Striving for Minimalism

Toddler G and all of our STUFF arriving in Montevideo Uruguay in March 2009We moved to South America 5 years ago this past March, with a 15-month-old baby, two Pugs, a collection of carry-ons plus 12 bags/boxes, a stroller, travel crib and car seat, all brought with us on the airplane.

This was after we sorted and packed/sold/gave away nearly everything we owned. All the furniture in our 2000 sq. ft house in MN; sold. Clothes; donated. No shipping container for us. No sir. We’ve pared it down to the essentials.

Our whole life was in those 12 bags/boxes. Everything from clothes and toys to a desktop computer and two flatscreen monitors.

We liked to think that we were living a minimalist lifestyle when we brought said bags/boxes to our furnished rental in Montevideo, but we weren’t. Not even close. We still had collections of clothes that we brought with us “just in case”. We sill had (and have to this day) boxes and boxes in storage in my father-in-law’s basement back in the USA. Boxes full of housewares and momentos, clothes and business paperwork. I shudder at the thought of those boxes, even though I have sorted, further purged and repacked said boxes every time we visit the USA.

Is this any better than paying for a storage unit somewhere? No.

Little F (along with Paloma the Pug) in the play area. Look at all the STUFF!

Little F in our play area. Look at all the STUFF!

We now have far too many toys and random THINGS that we’ve accumulated being in one house in Cordoba for over 3 years. Time to pare down again. We are sorting, cleaning, selling and giving away once again.

Less STUFF means less to worry about. Money saved by not purchasing extraneous things. Time saved not looking for things and not having to maintain ‘collections’ of things. More time for meaningful experiences. More time for the PEOPLE in your life.

My favorite video about STUFF is in the link below (warning: Carlin has a potty-mouth, but the message is powerful). Click if you dare: http://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac

Some of our favorite minimalist resources are:

Zen Habits http://zenhabits.net/ (which planted the seed in our minds, years ago)

Becoming Minimalist http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

The Minimalist Mom http://www.theminimalistmom.com/

Food and The Mother of Invention

If you asked me 5 years ago whether I thought food would be a major factor in our lives in South America, I never would have considered it. Food was food. Sure there were things I liked to eat and I knew there would be things that I wouldn’t be able to find in South America, but I am here to tell you that our cooking and eating habits have changed and matured dramatically since we left the USA in early 2009.

Poached Pears (With Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Cream Topping)

Poached Pears (With Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Cream Topping)

In Uruguay, our major adjustment was that the dinner hour doesn’t start until about 8 PM (this is true in Argentina as well, with many restaurants hitting their busiest times around 10 PM). When we visited Uruguay in early 2008 during our exploratory trip with our infant daughter, this wasn’t an issue. We brought the baby with us in a stroller and she slept while we ate. Toddlers, unfortunately are not quite as flexible. We opted to make food at home whenever possible and more often than we care to admit, we would wait for the take-out pizza place to open at 7 PM so we could get our pizza, pizzeta (crust, sauce and toppings with no cheese) and faina.

Weekly Produce for URMOVINGWHERE Family

Weekly Produce for URMOVINGWHERE Family

Luckily, wherever we have lived in South America, there has been an ample supply of fresh produce and we could find the raw ingredients to make many things. On the other hand, the furnished rentals where we’ve lived have posed a challenge with the appliances/cookware provided. I started to cook in earnest, while not buying many durable goods because we’ve been moving frequently. Necessity is the mother of invention and I learned to make all the things that we might be craving: pad thai, fried rice, mac & cheese, lasagne, and all sorts of sauces, soups and spice blends from scratch.

I’ve always loved to bake, but I started experimenting with alternative flours (there are many gluten-free alternatives here) and I’ve had great success with everything from pizza crusts to moist fruit breads and crumbly scones.

Many of my cooking challenges arise from using recipes or meal-planning sites from the USA. As we are not in the US, I do not have access to certain foods (like kale, organic anything, sweet potatoes and most packaged items) and appliances (like crockpots- not available here, or a blender- I refuse to buy one). I’ve made do with substitutions for some things and created my own modified prep and cooking methods for others.

