonight; maybe next week” was the response I got from most.
At this point, I’ve got to hand it to my parents and kids:  there was no swearing (at least, that I heard), no shrieking, no yelling, no “What-the-hell-kind-of-a-place-did-you-book?”.  They were incredible troopers.  We were all tired, we all realized that late on a Sunday night, we didn’t really have any other options, so we sank into fitful, mosquito-bitten sleep.  When the power STILL was not on the next morning, we knew we had to make a plan.  Fortunately for us, the hotel we had reservations in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay could take us early, so we packed up our things as quickly as we could, talked with the owner of the house (who agreed to refund the money), closed the door to the house (and left a key on the inside which in turn caused them to have to cut open the door–oops!), and high-tailed it over to the ferry dock to catch the next ferry just as the power came back on.  Oh well.
Once on the ferry, I thought it prudent to buy my dad and Rob some beer, the kids some Fanta, and ice-cold agua con gas for my mother and me.  We all shared some Oreos, and things started looking up.
We loved our time in Colonia, and had a great time just walking around the cobblestone streets, visiting the late-17th and early-18th century houses turned into museums, and……eating ice cream.  This is not the best picture of my mom (she’s behind Rob), but this little pulperia, called Buen Suspiro, where we had lunch was so delightful, that I had to include this picture.  Again, kudos to my kids because this was not a quick in-and-out lunch.  We were probably there for about 2 1/2 hours. Fortunately, right outside is a very quiet pedestrian street, so they were in and out of the restaurant the entire time.
We eventually made it back to Buenos Aires, and to a different hotel in the Recoleta neighborhood.  The heat was still fierce, and for some reason (I think we had heard rain was on its way), we decided to do one of those bus tours where you can sit up on top of  a double-decker bus where the roof is cut off.  The tour was great, but so was the heat.  That day in Buenos Aires, the heat index reached 47.3 degrees celsius!  That’s 117 degrees fahrenheit, so yeah, it was hot. Not the best day to be sitting up on top of a bus driving around a huge city.  We called it quits for a late lunch, then somehow made it back to our hotel for cold, cold showers.
That night it rained, and the following day was like a gift from the travel gods who were saying, “Okay.  You guys have all proved your muster.  Here’s a nice cool day.  Have fun!”  There is no shortage of things to see and do in Buenos Aires, and we had promised the kids on a previous trip to the city that we would come back to see the zoo, so our family was zoo-bound while my parents did more grown-up sight-seeing.
Again my parents blessed us with their grandparenting skills and Rob and I had an incredible dinner out at Cafe San Juan, where we had been dying to go.  We were not disappointed, and felt almost like we were back in Portland with the Argentine version of hipsters with tattoos and trucker hats.
After five weeks of togetherness (certainly more than they get of us when we’re in the States!), the Vaughn family was headed back to Cordoba, and my parents were headed back to Gig Harbor.  It was an amazing time, and not only am I thrilled that my parents could (and would) take the time to visit us, and travel with us, I am thrilled that I look forward to seeing them AGAIN when we return!  It’s been a long time since I lived under the same roof as my parents, and I’m proud to say that I think we all had a fantastic trip.  Thanks to Rob for his amazing planning!
The day after we got home, the kids were promptly “bored,” so we have enrolled them in two weeks of summer camp. This serves two purposes:  entertainment for them, and a nice little break for Rob and me!

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.

WARNING: Cuteness Alert!

Feliz after her second day at the jardin

Feliz after her second day at the jardin

So those of you who know me well enough know that I wouldn’t usually write a “cutesy” title like the one above, but the little smocks that they wear in Argentina in preschool are so dang cute, what else could I write?

Molly has recently started preschool (jardin) here in Cordoba, and so far, so good! The jardin is called Sui Generis,  and according to my Spanish teacher, that is also the name of a crazy former Argentine band http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sui_Generis.  The community center/gym in which the preschool is housed has an indoor and an outdoor pool, so Molly and her jardin buddies get to go swimming twice a week.  She’s thrilled!  The teachers are warm and loving (like all the teachers seem to be here), so it is the right place for us!

Molly says her favorite thing about her preschool is the pool, but she hasn’t even gone in yet:  tomorrow’s the first swimming day.

Molly was ready for this big change:  she needs an outlet for her energy, we want her to have some friends her own age, and we want her to learn more Spanish!  We are so very fortunate because jardins seem to be about as common as Starbucks in Seattle here, and her’s is two blocks away.  From 9:30 – 12: 30 she plays, sings songs, does crafts, swims, has an English class, and eats snack.  A lovely way to spend her mornings while the boys, Rob and I work away the hours working on our Spanish, and grade school curriculum.

