Housing

Our Small House Experience

FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS, WE'VE BEEN LIVING IN A SMALL (BUT NOT TINY) HOUSE.

It's a duplex and measures about 800 sq. ft, not including the garage. 

This has led to many hours of evaluation and re-evaluation: about our possessions, about what our family of 4 truly needs to be happy, our future goals and what factors have contributed to our being able to live this way.

A few things about us/our thoughts: 

  • We're not terribly organized. This is NOT a contemporary DWELL magazine-worthy space and we still have too much stuff lying around.
  • This house isn't perfect, but it HAS exceeded our expectations in many ways.
  • While we have lived in houses that push the 2500 sq. ft. mark, this small house is more comfortable, more cozy, more HOME for us. 
  • We find that we are actually more calm here, even with the close quarters. We don't have to yell to get someone's attention across the house, yet there are spaces where we can escape if we are feeling too much togetherness.
  • This IS a live-work space with the adults in the home almost all the time. Add the littlest one for lunch and every afternoon, and the oldest kid here the rest of the time. We spend a lot of time in the house, together.
  • This house fits perfectly with our thrifty, minimalist goals: Less stuff, less expense, less time working, more time together, more time traveling. 

Here are the plans for our 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house in Córdoba, Argentina (click on the image to view larger):


There are some lifestyle factors that we feel make it easier to live in a small home, many of which are influenced heavily by living in Argentina.

WE HAVE FEWER THINGS:

  • No microwave (although one could be installed above the range).
  • No dishwasher. I know, I hate washing dishes too, but it's easier to keep up when we have few dishes to get dirty. 
  • Few pots/pans I currently have 4 but we use 3. One more thing to give away!
  • No counter coffee pot. We use an AeroPress Coffee Maker. It is absolutely worth the time and becomes a great morning routine. It was perfect for our 38-day road trip around Argentina last year and we bring it everywhere we travel, along with a travel mug and thermos for hot water. 
  • No clothes dryer. The washing machine is in kitchen. We have a portable drying rack that can sit at the end of the kitchen or outside on the patio.
  • No furnace. We have two natural gas wall heaters to warm the chilly winter mornings. Nothing more is needed. 
  • Outside storage is available for bikes, brooms, etc. Even a few extra boxes are sitting in the carport with no fear of freezing temps. Note to self: Get the boxes cleared out!
  • Local, fresh food. No bulk storage needed for refrigerated and/or pantry items.  We shop the local, neighborhood stores every few days to get the essentials, with a trip to a larger grocery store every few weeks. 
  • Few pieces of furniture. We don't have a living room. It's a play room. We don't watch TV in the traditional sense and we sit together at the kitchen table, so no living room set is needed. The girls share a full-size bed, so two beds are not needed. This also saves on extra bedding. We COULD use a shelving unit to get the toys off of the floor, but then again, maybe the girls own too many toys. ;) 
  • Few lights. Small space + lots of natural light = not many lightbulbs needed. We have installed half LED and half CFL for the lights we do use.  

WE LOVE THESE DETAILS OF OUR HOUSE:

  • Walk-out outdoor spaces and the back  patio has a "galleria" with a mesh cover to filter the light. We leave the back door open all the time, and with no screen door and a straight-walk out to the patio, it's a great transitional space. 
  • Built-in outdoor grill. A parrilla is standard in Argentine houses...and large garden/yard available for entertaining.
  • We're across the street from a large park.
  • Great natural light in all rooms (the only exception is the powder room). Both upstairs bathrooms and the center hall have clerestory windows. 
  • Substantial masonry construction. This is a very solid house. 
  • On-demand water heater hidden inside a kitchen cabinet. Never-ending hot water is amazing. Who needs a 50 gallon tank in a small home? A "giant" albatross. 
  • Two gas wall-heaters provide more than enough heat for the entire house.
  • All tile floors in the main living areas, bathrooms, stairs, garage and back patio. Easy maintenance and they get toasty warm by the heaters.
  • Operable shutters on all main floor and bedroom windows. The bedrooms can become pleasantly cave-like, night or day. 
  • Vaulted ceiling heights in bedrooms provide for extra tall closet storage and create a much more spacious feel in the small bedrooms. 

what I WOULD CHANGE:

As an interior designer, I look at every space with a critical eye, and our own space is no different. Besides changing most of the finishes to reflect our more contemporary aesthetic (hey, I can dream), there are a few plan changes that I would recommend: 

  • Widen the house by 2-4' to accommodate easier entrance into house if a car is in the garage (you enter through a gate into the garage, then enter the house). This would also create better head height in the stairwell.. we have to duck ever so slightly. But, hey, we're tall.
  • In colder climates, the house would need additional heating supply, possibly a utility room and mudroom and/or entry storage for cold-weather gear.  
  • The garage could easily be made into another room, or elongated to add a mudroom and utility room against the stairwell wall, which could also add space to the terrace off of the 3rd bedroom. But... then it wouldn't be such a small house anymore, would it?? (However, do we really need a car? We lived here four years without and feel we could do it again.)
  • If the house is built free-standing (not a duplex with walls on either side, as it is currently), additional windows could be added on the side walls, as well as bump-outs for stairwell and/or dining room.
  • Remove the utility sink from the kitchen because hey, counter space is at a premium and add a prep/utility sink to the side of the parrilla area outside for the grand asados we would surely have on the back patio.
  • Merge the two upstairs bathrooms into one larger bathroom. Both are on the small end of comfortable and I wouldn't recommend more square footage, unless you absolutely needed a larger kitchen as well (which is directly below).
  • At the very minimum, take out the bidets in the upstairs bathrooms. For us, it is not a cultural norm and they take up a huge amount of real estate in those tiny bathrooms. 
  • Change the wood-burning fireplace in main level to gas insert or more efficient heating stove for an auxiliary heat source.

WE FEEL CONFIDENT THAT WE COULD LIVE (AND WORK) AS A FAMILY OF 4 IN A HOUSE THAT IS 1000 SF OR SMALLER NO MATTER WHERE WE ARE. 

I really love that after years of designing for size and luxury, I'm now designing for efficiency and extreme usability. "Mindful, minimal and efficient" is our personal goal and this little house fits right in. 