I am going to start to include recipes and workarounds here, as a supplement to our travel blog. Food is a huge part of an experience in any country. While I sometimes like to cook North American food as a reminder of ‘home’, I use many international influences, all the while modifying recipes to fit with the foods we have readily available in central Argentina.

Hope you enjoy our international food journey. You might just find a recipe that you’d like to try as well. ¡Buen Provecho!

I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas…

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the day! Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to everyone!!!

Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree & Little F With An Angel

Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree & Little F With An Angel

This is a season of strong emotion for us- as it is for many people. We have chosen not to travel back ‘home’ for Christmas and rather travel in the summer (June/July) to the US when we can enjoy the weather there and get away from the winter here in Argentina.

That does not make this time of year any easier. As we struggle to create warm-weather Christmas traditions without our extended family nearby, it doesn’t quite seem like Christmas to us. We both grew up in the upper midwest of the United States. Christmas meant cold and snow and baking Christmas cookies and navigating holiday storms/slippery roads to visit family.

Visiting Papa Noel December 2013

Visiting Papa Noel December 2013

Our Christmas in Argentina will consist of opening up a family present to each of the girls on Christmas eve, along with setting out cookies/milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Unfortunately no homemade cookies this year. 100 F heat with a broken AC is too warm to turn on the oven. We’ll be streaming Christmas music on the ipad (avoiding “I’ll be Home For Christmas”– that always makes me cry) and enjoying plenty of ice cream and many a frosty beverage in an attempt to keep cool.

Christmas morning will be chaotic, like many households with young kids. Our 6 year old and 1.5 year old will dive into their presents and we’ll take a few new pool toys out to enjoy right after breakfast. Christmas day will be no baking for us. We’ll be grilling salmon and beef tenderloin on the parilla and taking dips in the pool to cool off in between cooking.

Christmas memories will not always be like this and we are planning to enjoy a snowy white Christmas with family again very soon. Right now though, our Christmas is bittersweet. We are missing family and the Christmas experience of our childhood as we create a new ‘normal’ warm weather Christmas for our girls. Lets just hope that I don’t start bawling during all of our planned skype calls with family! :)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Argentina!!! XOXOXOXOXO!!!

Pros and Cons of Argentina: Part 2 of 2

The lists of Pros and Cons for Argentina and Uruguay have been popular and we have to note that these lists are based on our experiences, you may not find the same apply to you.

Even with the following list, we love Argentina. All places have their pros and cons and we have found a spot here in Cordoba Argentina that works for our family. We liked Uruguay but were never in love with Montevideo and are MUCH happier here in Argentina.

If you haven’t read our previous lists, Check out Uruguay Pros and Cons And Argentina Pros: Part 1 of 2.  If you’ve lived in either one of these countries, what have your experiences been? Do you agree with our lists or disagree? Leave a comment to let us know.

ARGENTINA CONS:

  • Vacation Days This may be a Pro if you are a salaried Argentine employee, but for us, working on a US schedule or any Argentine hourly employee, the sheer amount of vacation days in Argentina is ridiculous. It means schools are closed, stores are closed and we have a day where we still have to work but also have to juggle childcare and pre-planning of all the shopping/services. For example this past Easter, Thursday is a marginal holiday, Friday is a national holiday and Tuesday the 2nd is also a national holidays to commemorate the Malvinas war. The Monday after easter has been added as a bridge day, creating 6 days off for many people (our daughter’s school). Good for them, bad for us on a US schedule.
  • Ferias. Oh, how I long for Uruguay’s fresh produce in a street market, set up weekly before the sun rises. The energy, the culture and the gloriously fresh produce, eggs, meat and fish. Sigh. There are ‘Ferias Francas’ here, but none in our neighborhood. We will have to search them out and make a weekly journey. Certainly not as convenient as the feria outside of our door every Sunday morning in Montevideo.
  • Governmental Stability. Hahaha. Argentina? Stable Government? You have to be kidding me. Primaries were held yesterday, legislative elections are in October and the presidential election is in 2015. So we’ll wait and see what happens.
  • Monsanto and Agribusiness. While there is a growing demand for organic fruits and vegetables here (and suppliers meeting the need), the big agro-businesses have a hold on Argentina and grow and incredible amount of GM soy and corn here. Some estimates state there are 19 million hectares of GM soy here, which represents 56 percent of the cultivated area in Argentina and that 97% is exported to Europe and Asia. 

