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

Reflections on a Year in Argentina

Now that we’ve left Argentina and are spending a surreal week at a resort in Brazil, it’s a good time for Erica and I to finally reflect on the impact this year has had on the two of us.  It’s hard to imagine that in less than a week we return to the US after a year away.  We’re already going through some stages of grief as this stage in life ends before the next begins.  This year seems to have passed so quickly that we haven’t spent a lot time analyzing what it all means yet until now.

What did we learn?

As one of my Spanish teachers graciously pointed out as I was struggling, not only were we learning a new language, but also an entirely new city, community and way of life.  It was a lot to process initially.  We learned how to navigate a foreign city without a car.  We learned a new neighborhood, where to buy whatever we needed, how to get money and how to rent a house.  No small things.  We learned more about each child than we could have imagined and witnessed the incredible adaptability of children.  We gained a new sense of patience and confidence as we navigated Argentina and achieved an audacious goal.  We managed to see a lot of Argentina in our travels, while also learning about its history, people and culture.  I learned how to blog, how to plan complex travel logistics and how to budget for a complicated international adventure.  I learned the art of making an asado and hope to carry this tradition home with us.  Erica learned a huge amount about teaching English and building lessons plans for non-native speakers.  As we transition now, I’m learning an incredible amount about a job search and interview preparation.  This year pushed us all in many ways and provided the education of a lifetime.

This is Erica, and I’m going to write in italics so that Rob and I can each post on the same blog, but so it’s also easier to see who is writing what.  For me, I don’t think I’m going to “see” all that I’ve learned in one unique moment or time.  I feel like this is something that will be revealed to me in pieces and sections. In a lot of ways, I don’t feel like I have enough distance from this experience to really answer this question.  My typical response (which drives Rob NUTS), is “I don’t know.  Ask me later.” But that’s not really fair to Rob because he’s been so dedicated to making sure that we post on the blog, and he has been much better than I have about sharing our experiences via the blog. I guess I would say that mostly I learned that my kids are way more adaptable that I ever gave them credit for being.  Throw them into an unfamiliar situation, and with a little encouragement, they are pretty good at just “going with it.” I have also learned that I am a decent actress.  An air of confidence in a foreign country can go far.  It would be impossible to count the number of times we’ve been in a situation (looking for a specific location in a new city, driving around in circles in a taxi, listening to directions in a foreign language) when I have survived merely by appearing to understand and know what is going on.  I don’t doubt for one second, though, that we have missed out on some awesome stuff for this exact same reason.  Maybe they were giving out free ponies that day at preschool when I had no idea what the teachers were telling me.  Poor Molly!  She would be so disappointed if she knew, but really, what would I do with a horse? And then, of course, I cannot for one minute fail to mention that I learned to simply sit and enjoy someone else’s company.  I thought before we lived in Argentina that I knew how to enjoy time spent with friends, but I never truly appreciated it. To just spend time with someone sharing a lunch, a dinner, a drink, a warm fire is a fine art, and one that I think many Americans (myself included) have not mastered.  As Americans, I think we are often thinking about “What’s next?”  “What do I have to do when I get home?  What do I have to do this week?  When should I leave?  What are we going to have for dinner?  I need to send that e-mail when I get home, and start some laundry.  When is that project for Kid X due?”  How fantastic is it to just spend time with friends and have no agenda beyond enjoying each other’s company.

How did this experience change us?

We believe that the great thing about extensive travel is that it always changes you somehow.  This is a hard one though, since I don’t think we’ll really know for sure how it’s changed us until we return to our post-sabbatical lives.  I like to think it will give us a sense of peace and confidence as the rest of our lives unfold.  Time will tell.

I’m not in a big hurry to answer this question.  I don’t know.  Ask me later!  I hope it has made me more open, and willing to open my life and family to others who might not share the same language or culture.  Maybe our friends and family will be better at answering this question than we will.

What was difficult?

