An American in Argentina: The Culture Shock is Real

        This is our fourth season in Argentina, and as we prepare to return to the states in a few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on some of the biggest cultural differences and norms that we’ve experienced, compared with our lives in the U.S. While one might think that I’d be used to the ins and outs of Argentinian life, the truth is that I’m still often taken aback because those differences can be stark. I often talk about the Argentinian way, which I use mostly in the context of people being very relaxed (and yes, very slow) about everything, but there’s so much more!

1. Sharing is caring

        Everywhere I look, something is being shared. Cookies, snacks, pastries, but most of all, drinks. Yerba Mate is perhaps the most popular drink in Argentina. It consists of dried and crushed tea leaves, which are placed at the bottom of a wooden or metal Mate cup. Hot water is added as needed, and it is sipped through a filtered straw. At basketball games, hanging out in the park, or even walking around the supermarket, people carry their mate cups, along with a thermos filled with hot water. They sip and pass and sip and pass, seemingly forever. It’s a social activity usually shared among family and friends, but I have been offered sips from the cups of strangers many times.

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My very own mate’ cup, gifted to me by 6 yr old for Dia de la Madre (Argentinian Mother’s Day)

        The same can be said of alcoholic drinks and soda. By far the most popular alcoholic drink is an anise based drink called Fernet, which is then mixed with Coca Cola and shared in an oversized cup. I detest anise and anything that tastes like black licorice, so I never partake in the passing of Fernet. This is also true for drinks at parties, which are often poured into one big cup (or sometimes a Coke bottle is cut in half and used as a cup) and then shared among the guests.

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After initially hating it along with me, my hubby has become a convert, as evidenced by our almost empty bottle of Fernet

        While I can certainly understand sharing those drinks among friends, what boggles my mind is the sharing of water in public places. In the U.S. there might be a water cooler with many single use cups to drink from. Here, instead of a seemingly endless supply of cups, there might be 1 or 2 cups sitting on top of the cooler, and people will grab a cup, drink from it, and put it back. No wiping off the rim, rinsing, or anything! They just grab, drink, and return. I nearly passed out the first time I saw someone drink from a cup at a doctor’s office and then put it back on top of the cooler. The next person did the same, and the next after that. This is the case in doctor’s offices, government offices, at school, or wherever a water cooler is present. In the U.S. we are a generally germaphobic bunch, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a concern out here.

2. Friendly is an understatement.

        Along the vein of sharing, people out here are remarkably friendly and polite. Now when I say polite, I don’t mean that you won’t get pushed out of the way in line at the store, or honked at if you cross the street too slowly, because you will. I mean friendly and polite in general interactions. When in New York, I can be on an elevator with 10 people during the course of a day, where *maybe* one would have made eye contact and said hello. In contrast, it’s almost as if every person I cross paths with here, is ready with a “buenos dias,” “buen dia,” or “que tal.”

        People I don’t know say hello and often stop for small talk, even after I tell them that I struggle with Spanish. I’m often forced to walk in the street because the sidewalks are filled with groups of people who have stopped to say hello and talk. It’s like trying to walk quickly through Times Square in New York, it’s just not going to happen. In the beginning, you may feel like a celebrity because of all the attention, but really, that’s just how they are with most people, and it’s certainly a welcome change to encounter so many friendly faces.

3. Safety first is surely not the motto.

        There are cross walks everywhere, but rarely are there traffic lights. The lights are reserved primarily for the main intersections, so you’re on your own for all other streets. I learned quickly that if there isn’t a traffic light, then cars and motorcycles simply will not stop. Not if you’re pregnant, holding a baby, or an old lady with a cane. No one is spared. God forbid you have the light and a car is turning, you will get honked at and just about run over every single time. Each day is like a real life game of frogger. It truly amazes me, especially in this city where they really value relaxation and don’t seem to be in a rush to do much, but then will run you over in a rush to do nothing.

        One day while walking home from school, my 6 year old was damn near hit by a motorcycle. It actually looked like he was hit head on, but it just slightly rolled over his foot and pushed him forward. This was while crossing the street at a major intersection with traffic lights, and we were crossing the street with the walk signal. All cars were stopped and this motorcycle just came out of nowhere and ran the light. I stood there screaming at him in Spanglish, but he had the nerve to just keep going like nothing happened!

        They also aren’t big on seat belts, helmets, or car seats. I’ve seen just a handful of cars with car seats, and even less with the children actually in them. What I often see are kids in laps in the front seat (driver and passenger), standing up and playing in the back seat, or hanging out of the window, with not a seatbelt in sight. A motorcycle meant for 1 or 2, will have a driver, two kids in the middle, and a 4th person in the back. I get so nervous when I see tiny babies just chilling on the drivers lap, yet no one bats an eye, so they seem to have perfected this living on the edge style of transport.