The boys are still playing rugby, and this past weekend it was COLD, and the boys raced over the field to keep warm.  Apparently, they were playing the Jailbirds.

Ben on the take-down

Ben on the take-down


Elliott on the run

Elliott on the run

The pool is full now, and someone came to clean it today.  They had some pretty specific instructions for me, but I didn’t really get it all, so if our skin falls off the first time we take a dip, I’ll know we used too much chlorine.  Maybe we should just invest in someone to take care of that for us.  Now all we need is the weather to warm up.

We’re headed to the “mountains” this weekend for a long weekend, so maybe we’ll be able to swim when we get back!

Home Sweet Home


My ever so patient husband has been after me for quite some time  now to write a post about our house search.  We’ve been in our house at Lafinur 3572 now for one week.  We’ve settled in quite nicely, and are looking forward to hosting our first asado (for all Argentine friends—-wish us luck!) this Sunday.

This was a journey that started for us, really, back in April when Rob and I came on our own for a “scouting mission.”  We looked at just a few rental houses then, and although we in no way expected it to happen, it would have been really nice and easy if we had met someone in the process who said, “You know, I don’t have anything now, but I do have this lovely house that will be ready at the beginning of September.  When did you say you’re getting here?”  Well, that DIDN’T happen, so instead of arriving with a set place to live, we arrived with a set place to stay:  N’Aike Casa de Huespedes, http://www.naike.com.ar/.  The people there were wonderful, but we were ready to have our own space, and the kids were ready to spread out and run around.

Several difficulties exist when trying to find a rental house in Cordoba from afar.  The first difficulty, for us, was the language barrier.  Neither Rob nor I speak enough Spanish to really get along well in a face-to-face conversation, so the thought of trying to have a conversation on the phone about real estate put us into a cold sweat.  Language barriers aside, however, we soon found out that real estate agents will only show you the properties that they represent, so in essence, you have to have several real estate agents working for you at the same time.  And then there’s the whole issue of the fact that we were trying to look for these properties from many, many miles away.  Like many things in Argentina, finding a rental house is all about who you know, and what contacts you have.  As a general rule, Argentines prefer to conduct all business face-to-face.  We had a very difficult time getting anyone to return our phone calls, and an even more difficult time getting them to return e-mails.  When we did get a returned call or e-mail, people would ask us to just come by their office.  When we explained our situation, they simply told us to give them a call once we arrived.  Having something as major as SHELTER (I’m pretty sure it’s one of Maslow’s basic physiological needs) as part of the unknown was not a comfortable feeling.  Lucky for us, Rob and I had our individual periods of anxiety at different times.  This made it much easier for one to calm the other one down and remain cool-headed.

Although you can find listings on web sites like casas.trovitargentina.com.ar, and La Voz, many of these listings give a very brief description of the house, and have no pictures.  And I found out fairly quickly that although houses may be listed, that does not mean they are available.  This was the most frustrating part for me because, of course, I would find a lovely house in the same neighborhood as the boys’ school, and it would have been rented six months ago.  How easy, it seemed, it would be to simply erase that listing when the house was rented…hmmm…..

Yet another stumbling block that we encountered (although we knew about this one in advance), was that most houses in Argentina are either rented for short-term (up to 6 months), or long-term (at least 2 years).  The short-term rentals are furnished, and the long-term rentals are not.  We wanted to rent a furnished house or apartment for one year.  This probably would not have been as much of an issue had we been looking downtown, but because we wanted to be in a more residential neighborhood, there were fewer options.

Apparently in Argentina, once someone is in your house, and has started paying bills, it is very difficult to evict them.  This is even the case if the person is basically squatting, and not paying any rent.  The difficulty to evict them becomes even greater if they have children.  People told us stories of court cases that dragged on for years of home owners (who were not even renting their house–it was just a private vacation property!) trying to get squatters out of their house because those people had moved in, started paying the property taxes, and refused to leave.  Because of this, owners of rental houses require what is called a “guarantee.”  This is basically a co-signer who promises to take on the rent if the original renters refuse to pay. Getting a guaranteer can be very difficult, and complicated.  Often it involves getting pay stubs and tax papers from the guaranteer, and proof of employment from both the renter and guaranteer.  Not having employment, and preferring not to ask our new Argentine friends to put themselves forward to be our guaranteer, we were forced to approach this from a different angle, re:  cash up front for six months rent.

After spending about 10 days looking at different rental properties (most of which were basically empty:  no furniture, no kitchen appliances, NO LIGHTS!), I decided to ask one of our real estate agent, Matias http://www.ilamarca.com/home, a very American question. Did he have any clients who were trying to sell their house, and would be willing to basically move out for a year, take the house off the market, and let us rent it lock, stock and barrel.  He thought for a minute after I asked him this, and then said he might have one, but he would have to contact her first.  The next day we walked in to Silvina’s house on Lafinur.