 

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New Beginnings and Reminiscing

The Truck Being Loaded
The Truck Being Loaded

Just over one week ago, we left the house where we have spent the last 4 years in Cordoba. A lot of living had been done in that house and it was an emotional goodbye.

When we moved to Cordoba in early 2011, we had just spent 5 months in Bariloche, Argentina. We left our two dogs there and had driven with our eldest daughter from Bariloche, across the Andes mountains to Puerto Montt, Chile and north through Chile to Santiago.

Cordoba, Argentina was to be our sight-unseen home. A few nights in a hotel and a temporary rental in downtown Cordoba led us to an exploratory drive where we stumbled upon the house and neighborhood where we've spent the last 4 years.

First Day of School for Daughter #1 - 2012
First Day of School for Daughter #1 - 2012

That house, while not perfect, was partially furnished and in a great neighborhood. We moved in when daughter #1 was just over 3 years old and our two Pugs joined us soon after their extended vacation in Bariloche. We were a whole different family unit when we moved in. Parents, one child and two dogs. Now, after the birth of Daughter #2 IN that house (who is now the age of daughter #1 upon move in) and the deaths of both dogs in that house, we are a completely different family upon moving out.

So... After strained contract negotiations with the owner of that house, we knew that this was an opportunity to change. We opted to stay in the neighborhood, took a referral and found a great little house that I will call the "casita" just across the plaza from our "old" one. In fact, even our street name is the same, just the number has changed.

We are taking this opportunity to re-group and reevaluate our possessions and in fact, our needs. Truth is, we don't NEED half of the stuff that we own and it doesn't bring joy to our lives (see my post on Mari Kando's Art of Tidying Up)

At first glance, it looks like we are crazy.

We went from a large, furnished 3 bedroom/3 bath home with a pool and garage (and much more space than we needed) to a very cozy 3 bedroom/3 bath that needs work and furniture. Bedrooms/baths aside, the casita about 1/3 the living space of our previous home but honestly, we love it.

Maybe we thrive on change and things had gotten a bit stale after 4 years at the other house. Maybe we are looking for adventure. Maybe both. The excess is being sloughed away and the essentials are coming to light. This is a test for the type of small living that we have always wanted and will seek out in the future, whether that is in the USA, Europe or elsewhere.

We are convinced that our family does not need 2000+ SF to live in. The casita has about 300 SF on the main floor and I am estimating about 500 SF on the upper level (which extends over the carport). It is efficient. Every inch counts and there is thankfully no more yelling across the house to get someone to hear you. We had rooms in the last house that were never used. For us, it wasn't worth the cost to rent and maintain when something smaller is much more fulfilling.

Last Thing Out Of The House: The Fish
Last Thing Out Of The House: The Fish

We will miss that big house and swimming pool and will always reminisce about the good times and the changes that happened within those walls. Goodbye big house, you were excessive but we loved you nonetheless.

Now we look forward to streamlining our lives even further and saving a ton of money in the process. Onward and upward!!

Our Continuing Adventures

Thanks to those of you who have written asking if we're okay.  Yes, we're fine. Just busy and what gets pushed to the back burner? Our travel blog. Work, family and setting up our lives in a new place has taken priority. Yes, we're in a new place, but before I tell you where, I'm going to back up to September 2010:

We made it to Bariloche and had a fantastic time there from the end of September through the end of February.  5 months of glorious views, nature hikes and our self-imposed retreat to figure out what our future may hold. We visited the tops of mountains, tiny charming Salones de Té, ate more smoked foods than I ever care to admit and left there with an extra 10 lbs each, despite all the hiking :)

The house we stayed at for those 5 months was perfect for us and in a great location right off the bus line. We managed without a car, even though we were staying 23 km outside of the city of Bariloche (just a few km from Hotel Llao Llao). Geneva attended a small Waldorf preschool called Mandala, about 12 km from our house. Nestled among the pine trees, Mandala was a fantastic nurturing environment with a mixed-age class.

Fast forward a bit... we were planning our departure from Bariloche and had Córdoba, Argentina on our radar. Córdoba is in the middle of the country and is the second largest city in Argentina after Buenos Aires.  Reviews of Córdoba were mixed. Some seemed to love it, others thought it left a lot to be desired. We wanted to check it out for ourselves because we thought it may just have the big-city feel that we were looking for without the immensity of Buenos Aires.

The question was, how to get there? We had a few options and picked an unlikely combination. They were:

  • Bus from Bariloche to Córdoba: Cheap, but 23 hrs +/- with a 3-year-old
  • Rent a car and drive directly: Insanely expensive for a one-way-rental in AR
  • Fly: Through Buenos Aires to Córdoba. Not too expensive, but we had a lot of baggage, and it's not very adventurous at all.

Our choice? Drive north through Chile instead, then fly from Santiago to Córdoba (via Montevideo)! We shipped most of our things to arrive in Córdoba ahead of us on Via Bariloche bus service.  Incredibly cheap and worked out perfectly, but I digress...

It took us 11 days for the entire journey, but we had a lot of fun doing it. We had a friend in Bariloche drive us in his SUV through the Andes to Puerto Montt, Chile. We stayed there for a few days, explored the surrounding areas of Choloé and Puerto Varas (even seeing penguins along the way).  And were completely wowed by the Mount-Fuji-esque Osorno volcano. We rented a car in Puerto Montt to head north.  One way rentals are much less expensive in Chile than they are in Argentina.  Think about it, with the geography of Chile, it is almost impossible not to drive north-south, or in our case, the opposite.

After Puerto Montt, we drove north to Pucón and stayed there for 3 days.  I loved the bohemian, backpacker vibe but felt a little unsettled looking up at a smoking volcano all day. We're midwesterners and total wimps about earthquakes and volcanoes!

Then, a marathon drive from Púcon to Santiago all in one day. About 700 miles of some incredibly gorgeous countryside. Chile had incredible infrastructure and Ruta 5 (aka extension of the Pan-American Highway), which we were traveling is perfectly maintained with some beautiful bridges, tunnels and of course, numerous toll booths along the spectacular landscape. All totaled for the journey in Chile, we spent 27,100 Chilean pesos (about $58.00 USD) on 14 toll booths. That is not counting any between Bariloche and Puerto Montt.

