Culture

Our Past Year in the USA

I can't believe we've been back in the USA for a year. A whole yeaR!

It's been a wild and strange ride and even though we're from the USA - Florida is a whole different bird than the Midwest. It's like the flamingo compared to the robin. Night and day. 

I love the weather (really, I do) and there are fewer mosquitos than I ever imagined here. I even like our little community... but everything here seems forced and nobody is happy. The daily grind is too much and everyone suffers. Maybe we'd feel differently if we lived either in the city OR in a proper little single-family neighborhood (wait, did I just say that?!?!) but we're halfway between Miami and Ft Lauderdale in a sort of suburban twilight zone. This is not what we signed up for when we moved here, full of hope and great expectations a year ago.

It's been a learning experience for sure. BUT to be honest, this time in the USA has helped us in many ways, too. 

  1. Brad and the girls have acquired Italian citizenship through his paternal grandfather's line.
  2. I was able to claim Dutch citizenship through my mother. With this and #1, that means the whole family now has EU passports! 
  3. We had amazing visits from our parents. It was a wonderful time to have the kids spend so much time with their grandparents and many memories were made. 
  4. We were able to get all of our worldly possessions out of my father-in law's basement after 7 years and we're doing some major purging of stuff now. 
  5. We realized that this place is not for us long term. Meaning the USA. Meaning now. This was a big realization because while we were in South America, we (I) had this idea that I wanted to be back in the USA, at least for a time and I was all for this move.

But we're finding many things that we don't love here, and the good doesn't outweigh the bad for us: The lockdown drills at our children's elementary school, practicing for the event of an active shooter. The rat race. The commuter (and consumer) society. The lack of a social network. What we disliked 10 years ago about life in the USA, we still dislike.

 

Our lives are certainly richer from being here and experiencing life in the USA again and I'm glad we came here, if only for a year. We are a family that extremely thankful for our options, though!

 Celebrating Mother's Day 2017 with Middle Eastern food in Florida

Celebrating Mother's Day 2017 with Middle Eastern food in Florida

Since we have these newly acquired EU passports burning a hole in our pockets and a 20-year-long dream (since our first vacation together to Spain in 1997) to live there someday, that dream is finally happening.

 Me & F (almost 5!) on our way to Valencia, Spain. Showing off the continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) on my arm for Type 1 Diabetes

Me & F (almost 5!) on our way to Valencia, Spain. Showing off the continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) on my arm for Type 1 Diabetes

We visited Valencia, Spain in April 2017 as a family vacation and we're now in the throngs of preparing to move there.

We'll be out of our apartment by the middle of June, then after a bit of travel, we'll arrive in Valencia, Spain the second week in July. 

Then it starts all over again: Looking for an apartment, furnishings, schools, bank account, residency, utilities, friends, health insurance, doctors and medications -- not necessarily in that order!

Plus, this is the first time we're moving with a proper shipping container, albeit a small one. That's an adventure unto itself. Our two dogs were the most stressful part of the move to Uruguay back in 2009. I think the shipping container will be the most stressful part here!

Stick around. I can't guarantee that we'll have a lot of time to write over the next few weeks, but we WILL have a lot to write about. :) 


To learn more about us and our family's international adventures over the past 8 years, click the "About" button on the top right side of this page. 

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Finding Focus: The Challenges of Life

This is Day 1 of Natalie Sisson's Blog Challenge. 

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After moving from Argentina in April of this year, we've been busy getting settled, sorting through boxes (many that we haven't seen in the last 7 years), starting school and work, and finding our groove in a new city and new country. 

There've been more challenges than we expected, but there always is. We've moved often enough to realize that we're overly optimistic. The reality is, it's hard. 

Now that we're here, and mostly settled, there are unique challenges that we need to resolve: 

1.) Life in the USA requires A LOT more money than that in Uruguay (which was still very expensive for South America) and Argentina. Yes salaries are higher here in the USA than in South America, but everything else is exponentially more expensive. Healthcare, food, housing, utilities, services are all incredibly expensive in the USA. 

2.) Time and flexibility: Here we have more commitments, more time spent commuting to work, PTA, Girl Scouts, more meetings at school, more time going to the big box stores instead of the neighborhood shops, more time seemingly wasted, pulling us from other commitments such as family and work. 