Easily the most difficult part about Argentina was access to money.  As we’ve elaborated in previous posts, part of the Argentine-experience is learning the various workarounds that Argentines and expats devise in order to keep pace with inflation, devaluation and a controversial government.  While we learned a tremendous amount about living within our means using cash alone this year, we’re very happy to return to a country where access to money and paying for items becomes simple and straightforward. We had plenty of concerns about security, but in the end we passed the year without incident.  We leave missing just a video camera and a GPS.  Petty theft was certainly an issue, exacerbated by the wealth disparity in the country, but we heard very little about violent crime in comparison to the US.  We found many Argentines to be exceptionally cautious and vigilant in personal safety, far more so than Americans.  This was certainly disquieting for us coming from lil’ old Portland, Oregon. Homeschooling the boys was much harder than we expected.  We also felt helpless at times in our inability to understand and help Elliott with his school assignments.  We can’t help but still wonder at the long-term impact this year might have on his education and learning. Living for a year without a car was both liberating and difficult.  We owe our combined weight loss this year to the tremendous amount of walking we did despite helado and asado intake.   Sin auto, we saw less of the city and surrounding region than we could have had we had a car. Given a variety of tax and import difficulties, Argentina tends to lack a lot of creature comforts that we all came to crave and appreciate.  Cooking according to our tastes tended to require careful examination of ingredients to determine what spice of key component could be found in Argentina.  We relied on family visitors to lug in peanut butter, salsa and maple syrup in large quantities.

I didn’t realize how much the kids and I would miss living in a neighborhood where kids don’t really run from house to house playing.  We were/are spoiled in our Portland neighborhood.  Even if the kid playing outside isn’t your first choice for playmate, at least SOMEONE is out there.  For security reasons (real or imagined), kids in Argentina who don’t live in “closed” or “private” neighborhoods don’t play outside freely with their friends.  There are plenty of arranged playdates, but without a car (as we were for this year), that takes a lot more arranging.  The kids enjoyed a lot of time having friends over, and going to other kids’ houses, but it’s not the same as zipping across the street by yourself to see who is home. The language barrier was definitely hard.  Needless to say, I’m much funnier in English—unless I’m making a mistake with my Spanish, like when I asked our first neighborhood guard if he had a dress, when I meant to ask him if he had a uniform.  He laughed and told me that he most definitely did NOT have a dress that he wore to work.  But even that became less of an issue.  I haven’t laughed as hard as I did recently while spending an afternoon with our friends Manolo (pictured above with the boys), and his wonderful wife, Silvina, and that afternoon was primarily in Spanish.  To be fair, they were telling the jokes, and I was just enjoying them. But we’ve spent many evenings and afternoons like that, and let me tell you that Argentines are some funny people.  Maybe it was just the wine, but they have some good stories to share.

What did we enjoy the most?

Easily the best part of our year abroad has been the relationships we formed and the people we met.  We hoped to get invited to an asado on occasion, but we never dreamed we’d integrate into the community and be so accepted.  The quality time spent with friends around food, wine and mate was a wonderful part of the experience. I loved planning our trips, large and small, during our year in Argentina.  I enjoyed logistics behind making a travel plan work and of course the actual trips themselves.  We love to travel and we certainly got our fill over the past year. I spent more time meal planning and cooking for my family than ever before.  I became a much better cook this year and loved the feeling of putting together a meal for my family each night. While spending such an intense amount of time together as a family was stressful at times, it was also one of the most memorable parts.  I loved having the opportunity to change roles with Erica, if only for a year, and stay home full-time with the kids and get to know them so much better.

Without a doubt the thing I enjoyed most about our year was, like Rob said, forming the relationships that we formed.  Meeting the families and friends, that, despite the language barrier, were willing to give us their precious time and open their lives to us.  Through tears (so I can only imagine how it came out in Spanish), I recently told our friends that it meant so very much to us that they would make the effort to include us, and welcome us into their circle.  Families everywhere are busy.  We have houses, jobs, kids, families, and lives that keep us occupied.  The fact that these friends would make space in their busy lives to include a new family who was only going to be in town for a year, and a family in which the adults didn’t even really SPEAK SPANISH for gosh sakes still blows me away.