One night in Santiago and we were off to Valparaiso where we spent two nights. After a stressful entry to Valparaiso where Google was telling us our hotel was in one area where it was really about a km away (those narrow, steep, winding roads are not good for a mid-size rental car and people who are not used to said hilly streets) we eventually found where we needed to be.

Impression of Valparaiso: Meh. I was really disappointed because I thought it would be great. If we had to do it again, we'd stay in Viña del Mar and spend a day in nearby Valparaiso. We loved the beaches, energy and playgrounds of Viña (with a 3-year-old, playgrounds are a big deal).

After contemplating if we wanted to extend our time to stay in Vína, we pressed back to Santiago airport to turn in our rental car and catch a very roundabout flight to Córdoba.

After a glorious 24 hours layover in Montevideo with friends, we hopped our final flight to Córdoba and arrived late into our hotel room.

All this time (and for several additional weeks) our dogs were enjoying the paradise of Bariloche. We decided that this travel schedule would be impossible with 2 dogs in tow, so we left them with a wonderful family that watches small dogs.  We knew that the dogs would be happy in a home setting, a family with three young girls and a great property to roam freely- and we wouldn't have to worry.

Within the first three days in a hotel in Córdoba, we knew this is a place we want to stay for a while. Centro (downtown) is busy, with great shopping, Jesuit churches and historic sites, a tree-lined cannal winding through the city and a huge amount of pedestrian areas.

We found a month-long temporary rental in Nuevo Centro, a small furnished apartment that was in a great spot.

While we liked the apartment and the neighborhood, it was loud with traffic and parties on the weekends (it's near the universities, so many young people). We knew this all going into this rental, but  thought for a month, it's not bad. We had the option to renew there indefinitely but the building did not accept dogs and ideally, we wanted more space and a more residential neighborhood.

Next chapter to come about our housing search, schools, health insurance and cost of living in Córdoba......

One Year Ago Today

We arrived in Montevideo on March 26, 2009. What a year!! We've had the opportunity to explore so many corners of this great city.  We've learned more Spanish and met lots of wonderful people- both Uruguayos and extranjeros.  As many Uruguayos don't seem to understand, we like it here.  We have chosen to come here.  It was not a mandated move due to work or education, we chose Uruguay as our home and we really love this little country.

We've grown as a family over this past year and while we don't have a baby on our hands anymore, she has grown into a very capable toddler. We still adore Jardín Caminito, our daycare, and how loving and supportive they have been for us.

The lease in our current house has been extended for another few months (was set to expire on April 20th).  So it is another winter in our cute but drafty home!  This time we won't be so thrifty (jaja!) and we'll be using our grocery store loyalty points to get a space heater.  This is a supplement the fireplace and bedroom electric units.

Come spring, who knows what we will do.  It'll be a perfect time to travel a bit without the expense of an empty house. Maybe an extended stay travel with 3-6 months somewhere?  Maybe Bariloche, Argentina?  The world is our oyster and we are going to treasure every moment here!!

Artwork by Uruguayo Joaquin Torres-Garcia; Upside Down Map (1943).  Uruguay is located at the coordinates, near the top line.

A Week (and a half) in Review

Spring in Montevideo is coming in fits and starts this year. Cold and rainy one day, 70 degrees the next. I'm amazed at how quickly time here is passing and we're keeping busy with lots of different activities. Dia del Patrimonio was a great family day. We went to Ciudad Vieja's Plaza Matriz and toured Club Uruguayo (Uruguay's most prestigious private social club, founded in 1878), the Cathedral of Montevideo and the Spanish Embassy on Sunday. All were very beautiful old buildings, with the Embassy being an eclectic mix of traditional and austere contemporary architecture. We wanted to get out and see more places on Saturday, but we had a spring festival on the farm with the preschool class, so we were otherwise occupied with kids, animals and lots of food. Saturday was the nicer of the two days so I was happy that was our day outside. Sunday was cold and rainy and a perfect day to dash from one building to another, which is exactly what we did.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9pXFN_MTVQ

We're busy planing our trip back to the USA in December and all of the festivities there. Early December brings us our little girl's second birthday and a baby shower for my sister-in-law and first niece. Later in the month we celebrate Christmas with multiple families and try to equally split our time, which is not always easy. We fly back to MVD on the 28th, which happens to be on the same flight as another family we know who is moving here!  We are so excited and can't wait to have them join us in this fair city.

This past Saturday we went to our first wedding in Uruguay!! It was a beautiful church ceremony- very formal and very late. The invitation stated a start time of 8:30 PM. We were advised not to get there before 9 PM, and the ceremony started at about 9:15. A few differences: there were no attendants, no ushers, no programs. We also learned that it's customary for there to be two or even three sets of invitations sent out: one to the ceremony only, one to the reception and sometimes one to the after-reception. Receptions usually last until dawn or later. We went to the ceremony only- but had a great dinner out afterwards by ourselves at a funky little restaurant/interior design studio called Innove.

Wedding

As if we don't have enough going on, we've been in our house for 6 months and are already thinking of the lease end. A unique opportunity has presented itself and we are weighing our options. A family that we know and love is moving to the USA for a year, and renting out their house here in Montevideo. It's in the Cordon neighborhood, and is close to the jardín, hospital we belong to and many other services. This is an area we have been considering for our next house here, but since it is not the "normal" expat/tourist areas of Pocitos or Punta Carretas, the furnished rentals are very limited. This house is furnished and quite a bit larger than our current house for hopefully about the same monthly rent. Brad and I could each have private offices within the house! The lease terms don't quite match up so we all need to talk more- but it's an exciting prospect!

I'm definitely feeling some of the ups and downs of life in Uruguay. The longer we are here and the more we learn, the more we like some aspects of life here and dislike others. That's true with any place I suppose.  Some days I am really homesick (mostly for how "easy" it is to exist in a place you know well) but I do like Montevideo. This is a unique place with unique people that can't seem to understand why we would want to come to tiny Uruguay "just because".