     This is something that weighs very heavily on my mind, but the USA is no better, in this regard.

On a similar note, much of the free-range beef and other high quality food products are exported as well, leaving the lesser quality for the Argentines. You will occasionally see “Calidad de Exportación” on products – meaning “Export Quality” but it is pretty rare. This, along with tight restrictions on imported items makes it challenging to get high quality and/or non-Argentine-produced products here. 

  • Tramites. There are so many appointments to do things here and so many places where you must go in person to pay bills/get addresses changed/request a new card, etc. While there are services/payments that can be done online and some neighborhood pay stations, it is still not widespread yet and these things certainly cannot be done by mail like it can in the USA.
  • Colas. No, not a soda-pop cola. A line or a queue. You will wait in lines and you need to be patient and wait (see above for tramites). Bring a book or your knitting, you will need it. (If you have a baby with you though, you get to go to the front of the line. No kidding.)  In many places phones are banned by law so that won’t save you.
  • Siesta Still after 4 years in South America, I am not yet accustomed to the siesta. As North Americans, I like things to be open when I want them to be open. The fact that I can’t get groceries or go to the doctor in my neighborhood during the middle of the day is insane. Almost every business in our neighborhood is closed from 1:00 or 1:30 until 5 PM. The exception to this is the big box stores (Walmart/Easy/Carrefour) and the larger grocery store/pharmacy/restaurant chains. The bright side is that if somewhere IS open during siesta, you’ll have it to yourself during those hours.
  • Restaurant Hours If you want to eat dinner early, you are out of luck. This is not unique to Argentina but sometimes, we want to eat out or order delivery before 8 PM. No luck. Most restaurants open at 8 PM and most Argentines do not eat dinner until 9 or later.

So, those are a few of the pros and cons from our perspective- in no particular order. Leave a comment to let us know your experiences and what you agree or disagree with from our lists. If you live somewhere else and love it, tell us why.

Video Interview with 3/4 of the URMovingWhere Family

We were recently interviewed by Coley Hudgins for the website http:movingabroadwithchildren.com as a part of their new feature on other bloggers’ stories. Happy to say that we were the first for this honor!

Click here for the same video on the Movingabroadwithchildren site and check out the other great features/resources there. Also see the Coley’s new site with even more great info for families living abroad at http://www.theresilientfamily.com/

It was fun to be a part of their first interview!

 

Mandatory: Exploratory Trip(s)

 

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Exploratory Trip March 2008. Palacio Salvo, Montevideo, Uruguay.

When we were considering the realities of a move abroad in 2008, we traveled with daughter #1, who was 3 months old at that time to Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. If we hadn’t explored our potential move cities in advance, we probably would not have made the move abroad.

We CANNOT imagine and DO NOT recommend moving abroad, especially with children, without scoping out the location(s) in person first.

Exploratory Trip March 2008. Buenos Aires. 3-month-old Daughter #1.

It took us a year after that first exploratory trip to put our ducks in a row and plan our move to South America. We moved in March 2009. This was not a quick decision and we’d been contemplating our options for years before.

Like many of our readers, we had completed a ton of online research to even narrow the locations down to Uruguay or Argentina in the first place. Then, traveling with an infant during our scouting trip was simple (at least compared to traveling with a toddler or preschooler!) We wandered and walked for hours, checking out neighborhoods, talking to people, gathering info and heading out at all hours of the day and night. Late night South American dinners are easy-peasy with a sleeping baby at your side!