Since we're not both self-employed and working from home anymore, the incredible flexibility that we experienced in Argentina is also gone. We can't just walk down the street to pick up some eggs or milk, or have every meal together as a family. Everything has to be scheduled, planned because of time, proximity and ultimately, lack of convenience.

3.) The time that IS free, is spent with family, trying to actively avoid technology to show the girls our true priorities: Them. Us.

How can we spend this precious little time that we have together by working? We fell into that trap when we first arrived in South America, before our oldest daughter was in preschool. She thought we always worked because that is what she always saw us doing. 

 

So, how do we combat this lack of time/flexibility/money and also prioritize family while following out dreams and not ending up destitute on the streets? 

Right now, it's a struggle to regain our sense of gratitude. We're back in the rat race and that's a hard place to be, especially having worked hard to escape it 7 years ago. 

 

I'm writing and building a wellness empire at diaVerge.com and on FB at DiaVerge:The Alternative Path to Diabetes Management. I'm also working to complete the coursework to become an Associate Diabetes Educator. 

Mr. HealthyFamily is working more than full time, changing both company culture and revenue structure within his new company. He's rocking it, but not feeling very fulfilled. 

What we need to do: 

We need to focus on ourselves, our spiritual and emotional development and our wants/dreams for the future. This is currently lost as we're rushing around, being pulled in so many different directions.

In the short term, I need to increase my income to improve cash flow and ease the stress of money. Although by working more or shifting my focus, this will increase the stress of already over-scheduled time commitments.

Lowering our future costs will also help, as we've spent an incredible amount of money setting up a home again, buying furniture, sending the girls to private summer school, and buying my new medical devices to assist with my Type 1 diabetes. 

In the long term, we have to reconnect to the sense of abundance and gratitude that has brought us here, focusing both on what we have, and what we can give to others. We are not living in a bubble, and our abundance (even if we don't feel as abundant as we did elsewhere) can serve those less fortunate. 

Why I choose gratitude: 

I'm happy to be in this place of transition, no matter how difficult. We needed a change to keep life interesting and reaffirm our goals as individuals, as a couple and as a family.

I'm reminded of the summer of 2000, when my then-boyfriend and I broke up. We spent some time apart, then both realized that we were right for each other. We realized that life together was much better than apart. We re-committed to each other and have been together since, through two kids, two dogs, several international moves, business start-ups and shut downs. Through adventure and adversity. 

Our current move is like that long-ago break-up. The foreign-living dream is over (for now) but this time of challenge is proving to us that this old life we had in the USA so many years ago is not a good fit for us. 

The last thing we want is to stagnate somewhere. Life in the USA is pushing us to rediscover what's across the oceans again.  This dissonance is the universe pushing us further. Pushing us to explore. 

We need to breathe, refocus on our goals of family, independence, flexibility and simplicity. This is one adventure of many and although not entirely comfortable, it keeps reinforcing our goals. 


New Year's Eve in Cordoba

The lanterns New Year's eve is different in a country where it is summer rather than winter on December 31st. Last year was our first New Year's eve in Cordoba, after living through it in Montevideo and again in Bariloche. Bariloche was quiet, but then again, nearly every day in the country outside of Bariloche is quiet. Why should New Year's be an exception? Montevideo and Cordoba are decidedly NOT quiet on New Year's eve. They are the exact opposite of quiet. They are loud, obnoxious and extremely dangerous with every single person (or so it seems) lighting off fireworks. It's similar on Christmas eve where we had about 30 minutes of fireworks last week but we are bracing for a lot more tonight.

The thing is, it's not just one house or one fireworks display in the distance. It is coming from all around you. We live across from a park, so much of the noise comes from there, too. Seemingly every house lights off fireworks and there are pyrotechnics pop-up shops around town for the weeks leading up to the holidays.

We tend to be on the more reserved side and want to keep up the South American traditions, but also celebrate in our own way. Last year we purchased large paper lanterns that fill with hot air after lighting a giant wick on the bottom. They float away until the wick burns up (or burns the lantern). We lit paper lanterns like this when in Thailand many years ago and it was a peaceful way to celebrate while not contributing to the noise- unless you count the medium-sized-one crying. She did NOT like to let go of the lanterns last year!

httpvh://youtu.be/NXO_vIL3Ois

We'll be sending off paper lanterns again this year. After releasing the lanterns, we'll lay in the backyard to enjoy the neighborhood display and our lanterns floating away peacefully in the not-so peaceful night.

