Back to Work

Truth be told, I didn’t think it would be January before I was able to write this post.  Like everything else we’ve experienced since our adventure together began, the job search has been a journey.  Yes, I have a job!  Thus closes the symbolic loop since we cut ourselves loose from a stable income and reliable lifestyle 18 months ago.  I start work as Director of Marketing Communications for a local university this month.

Voluntarily leaving a solid career as the sole breadwinner at age 40 with 3 kids was scary.  However, fear of failing to land a job upon our return was terrifying.  Our adventure would not be complete or considered a successful experiment until I managed to land a legitimate, prosperous job.  Doing so was the final piece of the puzzle for us.  As such, a summary of the job search process and conclusion seems appropriate as our blog comes to a close.  One of our goals for keeping a blog was to inspire other families to break loose and create their own adventures, however brief.  After our own experience returning from a sabbatical and conducting a lengthy job search, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning, preparation, realism, perseverance and a strong network.

Before we left for Argentina, Erica and I made a deal that I would wait until April to even begin thinking about the job search and what comes afterwards.  Our trip became reality as a result of my planning gene, but my wise wife recognized I might begin planning our return the moment we arrived in Córdoba.  As it turned out, our life down south was a whirlwind and we all became absorbed in our new lives, making it easy to forget about impending reality for a time.  However, once we passed our self-imposed moratorium I threw myself into the process of preparing and searching for a job.  Having spent over 12 years with my previous employer, I found the experience fascinating, frustrating and a valuable learning experience.   Returning to the workforce following a sabbatical can make for a unique search and challenge, so here’s what I’ve learned:

Steps to take while still abroad:

  1. Preparation:  Use this time wisely.  I found it difficult to make much meaningful progress when I was still in Argentina given time and distance.   Therefore I immersed myself in job search and interview preparation.  Find a resource or expert that works for you (Mine was, beef up your LinkedIn profile, rebuild your resume, and get job boards set up.  This is also the time to research a new career path or focus.
  2. Study:  While it certainly signaled the impending end of our time in Córdoba, I spent the final few months writing and studying.  I developed answers for behavioral interview questions and worked out key accomplishment answers.  I spent hours memorizing answers to these as well as my “elevator pitch” before we returned.
  3. Warm up the network:  Like any relationship, your network takes work.  Don’t wait to ask for help or a job until you’re back in the States.  Keep in touch rather than going completely dark.

What I wish I knew earlier:

  1. Be focused and specific:  In hindsight I approached the search too broadly.  I found myself interested in a number of different roles and industries that made it difficult at times to concisely pinpoint my target to recruiters or companies.  While I’m thankful for the experience and happy with the result, my task would have been easier if I’d had the ability to identify the exact job and sector I was interested in pursuing.
  2. Career accomplishment documentation:  Keep a consistent record of accomplishments for each job WHEN YOU HAVE THAT JOB.  Building a great resume off memory is hard!  Consider buying this product too.
  3. Career Tools Interview Series:  A premium product from the guys at Manager-Tools.  I found this series of podcasts to be enormously helpful in interview preparation.
  4. The power of a network:  As a career salesperson,  I was conscientious of the value of a strong network, but only now do I really appreciate it.  I wrote a post on LinkedIn about how grateful and humbled I’ve been by the time and energy given by so many.  Build it, nurture it and repay it.


  1. Use your time wisely while still abroad
  2. A job search is a job and that job is sales:  I found myself leaning on my sales experience to keep grinding away.  Read my post about this on LinkedIn.
  3. Be intentional:  Develop your network now with thoughts to the future.
  4. Be ready to pay it forward:  I can only hope someday to offer others my time and energy as others have done so with me.  Start by asking each person how you can help them someday and thanking them.
  5. Stay balanced:  There are a lot of highs and lows in a job search.  Erica did an amazing job of supporting and counseling me throughout.  As in sales, it can be hard to keep grinding away and be “on” day after day.