These are just a few of the many kids and babies I see riding dirty daily.

4. Siesta is Life.

        When we lived in Italy and Greece, we were first introduced to the concept and practice of siesta. During a period of 2-3 hours in the early afternoon, the majority of the town would shut it doors to business and relax with coffee, sleep, or have a long leisurely lunch. In the two cities we’ve lived in since moving to Argentina, we’ve discovered that they do not play about their siestas. Shops close their doors promptly at 12 or 12:30, not to be seen or heard from again until 6 or 6:30. Only a couple of cafe’s remain open, two supermarkets, and a few kioskos (bodegas/newstands).

        The city becomes one big ghost town, and all productivity ceases. It’s a crazy system where the crowds at banks, supermarkets, doctors offices, the post office, and pretty much anywhere essential, are through the roof before siesta begins. I’ve stood in line at the supermarket for upwards of 30 minutes, more times than I care to count! Back in New York, I can already hear the vocal complaints if someone found themselves on line for longer than 10 minutes, if that. People here don’t seem to mind the long waits, because I believe they would give anything for those 6 hours of midday relaxation.

Just a typical pre-siesta “line”

        It seems that anything worth doing happens at night, so people go to bed very late, hence the need for the long siesta. Most restaurants don’t open until 9pm, with a rare few opening at 8pm, so there’s no such thing as an early dinner out. If you’re heading to the club, you’ll have a long night because most clubs are empty until around 3am, and reach their peak at around 5am or later!

Somehow still partying at 7am!

5. Kid’s rule the night.

        A few weeks ago I joined a friend for drinks at a popular restaurant/bar. I had just finished having dinner with my family at a different restaurant, and we wrapped it up around 12:30am, which is pretty average, if not on the early side. Since most restaurants don’t open before 9pm, it’s customary to head out around 10pm, and children are usually invited and welcomed. Many restaurants have staffed play rooms to occupy the kiddies, as well as child friendly menu options. When there are no playrooms, the kids sit and enjoy the meal and the conversation along with the adults.

        The restaurant in question does not have a play room, but we frequently take our kid’s there, as do many others. This particular night we were there until just before 3am and I kid you not, there were two families with children that had left just before us, both around 2:30-2:45am. Even though I am used to the late culture, I was still surprised to see what looked to be 6 and 7 year olds just yapping it up with family when almost all my friend’s back in the U.S. had been sleeping for hours! We’ve gotten looks when we’ve had our kid’s out in the U.S. past 11pm, so it’s definitely a culture shock. 

6. Ice cream and Coca Cola for everyone.

        I’ve never seen a collective group of people that love ice cream as much as the people here, and that includes my time living in Italy! There are more ice cream shops in this city than anything else, except maybe cafe’s. There is an ice cream shop at least every few blocks, and some with two on the same block. The ice cream shops are among the few establishments even open during siesta, and this is all year round. When we leave for our summer in the states, it’s the beginning of winter here and pretty cold, but that hardly deters these ice cream lovers from flocking to their favorite ice cream shops.

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The constant crowds in front of a popular ice cream shop, which happens to be right next door to another popular ice cream shop

        After ice cream, coke, or Coca, as they so lovingly call it, rules the day. It seems as though when they are not drinking mate, they are drinking Coca. This is in the morning, afternoon, and evening. These are grandma’s and toddlers alike, and when they drink it, they really drink it, often walking down the street with a two liter bottle and giant straw. I’ve seen plenty of 3 and 4 year olds drinking it at basketball games or restaurants at midnight. I cannot even imagine the horror on the faces of some American moms, gasping at the idea of giving their young child soda, let alone in the wee hours of the night. But again, no one bats an eye because this is the norm.

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One of the local supermarkets can barely find the space for all the Coca!

7. Endless holidays and celebrations.

        If you have followed our travels, and my accounts of life in Argentina, you would know that I really dislike the school system here. Our kids have been in private school, but the public schools follow the same schedule. Depending on the age of the child, they attend school for either 3 or 4 hours per day. I’ve often complained about having to wake up early to get the kids to school, walk 20-25 minutes each way, only to return 2 hours later, which gives me time to do maybe one thing per day without the kids. I can sit at a cafe near the school to write a little, I can go for a run, or I can run hit the supermarket. That’s it. When 12 noon comes around, the kids are all mine again, so alone time is hard to come by, and after school activities are not a thing. They just don’t exist, outside of the English classes offered by some schools. To this day I don’t know how working parents do this, unless they have jobs that close for siesta.