What regrets do we have?

We have very few regrets this year other than not seeing more.  While we managed to travel extensively throughout Argentina, we never visited Chile.  We would have loved to see other parts of South America as well.  I had faint hopes of climbing a peak in the Andes which never materialized.  We both wish that we’d been able to become fluent in Spanish rather than just scraping by, in my case.  Erica’s Spanish is amazing by the way.  Amazingly enough, we never saw a tango show!  It would have been great to be able to visit Bariloche or Mendoza in the winter and ski in the Andes. Travel can be an obsessive pursuit sometimes with the endless destinations and possibilities


I agree 100% with what Rob said above (expect for the part about my Spanish and him climbing a peak).  It seems crazy to say that I wish we’d traveled more, but I do.  I would have loved to see Peru and Chile, but somehow, the year got away from us.  Next trip, I guess.  Like Rob said, “travel is an obsessive pursuit.”

Would we do it again?

In a heartbeat.


Chau Córdoba

Our final days in Córdoba were incredibly emotional for all. Although one of our primary factors in moving to Córdoba in the first place was the people, we leave amazed at the depth of the friendships we formed in just a year. Leaving such tremendous families who opened their entire lives to us for the year has been terribly difficult. I can’t imagine how strange our appearance must have seemed initially. An American family pops up in the barrio with no jobs and speaking little Spanish. We’ve had plenty of practice trying to describe the concept of a sabbatical. But this hasn’t truly been a sabbatical because there is no promise of a job upon our return, as there would be in a traditional sabbatical. There is nothing we can do to repay the generosity and kindness shown to us. In a very difficult world, our experience provides a lesson in how wonderful people can be.

Ben's going away party

We set out on this journey to learn and grow together as a family. We hoped to experience another culture, travel, learn a language and become a part of a totally different community. Erica and I could not have dreamed of a more complete and fulfilling experience. It has been all we hoped for, and it is all due to the Córdobese. Tenemos mucho suerte.

Manolo y yo

During this year we have had many teachers along the way who have taught us many things, large and small. In upcoming posts we plan to share what we’ve each learned this year from our friends and one another. Today we arrived in Puerto Iguazu and begin the final phase of our family adventure as we begin to wind our way home through Brazil. As we approach our final few days in Argentina, we are saddened to leave a terrific life we carved out for ourselves in short order, but also excited by our next challenge and adventures waiting for us.

Vamos Argentina!!!

So in case anyone’s missed it, Argentina just qualified for the World Cup final versus Germany.  Our incredible experience in Argentina continues as the country has reached a fever pitch just before we leave for Brazil.  In case there wasn’t enough intrigue already, the last time Argentina won the World Cup was in 1986 vs West Germany.  Argentina was knocked out of the last World Cup four years ago by Germany.  We’ve watched more futbol in the last month than in our entire lives as El Mundial has completely dominated life here.  We have had pretty typical American interests in soccer (meaning null) until now, but one can’t help but catch the craze and begin to comprehend just how important the World Cup is until witnessing it in Argentina. Although soccer seems to be certainly gaining steam in the US, we really have no equivalent to the stature of the World Cup.  The Olympics are perhaps the closest event that generates a fraction of the national, patriotic emotion in the US that we see here now.  The Super Bowl pales in comparison.  We’ve been lucky to watch a number of matches with Argentines and I promise there’s no sporting event like this.  Imagine the Super Bowl and March Madness wrapped up into one, except that everyone roots as one.  The country comes to a standstill when Argentina plays.