Lets just hope the huge cracks, pops and bangs throughout the neighborhood don't wake up the baby. Who am I kidding, they will. That's okay, it's New Year's Eve. :)

Happy New Year everyone! Make it a safe and beautiful celebration, wherever you may be. Wishing all your dreams come true in 2013!

Hurry Up and Wait

One of our goals in coming to Uruguay was to slow down.

Getting out of the business rat race of the United States would allow us to take life at a slower pace and enjoy each other and our everyday world more, right? Well, a lot has been written about the pace of life in South America and how the siesta culture allows you to slow down. Many smaller stores are closed between 12-2 or 2-4 in the afternoon. !Manaña, manaña! is also a common thought meaning, it'll get done tomorrow. There are no consequences for being late and dinnertime is normally at 9 PM or later.

I've come to the conclusion that patience and the ability to wait is not necessarily inherent in the people here, it is the pace of outside factors that has made the people relax and well...wait.  

Everything takes longer, from the laundry drying on the line, to waiting in a queue at the bank, to taking a number everywhere you go.  People seem fine by this. I on the other hand, am still an antsy North American who has not learned the art of waiting.

Wait and wait. Then wait some more. 

This week I was at a doctors appointment.  Scheduled for 5:20 PM, I got in to see the doctor at almost 7PM. I had things to do. I was playing games on my phone, writing notes for the things to discuss with my doctor and texting my other half, who was wondering where the hell I was..

As I glanced around the waiting room around me, people were just sitting. Patiently. Many not doing anything for an hour and a half. They were not looking at their phones, not reading a book or magazine. They were doing NOTHING but sitting there. I was going insane and must have looked like I had ants in my pants with how much I was squirming and stretching.

When I actually got in to see my Dr., she took more than 20 minutes with me to discuss some changes in prescriptions and I got her personal cell phone number in case I have any questions. I never felt rushed like I have so many times in the USA. I felt cared for.

This is just the pace of life.

I've also noticed that you rarely see people eating or drinking (other than the traditional mate, which is an herbal, bitter green tea that is consumed so much in Uruguay and Argentina that people carry it along with them in a gourd cup with metal straw) while walking or on the bus. Fast food is not extremely common and even at McDonald's, people more frequently eat inside or take it back to their home or office to eat with others.

After 18 months here in Uruguay, I' ve learned that I do not have patience.

Is this something that can be learned? It does not seemed to be ingrained since birth with Uruguayos. Are they just resigned to the fact that every  tramite (official appointment) takes a ton of time?   I do not know. All I know is that life is not necessarily slower in Uruguay, drivers are still fast and impatient, people still have lots of things to do, but in many ways life is more deliberate. Personal interactions are valued more and people are willing to wait for the important things.

There Go The Trees

MVD Trees 2

A curious thing has been happening lately in Montevideo... the trees have been coming down.  I first noticed it a few weeks ago and now block after block after block of the beautiful treetops are gone. I do need to clarify, the trees aren't entirely gone, but so aggressively pruned as to leave no foliage at all, just the main trunk and several of the larger secondary trunks to grow back. These once beautiful tree-lined streets that provided the much needed shade as I walked, are now bare and cold.

I knew that the trees here in UY grow very quickly due to year-round growth and therefore while large, are somewhat weak.  Upon further inspection, these trees have seen this type of pruning before and will most likely again. Their somewhat scraggly main trunks are met with markedly newer growth just slightly above.

One nice advantage to this tree trimming (if you're looking for a silver-lining) is that you can see the houses more clearly and all the gorgeous traditional detail that they hold. If you're in an apartment, you may now have a view where you never did before, just beware of who may be able to see you :)

My one question: How long until the trees grow back? I will miss the beautiful shaded canopy they provided!

It's Here!

Today it’s here.  Autumn in Montevideo.  Cold, rainy and windy as all hell. I knew it would be on it’s way, but not quite so soon. Last year this time was still warm and mild, a late summer after we’d first arrived here.  It was glorious.

Today, after two full days of rain, the winds really picked up.  I do love the leaves blowing about and the amazing pink-flowering trees that have been all aglow in blossoms.  I’ve intended to get photos- but alas, the high winds today have probably stolen my opportunity.  Much the same thing happened with some glorious purple-flowering trees last spring. We shall see them again, I am sure.