  • Perceptions: I encountered a variety of reactions during my job search to our story, many very positive.  Our experience was actually a plus for some hiring managers who recognized it as accomplishment.  Goal setting, planning, organization, execution, and perseverance all were obvious skill sets I could point to as a result of our trip.  I was able to build a significant key accomplishment out of our experience abroad.   However, a sabbatical can also put you at a disadvantage in some cases.  As one recruiter pointed out, technology and the workplace changes rapidly, and a year + out of the game can give hiring managers pause.  Additionally, stepping out of the workforce mid-career is not a concept that most people can easily relate to.
  • Budget:  We budgeted for 1 year abroad and 6 months searching for a job back in the States.  It’s going to cost more than you thought so pad the budget!
  • Taking a step backwards:  A distinct possibility we considered when we jumped into this was that I would have to take a step back in career and pay when we returned.  This would be a natural sacrifice for our experience that we accepted should it occur.  I feel very fortunate that in the end I was able to transfer my skills and experience into a marketing communications role with a great organization and avoid a career hiccup.  However, consider the possible ramifications and be realistic.

The search will always take longer than expected.  Each major step in the hiring process seemed to take a month in my case.  Opportunities appeared and faded.  It’s a roller coaster.  I couldn’t help but become vested in a company during the pursuit.  My search for the right fit and role took 6 months.  It was a fascinating education in its own right as I learned a tremendous amount about numerous companies, the hiring process, interview preparation, and significantly expanded my professional network in the process.  While we did budget for a 6 month search, we didn’t expect it to take the full-time period and we budgeted too conservatively.  Despite considerable expense and stress, we have zero regrets.  We could never put a price on our experiences together.


Manager Tools

Tamara Murray:  Author of a number of relevant posts on LinkedIn well worth the read and perspective.

Job Boards:  I found these to be more targeted and useful than the big boys like Monster or CareerBuilder

  • LinkedIn:
  • Indeed
  • Zip Recruiter
  • Glassdoor
  • Simply Hired


Back to school in the Pacific Northwest

Back to school in the Pacific Northwest

As we close in on a month since we moved back into our house in Portland and enrolled the kids in school, it seemed time to review how the kids have reintegrated.  We get a lot of questions about how the kids are handling coming back from Argentina after a year. So far it’s been amazingly easy for everyone.  They seem to just roll with all of these changes so getting them to articulate how the adjustment has gone tends to be difficult.  Coming back to a familiar place and familiar faces certainly seems the easy part for them.

The boys are back in the same immersion school a few blocks from our house.  Molly is at the same preschool that the boys attended.  While the language barrier with teachers is behind us, many of the same daily struggles with kids and school exist equally in Portland as they did in Córdoba.  The boys have commented several times about the differences between Spanish in Córdoba and here.  Ben’s teacher shared a great story about how Ben has been so helpful to a new student from Mexico recently.  We like to think that his experience as a stranger in a strange land built this empathy.   All three are in soccer given the shortage of youth rugby leagues in Portland.  Our neighborhood is filled with kids of the same age running free in the afternoons. The kids have thrived in an environment that allows them to play outdoors, climb trees, ride bikes and generally run amuck.  This level of freedom just wasn’t possible in our barrio in Córdoba security and safety concerns.  Unpacking and moving back into our house has seemed like Christmas at times for the kids.  A year with minimal possessions may have taught them to value what they do have, at least for now!  Toys and books forgotten have been rediscovered as we opened boxes over the past month.

Molly loves her new preschool!

Molly loves her new preschool!

In their own words:

What have you been most surprised by?

Elliott:  By how big all my friends have grown since I’ve been gone.

Ben:  The Spanish because it is very different than in Córdoba.

Molly:  By my school because I love it so much.  I didn’t think I would like it but I do.

What do you miss the most from Argentina?

Elliott:  I miss the people, my friends and the ribs.

Ben:  My friends.

Molly:  My friends and my school there.

How is school different here than in Argentina?

Elliott:  Here there aren’t as many recesses and there’s no kiosko and the Spanish at Beach is completely different.

Ben:  There isn’t a kiosko and there is only one recess.

Molly:  I went to school longer in Argentina.  Here it’s shorter.

Riding bikes to school

Riding bikes to school

From the kids’ perspective, we’re simply back after a long trip.  They are pretty unfazed when telling anyone about where they’ve been.  The last year has reminded us just how incredibly resilient children can be.