Flash mob In Cordoba after the win over Holland

Flash mob In Cordoba after the win over Holland

Having had a persistent issue with my chest after a bad cough, Erica convinced me to visit the ER during a game thinking I’d have a shorter wait time.  The consensus from our friends later was that the giant shot I got in my ass that rendered me immobile was likely retribution from the nurse since he was missing the game on my account.  On the occasions we’ve stepped outside during matches, the streets are absolutely deserted.  Of course schools and businesses close down during the game.  We made the mistake of sending the boys to school last week on a game day.  Elliott had 5 kids in his class and they watched the game on TV. The boys have been wrapped up in El Mundial since the beginning as the geniuses at FIFA market a sticker album of players that kids buy, collect and trade.  Conveniently the Album de Figuritas has been a great carrot and stick for Erica and I as we strive for well-behaved boys.

After the dramatic win last night over Holland, we jumped in the cars with our friends Gaby and Tom and headed to a nearby square to witness the celebrations.  Fireworks, horns blaring, people hanging out of cars and trucks screaming, flags waving.  We’ve never seen anything like it before.  The video above hopefully provides a sense of the excitement, but imagine thousands of such parties across the country.   Sunday is the final against Germany.  We feel so fortunate to be invited to share this historic and hallowed day with our wonderful friends again.  I can’t imagine what will follow should Argentina pull off the upset against mighty Germany.  Vamos Argentina!!

Los Niños

In 2 weeks we leave Córdoba for the final phase of this crazy adventure before our next one begins!  We will spend time touring Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, and Manaus in Brazil before touching down in Seattle at the end of July.  Before saying goodbye to so many wonderful new friends in Argentina, it’s time to dig into the impact this parenting experiment has had on our kids.  Deciding to turn our lives upside down for a year and move to Argentina was done so partly out of a selfish need for adventure, but primarily as a gift for our kids.  The time we’ve spent together and the shared experiences are priceless.  It has been both incredibly rewarding and difficult to watch the kids adapt, react and grow over the past year.  We asked the kids to share some of their experiences in Argentina, while Erica and I have summarized our thoughts on how each of them have changed before our eyes.


Best memory?  All the asados we went to with friends.

Favorite food?  Costilla (ribs).

What I will miss most?  My friends and all the people.

Favorite place?  Going to Bariloche because there was lots of chocolate, beaches and dogs you could take pictures with, and our house we rented we really fun.

Hardest part?  School and tarea.  The way they do division in school because it’s backwards from how we do math in the United States.

Of all the kids, Elliott seems to have adapted the best to Argentina.  He’s always been a very positive, easy-going child.  He embraced this adventure early on and has seemed the least homesick.  Elliott’s met lots of new friends and integrated wonderfully with a new social circle, thanks in large part to the gracious Córdobeses.  It’s been hard to watch him experience frustrations in school this year.  We fear he’s started to dread school already and worry about the long-term impact this year might have on his academic confidence.   Erica and I take solace in the fact that his spoken Spanish is terrific.  He’s a kid who has always loved sports, so it’s been wonderful to see him embrace rugby.  Elliott never seems more focused or free than when he plays sports.  He’s completely in the moment and engaged.  Joining Club Bajo Palermo (rugby) was a game-changer for all of us, providing an incredible link to the community, new friends and a great way to learn the language for both boys. We’ve also watched Elliott approach adolescence before our eyes in Argentina as girls have shifted from annoying to intriguing!  Of course the smell and drama factors have changed as well, not for the better.

Bariloche made an impression on the boys

Bariloche made an impression on the boys


Best memory?  Going to Bariloche with Grandpa & Grandma.  There was really good chocolate.

Favorite food?  Chocolate & matambre empanadas

What I will miss most?  My friends & rugby

Favorite place?  Bariloche

Hardest part?  Having a broken collarbone and not being able to play rubgy.  Being a long ways from Chase, Charlotte and Wyatt (cousins).