I really look forward to this winter with roaring fires in our fireplace (note to self: order more firewood), knitting in earnest again, crisp sunny days when I walk G to the jardín, and a plethora of warm beverages. After a year here, I am finally ready to take up the habit of drinking mate.  It makes complete sense to me now. Cool, damp, blustery days were made for mate.  Just to refresh your memories: Mate is the drink typical of Uruguay and Argentina that is served in a hollowed out gourd and carried with a thermos of hot water, ready for the refill.  It is a perfect way to maintain a toasty drink at the ready all day long and with minimal effort.  I’ve got a feeling that my winter will be much more comfortable!

Looking back on it, I am so thankful for our amazing getaway on one of the last perfect beach weekends this summer. Yes, I know, I still have two more parts to write about that saga, but hey, now that it’s cold, I’ll definitely spend more time indoors writing.  There’s just so much LIVING to do, it’s hard for me to sit and journal everything.

It all boils down to this: Another season, another change, another side of Montevideo.  We learned from last year.  We'll do a few things differently this fall and winter.  Just try to avoid falling branches in this wind...

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.

Living Abroad Makes You More Creative?

Here's an interesting video discussing how those living abroad tend to be more creative- possibly tied to language skills and adaptation. Interesting studies!

"People who live abroad are more creative; and the more time they spend away from home, the more creative they become. Thats according to a recent study done by William Maddux, an assistant professor of organisational behavior at INSEAD."

Remate- The Craigslist of Uruguay

Except in Uruguay, it is a physical location and not an online 'for sale' ad. You can find any assortment of thing for sale at these remates (or auction houses). There are everything from antiques, to rugs, small appliances, farm equipment, architectural salvage and even cars.  Yes, you can even buy 'normal' furniture and housewares, which is a great resource for an expat trying to set up a household here.

One of the best remates that I know of is Castells. I've been told this remate is most often frequented by Uruguayos, and as such, is not as expensive as some of the extranjero remates.

Castells is located at Galicia 1069.  It's about a 10 minute cab ride from  the Pocitos/Punta Carretas area. The main furniture sale is every Tuesday at 2 PM. When I've been there, this sale has been very informal and in a large back room. The front main auction room is full of antiques and fine art pieces, with everyone sitting down and was what you'd envision of a "civilized" auction. The back room was with everyone standing, crowded around a given piece of furniture and the auctioneer on a small podium. You can visit early on Tuesday or on any other day to see the sale items ahead of time. Occasionally the rooms for the separate sales are reversed, so keep your eyes open.

There are other rooms as well, one upstairs and another in a garage area, full of items that sell on different days. Some is household goods and small appliances (upstairs) and outside has everything from architectural artifacts, to farm equipment to cars and all sorts of random junk.

There are no numbers or paddles for bidding, you just raise your hand. If you are the highest bidder, someone will come over to you and take your information and a deposit on the piece (30% of the sale price).  You get a receipt and can pay the balance and pick up your purchase the same day or within 24 hours.

A few notes before you hit the remate:

  • The auctioneer shortens all his numbers for speed so the current bid may come out as "ochen" instead of "ochenta".  Be aware- especially if your not so fluent in Spanish yet.
  • The upholstered pieces can occasionally be of questionable quality and I have heard stories of items having bugs. Check out a piece carefully before bidding/buying. You wouldn't want to get it into your house and find out that you have 10,000 new friends.
  • There are taxes added to the final sale price, to be paid when you pick up your purchase.  This is  a total of 16.5% unless otherwise specified.

Even if you're not in the market for new stuff, the remates are a great place to go and experience a part of Uruguayan culture. Have fun!

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".

El Temporal de Santa Rosa

El Temporal de Santa Rosa is scheduled to hit Montevideo on Sunday Night or Monday, August 30-31st -- Right on target. The story goes that Santa Rosa of Peru prayed for a large storm to thwart an impending invasion.  Her efforts worked and the storm held off the attack. Although the feast day of Santa Rosa is celebrated on August 30th, the storm has been known to hit this area anywhere from the 25th of August to the 5th of September, bringing rain, high winds and hail.