The Art of Fire: Our Wood-Burning Fireplace

We left our native Minneapolis, MN in March with snow on the ground and arrived here in Montevideo, to gorgeous summer weather. That summer weather lasted about 8 weeks and now we are enjoying the cool, crisp winter days with chilly nights. It's still beautiful here...many clear, sunny days with the smell of burning fire wood heavy in the air. It seems so strange to have winter in mid-July. Opposite seasons in the southern hemisphere will seem surreal for a while.

The Pugs with the best seat in the houseIt is common for many homes in Uruguay to rely on wood burning fireplaces as a source of heat. The cool, damp air is penetrating and like ours, many homes do not have central heating. It is time for us to master the fireplace. Our fireplace is open with no damper and no doors, so the learning curve has been high. There's been adventure with not-so-dry wood from the supermercado and the fireplace not venting. Besides filling the room with smoke a few times and smoke detectors beeping frequently, it's been fun and we are now semi-skilled at the art of fire making.

After getting our fireplace cleaned, purchasing a screen and some tools (all courtesy of our landlord), we were set to order our first load of firewood. We planned to order quite a bit so we'd have some left over after heating season to use in our outdoor parilla. We ordered 1/2 ton of mixed wood for delivery. That is a whopping 500 kilos for the low, low price of $1450 (approx U$S 60) which included an extra $100 pesos to bring it to the back of the house. It was delivered yesterday and neatly stacked for us, but there was a mix-up. The delivery was all large split logs of astilla and none of the other types of wood we had requested. After calling back, we opted to get another 1/2 ton of the additional kinds of wood, and they would still deliver the same day: leña de monte, rolos secos and atados for an additional $1250 pesos (approx U$S 52). Now we know exactly what a ton of wood looks like!

There is something very comforting about not only a real wood fireplace, but the stacks of beautiful wood ready to give us heat in the cold evenings.  We'll continue to hone our fire making skills and hopefully Geneva won't have to say "Beep, beep, beep!" anymore to mimic to the smoke detectors.

Our wood came from La Costanera. They were excellent.  We worked out the mix-up in wood types quickly and they came back the same day with the additional order.  The young delivery guys were very fast and courteous.

Firewood delivery :

La Costanera

tel: 601 4074     lacostanera@hotmail.com

La Costanera delivery truck

Stack of mixed wood at the front of our house

100_6063

Palermo/Centro Dreaming

In my world there is no such thing as coincidence and everything happens for a reason.. So why are all signs pointing us to Palermo?

Street view of Maldonado in Palermo

When we started hearing of the Palermo barrio of Montevideo, it was simply in passing. Then I learned of the Ecotiendas store and mentioned it here on May 16th, not even knowing where it was located at the time.

Brad and I talked that the next place we should live in Montevideo should be a bit closer to the water, still very walkable as we have no intention of having a car, and not as "uptown" as the

More of Life at the Casita

G's sock bin We're settling in to life here and here's another update on stuff that's been pending in our world:

Alejandra finished her first week here and we love her already.  Cleaning this whole house top to bottom in the course of two days, including purchasing many of the cleaning supplies, doing dishes and some laundry.  Total cost:  510 pesos for 6 hours on Tuesday and 350  for 4 hours on Thursday = 860 pesos or $36.00.  She even arranged Geneva's sock bin in color order!  Wow~

Looks like Caminito (daycare)  is a go for June 1.  There is a picnic next Saturday to welcome the morning class into the afternoon and we are invited.  We also dropped by today to get Geneva measured for her "uniform" (light green velour hoodie, grey velour pants and white t-shirt).  We're excited to get started!  Now to just translate all the paperwork needed and get it filled out correctly.

 The water issue in our bathroom is still on-going and we continue to turn off the main every night.  The plumbers keep working on it and took out a little of the back of the kitchen sink cabinet today to try to learn more about where the water is coming from (there are 4 plumbing fixtures on the shared plumbing wall).  After removing the rotted cabinet base under the kitchen sink two weeks ago, we don;t have too much of that cabinet left! Good thing it's on concrete and they think they found something although we have yet to learn what they are going to do about it.  

I took a few photos of our sink demo, but had a moment of clarity before posting.  Who on earth wants to see a sock bin and under a sink in a post.  I've gotta get better photos.  

On a different note:

I was returning yesterday from a great playdate in the park when it started to rain.  Geneva and I made it the 6 blocks or so dodging downpours and as I turned the stroller onto our street, I got a really strange feeling: We are living here.  We've signed a lease.  We're no longer just tourists.  We are interacting with the plumbers, the store clerks, the Jardin, the locals.  We are committed.  It was a really odd feeling of familiarity and comfort and at the same time a little apprehension.  My heart began to race.  In all my travels, I've never been anywhere this long before.  I love it and it freaks me out.  I blame the mood on 'winter' coming.  I've never done well with winter. Luckily today is 80 degrees and winters here aren't so bad.  Bring it on!

"It's The Little Differences"

Vincent: "But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?" Jules: "What?"

Vincent: "It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same sh*t over there that we got here, but it's just, just, there it's a little different.

Pulp Fiction, 1994. 

 

Well, that goes for just about anywhere in the world that you visit, whether it is Europe, or Asia, or South America. And it's not that things are different as in "weird", just different than what we are used to. 

1.) Bugs.  We come from a cold weather climate of MN.  Sure, there are bugs there like mosquitoes, ticks, flies and spiders, but this is a little different.  It is not like when we were in the Amazon in Peru, but here the creepy crawlies are still a lot bigger and scarier than MN.  I'm generally not squeamish, but when I turn the light on and two "things" that are about an inch-and-a-half long go scurrying for the cover of darkness, I get a little freaked.  Ewww.  

2.) Other warm weather differences: There are indoor/outdoor spaces here. Our back courtyard is nearly an indoor space, except it is open above.  Perfect for entertaining, for cooking on the large brick parilla, for the dogs and G to play in and for doing laundry.  Our washer is out there (no frozen pipes!) and there is no clothes dryer so everything gets hung up on the line.  Single pane glass on the windows is also different.  Not wild about this because it lets in more noise, but hey, we're used to noise.  No window screens.  I could go on...

bagged-foods_edited-11

3.) Food in bags.  I've talked about the BioBolsa shopping bags from Disco grocery store, but food is also packaged in bags.  Milk is in liter bags, mayonnaise is in bags and olives also come in little bags. Plastic and glass recycling is limited here, and food packaging bags take up a lot less space in the landfill than the alternative of glass or plastic containers, I suppose.  Plus it would be less weight to transport.  I still don't like plastic bags one bit and I'm working on finding other options. 