Ben has always been a home body in many ways.  To this day, he insists he’d be perfectly happy in the same house and same neighborhood in Portland forever.  He’s a kid who needs to know the plan at all times and can be a bit anxious.  Needless to say moving to Argentina has served as forced therapy of sorts for Ben since even the best laid plans don’t count for much sometimes here.  He’s been forced to accept a level of uncertainty and has become more easygoing and flexible over the past year.  It’s interesting that although he’s clearly the most homesick, his language has taken the biggest leap forward.  Ben had only completed one year of Spanish immersion kindergarten when we arrived.  Now he’s easily the most fluent in the family.  His accent and use of local slang marks his Spanish as distinctly Córdobese and seems to come utterly naturally.  Ben has never had the interest or commitment in sport as Elliott, but his experience with rugby this year has definitely fueled his confidence as his height skyrocketed.  This year has highlighted just how different our boys are in school as well.  Despite not being the social animal that his brother is, Ben has excelled in school with almost nonchalance.  For the most part the boys have been a mystery to their teachers in many ways.  The idea of teaching a non-native Spanish speaker is completely foreign.  We might as well be from Mars, but Ben has integrated himself in the system and kept pace at every turn.


Best memory?  Friends like Maria Lourdes, Sofia, Josephina

Favorite food?  All the pizza, helado y galletas y chocolate and candy.

What I will miss most?  My friends and Violetta and going to kiosco to get Violetta cards.  Also we won’t have a swimming pool in Portland.

Favorite place?  Bariloche because I had my birthday there.  I liked Mendoza too because we cooked pizza and we painted wine.

Hardest part?  I’ve missed my friend Inez and my cousin Charlotte a lot.

Physically, Molly has grown the most since we’ve been in Argentina.  When we got here, she was a 3-year-old.  3-year-olds are babies!  Molly slept in a crib up until we left for Costa Rica last July (mostly because we didn’t want the hassle of buying a bed that we would soon have to store).  She is now a very sassy 4-year-old who sleeps in a big-girl bed, and has told us in no uncertain terms that she expects a blue, pink, and purple big-girl bike with a basket, bell, and ribbons from the handlebars upon our return to Portland.  Molly has grown out of more clothes that I thought was possible for one child in the course of a year.  When we arrived Molly spoke almost no Spanish. We enrolled her in a half day Pre-K nearby for the dual purpose of forced immersion and social interaction.  She wasn’t a big fan of school at first, given the fact that none of her classmates or teachers understood a word she’d say.  Nine months since she began, her comprehension is terrific.  Early in the year she began to constantly ask how to say certain words in Spanish, illustrating her interest and learning process.  When put in a situation where she’s playing with a non-English speaker, she now jumps right into Spanish with no problem.  Molly has always had a strong personality, but we believe this experience has only enhanced her confidence.  In fact we’re a bit worried about her reaction when we return to the States and total strangers no longer refer to her as “princesa,” “preciosa,” or “hermosa!”

While the kids have undergone a tremendous amount of change and growth this year, so too has my own parenting style.  I’m closer to my kids than ever before and I’ve had lots of practice this year learning what works and what doesn’t.  We’ve had plenty of rough moments as we’ve spent an intense amount of time together this year, but our bonds as parent-child and siblings are stronger than ever.  Erica and I hope that the challenges and experiences we all went through together will only serve to make our family stronger and closer as we look to the next phase in our lives.

A Tale of Two Days

During our time in Argentina we have been fortunate to have very few days in which Erica and I are both at the end of our rope.  Some days it seems that nothing goes right or according to plan.    Being flexible and patient are critical,  and I like to think we’re pretty good at it, but some days it all falls to pieces regardless.  Rarely however, do we seem to have two days that are so starkly different from one another.  Yesterday was a rough day for both of us.  The sun comes up the next day and the magic is back.  A tale of two days living in Argentina:

Wednesday, March 19

Yesterday was unusually cool and cloudy.  Molly and Ben are killing us the moment they wake up.  In short order Ben and Molly both lose access to all electronics for the day.  Molly freaks out about everything from hair to shoes, is late for school and screams during drop-off.  Ben and Elliott bicker and mess around rather than buckle down with morning homeschooling.

I proceed to get my ass kicked in my Spanish class and realize I may have hit my learning limit.