We have el Temporal de Santa Rosa to thank for the amazing weather here the last few days. Today was 30 degrees Celcius (or 86 Fahrenheit), which is all due to the prevailing weather patterns this time of year, with the hot air from the north colliding with the Antarctic air from the south. Whether the Santa Rosa story of thwarting the enemy was invented because the storm happens to coincide with the saint's feast day, who knows. What we do know is that the storm happens and with some regularity- especially in the last 15 years. In 2005 there was a tremendous Santa Rosa storm where 10 people were killed, many trees were lost and buildings damaged in Uruguay.

There is a thunderstorm forecasted for Sunday night and then possible rain all week through Thursday. While I'm not looking forward to a possible 3+ days and nights of rain that is forecasted, I take this all as a very good sign because el Temporal de Santa Rosa is seen as the start of spring on the Rio de la Plata.

Another recent write up of 'El Temporal' is in this month's issue of Ola Uruguay, a site with some great Uruguay information geared towards investors and retirees.

Our 'Noche'

The 'Noche de la Nostalgia' festivities are done and while we had a little time to rest today, it's not a US holiday so we both had to work today.  It is was an extremely quiet morning, as I think the whole city was asleep after the late night/early morning celebrations. We had a great time last night but feel quite pathetic in comparison to the hearty Uruguayos who partied the night away. We can claim that we started early.

Our first stop was to the home of an Expat family. They always throw the best family-friendly shindigs and last night was incredible. There was a huge Asado, with plenty of food and dessert, but the element that puts this party well above any normal house party was the dance floor. The center of the house has a very high ceiling with a huge skylight (this is customary in many older Montevideo homes- it gives an atrium feel) and it was turned into a dance floor with disco ball, strobe light, confetti, smoke machine and a great mix of songs from the 80's and beyond.

We were with these friends for about 4 hours, leaving at around midnight (we took Geneva home to meet the babysitter partway through). A group of six of us then took taxis to Centro and I was amazed by the number of people out on the streets.  It was the most people I had seen out in UY at one time. We have not been here for the Christmas parades down La Rambla but I imagine these crowds are a close second.

Alexander PosterMidnight is too early to go to the clubs so we grabbed some beers and sat down to drink some time away. We had tried to get into a few places just for drinks and they were all full, so we settled for an out of the way restaurant. At about 1 AM we went to Club Alexander, a large gay club (straight-friendly) on the main level of Palacio Salvo- the most recognizable building on Plaza Independencia. We had signed up in advance for tickets and arrived at the door with Alexander regulars so we paid out U$Y100 each entrance price (if arriving before 2:30 AM) and were inside within minutes.

The main floor of the disco was small with a bar that stretched nearly the entire length of the club. The crowd was predominantly young and Emo, both straight and gay, but there were people of all ages. Many of Alexander's crowd were looking sullen with Flock of Seagulls hair and all black attire.  The music was electronica with some fun "nostalgic" mixes that got everyone dancing.  After about 45 minutes there, a sea of people flooded towards the doors- it was in fact- towards the stairs. They had just opened up the lower level.

The lower level was FAR better than the main level. The 20 foot+ ceilings and exposed foundation of the historic building made for some great architectural detail and nice acoustics. The bar was in the center of the room with dance space all around and up onto raised steps a the far end of the room. As we walked through, our hosts, the regulars at this club, gave greeting kisses to the DJ and we found a spot to dance.

Unfortunately, our time to depart came way too quickly and we had to leave as the party was just ramping up at 2:30. We walked out the door to find a mass of people waiting to get in and a line of cabs right across the street. It was a prefect set up and we were home to relieve the babysitter by 3 AM.

We definitely want to go back to Alexander when we can spend more time. It was a very fun night and I am happy to have experienced my first Noche de la Nostalgia in Montevideo!

Missing the Coffee Shops

One thing that I miss in Uruguay: American style coffee shops.Coffee I know, I know. This is not the USA and why would there be American style coffee shops here? We knew that this wasn't the same kind of coffee culture as the USA. It's just taking some getting used to.

I love coffee shops that sell a variety of baked goods, roasted coffee beans and fresh coffee- to enjoy there or TO GO in big, big cups. I am historically not an espresso drinker because it's gone in two sips. For me, a 16 ounce coffee is good, but 20 is even better. Not that Starbucks is a favorite, but we used to live right above one in Minneapolis and it was a frequent stop for us.