4.) "Industria Uruguaya" on almost everything.  How can a country about the size  and population of Oklahoma make so much of its own food/products?  It is incredible that so many items display these two key words so prominently. It's the full gamut of foods and products, too, including but not limited to: flour, fruit, coffee, beef, wine, beer.  There are some imports as well and not surprisingly most are from from Argentina or Brazil.  

5.)  We really don't need a car at all.  We only had one car for the past several years in MN (the beloved MINI), but here we really have everything we need within walking distance so a car is completely unnecessary.  I love that.  If we need to go further, taxis are everywhere and the bus system is extensive. We can also rent a car if we need a weekend away. 

Liter beer bottles next to a standard wine

6.) Smaller sizes of most products.  The US is a bigger-is-better, bulk society. Here, you buy 4 rolls of TP at a time  and 2 or 4 rolls of paper towels instead of 12 or more.  I have not seen 24-packs of soda (although there are 1.5 and 2-liter bottles of the big brands).  The only big sizes I have seen are beer (1 liter bottles are standard, at grocery stores and restaurants) and restaurant serving sizes are gigantic for nearly everything.  

7.) Vets making house calls and most everything can be delivered.  We had a vet visit Paloma when she was being boarded and Pablo's medication dropped off for us once we got into the house.  SO nice.  Grocery stores also deliver, as do many restaurants, storefront fruit stands and food shops.  We have yet to employ those services, though.   

8.) Our microwave freakin talks to us!  In Spanish or English.  It is really cool and I'll have to post a video sometime. 

9.) Bidets.  This is a bidet culture much like many parts of Europe and areas of the world. The US is not a bidet culture and in fact, in my years in the Interior Design industry, I have  had only one request for a bidet and at the time had a giggle about it (This was 10 years ago, give me a break!)  The bidet is an integral part of any main bathroom in UY and I am sure it would be viewed as odd here to not have a bidet as it is in the US to have one. 

10.) Other things we've explained before: the late dinner hour, rental process, etc.  

Really, though, these are all the things that make exploring a new country so much fun; Taking everything that you know and turning it on its head and finding different ways to accomplish the same thing.  These are all priceless experiences.

Furnished or Unfurnished?

We brought a bunch of stuff with us but didn't want to have to worry about all the details of setting up a house in Uruguay, so we opted for a furnished rental.  I am so happy that we did.  

kitchen- A night viewFurnished apartments/houses generally come with everything from furniture to artwork, dishes to brooms.  Ours was no different.   There were things here that I never would have expected in the house we rented: curtains on every window, a vacuum, new kitchen towels, place mats and tablecloths, a bucket, gardening tools just to name a few. I figured that furnished meant just furnished. I did not  think that furnished meant EVERYTHING!  Most of the items in our place are new as well, so I can't complain. Our landlord keeps asking us if we need anything else.  We purchased a clothes line to string in the back courtyard and then learned that he would have taken care of it. 

On the flip side, UNfurnished means that it includes nothing.  Usually that also means no appliances.  Yep. The previous renters/owners take the appliances when they move out.  All of them.  Range, refrigerator, washer: all gone. Many houses that we've seen do not have clothes dryers or dishwasher, so I guess that is a few less appliances that you have to worry about replacing.  

We looked at unfurnished places but the thought of renting (there are a few furniture/appliance rental resources here) or acquiring all of the necessary items to furnish and equip a house was so daunting, we very quickly decided on furnished and I am so happy that we did (yes, I had to say it again).  

As advised by people already living in Uruguay, we brought bedding with us from the USA along with a few towels (have to get a few more) and favorite pieces of cookware/kitchenware.  We've been in the house for two weeks and feel that we are nearly completely set up and can focus on other things (like working, setting up daycare, getting health insurance, having long lunches out with new friends.  You know, important stuff!!)

Posts to Come

We have a few projects in the works and wanted to let everyone know what will be coming in the next week, in no particular order:          X  Expat Travel Technology Series, Part 2: "How do I get my mail?"  Brad's weekly update on our tech tools.

        X  Setting up Daycare:  Two places that we've looked at, including our thoughts and prices for 5 half days per week in the post "Daycare Options"

        X  "Furnished or Unfurnished?" and why we chose what we did for our new home.

        X  Creepy Crawlies: Post took the form of “It’s The Little Differences"  to discuss lots of small things that are different in UY from those which we are accustomed.

  1. Firing up the Parilla: Our first attempt at an pseudo-Uruguayan Asado (pseudo because it was vegetariano)
  2. Photo/Video gallery via SmugMug

If there is anything you absolutely cannot wait to see, please send us a note.  We can pull some strings.

We will be updating this list to link to the topics after they are posted. 

Locks, Keys and Security

19 KeysI mentioned before that we received an insane number of keys upon move in. Well, we still don't know where they all belong, but there is truly a key for everything (19 total).  Our back windows have keyed locks (2) each with its own key.  The back door as well, another key.  The storage/servicio room outside, another key.  Closet doors and bedroom doors lock, all with different keys.  We have three keys needed just to get in the front gate and front door.  

There are a few areas that do not have keys  though.  The windows in front that face the street front windows have wooden shutters that lock from the inside via a lever, so surprisingly, no key needed there (but there are also metal bars that are between the shutters and windows which is very common in Montevideo) .  The mailbox which is located at our front gate also doesn't have a key, at least not from the house side.  

Here we also have three locks on the front door, a security system with motion detectors inside and out, and cameras in the front and back courtyards viewable from a special monitor.  Pretty elaborate system and in terms of security, better to over-do it and be a bit excessive than the alternative!  

And all this in a great part of town.  Don't read the above information wrong, this is a wonderful neighborhood with low crime.  In all of Uruguay, violent crime is extremely rare and the overall crime rate is low but petty theft is viewed as common.  If you leave something out, it may just find a new home.  We don't want that so we're using all of our security features available to us!  