        Even with these limited school days, there still seems to be a day off every 2-3 weeks. I’ve noticed that Argentinian people are pretty patriotic. Every morning before classes begin, schools gather for assemblies, where everyone is required to listen and sing along with the national anthem, and to raise and honor different Argentinian flags. I was used to the occasional Independence Day or Labor Day holiday in the U.S., but here the holidays, or feriados, are seemingly endless. They include Independence Day, Flag Day, two Labor Days, Revolution Day, Sovereignty Day, Truth and Justice Day, Malvinas Day, two days for Carnival, Cultural Diversity Day, Good Friday, Immaculate Conception Day, San Martin Day, and of course a few days for Christmas and New Year’s. This is in addition to various national strike days, which result in schools and many businesses being closed.

        If that wasn’t enough, there are also local historical figures and battles that are honored, so schools are not only closed, but there are frequent school performances for these events. In the states there might be two performances a year, but we tend to have one every month or two. It’s hard for me to keep up with what is being honored or celebrated, but the kids generally enjoy taking part in the dancing, singing, and storytelling, and I’m happy that they are able to take part in these traditions, since they are such a big part of the culture here. They have learned some traditional Argentinian dances, as well as the words to many songs, in Spanish, and I do melt a little when I see them perform.

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8. Sports, sports, sports (or futbol, futbol, futbol).

        I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sports fans. I think it goes without saying that futbol/soccer is extremely popular in South America, and Argentina is no exception. Some basketball fans are extreme as well (like when I was spit on by opposing fans at a game), but futbol and the many rivalries, are what really get people riled up. There are constant parades, random gatherings in the streets, fights, and assorted celebrations in support of the many Argentinian futbol teams. Streets are often cut off because large groups have gathered to light fireworks and smoke bombs, play drums, sing songs, and otherwise celebrate victories. If a restaurant or cafe has a television, a futbol game or highlights, are shown 99% of the time. I’ve never seen anything like it.

        A few months back, a soccer game in Buenos Aires between teams Boca Juniors and River Plate had to be postponed because River fans physically attacked the bus carrying the Boca players, which resulted in multiple injuries to the players from broken glass, rocks, and the gas bombs. The game ultimately had to be moved outside of the country, to Spain, because of further violence every time they attempted to play.

        Our city, Santiago Del Estero, doesn’t have a soccer team in the first division, but we have a few in the second division. I didn’t even realize there was a game last week, but this was the result of a win. We couldn’t even cross the street!

So with that, we’re out of here. It’s been an eye opening 4 years, and I’m thankful for the experiences. Farewell, Argentina!

The End of an Era

My hubby is now in his 13th season as a professional basketball player. I have been overseas with him for all but 3 of those years, making this my 10th season abroad. His first year overseas was my last year of law school. It was tough being apart, especially because we had just had our first baby and it was difficult navigating mommy hood while trying not to miss a beat with school, and then with studying for the NY bar exam. The minute my hellish summer of Bar prep was over, I ran to Italy as fast as I could, and we enjoyed an amazing year exploring Cantu and Milan. When I found out that I passed the bar, I decided that I would return home after the season and put my law degree to use.

After two years, however, I longed for our family to be together, and with our second child on the way, I decided that work could wait, and my growing family was more important. So 4 kids, a dog baby, and 7 countries later, here we are.

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The very beginning

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Visiting Rome during our first year abroad

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From our little family of 3

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To our beefy family of 6

 

Every year for the past few years, the hubs and I discuss his future, and what the future holds for all of us. The golden question is inevitably asked by me and by various family members and friends: how much longer do you see yourself playing basketball? Now, he may look like a snack, but at 35 he has certainly reached the age where many players, especially bigs (centers/forwards) have already stopped playing and have moved onto life after basketball. But every year his answer is a solid “I feel like I have another year or two in me.” Every year. For like 5 years.

So one can imagine my frustration at the lack of clarity on this point. It’s difficult to plan ahead for life after basketball, when it appears that life after basketball will never come to fruition!

But alas, I’ve finally reached the point where, with or without him, I’m ready to pack it up and re-start life in the U.S. of A. I yearn to work again; to leave the house and actually have somewhere to go; to have conversations, not only with adults, but also with English speakers. I struggle every day with my grasp of the Spanish language, and despite my Puerto Rican roots, learning Spanish the Argentinian way has been nothing short of a mess. I have learned a good deal, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think anyone would be impressed with my multiple accented, Spanglish skills. So I’m definitely excited about the prospect of not struggling in my day to day activities.

I look forward to being able to fully communicate with teachers at school, and not struggle to understand, and then explain, homework assignments. I’m also excited at the thought of the kids being in school for more than 3-4 hours a day, and no more home schooling!!! This mama is exhausted, and I’ve never been more excited to have someone else teach my children, in English at that.