In Montevideo, you can go to any of the standard fare restaurants or confiterías and get an espresso, café or cortado in a beautifully presented little cup, but not to-go.  They may offer some really fabulous pastries, but it is just not the same. I want to settle into a comfy chair with a gynormous cup of coffee in hand and enjoy some alone time with the newspaper. For now, that will have to be done in the comfort of my own home.

The best alternative that we have found in Montevideo if we want a coffee "para llevar" (to go) is--please don't laugh here--McDonald's. The restaurant side of McDonald's sells coffee or café con leche in a to-go cup.  It is not the best, but it's all we've got here if you want it to-go.

One huge surprise for us has been the McCafé- it is an actual cafe attached to the McDonald's restaurants in Montevideo and quite impressive one at that. The McCafé has higher-end finishes, free wifi and an upscale attitude, serving pastries on porcelain plates and coffee in glass. We have enjoyed some time at a McCafé, but the sizes are smaller and prices are quite a bit higher than the to-go coffee in the McDonald's restaurant. Rightfully so, as the cafe is much more civilized than the standard McDonald's.

We have stumbled upon two places lately that may become close stand-ins for our beloved coffee shops in the USA. More info and reviews to follow in the coming days.

With the occasional visit to the McCafé or the other shops we've found lately, more frequent stops at McDonald's for a paper cup of joe and daily coffee at home, we'll do just fine. The differences here in Uruguay are also leading us to some welcome changes in our lifestyle. We slow down, take a seat and enjoy our coffee and conversation for a while instead of grabbing our to-go cup and running. Not a bad change at all.

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Noche de la Nostalgia

Both August 24th and August 25th are a special dates in Uruguayan culture. August 25th is Uruguayan Independence Day and is a national holiday.  If you want to read about Uruguay's fight for independence, you can do so here.  Shops will be closed and people spend the day with their families.  The night before Independence day is Noche de la Nostalgia (Night of Nostalgia) where people go out en mass to huge parties around town and dance the night away to music of the past. The story goes that a local DJ created Night of Nostalgia in 1978 to remember the classic music of all different eras (and take advantage of the following vacation day).  Since then, the celebration has spread and whether you like it or not, Noche de la Nostalgia a major cultural event in Uruguay. Most of the larger parties around town require an advance reservation. Some celebrations I have heard take place in tents and many include at least a few drinks or dinner with the cost of admission.

The night was described to me by an Uruguaya- saying that Uruguayans have latched on to this tradition because they are nostalgic people, that they relish a way to celebrate the glory days of this beautiful country.

The most entertaining and amusing account about Noche de la Nostalgia can be found at globalpost.com, from a talented writer whom we met in Uruguay March, 2008.  Our first night here, our first dinner, we ended up talking to Ben and his wife. (2014 Update: Story no longer in archive of Global Post).

A list of events to celebrate the night in Montevideo can be found here.  This site is also a great resource for other events for Carnival, etc.

Call it research, call it blending with the locals; we have our babysitter booked for Monday night and we're planning to go dancing!

Lightbulbs by Suki Davis

While we've focused on retelling our experiences in Uruguay, there are some times when something is written so beautifully and thoroughly that it shouldn't be paraphrased. A wonderful friend of ours wrote the following article about the daily realities of life in Montevideo. Hope you enjoy. Lightbulbs by Suki Davis

I want to tell you about light bulbs, not that I have an inherent interest in the things themselves. As you may know, we have had a few spontaneous power outages in the past weeks and several of our bulbs had blown as a result.

While I was in the shops, I thought of my English student that evening and decided that we could not work in the half light. I went to the hardware aisle to pick up a couple. Dumbfounded I was, looking at the choices and styles. I read all the labels. Did I need a large base or small one? Did I need the conventional 60 watt or the fluorescent 11 watt that was equal to the 60 or the 7 watt one that was actually 45 but lasted eight times longer? Did I want the Germany trade mark brand or the Chinese made generic brand? Electricity here is very expensive. I looked and I left the store without new light bulbs.

At home, I removed light bulbs, scrutinized them, investigated the different types, even talked with a neighbour. Then, I could return to the store to buy the best bulbs.

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Life in this new country is the step by step, sometimes painful, often funny, configuration of an ever changing puzzle. The bulbs are just one piece. The electricity bill is another. Bus lines, bank lines, bargains and swindles, little bits of things are always poking up their heads and laughingly saying, "Just when you thought you knew something..."