When we lived in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis (not known as the best part of town) for 7 years, we had only one key that opened the front, back and garage-to-house door.  The windows "locked" with a standard window latch, not a key. We also had a security system with glass break sensors but we never left windows open and never considered bars on the windows because of fire escape reasons.  Different construction here. Different standards, as I have noted previously, make bars on the windows nearly a non-issue.  

Half-closed shutters

As we've seen throughout our travels, the differences between the USA and the rest of the world are interesting.  There is so much to learn in a culture.  We are just taking a fingernail to the surface right now.  Not everything can be judged from our USA eyes, nor should it be.  The best lesson we've learned: It is what it is.

A Much Better Day

pugs-on-boxes Great news that Pablo, our 8 year old male Pug, is on the mend.  We had a vet visit yesterday, along with medication delivered today and all should be better soon.  Brad can write more at some point about his vet adventures.  I also have to mention that Paloma, out female Pug turned 7 today.  Happy Birthday!! As you can tell by the photo above, the days festivities were exhausting and they found a comfy spot on a flattened box to rest. 

This afternoon we had a bittersweet lunch with friends who will be leaving UY today to head back to MN.  While they are planning to return here next year, we probably will not see them before then and miss them already.  Jim and Mariellen had a wonderful experience here and are definitely planning UY as their retirement destination! Yippee!!

At the tail end of our lunch, I had to leave a bit early because Ms. G was in dire need of a nap.  I took her back home (which was about a 1/2 block away) and put her to bed.  I then prepared coffee for everyone to come back and enjoy once they were done with the bill and the last bit of wine at the restaurant.  15 minutes had passed.  30 minutes had passed.  Still no sign of them.   40 minutes after I left the restaurant, they get back here.  Turns out that the bill was paid and then the waitress brought two BIG carafes of wine, on the house.   That was certainly unexpected and I was more than a bit envious that I missed out.  We talked some more and had a quick 20 minute coffee (Record time in UY!) in our back courtyard before the landlord and Jorge were scheduled to arrive.   

Jorge  and the landlord get here.  We say our goodbyes to Jim and Mariellen (who have to get to their hotel and then off to the airport ) and we are off to talk about the water issues.   The landlord lived in this house for 4 years and is familiar with the systems.  He says that the water pressure can build up in the system overnight and that causes leaks where there are not normally leaks.  For the next few days, he is asking us to turn the water off at night until they can get the system repaired.  Not a big deal and we are happy to do so if that will prevent more water.  The kitchen cabinet need to be dried out (we have some stuff to absorb the moisture) and then bleached. I don't like bleach, but if it can kill the nasties, I'm all for it.  The atmosphere was all very comfortable and they came prepared to hang up a clothes line while here (we already did that a few days ago) and silicone the shower fixture as we had requested.  We  also got the assurance that all was going to be made right and received the landlords phone number and address (he lives right around the corner) and then an invitation to come to his house to pick up a tricycle.    His daughter is 3 and had graduated to training wheels.  He thought that we might like it.  Geneva thinks it's fun to push it and walk while straddling it, but hasn't gotten the concept of riding get.  It'll come.

All in all, a much better day than yesterday.  A vet visit (along with a husband who's Spanish is good enough to handle a vet visit) great lunch with friends and a responsive and helpful landlord all make for a very happy Lisa!

Not All Is Rosy

Today I hit the wall. Not literally of course, but I hit the "I'm freaking-out-could-this-be-culture-shock" wall. I think it was more just general stress with lots of weird things compounding.  There were lots of tears involved, but fortunately a very supportive husband who along with Baby G gave me some much needed hugs.  Sorry for another list.  We've has a bunch lately--- 

1.) Pablo is sick. I'm not going into the details but it has to deal with his bowels and said evacuation. We thought it may have just been a stress related issue for him, coming to yet another new environment, but since it continued through the weekend, we have to call the vet. So, sick dog. Gross. Lots of cleanup involved. Plus, dog who loves people and toddler who loves dogs are hard to keep apart.

2.) VERY willful toddler. That goes without saying, I guess. She's our first, though, so we've just never been in this stage before. She is testing us like crazy and is still not extremely stable on her feet. A tall baby with a big Dutch head is just asking for trouble! It is taking constant vigilance to keep her safe. (Thanks Paul, you warned us!!) Not much unpacking, cleaning or cooking is being done. Email and blog posts are happening only during naptimes and after bedtime. I am full-time mommy, which I have never been before.

3.) Child safety standards are different here (I knew this before we arrived) and while I want to bring Geneva to the parks to blow off some steam, they scare the bejeebers out of me. Baby swingThink wooden baby swings with no crotch rail that are 4.5' off the pavers/concrete slab below. Or slides that have a small patch of sand at the bottom with a ring of bricks to keep the sand in. I envision kids cracking their head open at every turn. It is not unlike the types of playgrounds Brad and I remember from our childhood. My mommy instinct to keep my child free from harm is in overdrive. Thank god that Brad reminded me the life expectancy here is the same as the US. I was wondering how anyone made it to age 10.

4.) After the first two days of no water in the house at all, we now have water seeping from both sides of the plumbing wall, into the kitchen cabinets and the bathroom. We saw the water in the bathroom late last week and didn't think too much of it ("Hey, maybe I left the shower door open a crack."). But the water kept coming back at random times, from the area between the floor and baseboard. We couldn't figure out what was causing it. We reported a small amount of water to our rental agent on Thursday via email, then called on Friday to follow up. Within minutes, the owners agent called us and told us that a plumber would be here on Monday. Cool. We could deal with that. Late Sunday night though, I walked into the kitchen at about 1:30 AM to find water dripping from the front edge of a base cabinet (from the wood above the toe kick) and the musty smell that I originally detected was overpowering. The sink pipes were fine. This water must be coming from the wall.