But perhaps most of all, I want to eat ALL THE FOOD! I yearn to eat authentic sushi and Mexican, instead of what we get out here, which always seems to miss the mark, if even available. For someone who does not eat meat, living in a meat centric society has been hard for me. If I want something that doesn’t include a grilled meat, I have to make it myself, which means that I spend many hours in the kitchen and quite frankly, I’m ready for some take out in my life. My dreams are filled with dancing burritos from Chipotle, Hale and Hearty soups, poke bowls, crab legs, and huge make-your-own salads. Honestly, I can barely finish this paragraph, now that I’ve made myself ridiculously hungry, and sad, at the same time!

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I’ll never have to make my own peanut butter again!

Despite my excitement at what lies ahead as I leave the expat life behind, it is certainly bittersweet as I think back on this amazing journey we’ve had. My kids have lived in 7 countries, and have gone to school in 5 of them. We have all learned, and forgotten, multiple languages (German, Turkish, and French). Our kids have discovered a love for both football (soccer) and basketball, and have been able to hone their skills for free. We have made friends in each country, created lasting memories, and had all types of adventures that have surely enriched our lives.

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The endless pool parties at our house in Formosa, Argentina

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The Formosa gang

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The girls from Belgium, on our Italian vacation

We’ve also had hard times, like having to switch teams and countries mid season, losing our precious dog baby, Bella, and my misfortune at being attacked by a pack of dogs. We’ve also experienced culture shock, and had to have some serious discussions about cultural differences when our son was teased because of the braids in his hair, or even just explaining why we are being constantly stared at, regardless of the country. Still, these past 13 years have been nothing short of extraordinary, and if I had to do it all over, I absolutely would.

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Our German girl ❤

So as I reflect on this time, I’m sad to see this chapter close, but I’m looking forward to what life in America will look like for us. Despite the obvious, in that I will miss my husband, I’m comforted by the fact that it will be a semi-gradual withdrawal, as we will still be able to spend our vacations overseas and will still have a connection abroad, for as long as he chooses to play. I’m hopeful that, despite us being out of the American loop, we have so much experience with change and with assimilating to new environments, that our transition back to American society will be a seamless one. Wish us luck!!!

(P.S. I’ll have to make a separate post of my favorite memories over the years, but these are a few that I love.)

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Full on preggo face in Athens 

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While living in Edirne, Turkey, almost every weekend was spent in Istanbul, one of my favorite cities

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Exploring the streets of Namur, Belgium

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His biggest fans, minus one

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Our amazing trip to Bethlehem 

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Supporting our team in another favorite city, Berlin, Germany

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This is the last year I’ll ever have to do this!!!!

 

 

The Beautiful Carlos Paz: The Hamptons of Argentina

Perhaps the worst part of living overseas as the wife of a basketball player, is the lack of real time off. They get maybe one day off per week, but that day is often the day after a game, or a day when they spent 15 hours traveling by bus or plane and their “day off” consists of the remainder of that travel day. There are no weekends off, no breaks for Thanksgiving, or other holidays we expect to have some extra family time.

However, Christmas is the exception. The league has a mandate of 10 days off, so 10 days is what we get. Last year we spent a few days in Tucuman, the closest big city, two hours away. This year we ventured to Cordoba, which is arguably the best city in Northern Argentina.

Cordoba is almost 6 hours away, which was a lofty goal considering I get car sick, along with my 8 year old and 4 year old, who often throw up on any trip over an hour. So despite the preventative dramamine, this trip had our little one’s face in a bag anytime she was in the car and not asleep.

But it was worth it!

Cordoba is the big city, where we spent New Year’s eve and a few days after, but we spent the bulk of our time in Carlos Paz, about 30-45 minutes outside of the city. It’s the epitome of a resort town, filled with hotels, hostels, restaurants and bars, and of course, beaches.

These beaches are not the beaches you’ll find in Florida, or even in the Hamptons. Instead, they are really rivers, but with sand, clean water, and amazing views. The beaches are filled with young people drinking and listening to music, as well as older couples, and families all relaxing and enjoying their time off. People take holidays and vacations seriously and they relax like bosses.

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Aside from the beach, we also took a chair lift up one of the mountains, where we enjoyed the view and the kids enjoyed some activities such as archery once we reached the top.

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There was also an amusement park and water park that we attempted to visit, but a rainy day spilled our fun. We were able to travel the 40 minutes into the city and spend a day at a mall, where I was able to re-up on my coveted Nespresso capsules, take in a showing of Aquaman in English, and enjoy a much needed cup of coffee from the elusive Starbucks. We also rang in the new year at a great party at the Sheraton, where we ate and drank to our hearts desire.