And I guess I am learning something. In the same way that once you have heard a particularly good story, you are forever changed by it and with that knowing, you can never go back. I think once you move to another country, you are changed right down to the core. Even though I sometimes miss my home country terribly, I realize that if we returned tomorrow, I would also miss Uruguay.

I would miss the rich smell of asado cooking, the sweet smell of jasmine, the open markets where I buy vegetables so fresh that they surprise me, where the vendors sing out the praises of their wares, "Ripe ready tomatoes, 15 pesos a kilo," of the warmth of people here, the constant kisses of greeting and of adios, how easy it is to spend time together, how families are close and caring. And also, I have encountered the other life that lives parallel to us. We just don't sense it with such ferocity in the first world.

We live in a middle class neighbourhood. It is not ritzy. Garbage is collected from our dumpsters at night by a big truck that dumps each bin into its hold and through the day, people come by on horse drawn carts to glean whatever recyclables and useful items they can find. I love the clip clop sound of the hooves and I used to tell our kids, "Oh, that man got quite a score," when we saw a man emerging from a bin with a handful of plastic bottles. I wanted them to identify with this guy, that he was working, that he was a hunter gatherer, that he was just like us.

RecyclersAnd more and more, since our first visit in 2002, there are carts that now are pulled by a man or woman, maybe they have a bike and maybe they have a kid or two with them. There is even a group of people that have no carts at all but they roam the streets with patched up knapsacks and sticks to prop up the lid of the dumpster.

And I want to recognize the dignity of the work, as their other option could be crime, or violence, or giving in. I hang bags of bottles and recyclables outside the bin so they are easy to get at. I set out left-overs. I might even think I am doing my part.

And then, the other day, I was dropping our daughter off at her school and a little girl who usually begs from cars at the nearby stop light was looking in the window of the kindergarten class. The teacher came to close the curtain but the little girl stayed, peaking through a crack, until her mother called her back to her responsibilities. She left, her white public school uniform stained and her hair wild.

I walked home and saw a little boy, maybe 3, standing outside of a dumpster, chewing on a bit of bread. The lid of the dumpster cracked open a little wider and his father handed him out another something to eat. The kid's eyes were wide and wild.

Here, a friend of mine told me that when she said to her mother, "I am hungry", her mother responded, "You don't know what hunger is." And the other day, I went a massage therapist (and to me, everything is a Spanish lesson,) and we talked and she felt pride that our poverty here is nothing like that of Bolivia, Columbia, Peru. We have literacy. We have school lunch programs. We have a new government.

Here in this country where cheese is taxed 22% and tobacco is hardly taxed at all, I am being changed from the inside out. I feel like I am hearing the story up close and I can never go back.

Gimme Some Sugar!

In a land where 'dulce de leche' rules supreme, one can expect that sugary sweets are a mainstay of the local diet.

As a person with Type 1 Diabetes though, I have an unusual relationship with sugar (and all carbohydrates for that matter). Contrary to popular belief, I can eat sugar, I just have to be diligent and count exactly how much I am consuming, then give myself the proper corresponding amount of insulin. Alternatively, I'm not a fan of aspartame and lean towards sucralose if I do need an artificial sweetener.

I was not prepared for sugar popping up in all sorts of unusual places in Uruguay.

Ground Coffee. While not a coffee connoisseur, I like the stuff enough to drink every day. Since arriving in Uruguay, I have purchased a variety of ground coffees from the grocery store. Never in my wildest dreams did I think to look at the contents of a bag of ground coffee. If you see the word "Glaseado" on the label, sugar is the #2 ingredient. I found one brand of 'cafe natural' that advertised no sugar. I was thrilled but unfortunately I find the coffee somewhat bitter. The Mellita brand also has unsweetened ground coffee.  Pay attention to the name because there is also a Melita (one 'L') that has sugar.  

Fruit Juice. It was brought to my attention a few weeks ago that the fruit juices here contain added sugar. While doing some investigation, it appears to be a variety of sweeteners in juice: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame or sucralose. Not extremely unusual, I guess, but I would hope for at least a few unsweetened options.

Correction: I have found a few of the Dairyco brand juices in the refrigerator section do not have added sugar (or other sweeteners).  The Naranja y Manzana (Orange & Apple) juice is really nice.