Nomads in the USA

We touched down in Seattle a little less than one month ago after an amazing exit tour through Brazil.  Since we returned to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve traveled nearly 1,400 miles in a borrowed Suburban visiting friends and family and adjusting to life post-Argentina.  With our home in Portland occupied by renters until the end of August, we’ve travelled up and down Oregon and Washington hitting family gatherings and making the most of the end of a wonderful summer.  Couch surfing with friends and family prior to employment and the beginning of school has provided a great way to ease back into life in the States.  However, this nomadic lifestyle, while far from hard living, hasn’t been without its challenges.  Our family of five have now spent 6 weeks living out of suitcases since we departed Córdoba.  While this period of transition might not offer a true perspective into our reintegration until we’re back in our house, it’s been interesting to observe nonetheless.

After a year away the little things become much more profound.  We were all struck by the blunt language and behavior of the TSA employees in Miami when compared to the Argentines, but that might just be standard for the TSA.   As expected, we had instant sticker shock from our first “American” breakfast in the Miami airport.  I still can’t help but convert costs from dollars into pesos in my head and feel sick.  Adjusting to American tipping standards has been a tough pill to swallow also.  We couldn’t help but notice the number of obese people as we walked through the Dallas airport.  As we flew into Seattle, Ben spied an American football field and could not have been more excited.  Not hearing Spanish continuously has been strange and sad for Erica and me.  My first visit to a shopping mall in Gig Harbor, Washington was a shock.  So many people seem to take for granted the abundance and variety of products available to Americans.  We are still amazed at the cheddar cheese, salsa and peanut butter at the tips of our fingers.  The size of vehicles is another reminder we’re not in South American any longer.  Just like fast-food, cars and trucks seem super sized.  The caution and generous attitude displayed to pedestrians by American drivers is amazing!  Drivers actually come to halt at a cross walk!  The kids initially were confounded by what to do with toilet paper, but have quickly been assured it’s safe to flush here.  Erica and I are still occasionally surprised to see glass doors and windows without iron bars.  Everyday it seems we see or hear something that reminds us we’re not in Argentina any longer.

Reunited with cousins!

Reunited with cousins!

Despite all of the driving, it’s been wonderful to see old friends again and visit family.  The cultural differences between Argentines and Americans in terms of greetings and familiarity has been striking though.  After a year absence, a handshake or a quick hug between longtime friends would be considered cold and distant in Argentina, while being the norm in the US.  We seem to be torn between two very different worlds at this point.  Erica and I certainly have mixed feelings about returning.  We’re not yet settled into our old lives, and not entirely sure we want to drop back into them.  Erica and I miss speaking Spanish and try to speak often to each other and the kids.  The kids ask often when we are going back to Argentina.  We miss besos and the extraordinary affection we experienced in Argentina.  We miss our wonderful friends and asados every Sunday.  I’ve tried to reproduce asado for family and friends a few times, but so far it’s just not the same.  Someday we hope to build our own quincho and parrilla but obtaining the same cuts of meat will be a challenge.  It has been sad to read from a distance the continuing financial issues facing Argentina.  The recent default and sky rocking blue rate remind us of the real impact on the Argentine people.

The kids have had differing reactions to reentry.  Molly and Elliott don’t seem as phased as Ben.  Ben has always had a more difficult time with change.  Ben’s reaction as we arrived in Portland to be reunited with family was to burst into hysterical tears.  The moment and emotions were just too much for him.  As parents, we try to remind ourselves that we’ve put them through an enormous amount of change that calls for additional patience and latitude.  They are all clearly tired of living out of suitcases and driving.  Although normalcy is still a ways off, I’m sure they will love returning to our old house, neighborhood, and regaining a sense of familiarity.

We look forward with a touch of anxiety to watching the kids begin school again in Portland next week.  The job search continues for me.  Our uncertain future is both terrifying and exciting.  We plan to write more about the kids reintegration into school, the job search process and our lives after this adventure as we learn together where it all will lead.