We receive so many questions about the places where we have lived and we are happy to help, but we can’t make the decision for you and you shouldn’t rely on ANYONE – let alone a stranger- to sway your decision. You need to see a place in person to really know if that location is right for you.

We recently learned of a young family who had moved to Montevideo sight unseen only to find that they hated it and left after the first week. They are now very comfortably settled in a gorgeous coastal town in Argentina. Their initial experience sounded quite traumatic and although all signs pointed to Uruguay being the perfect fit for them, it was not.

The day-to-day realities of a city could me much, much different for you based on any number of factors: ability to blend in, language skills, your cultural background, expectations, socio-economic level, etc..

Please consider a scouting trip (or two) to any foreign location you may consider living. Your scouting trip, along with all the online information and contacts that you can gather will help you form an accurate picture of a place. Don’t forgo this crucial step in the planning process.

To learn more of the specific steps in planning a scouting trip, check out this very informative post on Moving Abroad With Children.

 

 

We’re Still Around

What a beautiful plane!

Hey All!! It is comforting to know that you are all concerned if we disappear for a while. Thank you for your notes!

We are still around- albeit traveling for a while. We’ll be getting back to our daily grind at the end of July. Yes, it’s been wonderful. Yes, we have some stories to tell.

Fun at airports

I’ll be posting a few short items in the coming days. One was an interview that we did earlier this month for an amazing online community- http://movingabroadwithchildren.com. If you really want to dig for our interview, go ahead. They have some great content and I love this expat video series they are doing (I am happy to say we were the first!)  If you don’t want to peruse the site looking for our interview, stay tuned for the direct link coming up.

I have to keep you in suspense, right? More to come soon. Chau!

Little Travelers – Our Adventures With Kid(s)

Last week, after returning home from some grocery shopping in our neighborhood, our 5-year-old steps into the house and declares, “I’m bored with this city.”  Amused, I promptly put it on Facebook and two out of the first three responses were “Where did she hear that?” or something similar.

That wasn’t what I expected.

Daughter #1, showing her hands, black with volcanic sand and the Osorno Volcano in Chile. February 2011.

Daughter #1 Showing her hands, black with volcanic sand & the Osorno Volcano in Chile. February 2011.

She is a kid that has always been on the move but we’ve never said that we’re bored with a city. NEVER.

That is something out of her own head.

In my opinion, it does show that she is comfortable moving around and wants to explore this great world of ours.

While in Minnesota, we lived in the same house for 7 years and sold it when I was 6 months pregnant with dear daughter #1; the same daughter with the charming quote above.

That got me thinking how much we have traveled and what we have all seen in her 5-1/2 years (4 of which have been in South America). We lived in a few places in Minnesota leading up to our move, then in Montevideo for 18 months, Bariloche for 5 months and now Córdoba, Argentina for just over 2 years (where our second daughter was born in 2012).

We have seen many other places in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, all without a car of our own. We’ve rented cars, traveled with friends, hired a driver once (okay, twice) and taken a variety of planes, buses, boats and trains.

Exploring at Atlántida beach, Uruguay. March 2010.

Exploring at Atlántida beach, Uruguay. March 2010.

In Uruguay, we’ve visited:

Colonia, Piriapolis, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo, Cabo Polonio, La Paloma, Minas, Salta and through many more cities on the way.

In Argentina, we’ve visited:

Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mendoza, Bariloche, El Bolsón, Villa la Angostura, Concordia, Iguazu, Villa Carlos Paz, Villa General Belgrano, Cosquín, Capilla del Monte and others.

In Chile, we’ve visited:

Puerto Montt, Chiloé Island including Ancud and Castro, Osorno, Villarrica, Pucón, Puerto Varas, Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar and others.

This also included two over-land crossings of the Andes mountains: One from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Montt, Chile by car and another time from Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile by bus.

 

On a bus to Capilla del Monte, Argentina. November, 2012.