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The trip gave me a much needed break from the day to day life in Santiago. It reminded me of summer weekends in the Hamptons, where there’s nothing to do that doesn’t involve sun, beaches, good food and drinks, and relaxation. A great vacation indeed!

The Basketball Bubble, aka the Lonely Life of an Overseas Basketball Wife

As I sat down for dinner at 1am this past Monday, I was conflicted as to how I should feel at that moment. I was happy for the silence, but I was exhausted, and pretty pissed at the very fact that I was eating dinner at 1am. My older three had a physical fitness performance at school that evening, so the day was long, and filled with all types of errands. The night was even longer, and we didn’t return home until after 11pm, with baths and the whole routine still to be had. While the day was a particularly tough one, it was practically a repeat of a few days prior, when my pre schooler had the same physical fitness performance. We were home after 11pm and it ended with me eating alone, well past 1am.

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My solo meals have been uninspired. Homemade truffle fries and veggies with tahini is all I had the energy to make, two nights in a row.

The weekend was spent cleaning, doing school work, basketball practice, and refereeing the endless fights among the kids. My kids have been especially mean to each other lately and I’m a sensitive soul, so it breaks my heart to see my children mistreating each other. I was angry and I yelled, then I was sad and I cried. It was like we had all reached the limit of how much I could handle on my own.

So when Monday rolled around, with school and more performances in store, I can’t say that I was rested and ready for the week. Fast forward a few days to today. It’s now Thursday, and none of the kids had school, yet they thought it would be a good idea to have another performance, complete with props and costumes, and this time just for my 6 yr old, and at 8:30 in the morning! To say that I’ve been one step away from a breakdown all week would be an understatement.

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Me, every damn day

I’m a pretty strong person, and it’s rare that I ever feel so overwhelmed. I’ve lived in multiple states, away from home, since I was 14 years old. I worked hard in school, on the track, at restaurants, bars, offices, even a call center when I needed to. I’ve always felt like I could do anything I put my mind to, and that I can do it on my own and without help. I’ve come to learn that that’s just not true anymore.

As independent as I am, and as much as my husband calls me super woman, I just know that I’m a better person when he’s here with me. I’m happier, I’m sillier, I’m more efficient, and perhaps most importantly, I’m more patient. I’m the best version of myself. It’s probably why I married him in the first place. So had he been here, they still would have been awful to each other, but I would have had someone to play good cop-bad cop with, and I would have been able to leave the house and take a break from the chaos.

But he’s not here. He’s on day 10 of a 14 day road trip, the longest road trip in all of my years overseas. I usually enjoy a day or two alone. I catch up on episodes of Law and Order and The Big Bang Theory, I give myself a mani-pedi, and I don’t even bother shaving my legs. It’s some nice me-time. This trip, however, is all the way extra. They were supposed to play two games here in Northern Argentina for the first round of the playoffs, and then travel to Paraguay for the second round of the Liga Sudamerica championships. They ended up winning both playoff games so they just learned that they would be playing the second round of the playoffs this weekend. So instead of coming home today, their road trip would be extended by 4 days.

I’m normally pretty happy and content, and I’m fully aware that I lead a blessed life, but this shit is ridiculous.

I know that everything is relative, and I know that there are wives in the military that can go a year or more without seeing their partners, so I know that it’s no comparison. But this life is all I know, and it’s a unique one, where I spend more time with my husband than I ever thought I would.

In the basketball world there are no 9-5’s. There are early mornings, lazy afternoons, and late nights. I may sometimes want him to be more involved, but he is pretty much always here. By the time the kids are home from school at 12:30pm, he is soon to follow from morning practice. He relaxes and eats lunch, before taking a nap/siesta, while the children and I have our afternoon lessons. He wakes up and has a snack, while I either go for a run or hit the supermarket, or both. Then he heads to evening practice, I make dinner, bathe the kids, etc., and we eat dinner together once he’s back, at around 9:30pm or 10pm (8pm or 8:30pm if I make separate meals). Once the kids are in bed, we stay up far later than we should; but like most parents, it’s the only time we have to ourselves, and adult conversation is a welcome respite when I’ve been talking to kids all day.

This is our normal. I still feel stressed at times, because staying at home with 4 kids in a foreign land is a lot, but there is a balance. I’m still the one taking the kids to school in the morning, picking them up a few hours later, homeschooling, cooking the meals, and cleaning the house; but he’s also running errands, walking the dog, and doing the laundry. Knowing that he’s never gone for more than a few hours at a time, or that I can make an emergency call for capers or chicken stock on his way home, brings me comfort and makes me feel like we are a unit. If I were back in New York, I would have my family and friends to help, and food delivery, and Amazon, and pretty much everything else I needed, but here it’s just me and him, raising our kids the best way we know how to.