5 Reasons We Love Cordoba

The view of downtown Cordoba from our rooftop in Barrio Urca

The view of downtown Cordoba from our rooftop in Barrio Urca

National Geographic Traveler recently named Cordoba one of the 20 Best Destinations in 2014.  As the article points out, the city’s combination of history, culture and proximity to the Sierras make Cordoba a wonderful destination.  We decided to move to Cordoba because of the size, climate and people.  It is also a huge college town, with more than 6 universities, which we assumed would be a bonus for Erica’s teaching endeavors.  We could not be more pleased with our selection and are proud to share it with so many family members visiting this year.  While the mountains and lakes of Bariloche and the glitz of Buenos Aires tend to garner far more attention, Cordoba flies under the radar as the nation’s 2nd largest city.  To mark our upcoming 7 month anniversary in Cordoba here are our top 5 reasons that we love Cordoba:

  1. Cordobeses:  The absolute top reason we love Cordoba is the people we’ve met.  Cordobeses have a well deserved reputation for being some of the friendliest Argentines.  The generosity and willingness to embrace our family has been astounding.  Our house, entrance to the boys’ school and Erica’s job have all been possible only due to the kindness of the people we’ve encountered.  The character of Cordobeses have allowed us to truly become a part of the community as we experience school, work, birthday parties, asado, family gatherings and sports.  Where else would a taxi driver return an expensive camera a week later?  Where else are you invited to their home for an asado 10 minutes after meeting for the first time?
  2. Language:  The Spanish spoken in Argentina is commonly referred to as Castellano.  It’s a distinctly different sound than the Spanish spoken in Mexico.  The accent in Cordoba is unique as well.  The sing-song intonation of Castellano is beautiful to hear, albeit muy rapido mucho veces.  Moreover, we love the fact that very little English is commonly spoken in Cordoba.  We came here to immerse and learn the language and Cordoba is a perfect city to force us all to speak Spanish.  This point was reinforced during our travels to Patagonia and Buenos Aires in January where English was widely understood.  In Cordoba, we’ve grown accustomed to the stares and second looks when we speak English.  Nearly everyday we are asked, “de donde son?”  Our presence here is unique and people are genuinely interested to listen to English, as evidenced by the crowd of kids that gather around us when we speak to the boys at school.  In Cordoba we need to be ready to speak Spanish at every turn, for every task, no matter how minor.  It can be exhausting, but it’s an effective way to learn.  We’re also thrilled to hear locals tell us that the boys have picked up the Cordobese accent.
  3. Climate:  We have loved most aspects of the weather in Cordoba so far.  We wanted to live in climate far different than Portland.  For the most part, that means warm and dry as opposed to wet and dreary.  Winters are dry and windy here.  Summers are hot and sometimes humid with regular thunderstorms.  The electrical storms in the spring and summer have been unbelievably powerful.  Continuous cracks of lightning and thunder rattle the house followed by sheets of rain and hail.  Given how much we walk, we’re fortunate that the rains that turn the streets into rivers are fairly infrequent and dry up quickly.  The region has gone from brown and drought-ridden to flooded and lush in our time here.  We have been told this year has extreme for the region with record-breaking heat, wildfires, giant hail, flooding and even an earthquake!  With the exception of some miserably hot and humid days in December and January, we have loved waking up to beautiful, sunny days that seem the norm here in Cordoba.
  4. Neighborhood:  While researching our trip, we’d read about Cerro de Las Rosas and Urca on some expat forums.  These adjoining barrios lie about 20 minutes by bus to the northwest of downtown Cordoba.  It is a middle to upper class neighborhood that is crisscrossed by major bus lines and is extremely walkable.  To the horror of our friends here in Argentina, we have been determined to go sin auto for the year, and it would not be possible were it not for the convenience of our barrio.  We’re blocks away from a great park, ice cream, meat market, vegetable stand and school supply store.  We walk 2 blocks to drop Molly at ballet and Ben at karate.  Our longest regular walks are to the boys’ school and grocery store (Disco, aptly named).  It’s a safe and relatively quiet area outside of the usual blaring alarms and dogs.
  5. The Sierras:  To the north and west of Cordoba lie the Sierras de Cordoba.  We have loved our limited excursions to some of the towns that dot the mountains nearby.  The Sierras remind us of Nevada in a way.   Far from alpine, the Sierras tend to be more desert and scrub.  We’ve been able to visit La Cumbre, Mina Clavero, Jesus Maria, Nono, Capilla del Monte, Villa General Belgrano and Ongamira.  The bus system is wonderful and cheap, allowing us to avoid expensive car rentals most of the time.