Everything I know about construction says this is no good at all and we could have a serious mold issue. But wait, this is poured concrete/block construction with plaster. There is no wood framing, no sheetrock and no insulation for mold to feed on. The only "food" for mold here is the cabinetry. It seems like there must have been water before to cause the original musty smell that I noticed upon move in. I shot short videos of the water and Brad got a hold of the rental agents this morning. A plumber was over at noon and checked all of the exposed pipes and then turned everything off and checked the water meter out front.  No movement at all, so no internal leaks. Then he turned on the spigot to a drip, the meter started spinning. He said that our water issue is actually from the building next door and not coming from our wall. He confirmed that this building has had a problem with the adjacent building's water once before.  No more update as of yet as to the solution but the cabinets are still wet and the smell is horrible, so we are staying out of the kitchen until we have this resolved.

We're pushing for new base cabinets and a full clean-up of that wall. We'll keep you updated on the progress of that. We knew not everything was going to be rosy in paradise, but the last few days have been stressful indeed.

Thankfully the vet is two blocks away and is coming over tomorrow. One issue down. Yippee for small victories!!

Chivito

So tonight I just had to go out.  We went for a short walk, then enjoyed an early dinner. I had a crazy-big Chivito and a glass of wine to decompress at "Chivitos Marcos" (Corner of Louis de La Torre and Sarmiento). While the photo is not my exact sandwich, it is close, except mine was goopier and included pickle and hot pepper and was without fries. It was excellent and I will definitely be back again. Nothing like comfort food after a rough day!

Shameless Plugs

There are a few people/services that we have used here in MVD that have gone above and beyond and have been so wonderful to us, we have to recommend  them to the world: Jorge Cassarino Etcheverry, Maria Jesús Etcheverry Negocios Inmobiliarios (rental/real estate agent) :  What is there to not to love about Jorge?   He goes the extra mile, is funny, fair and really, just a big teddy bear (wow, I rhyme, too!) Jorge was recommended to us by some peple who used him to find their house a year and a half ago. Now they are good friends.  Really though, what a nice guy, and his English isn't bad either!  He showed us numerous places over several days and showed us some differnet options that we didn't even know we wanted (we were all set for an apartment!). jc@mariajesusetcheverry.com www.mariajesusetcheverry.com

marti-aparthotelMarti Aparthotel:  Great neighborhood, big rooms, excellent staff. Ask for a top floor, they're sunnier above the tree line.  The 11th is where we stayed, one level below the breakfast room (don't worry, it is not noisy).  A small kitchen is included in the room, along with a decent sized bathroom with a tub. Every floor has a wireless access point. Federico is the contact for booking at the hotel.  He'll give you a deal if you let him know you found them here! 3325 Jose Marti between Berro and Chuccaro.  http://www.martiaparthotel.com.uy

Then a few eating establishments:

bar-62Bar 62: I hear this place gets its name from the first trolley line in the city of MVD. Well, I can't verify that, but it is some of the best food we've had here, and by best, we mean a 7:00 dinner of nothing off of the parilla because it's not ready yet, because we're out too early with a baby in tow.  Still, it's been incredible. They have an eclectic combination of sushi/tempura (veggie tempura was light and not greasy- some of the best we've had.  Looking forward to the sushi!), mediterranean salads (we've had it served differently on two occasions, both really good though)and typical Parilla fare . The waitstaff is cool, the building is beautiful and we're certainly going back for a real dinner (at the normal time of 10 PM) the first time we have a babysitter. Barreiro 3301 and Chucarro in Pocitos, 2 blocks from La Rambla. 

La Taqueria: The little taco joint that we mentioned before.  We finally got there on the night that we moved into our house.  What a great day!! Don't let the little taco stand facade fool you.  These guys know what they are doing (and with a little prodding, they can and make it HOT!).  It is a bit more expensive than a typical mexican place... but completely worth it.  As Brad put it in a recent email to two future friends from CA and their daughter who are moving to MVD in a few weeks: "We love spicy food.  We went to that Mexican place the other night (Tuesday to be exact).  They brought our the first salsa. We tried it...pretty much about as spicy as ketchup.  Then he proudly brought out the "mas picante" option.  Better, I can feel it a little bit now.  He said he could do one even "MAS picante" after a few minutes I went up to him and asked for it.  I saw the guys in the back mincing the chili pepper.  One of his buddies tried it before they brought it out. I heard him cough, turn red and reach for his drink.  They brought it to the table.  Lisa and I both filled up a chip.  It was great, but this is very much the exception". We had the veggie burrito, chicken burrito, quesadilla  and some amazing chocolate torte for desert. Heaven!!  On Jose Marti between Benito Blanco and Chuccaro in Pocitos.

Quick Water Update

We have water again!  All that good karma you've been sending this way worked!  It was down to just about 10% of the city that didn't have water this morning and all the city should be restored by tonight.  All the Uruguayos that we've spoke to can never remember this happening before.  So luckily we can't say 'Oh, this is how things work in Uruguay!"  Great that we still have the hotel room through Friday so after dinner and a walk, we were able to shower and get baby G in her PJ's before coming home.  Just think though, this was a 40 year old water main that burst to an city of 1.5 million.  New York has a water tunnel that is 114 years old that serves a city of 8 million.  That would really be bad!

Now we can really get to the work of cleaning and moving in.  With two pugs and a toddler underfoot (and falling hard on all this tile flooring), it should be interesting!!

Our Little House

So today was the big day. We got the keys to the house. Easy enough. Sign some papers hand over the money and in return, a set a keys. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that in Uruguay. All in all, really it's not that hard, just very time consuming. The papers are very similar to the contracts that you might see in the States as a rental agreement. We also received a six page inventory addendum detailing absolutely every little thing included in the rental (since it is furnished and equipped) down the color and number of forks in the kitchen. In our case, we received this list in advance via email so we were able to review ahead of time.

The detailed addendum contained too many household items to know all of them in Spanish, even if your Spanish is quite good. We just pasted the text of the Word doc text into Google Translate. This site is a fantasitic tool. It will translate a word or entire websites while keeping you on the site. Want to read the local paper El Pais? Just pop the URL into Translate and it will almost comes across as though it were written in English. It's not perfect, but if you know some Spanish you can clean up the translation afterward. Anyway, fantastic tool. Use it for all of your translating needs.