The house was perfect for what we needed:  three bedrooms (plus one maid’s room—storage room for us), four bathrooms, a pool, a washing machine (!!!!), a pool, a lovely quincho (a covered patio where you have


your parrilla and asado)


and all the furniture that we could have asked for. These are really pictures of our quincho and parrilla.

Except for the fact that we have two ovens that basically don’t work the way I need them to (one is electric and shorts out the power in the entire house every time I turn it on–obviously it’s not plugged in to the right kind of outlet, and the other one is gas, and has two temperature settings:  on and off) everything is as swimmy as it could be here—except that we’re not swimming right now:  the pool has a leak, and they are supposed to come by “tomorrow” to fix it.
But in all seriousness, we feel lucky and blessed.  We have a great little house in a lovely neighborhood that is walking distance to the boys’ school.  Within three blocks there are 2 vegetable stands, two meat markets, three chicken markets, a bakery, 2 ice cream shops, a paper shop (for school supplies), a pasta shop, a cheese shop, and two corner stores that sell pretty much anything you might need.
Now if we could just get that pool filled:  it’s supposed to be 95 next week, and this is still winter!

Yelling and listening quietly


We arrived in Cordoba just the other morning, but some times it feels like we’ve already been here for at least a week.  After a whirl wind couple of days filled with incredible asados with friends and house hunting, we tried some sight seeing downtown today, but that was kind-of a bust because it’s a holiday.  It’s a national holiday to honor the death of Jose de San Martin who was a leader Argentina’s successful struggle for independence from Spain.  We thought that maybe there would be some fun stuff happening downtown, but I guess it’s more of a holiday where you hang out with friends and family.  Which has gotten me thinking about all this “family” time we’ve had over the past month.

Frankly, I’m exhausted.  The constant stream of questions from Ben, our middle child, is almost more than I can handle.  I know that he’s a kid who needs to know the plan; he needs to know what we’re doing next IN DETAIL, but often (honestly, most of the time), I don’t have that answer.  I don’t know exactly where we’re going, but I gave the taxi driver an address, and here’s hoping he’s going to get us there.  I don’t know exactly what time everyone will be at the asado, but we’re going to get there around 12:30, or 8, or whenever, and when everyone else shows up, they show up. I don’t know what the taxi driver’s name is, or why he’s talking on the phone while driving, or what that sign says.  I’m just trying to take it all in, too.  I do know, however, that this is just Ben’s way of making sure that everything is ok, and that his parents are in control, at least, sort-of.  All this makes for a pretty short fuse.

Put that together with the fact that we’re staying in a guest house/bed and breakfast, where the people are wonderfully kind, but our quarters are close, and unfortunately, my best parenting techniques are out the window.  Rob and I are trying to be very conscious (and at the same time help the kids grasp the concept) of the other guests, so we spend a lot of time telling the kids to “be quiet!” and “stop running!” and “don’t slam the doors!”  I have lost count of how many times I’ve said to the boys, “And what about your behavior did you think was acceptable on ANY LEVEL?!?!?!?!”  With this phrase, I hope to accomplish two things:  make the kids shut up, and use confusing enough language so the non-English speakers here will have no idea of what I’m saying to my kids.

In all of this crazy, there are amazing glimmers, though.  Incredible moments that I grab and hold onto tightly:

*Molly dancing in her seat on the plane as she listened to music with her headphones.

*Ben and Elliott watching some cartoon in Spanish, then chatting about it IN SPANISH, I’m sure, without even realizing that they were speaking Spanish.

*Molly telling our friends that her Spanish is “fantastic.”

*Ben chatting with just about anyone who works at the hotels where we’ve stayed like they’re old friends from way back.

*Rob getting us downtown on the bus from our hotel without a hitch.

On Wednesday we’re going to the boys’ school to meet their teachers and have a look around, then they’ll start school on Thursday. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep myself together when we drop them off on Thursday, but I’m not betting on it.  This is a BIG DEAL, and I would give almost anything to be a fly on the wall and listen in on their conversations.  I promise I would listen quietly; they wouldn’t even know I was there.

The honeymoon is over

…..for the kids at least.  Everyone woke up this morning proclaiming that they would NOT be going to school today.  Because that wasn’t really an option, there was a lot of squawking and complaining (all the way around). It should come as a shock to no one that everyone ended up going to school, and somehow made it though.

All three kids are now picked up by the school director in a taxi, and she drops Molly and Ben off at kinder (the baby school, as Ben likes to call it), and then takes Elliott to the language school.  Rob and I follow later on foot.  It’s about a ten-minute walk, and not too bad as we are getting to know some faces in a very small town.  The man at the candy store on the corner near our house likes to practice his excellent English, and the banana man down the street always greets us with a hearty “Bueno!”