(Bonus favorite from Rob)

Fernet & Coke:  While definitely an acquired taste, Cordobeses love their Fernet and Coke.  Erica’s description of this Italian digestif is that it tastes like jet fuel and Grandpa cologne.  Accurate for straight Fernet to be sure.  However when mixed with Coke, you have a sweet yet bitter cocktail.  I must admit I only tried it first as a novelty, but it’s truly grown on me.

Fill 1/3rd glass with Fernet, top off with Coke and ice, and you're half Cordobese

Fill 1/3rd glass with Fernet, top off with Coke and ice, and you’re half Cordobese

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.”  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!


While reflecting on recent events here in Argentina and considering how I might describe them in a post, I started considering how we as a family have been dealing with varying levels of uncertainty throughout this adventure.  As many Argentines will tell you, fiscal and economic uncertainty has seemingly always existed here.  I’m not sure we will ever grasp Argentina politics or the economic upheaval, but like many times during this journey, it continues to be an education.  This is a part of the world in which most houses have a rooftop water tank, because on occasion, the water system fails.  Accepting a level of uncertainty is part of life here and was instrumental in making our dream become reality.  Adapting to life in Argentina also serves to remind us of how stable and certain our lives in the States are.

When we stopped dreaming and started acting, the level of risk and uncertainty we needed to accept exponentially increased.  I believe that the biggest obstacle holding others back from a sabbatical or long-term travel is fear of the unknown.  Deciding to quit a good, stable job with 3 kids and one income and forsake our financial security was no small matter.  While Erica and I had dreamed of dropping our safe, consistent American lives for many years in order to live abroad with the kids, it was not until we accepted that we could not plan or foresee every detail.  As the consummate planner, this was exceptionally difficult for me.  The number of questions that loomed were endless and remain so.  How long will it take to get another job?  Will it pay as well and will I like it?  Will a gap year hurt my career?  Will we have to move to a different city when we return to the States?  Will we run out of money?  Do we have enough budgeted for when we return?  Are we jeopardizing college for our kids?  Will the kids fall behind in school here? What grade do the boys go into when we return?  Are we hurting their development?  Will we like Argentina?  How will the kids adapt?  Will we be lonely and isolated?  How safe will we be?  Eventually, Erica and I decided that we had an opportunity before us that we could not pass by and that the risk was acceptable.  I could not plan every detail and know for certain that everything would be all right as much as I wanted to.

Now that we are here, life in Argentina continues to be an exercise in both patience and uncertainty.  When we left we had neither rented our house in Portland nor had we found a rental in Cordoba.  We were not certain the boys could enter the local school.  It has been a challenging year even by Argentine standards.  Earlier in the spring a police strike here in Cordoba initiated a nationwide strike and subsequent looting.  December and January have been the hottest months in 50 years, causing electrical outages in parts of the country.  President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her administration seem to revel in uncertainty.  Recently she made her first public statement in 40 days.  Currency control policies seem to change week-to-week, inflation is rampant, and no one seems to have any idea how far the peso will fall or what the government will do next.  A major devaluation occurred several weeks ago, with the peso destined to fall further against the dollar.  Changes in the peso and currency regulations mean that we are never quite sure how reliable our supply to pesos is.  The rate we change dollars into pesos has undergone tremendous change in the course of our time here, as has inflation, impacting our budget.   For example, today Erica bought Ben’s asthma medication as a local pharmacy.  Last month it cost $180 pesos, today it costs $360.  The school year ended for the boys 2 weeks early unexpectedly, and we have very little idea when school will resume due to a teacher strike.  Despite all of this uncertainty, we have tried to mirror the Argentines we have met, and simply roll with it over the course of the year.