Armed with this inventory list, we were picked up by Jorge at the aparthotel at 12:40. An odd time you say? Not exactly. The banks in Uruguay open to the public at 1pm and most close at 5pm. (You thought bankers' hours were nice in the States and elsewhere!) This gave us enough time to stop at the house where we were given the keys by the other rental agent, Andrea  and received a few additional details. Then off I went to the bank (Itaú) with Jorge while Lisa and Geneva stayed at the new house to review the checklist.  Andrea went to the Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU), where we'd be meeting her later.

The Banking:

Half the keys we received

 

Lisa detailed this the other day. We had wired money from our Credit Union in MN that posted to Jorge's business account in 1 day. We're were told it would take two or three days, but expected four or five. We expected the worst, but in the end very simple very easy.  Now it gets complicated. The process is well defined, but certainly different.  Try to keep up.

We had to withdraw a ridiculous sum of money for all of the different payments we had to make today, which of course had to be approved by several people at the bank. Thankfully, I was wearing my jeans (jeans = lots of good pockets). I ended up with a pocket for each sum. One pocket for the deposit (the equivalent of five months rent...again weird laws thus the strange practice.  I think we put down less when we closed on our house in MN!) to be held in escrow at the one bank in town that does this...BHU where Andrea was already waiting with the number that held our place in line (otherwise it would really take all day to complete the transaction). This main sum for the deposit had to be in pesos. Jorge had already called his friend at the bank while we were driving there. We were given a rate nearly a point better than that posted. Not bad. It pays to know someone.  In such a small country, everyone knows someone. So deposit money one pocket in Pesos. Second pocket the 1st month rent in US Dollars for Andrea. Third pocket the equivalent of 1 month's rent plus the taxes of 22% for Jorge and all his work....and he deserves every penny. Then the little extra so I could buy a pack of gum in the final pocket. It was more than that but I was feeling a little house poor at that point.

So off  to the BHU to meet Andrea. Just a couple things to accomplish here. Sign the contracts which took about three minutes and place the deposit. This is the painful part....for everyone. It's a huge bank. I envisioned about 500 people standing outside the door ready to rush in like like a store the day after thanksgiving or worse Filene's Basement the day of the bridal dress sale.

I am pretty certain that each banker processes 4 to 5 transactions in the 4 hours that they are open to the public. We waited about 45 minutes to get from number 21 (the number we saw when Jorge and I arrived) to number 33--us. Mind you there are about 30 or 40 desks that--in theory--could help us. So we waited. Signed the papers and I gave Andrea the first month of rent. We chatted. We commiserated about this bank. It went fairly quickly. Andrea had already completed most of the form to create the deposit account. Yea! Finally 33! We go to one of the desks. They hand the banker the paperwork. Almost nothing is said. The gentleman types away while we chat. 20 minutes later. He's done and prints off a form with our new account number. That's wasn't so bad. Oh, we're not done?? We have to go to the teller (caja) to put in the money in the bank. 35 minutes in line and we're at the counter. We deposit our funds less 2% for the bank for the priviledge of them holding our money. Jorge tells me it used to be interest bearing account but that practice had ended. BHU does however pay back the money at the end of the term at the rate of inflation. So one's money is at least worth what it was when it went in. In pesos anyway. So money is in. Now we walk back over to the first desk where Andrea had been patiently waiting. They verifiy the details and we're done. In all, about two hours were spent at the bank. Good times. Then back to the house to see how Lisa and Geneva made out go over a few more details and discuss the urgent need to grab a drink and celebrate. Whew!

Oh that's right, we have to take care of Jorge. We give Jorge his agency's fee plus the taxes and we're set.

I'll let Lisa describe some of the "fun" and "interesting" features of the new house in an upcoming edition, like the grasera, tiny propane range and the 200-some keys we were handed (not quite, but close!).

Housing - Parte Dos

Well, our offer on the little house was accepted. We had a meeting a week ago with the owner and both Inmobiliarios (rental agents) to sign preliminary paperwork, sort of an agreement to agree/letter of intent with the basic terms and information spelled out. Now for the details to fall into place. One of the big coordination issues is the cash. As mentioned in the last housing entry, 5 months rent (in UY pesos) is required to go into an escrow account, one month to the rental agent and then the first month rent payable to the landlord. That is 7 months rent up front! We could take money out of our accounts via the cash machine but the quantity needed, along with our daily limits, would require a visit to the cash machine every day for weeks. We do not have a bank account in Uruguay yet, which makes wiring money from our MN accounts difficult. We could possible write a personal check, but it is not known how much time that might take to clear.  With so many unknowns, we discussed this with our wonderful rental agent who agreed to let us wire to his company account in order to expedite the process.  After a  few phone calls and emails to get account numbers, and a visit by Brad to the local bank in UY which the money will be going to, the wire request from our MN bank was made and the money is on its way.

Honestly, the whole "wire" process is a bit backwards to me. In this time of instantaneous transactions, wiring money (which can take up to a week or longer in some cases) is supposed to be the fast way to transfer money. Fast?  Maybe in 1950!!!! But I digress....

When the money gets to the Uruguayan bank, it will be withdrawn in dollars, we will exchange it for pesos at another location to get the best exchange rate and then take it to another bank, the Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU) which is the only one in the city that handles this type of rental escrow account.  Banks open at 1 PM and we are told to plan to be there for a while because the whole process may take up to 2 hours. At that time, both the landlord and the renter sign the account and the lease paperwork. Keys are given out and when it is done, we have a place to live and can move right in.

The whole bank process is scheduled to happen on Monday the 20th, barring any delays in the money wire from MN. It is possible that we will be moving into the house on Monday evening!!

Hooking up the "Internets"

So after much deliberation as to the provider of our local Internet service; We've chosen Montevideo COMM.  They are a reseller of Antel and come with higher praise for their service level than Antel directly.  Both an Expat and a local Uruguayo that does website development pointed us in this direction.  We have "blazing" speed of 4096k down and 512k up.  This likely means nothing to many, but it's as fast as you can get in Montevideo and more than sufficient for our purposes.  The set up is not much different nor much more expensive than the 7 Mb down that Qwest offered back in Minneapolis for business DSL.   Montevideo COMM

The process of getting set up