Erica tries yet another new bus route to work downtown but has to abort and get a cab.  Paying cabs to get to teaching gigs is not very profitable, thus frustrating.

The boys goofing around on the walk to school grows so annoying I nearly push them into the street.  My plan to check in with Elliott’s teachers about homework fails when I first try to ask Ben’s teacher if we have bought the correct math book.  Ben has disappeared with said book to the kiosco to spend the pesos I gave him for a water bottle on candy. By the time I return the candy and collar Ben, Elliott’s class has started.

Molly and I head to the grocery store for the weekly restock.  At checkout I try yet again to ask for home delivery.  After 3 attempts the checker understands me.  When I ask if I said it correctly, she says yes.

Erica tries to pay a hotel deposit for my sister’s upcoming visit at a bank and realizes that ALL banks close for the day at 1:30pm.

Hoping for a nice day tomorrow, I vacuum the pool and proceed to break the vacuum.

While Erica’s heading to her 2nd teaching gig of the day, she gets hung up in downtown traffic since all the garbage workers are striking and firing off cannons in the street.

Molly and I head to a nearby doctor’s office to schedule health checkups for the kids before we pick up the boys at school.  After feeling pretty good about making the appointment despite my rough language, I realize I booked a time when the boys are in school.  By the time I realize my error we’re on the bus headed to school.  The bus Molly and I take from the doctor’s office completes its route before I expect it to, making us late to get the boys.  On the walk home from school, every dog seems like Cujo, ready to rip our limbs off and I start to realize I’m really bothered by the ridiculous amount of security on the beautiful houses in our barrio.

On Erica’s way home from teaching downtown, she flags her bus which slows down at the curb, and then, for no apparent reason, speeds up and drives past the bus stop without stopping.  She ends up having to wait another 15 minutes for another bus to come by.

Thursday, March 20

Today it’s a gorgeous, sunny day.  The boys start their math homeschooling today without being reminded!  Bickering is minor.  Molly awakes in a good mood and gets dressed with no fussing.  She’s dressed and delivered to school on time and with no crying.

Erica recovers the boys’ notarized birth certificates (previously missing) at their school and successfully completes the bank deposit she tried the previous day at a bank near our barrio.

The boys and I hit the pool store for some supplies and I miraculously get what I need with zero translation help from the boys.

With trepidation, I call the doctor’s office to reschedule the appointment, and am amazed that I’m able to do so with near total comprehension.  The makes my day since speaking on the phone in Spanish is one of my greatest fears here.

I’m able corner Elliott’s teacher and ask how he’s been doing on homework.  Seems he’s doing what he’s supposed to so far.  I covertly watch Ben buy his water bottle today as instructed versus candy before heading out for a quick run home in the sunshine.

Erica’s finally able to get Molly to wear her tights to ballet and dropped off with no fuss allowing her to get to work on time.

Erica’s evening English class goes well….her favorite 82-year-old-student charms Erica with her question about idioms, “Ehreeka, I don’t understand. What means this, ‘hunky guy?'”

My medicinal Fernet & Coke seems to be easing a persistent cold this evening.  The day was good.  I didn’t even explode when Ben dropped an entire bag of milk on the kitchen floor (yes, I said “bag”)!

So again we have a lesson in perspective.  It’s all still parenting, with just a few extra wrinkles to make things more interesting.  One day we feel worn down and helpless.  The next, all is well in the world and we’re living a dream once again.



An interesting local idiom in Argentina is plata.  When referring to money or cash, plata (silver in English) is often invoked.  Plata makes the world go round, so here is a little background on our experience thus far as it relates to financing our sabbatical and now living in Argentina.

For the past few years our lives have been dominated by saving money for our year abroad.  The path we took to build this nest egg and subsequently spend it has been fascinating, while turning my rapidly eroding hairline more gray each day.  Building a realistic budget from scratch and then watching it evolve over the past 7 months has been both stressful and satisfying.  After much research and financial planning, we established a savings level we needed to achieve by the time I quit my job.  As the weeks and months ticked by in early 2013, every paycheck and Craigslist sale became more and more critical to our goals.  Erica and I were both surprised at how quickly the savings piled up once we had actually set a firm goal and timeframe as opposed to saving with no purpose.  It was a wonderful reminder of how critical setting goals can be.