On a bus to Capilla del Monte, Argentina. November, 2012.

I can’t forget the three trips to/from the United States since we’ve been living in South America. We are pretty well traveled with our kids. We like adventure (it was even in our wedding vows, “Through Adventure and Adversity”) and we encourage a love of adventure and adaptability in our daughters.

We’re not planning another move anytime soon, but we DO have some interesting travel plans we’re considering. As you may have guessed, we’re also not the type to travel WITHOUT our kids.

We’ll see where our next big adventure takes us – as a family.

Pros and Cons of Argentina: Part 1 of 2

After our last post about the Pros and Cons of Uruguay, we of course had to follow up with our perspective of Argentina. We were in Bariloche for 5 months and now in Cordoba for 2 years. We love it here for many reasons and want to tell you about it.

This one has been a much tougher list to write. Why do we love it here? Argentina has some very distinct problems and some of the country’s economic challenges are getting worse by the day. The Uruguay list was relatively simple. We’ve been away from it for over two years. We’ve had time to reflect and consider our lives within that context.

It’s like we can’t see the forest through the trees right now.

And, our standard disclaimer: There is no perfect place and not everyone will agree with the following, but here’s our take on Argentina.

I am addressing each point in the same order so show the switch from an Uruguay Con to an Argentina Pro for us. Hope you can follow my madness:

PROS:

  • Argentina is (Relatively) Cheap.  Where we were renting a 2 bedroom/1 bath house in Pocitos (Montevideo, Uruguay), we are now paying a little more than half to rent a 3 bedroom/3bath house with a pool in Cerro de Las Rosas (Cordoba, Argentina). Unfortunately, prices keep going up. Argentina does have 20% inflation, although they claim it is much lower. Since we are making dollars, Argentina is still much less expensive than Uruguay was for us. Kids items and electronics are still pricey (same as Uruguay) but housing, services and utilities are much less. 
  • Dry. We’re in Cordoba which is at the eastern side of the Sierras Chicas, a small range of mountains that run north-south. We have hot and slightly humid summers and dry, mild winters. It is glorious and we love the climate here. Like Uruguay, we walk everywhere so weather is a huge factor for our day-to-day comfort and we have to plan accordingly. I have never paid so much attention to the weather before we moved to South America. 
  • No Sickness! Maybe we got through all of our ‘Expat bugs’when we were in Uruguay but we haven’t had more than the sniffles here- and that is with one kid in school. We had our share of sinus infections and flu in the past and are super happy to report that in Cordoba, we have not been sick at all (Knock on wood!) 
  • Residency Process Was a Cinch. We were amazed that after a 4 hour appointment in migracion (1 hour of which across the street at a cafe, waiting for them to process paperwork) We had our temporary DNI papers in hand and were waiting the official cards in the mail. The cards came within 2-1/2 weeks and we are thrilled to now be permanent residents of Argentina. We did have a little help because of our infant daughter, who is a dual citizen because she was born here but we also know people here who are foreigners and have gotten their residency within just a few visits to migracion. MUCH faster than the 2+ years it has been taking in Uruguay. 
  • Incredibly Welcoming. We’ve met so many wonderful people here, from introductions in the park, coffee shops and school. We are invited to peoples homes for asados, birthday parties and baptisms. People are so genuine and really mean it when they offer to help. It is a wonderful community.  
  • Walkable Residential Neighborhoods: We are in the Cerro De Las Rosas area of Cordoba, about a 20 minute drive NW of the city center. The houses are more typical suburban, but still connected to create higher density. We live 4 blocks from one main shopping street, 10 blocks from another, 8 blocks from G’s school and the larger grocery stores have online ordering and delivery for what we can’t get within our neighborhood. We get lots of exercise, put many miles on our stroller and walk nearly everywhere we need to go. If we head downtown, we take the bus (Diferencial line), which is plush and airconditioned :) (Disclaimer: this is the nicest bus line and costs double what the standard busses here do- about $1 USD)
  • Easy To Get Further. We have never owned a car in South America, so we walk, take public transportation and the occasional taxi all through the city and surrounding areas. We’ve also taken busses to Carlos Paz (just over the Sierras from Cordoba) overnight busses to Buenos Aires, Mendoza and on to Santiago, Chile. We’ve also rented a car, but transportation is really easy without a car of our own- even with two kids.
  • Goods & Materials. There is a wide variety of items available here, mainly because it is a much larger market than tiny Uruguay. Clothing is not the best quality all the time, so you have to be choosy where you shop. If you know what you are looking for, stay out of the malls and shop in the center of town, there are some good deals to be had. Not quite like shopping USA good deals (for clothing especially) but it’s all relative. We’ve also found a great variety of imports, organic and specialty food items. You just have to know where to shop and maybe make a trip across town once per month or so to get them. :)  
  • Many ‘Mixed’ Families. We love the fact that there are so many expats here that have married Argentines. In fact, all of our expat friends, with the exception of a few missionary families, are Argentine/foreign mixed couples. They live here and are invested in a way that most transient expats are not. This give a great perspective on the ins and outs of the country and culture through people on the inside. In Uruguay, the expats we knew were like us – both members of the couple were from elsewhere. We really value all that we have learned through our local and expat friends throughout our journey.
  • Variety. There is a great variety of larger cities (Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Cordoba and Rosario) and a huge variety of climates/landscapes in a country as large as Argentina. From sub-tropical jungle in the northeast to semi-desert in the northwest, to mountainous ski-mecca around Bariloche and sleepy coastal beach towns on the east coast- all with the wide-open pampas inbetween. Argentina has a city and a landscape to fit nearly every preference.
  • Healthcare. I feel like I have won the healthcare lottery. I have Type 1 Diabetes, which in the past has made acquiring health coverage difficult at best. In Cordoba, we found APROSS, which is the provincial plan. Not only was I insurable through APROSS, coverage started from day 1 for both diabetes and pregnancy and also has 100% coverage of all of my Medtronic Insulin Pump supplies. The big deal: I pay $390 pesos per month for me and the baby. That’s it. So, as of posting this, it is about $48 USD per month if you’re using Argentina’s  blue rate of exchange. More about this and other countries take on healthcare at a previous post, Healthcare in the Rest of the World. Since signing with APROSS, Argentina has past a law stating that people with pre-exisiting conditions can no longer be banned from coverage by private insurers, although they can be charged more. I have such amazing care and inexpensive coverage, I wouldn’t dream of switching.