It’s almost like we live in our very own basketball bubble. It’s the same bubble most of the overseas WAGS I know live in, regardless of country or team, and it isn’t always easy. I’ve said it before, but this life isn’t for everyone. There are language barriers, cultural differences, educational challenges, feelings of isolation, and so much more when you are oceans away from those you love. It is worth it to me, because I’m the one that gets to teach my children everything from math and grammar, to love and empathy, and I’m there for every milestone that they may achieve. I’m also able to provide my husband with the emotional support he needs, among other things, that enable him to go out and be the best husband, father, and player that he can be. It’s rewarding to know that I have a happy, healthy, and well adjusted family, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy, and despite having my kids around 24/7, it doesn’t mean that I don’t get lonely.

The ability to not just travel, but to live, all over the world has truly been an amazing, yet humbling, experience. I didn’t realize that there was actually a limit to my sanity, but now I know, and it sits somewhere around 7 days. If I have to hear “when is daddy coming home” one more time, I may just scream, but I definitely feel their pain. I keep reminding myself that there are highs and lows, and while this week has been a trying one, there have been many great ones filled with love and laughter. Maybe I need to start meditating, or find a cleaning lady, or bring back my weekly massages, but for now I’m looking forward to a weekend filled with cartoons, doggy snuggles, and the finest Malbec that this country has to offer.

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Hanging out with this guy every night

 

 

 

The Mountains of San Javier

Our most recent trip to Tucuman was our third overall (and second with the hubs) so we wanted to venture outside of the city to see what else Tucuman had to offer. Since we had previously visited the animal reserve in the hills of Horco Molle, we decided to go a bit further and hike the trails of the mountains that begin in Horco Molle and extend to San Javier.

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We’re lucky that it was a mild day, with temperatures only reaching the low 80s, instead of the high 90s we’ve had the past few weeks. The kids have never been on a proper hike before so they were excited. Even though I’m a city kid myself, I spent a good deal of my youth at summer camps in rural areas, so I was also excited to surround myself with nature once again.

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The trails are family friendly up until a certain point, where it breaks off into a much more challenging one. I would have liked to try the advanced trial, but my 3 and 5 year olds would not have been able to handle it. Perhaps the next time we’ll leave them behind and go for it. The advanced trail leads to the top of the mountain, where the views are apparently to die for!

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Even though we didn’t make it to the top, I still felt very close to the clouds!

Our trail still had much to discover, with streams and ravines to cross, different types of mushrooms and plants to discover, various bridges, abandoned tracks, and we even came across what appeared to be part of an old train car.

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With the path being as rocky as it was, my greatest surprise is that no one hurt themselves. My kids are big, and with their size comes great unsteadiness on their feet (I’ll stop shy of calling them clumsy, but yea). Anaya did have a little fall, but there were no tears, so I’ll say it was a win for these kids and their first hike.

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Spicy Black Bean Soup to Warm Up on A Cold Winter (or Summer) Day

Some may say it’s a little odd to constantly want to eat soup when it’s the middle of the summer and it’s 100 degrees outside. However, the fact that it’s winter back in NY, coupled with our very strong air conditioning system, gives me the illusion of cold weather, so the soup seems quite normal and appropriate to me.

Vegetarian split pea was the first soup I made out here last year, and this recipe is similar and just as easy. There are only a few steps, and if you like it chunky, rather than pureed, you can skip the last few steps.

You’ll need:

1 bag of dried beans

3-4 large carrots

3-4 stalks of celery

1 large onion

3-4 tablespoons chopped garlic

Fresh cilantro (or Goya cilantro sofrito)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, cajun spices (all to taste)

6 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes, and 6-8 cups water, depending on desired consistency OR 6-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

I’m forced to use dried beans because that’s all I can find in these parts. I’d imagine it would be much easier if I were using canned black beans, but since I don’t have a choice, dried beans is it!

The first step is to soak the beans for as long as possible. Most recipes I’ve seen said to soak for 8 hours or overnight, but I usually have to soak for an entire day if I don’t want to have to cook the actual beans for hours on end.

Next, thinly slice carrots. Thinly slice celery. Chop onions. Mince garlic.

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Over medium heat, add olive oil, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and salt and pepper. Saute until soft, about 20 minutes.

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Add beans, bouillon cubes, and water (or stock).

Add remaining spices to taste, and stir.

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Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are to your desired consistency. Add water/stock as necessary if levels get too low.

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If you like a chunky black bean soup, then you are done.

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I like my black beans pureed, so transfer to a food processor and puree in batches until you’ve reached your desired consistency. I do like to have some chunks in my soup, so I stop shy of a complete puree.

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Transfer back to the pot and if you like it a little thinner, add a bit more water/stock.