Transitioning from saving and earning to spending with no income to speak of has been an interesting psychological experiment.  One might compare the process to climbing a mountain.  The ascent was long and arduous to the summit, but descending can be just as difficult and potentially hazardous.  It was sobering to see my final paycheck and realize our savings was complete.  Of course we had rental revenue to counter our mortgage and storage costs in Portland, but I had no idea when the next time I would earn a paycheck might be.  We had spent so much time planning and being frugal, and now the time had come to actually begin spending.

After 7 months I’m happy to report we are tracking very close to our budget targets.  I’m more than a little surprised.  Despite this, Erica can attest that every few months I have a sudden panic attack and dive into our budget for an hour to reassure myself.  However, given how much initial guesswork was involved, I’m thrilled at how close we are.  I update our budget spreadsheet about once a month to account for remaining savings against anticipated future expenses, both in the States and in Argentina.   I’m constantly monitoring how we are trending against our estimates.  Our budget target continues to be impacted by changes in the exchange rates, inflation and how much work Erica manages to find teaching.

One of our biggest adjustments we encountered from the start was living solely on cash.  We needed to develop a system to manage cash and keep our budget on track.  Given fees and exchange rate issues, it’s far better to only spend cash rather than cards here.  Adjusting to a world where we don’t allow ourselves to run to the ATM or pay with a credit card was difficult initially.  An added level of complication with cash is security.  Cash is used far more extensively than credit or debit in Argentina, perhaps exacerbating theft and robberies that grab the headlines here.  We try to minimize the amount of cash we have on us or in the house at all times.

In order to track what cash we’re spending on what line items, we went with a highly sophisticated envelope system.  We have five weekly categories I refill each week: groceries, dining out, transportation, cleaning and miscellaneous.  These account for just under $300 per week.  So far we like this system so much we’re considering how we might adapt to 100% cash back in the States.  Using only cash certainly has made us more aware of how much we spend and forces us to be more prepared and thoughtful each time we leave the house.  The upside certainly comes with some inconveniences though.  Grocery shopping can be slow and tedious since it’s necessary to bring a calculator along to ensure we don’t have an embarrassing shortfall at checkout.  Trips outside of the city have been difficult to estimate exactly how much cash to bring along.

The cost of living in Cordoba has been better than we had hoped.  While a terrible thing for Argentines, the weak peso has allowed us to stretch our hard-earned dollars farther than we had planned.  We have had to adjust our way of thinking in order live on cash alone as well as store, spend and access our hard-earned dollars in a country that makes access to dollars difficult.  While it can be hard to watch the chaos that is the Argentine economy, it’s morbidly fascinating while we get a close up view of a currency crisis in progress.   Carefully managing our own plata in Argentina is just part of the adventure.

Related Links & Reference:ólar_blue–today’s-odyssey


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.

Hace mucho calor!

Summer in December is in full stride here.  Temperatures are regularly topping 90 degrees.  We hear the afternoon tormentas that break the heat every few days will increase after the first of the year.  These storms are an impressive demonstration of nature’s fury with howling winds, lightening and thunder.  The rain that follows the wind can only be described as a deluge, transforming the streets into canals.

A big part of our verbal argument to the kids when making the move south was that we would find a house with a pool.  We lucked out and were able to deliver on this promise, and it’s paying huge dividends right now.  It’s doubtful we will ever live in a house with a pool again, so it’s been a great experience so far for the kids.  Along with providing hours of physical entertainment to the kids when they otherwise would probably be driving each other nuts, the kids are rapidly becoming awesome swimmers.  Molly in particular has made giant strides in just a month.  The swimming lessons included at her preschool have obviously made an impact for her.