At school, we have two coffee breaks during the morning, and now that Rob and I are in different classes (we started out in the same class), we are getting private instruction. My teacher today seemed a little surprised and put out that I felt like I could work all the way through the 2nd coffee break. In fact, many of the other instructors kept knocking on our door, “You’re not going to take a break?” I wanted to say, “I think I can handle another half an hour without a break,” but of course, I can’t say that in Spanish, so there you are.   I should also mention that our day STARTS with a coffee break.  We are supposed to be there by 9:30, but class doesn’t actually start until 9:45. 

This is the rainy season in Turrialba, and yesterday afternoon was a doozy!  I have never seen rain like that before, and we live in Portland, so I thought I had seen rain.  Tropical rain is a completely different animal, though. In a house with a metal roof, you really hear the rain, too. We had a “Sound of Music” moment when the lightening and thunder started, and suddenly, all three kids were in our room because they didn’t like the sound.  It shook the house, and I couldn’t help but wonder why people who live in a place with lightening and thunder storms like that one have metal roofs.  That’s just a friendly “wonder,” and not a judgemental “suggestion.”

Every day we’re learning more about each other, and of course, Spanish.  I told Molly today that “caballo” means “horse,” and she told me, “No, Mommy!  ‘caballo’ means ‘hair.'” Close, but not quite.  I am thrilled that in just a couple days, she is picking up so much of the language.

I wish I could tell our host family how much we already adore them.  They are wonderfully patient with us, and have shown us so much kindness.  So instead I do dishes, we keep our stuff tidy (and then Sonia comes around and cleans everything up again while we’re at school) and say “Gracias!” about a million times a day.  It’s a start, at least.

Bring and Take

It’s funny the things we think about, and the things in which we find value.  I find myself looking at things very differently as we near our departure for Costa Rica and Argentina.  But WAIT!  Before you start thinking that I’m getting sentimental (I am), and all missy-missy for our friends and family (I am), let me explain what “things” I’ve been thinking about, and looking at lately:  food and napkins.  Sad but true, these things have held a pretty high spot on the totem pole of my brain lately.  I am sorry to say that when I mention food, it’s not even like I’m thinking about world hunger.  The other day I went to the grocery store, and with only 23 days before we leave (23!!!!!), I’m starting to really think about what I buy, and if I’ll use it before we go.  “Should I buy one pound of butter, or two?” I asked myself.  I went for two…..my friend Ingrid gets whatever I don’t use.  I’ve been trying to use up food in our freezer, which is a challenge when your husband is a big game hunter and had a good year last year, and someone who takes pig butchery classes for fun (actually, I got that for Rob as a gift–very “Portland DIY”).  I came across my freezer bag of Parmesan rinds recently, and have promised to give them to my friend Geoff when we go.  Those things are like GOLD to any cook worth his or her salt.

As far as napkins go, I keep wondering if I should bring some cloth napkins.  “What a ridiculous thing to think about!” you may say to yourself, and I completely agree!  The thing is, I keep thinking about this, and I keep going back and forth.  I think, “Well, it’s not like they take up a lot of space, and wouldn’t it be nice to have just a set or two of cloth napkins?  What if we have someone over? I like cloth napkins!”  When Rob and I were in Argentina they had the most silly, ineffective paper napkins (it was like trying to wipe your hands with one-ply toilet paper!), so I’m not completely crazy.

I’m reminded of an NPR show I used to listen to that was basically three or four adult sisters who would get on the radio and just chat about what they were up to.  It was basically a radio blog—fantastic!  I loved it:  Satellite Sisters.  Anyway, on one particular show, one of the sisters was getting ready to move her entire family to Shanghai or Bangkok or something.  The sisters were having an in-depth conversation about whether or not the one sister should bring her gravy boat that matched her set of china.  She pointed out that she was not, in fact, bringing any of her china, but wondered if she would be able to find a gravy boat in Shanghai or Bangkok if she didn’t bring her own. They probably discussed it for a good six to eight minutes when one sister broke in and said, “Look, do you think you’ll even be able to FIND a turkey?  And if you do, will your oven be big enough to roast it?”  The traveling sister then replied, “I have no idea!  THIS is EXACTLY the wacky kind of stuff I’m thinking about these days!”  Well, I get what she’s talking about.  So in a never-ending effort to avoid thinking about all of the wonderfully amazing people at home who I love so dearly, and am going to miss so terribly, I think about how much butter I should buy when we’ll only be here 23 more days, or if I should bring cloth napkins to Argentina.