One of the aspects that we enjoy most about living abroad for an extended period of time and total immersion is the window that opens to a whole new world.  We try to treat each difference between Portland and Cordoba as a learning experience rather than complain about it.  While our time here is limited, we find ourselves wondering how Argentines manage to live indefinitely with constant change and uncertainty.  Here in Argentina, on the eve of my 40th birthday, there are very few things that I’m certain of.  I hope it all turns out, that the kids thank us someday, and that we are doing the right thing.  I do know that I could not be more excited by the uncertain future that waits for myself and my family in the next 40 years.

Patagonia Greatest Hits

Travels in Patagonia with los abuelos

Travels in Patagonia with los abuelos

All things considered, our kids travelled like pros for three weeks as we explored Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay with Erica’s parents.  Much to the kids’ dismay we managed to squeeze in some study time along the way, but the best part was watching them learn simply by seeing new and amazing sights along the way.  At times it can difficult to appreciate how wonderful this time together has been for all of us when Ben is squealing, Elliott’s yelling or Molly’s screaming about how her clothes are too tight.  It sometimes takes just a deep breath and a look out the window at the gorgeous lakes of Bariloche to gain perspective (terrific wine doesn’t hurt either).

This segment of our year abroad marked 6 months since we left Portland, Molly’s 4th birthday, a long anticipated trip to Patagonia, a visit from grandparents and our 2nd border crossing to renew our 90 day tourist stamp.  We thought it would be fun to share some of the kids’ favorite experiences from the trip south.  Needless to say the best part for all of them was seeing Grandma and Grandpa.


  1. Bariloche chocolate (check this out!)
  2. Seeing all the glaciers (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares near El Calafate)
  3. Hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa and the boat captain on the glacier boat ride


  1. Our house in Bariloche was awesome
  2. Seeing the lake monster and playing in the fort (Lago Nahuel Huapi)

    Playing in a driftwood shelter on the beach near Llao Llao

    Playing in a driftwood shelter on the beach near Llao Llao

  3. Eating lots of hamburguesas and drinking Fanta


  1. My birthday cake

    Molly's 4th birthday cake in Bariloche

    Molly’s 4th birthday cake in Bariloche

  2. My smoothie at the hotel in Bariloche

    Savoring a smoothie at Hotel Llao Llao

    Savoring a smoothie at Hotel Llao Llao

  3. Seeing the glaciers

A few other good times captured on film include:

Being tourists in Bariloche

Being tourists in Bariloche

Elliott on the Cerro Catedral chairlift

Elliott on the Cerro Catedral chairlift

Taking a bet to swim in Lago Gutierrez

Taking a bet to swim in Lago Gutierrez

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:
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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:
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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!

Day in the Life

Viernes 04 de octubre: A busy day in the life

7:30 AM:  Up and at ’em!  Coffee on, check email, FB and a few hotel options in BA for an upcoming trip.  Solo breakfast of left-over cornmeal pancakes, fried steak and egg before chaos ensues.

8:00 AM:  Chaos ensues when waking the kids for the day.  A Molly no le gusta la manana.  Shades open and breakfast requests made.  The kids have morning and night checklists now for basic stuff.   They include getting dressed and making beds before breakfast among other duties.  $5 pesos can be earned daily for compliance.  Screaming and yelling follows when Molly realizes she’s supposed to wear her swimsuit under her clothes today for daycare.  Friday is pool day!  Molly’s preference is to wear no clothing at all, so the idea of a tight suit under clothes is unbearable.   Molly loses screen time today.

9:00 AM:  Daddy bolts for Spanish class.  The boys begin their morning tutoring and homework with Erica despite Molly’s tortured wails.  The school that Erica and I take Spanish lessons at is a 20 minute walk from the house.

9:30 AM-12:30 PM:  Today my twice weekly class seems so tranquil after the crazy morning.  One-on-one with the teacher leaves me exhausted after 3 hours.  Today we work on reflexive and irregular verbs.  Erica walks Molly 2 blocks up to her daycare.   Drop-off has been going well for the week, but today started out rough, so she cries.  Daddy usually drops her off as a result.  Elliott works on science and Ben on math today.  We’re using a variety of home school books, but primarily the What Your XXXX Grader Needs to Know, by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.  The 3 strikes rule is working better for curbing freak-outs during this time each day.  Afterwards the boys entertain themselves by watching some baby pigeons in the backyard try to fly.