Tomato Sauce. I just want plain tomato sauce or tomato paste.  No salt, no sugar, no luck.

Yogurt. There is one giant jar of plain, unsweetened yogurt of the 'Claldy' brand. Everything else is one of the sugar/aspartame/sucralose trifecta.

There are also plenty of items in Uruguay that have high fructose corn syrup.  Coca Cola here is unusual in that it is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup in the USA and sugar here.  In this case, I'd take the sugar.  This is the reason that people in the USA seem to like the taste of  'Mexican' Coke.  It's that wonderful sugar...

The whole point is, lots of things in UY are 'dulce'.  Fortunately most of the grocery products list their ingredients. Spend some time and read the labels.  You may just be surprised at what is in the food that you eat.

*When needing to add a sweetener to food, there is a natural alternative available in Uruguay. Stevia is an extract of a plant grown in Paraguay. It is available at the larger grocery stores. Thanks Franklin for reminding me of this!  I also love Agave nectar, but so far I have not been able to find this in Uruguay. If anyone knows of Agave in UY, PLEASE send a note!!

Jardín Caminito- A Perfect Choice for Us

We love the jardín that Geneva attends.  Thank you a million times over to Suki for recommending it. There are so many things that I appreciate about Jardín Caminito: the atmosphere is extremely warm and open, the play is creative and inventive, family events are fun and frequent. The thing that I love most about Caminito, though, is the quality and quantity of communication between the jardín and the parents.

Caminito class

Information to the parents is spread quickly and readily via email, printed and handwritten notes.  We receive email messages frequently with news about meetings or recent happenings in the jardín. Even with Geneva's day-to-day activities, the communication has been incredible.  When we first started attending Jardín Caminito, we received three "books" that had been created for her:

  • One small book to travel back and forth that contains daily handwritten communication and questions.
  • One large book that mainly lives at Caminito but travels back and forth as well.  This binder contains printed song lyrics and other printed communication regarding materials that they need or specific activities that they are working on.
  • One large book lives at home where we can collect all of her artwork in a binder format.

All the parents of Jardín Caminito have access to an online photo album that is updated every month. Last week we received a CD of songs that they sing in Geneva's class, along with lyrics. There is even a rotating library of children's books and we receive a new book to borrow each weekend.  It is so much fun to read these sweet kids books in Spanish and it's as much of an education for us as it is for Geneva.

Last week Brad and I attended the "Reunión de Padres sala 1".  Nearly all of the parents of the year 1 class attended, along with the administrators and all the teachers (not just our grade).  We learned in detail what they are working on in the year 1 class and there was a forum where parents could ask questions about both the jardín and the children. The instructors knew that the spoken information in Spanish was fast and we may not understand all of it, so we were given a printed copy of the main curriculum discussion to read.  We also wrote private letters to our children as if they were reading them when they are 20 years old.  There were few dry eyes in the building after that exercise.

A few of the parents and instructors at the Jardín speak English and they are all very concerned that we understand all of the information and our questions answered.  I cannot express how wonderful this is when we do have questions. Although 95% of our communication with the jardín is in Spanish, it is great to know that we have people to turn to if we need clarification.

Several times both that night and previously, Brad and I have commented to each other  how we wouldn't get this level of hands-on attention in the USA. To the best of our knowledge, most US daycares do not have 2.5 hour long meetings like this to discuss our kids, their growth and progress.  Our daughter would not get kisses from all of the teachers and many of the kids, as we are walking into and out of the school each day. (So she get's a few extra colds along the way, you take the good with the bad!) She would not have an opportunity to go to a farm once a month in the USA, or have "classmates" that she could potentially stay with throughout her preschool years.

geneva-face-painting

Geneva frequently comes home with evidence of face painting or coloring.  They sing songs with various musicians coming to visit and they learn about  the world around them through daily exploration activities.  It seems that she loves the other kids as much as the activities and her teachers say that Geneva's comprehension of Spanish is great.  We are excited that she has an opportunity to be immersed in the Uruguayan culture and language for 20 hours a week and that she is thriving here.

Brad and I are making many new friends and receiving an education of our own through this experience. With all of the meetings and correspondence in Spanish, our comprehension is improving and we're learning much through the process of becoming integrated in a new culture.

Brad is attending a "Dia del Padre" this afternoon with Geneva at Caminito and I can't wait to hear all about it.  :)

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

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