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I would eat with a dollop of sour cream and avocado, but since we don’t have sour cream, I use plain yogurt.

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Enjoy!

 

Moving Day, the Argentinian Way

Two years ago we were in a hotel for 6 weeks and I thought I would just about lose it. It was our first season in Argentina, and I quickly learned what would be coined “the Argentinian way.” Now I can’t be sure if we coined the term, or if it has been around for ages, but the Argentinian way insures that tomorrow means maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after, possibly next week, but really who knows. It rarely actually means tomorrow.

So flash forward to this season, and with our new team and new city we were hoping for a quicker and smoother transition, but alas, there’s just no getting around the Argentinian way. We almost broke the 6 week record, but 3 days short of it we were finally able to move! I would say that my joy knows no bounds, but the Argentinian way relates to every aspect of life, and especially with moving and settling in it seems.

It’s been just about two weeks and we are still waiting on the air conditioners, Direct tv, a dining room table, mirrors for the bathroom, a coffee table or side table (I’ll take anything at this point!) We do actually have a beautiful new  microwave, but it’s not compatible with the kitchen outlets so it can’t be used. We also have a washing machine, but it’s not hooked up to plumbing or electricity so not quite useful. We also don’t have a dryer, and since we don’t have a house with lines outside to dry anymore, we’re shit out of luck.

We do have a couch, but have only actually had it for a few days because they couldn’t figure out how to get it in the apartment, so we spent the first week and a half sitting on the cushions on the floor! I basically spent the last couple of weeks saying fml on a continuous loop.

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There was so much crap around the house, with nowhere to put it, that even Rico got caught up in Tristan’s headphones, looking confused and guilty 😂😂😂

The kids, however, were just happy to be out of that hotel and to have access to their arsenal of toys, some which were just retrieved from our storage in Belgium. They spent so much time on the floor that they barely noticed we didn’t have an actual couch to sit on.

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This Thomas the Train set is without a doubt the most coveted of all their toys. Even I got down there to build it up more times than I’d care to share!

I will say that the apartment itself is big and beautiful. Was it worth the wait? Who knows, but I will say that I am happy to come home everyday. It has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, which in itself is a Godsend with 4 poopy ass kids! It also has a pretty spacious kitchen, complete with an oven that’s actually equipped with a broiler (our first in Argentina!)

Aside from the kitchen, I’m excited to have the best closets we’ve had in years of overseas living! I have been told that I pack with a heavy hand, and while I do not agree with that assessment, I will say that I may not be the lightest of packers 😏. So while I have struggled with space in the past, this closet has managed to put a permanent smile on my face. I just love to organize and this closet has given me life! Now if I only had somewhere to go 😂😂😂.

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The little things 😀😀😀

Ok back to the apartment! The rooms have floor to ceiling windows and a large patio with a built in grill, that runs across the living room and two of the bedrooms. We haven’t put a table and chairs out there yet, and I’ve actually forbidden the kids from going outside until they put up some kind of safety net, because we’re on the 10th floor and the tiny little railing has me petrified that one of the kids will fall 10 stories down! Heck, I’m scared of falling myself because all it takes is for one bee to attack me while out there and I’m done for!

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The view from the house during the day. Actually doesn’t seem so scary, but I couldn’t bring myself to get close enough to the railing

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The view at night. It took everything I had to go out there and take this pic in the darkness!

Aside from the general death trappy-ness, one of the selling points is the fact that the building has a rooftop pool, two floors up from us. So while we don’t have our own pool like we did the two previous seasons, we also don’t have to maintain it ourselves, so that’s a pretty good trade off.

We’re also on a main street, where all of the restaurants and cafe’s are (not to mention that we are across the street from the only sushi restaurant in the city 😀), so I can hardly complain about the neighborhood when all I’m surrounded by is food!

To help with the gluttony, a park with a running path is two blocks away, but I also joined the gym directly across the street for when those 100 degree days hit. All things I haven’t had in a few years, so beggars can’t be choosers, right?

When all is said and done, my family is together, we have our own space where I can cook, and teach, and clean to my liking. The kids are finally in school, making friends and learning the language, and they have full access to their toys and books at home, lovingly organized for their pleasure and enjoyment.

I’m finally able to burn a few candles and make this house a home. So even with the lack of certain modern amenities, it doesn’t get much better than that. Oh, and we have have great WiFi! The one modern amenity I can’t do without 😁😁😁

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The bookshelf they love to hate. Chock full of fun books to read, as well as tons of “boring learning stuff” as they so eloquently put it!

Tucuman to the Rescue

I’m finally finding time to recap our trip to Tucuman a few weeks ago.

As is the Argentinian way, almost a month after arrival, we were still sitting in a hotel waiting for them to find us the “perfect” apartment.