12:30 PM-1:30 PM:  Erica picks up Molly from daycare, and she had fun!  Today was the first day she decided to actually swim.  Erica feeds the kids lunch and gets the boys ready for school.  I finish up class and step out to catch a bus downtown.  We need money so time to visit the money guy.  The process of getting money in Argentina is a whole other post someday on its own!  I wait for the nicer, diferencial bus for the 20 minute ride to Centro.  Erica starts walking about 1pm with the kids to school (the walk to school takes about 25 minutes with the kids) but runs into Elliott’s friend’s mother, who gives the boys a ride.  Bonus since now Molly can have a nap!!

2:00 PM-3:30 PM:  After Molly’s nap Erica walks to the school kiosko to volunteer as kids scream in candy orders rapidly in Spanish during each recess.  Molly tags along today.  The kiosko is solely staffed by the equivalent of the PTA and raises money for the school.  We think incorporating a small shop that sells vast quantities of soda and candy to kids during the school day at Beach School back in North Portland would go over well.   After 3 previous trips to the office downtown where I pick up money I finally remember the correct bus stop.  Downtown during siesta is packed but my sense of direction is improving in Centro and find the office with little problems.   After a little chit-chat I descend the elevator with a large wad of pesos on my person.   Since we are planning a trip to Uruguay and Buenos Aires soon, I stop in across the street at the local Buquebus office to purchase 5 roundtrip ferry/bus tickets using my newly acquired pesos.  Fortunately they’re open despite siesta!  This takes longer than expected, but after an hour I leave with our tickets and exhausted after 3 hours of class plus an hour speaking completely in Spanish with the ticket agent.

3:30 PM-4:00 PM:  Before the bus ride back to our barrio, I stop in a La Tasca near San Martin Square for a bite to eat.  Little old men in bright red coats are servers, and seem to outnumber the customers.  I thoroughly enjoy a Quilmes beer and small pizza complete with the hearts of palm that seem to be on every pizza I end up with.

5:00 PM:  After short wait for another diferencial bus, I’m back where I started get off about 6 blocks from the boys school.  I walk up and relieve Erica of Molly’s company at the kiosko, if only for a short time before school’s out at 5:30.  Molly and I head back home, first stopping at the corner toy school to load up on a few birthday presents for the coming weekend and 3 scheduled parties.   We all end up back home about the same time.

6:30 PM:  Manuel (neighbor and rugby coach) honks and the boys race out the door to rugby practice.  Manuel is a saint and Elliott’s become good friends with his son, Santi.  My beautiful wife brings me a gin & tonic as I start on our dinner of fettuccine with squash, arugula and lemon!

9:30 PM:  Boys return and chow down.  We all devour the remains of a pint of Bariloche helado for dessert when  plates are cleaned.  The boys escape showers since they have a game in the morning and kids are in bed by 10pm.  1 kid out of 3 earns $5 pesos today.

Rinse and repeat

Rugby in Argentina

Me kicking off

Me kicking off

My first rugby game I kicked off and I had fun.  I’ve had 3 practices so far and this was my first game.  I didn’t get a touchdown.  A touchdown in rugby is called a strike and there’s really no pause in the game.  I play rugby because one of my friends invited me to go to one of his practices.  His name is Santi.  From then on I’ve been playing.  We practice on Wednesdays and Fridays and I play games on Saturdays.  I like it because it’s fun and the only rule is don’t talk back and have fun.  The first game was really cold and after the game we ate hamburgers and Fanta.  Everyone is asking me questions about America and Portland and Oregon.  Only two kids on my team speak English, Santi and Ignacio.  We’re going over to Ignacio’s house today to visit and they speak English because they lived in New Jersey for 3 years.  The point of rugby is to pass the ball behind you and you can only tackle from waist to knees and you have to wear a mouthguard.