All that being said, I’m going to leave you with rainbows and sunshine and happy feelings about Argentina. Not all the case though, as we’ll address the negatives in our  next installment. Stay tuned for the dark side of Argentina, plus a few things that are just plain bothersome. :)

 

Reflecting on Argentina

I’ve been working on the Pros and Cons list of Argentina but it is proving much more difficult than the previous Uruguay list. It was stressing me out so I took a break, enjoyed a great, long Easter weekend with my family which is continuing until Wednesday April 3rd. (Today and Tuesday are also Argentine federal holidays, making this a 6 day weekend. It is on my Cons list. You’ll understand why.)

So, the Argentina Pros and Cons list is long and has been very difficult. Maybe it is that we are still too close to the situation- since we are still here. Maybe it is just that Argentina, by nature is more complex. I’ve decided to split the Pros and Cons into two lists. Even then, I don’t think my little lists will do justice to such a complex and varied country as Argentina.

At Iguazu Falls "Garganta del Diablo" March 2013

At Iguazu Falls “Garganta del Diablo” March 2013

So, here we are enjoying the variety of life in Argentina (definitely on the Pro’s list). In March, we spent one weekend at a friend’s farm near Ascochinga, one at Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian border which I must write about in a future post, one weekend home (whew!) and this weekend with the XL Easter tourism weekend. Its been a busy month and made even busier contemplating, writing and re-writing the Pros and Cons of Argentina post.

It’s coming. Promise.