I was at my wits end sitting in that hotel room, but I’m not the type to sit and sulk for too long, and the kids deserved to have some fun, so I decided to take a trip the nearest big city. We needed to relax and I wanted to explore and see some more of Argentina. I wish the hubby could have joined, but one day a week is the most the guys get off, so we had to leave him behind this time.

I did feel a little crazy leaving one hotel for another, but sometimes you just need a change of scenery!

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Plaza Independencia, in the center of the city

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Walking around at the park, before taking an ice cream break

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The government palace

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Estatua de la libertad

We also visited Horco Molle, which is an animal reserve where they care for and rehabilitate rescued animals. Many will live out their days here, but they do have the goal of returning them to their natural habitat.

The tickets were pretty cheap (about $3 for adults and $2 for children). With that entry fee, you get a dedicated guide that takes you around the park, explaining each animal, their food, habits, etc. We were lucky to have only 1 other person in our group so our guide took time explaining and answering all of the kids many questions. It was also a plus that she spoke English!

The other great thing is that the park isn’t so big, so the tour lasts about an hour, which is the perfect amount of time to spend walking around in the heat before the little ones start complaining. So the kids enjoyed this part of our trip very much.

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Waiting for our guide to start the tour

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In addition to the touristy activities, we did some shopping at the big mall just outside of the city, and walked around downtown, which was so big we had to split it into two days.

We also spent a good amount of time relaxing at the hotel, enjoying the cable tv and the reliable wifi. We stayed at the Sheraton hotel, which had a pretty nice playroom for the kids, as well as a gym for me to finally get a few workouts in. They also had a spa where I was able to get a much needed massage. We were bummed that the pool wasn’t yet open, as it was pretty hot during our visit, but since it is still officially springtime, most pools haven’t opened for the season yet.

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The hotel was across the street from 9 de Julio park, which was huge and reminded me of central park because of it’s size. There were so many families out picnicking and lounging around drinking mate tea, and there was a big area with trampolines and bouncy houses for the kids. It appeared that people would put them up themselves and rent them out in 15 minute increments. With the prices being around $1 per 15 minutes, it was a steal, especially since they really just let the kids play as long as they liked. What a brilliant way to make money, while relaxing with family in the park!

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He’s flying!

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The Casa del Obispo Colombres, also known as the Sugar Industry museum, was inside the park

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I bought this beauty from one of the vendors in the park

 

So our trip was a success, and the fact that Tucuman is only a little more than 2 hours away, means that we’ll definitely be back.

This Life Isn’t For Everyone

So the main flight to Argentina was cool. I have some generally well behaved kids, so the combination of my mommy eye, the pinch, and my “behave bags” will almost always provide good results. Barely any screaming, minimal crying, and as little complaining as can be expected from 3 kids under 7, and a moody 11 yr old. Since hubby had to report to training camp two weeks ago, I was happy to have my mom accompany us on our 24 hour trip.

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My behave bags are a must for everyone’s sanity, mostly mine

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Solo packing at 4:30am before our flight

The fun began in Buenos Aires, where I struggled with our 14 suitcases, 4 carry-ons, stroller, and other assorted items. I’ve apparently reached the point in life where I’m in jeopardy of throwing my back out with each episode of heavy lifting. At this point in our travels, I would usually sit back and watch my strong, capable, husband toss the bags around with ease, while shouting “good job baby!” or doing some other trivial task. That was all a dream this time around, and I have a heating pad attached to my back as I speak.

Back problems aside, the team arranged for us to spend a few hours in a hotel so we could sleep/shower and relax for a few hours, since we arrived at 4am, and our next flight wasn’t until 5pm. We were told we being taken to the same hotel the team stays at while in Buenos Aires, and I was eagerly anticipating the rest after the more than 10 hour flight.

Well someone must have missed the memo because we were taken to what I can only assume is where prostitutes go to take their “friends.” It was a tiny hotel on the kind of dark alley only seen in movies. The halls were dark and the rooms were tiny and reeked of cigarette smoke. One of the rooms didn’t even have a bathroom, while the other had a tiny one with room for just a toilet and sink, with a shower head aimed over the toilet, because, you know, that’s how one showers in a whore house???

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Unhappy campers, but a snack cures all it seems

To say I was angry is an understatement. I do expect a certain amount of disfunction from teams, but we left our last team because they were heavy on it, so my threshold is low these days. Our new team has a reputation for professionalism, and this wasn’t it. Apologies flowed, “heads will roll” they said, as they promised to get to the bottom of how we ended up there. So ok, on to the next flight.

Once in Santiago Del Estero, our new home, we were brought to what would be our temporary living situation, until our permanent apartment is ready for us. Another player is currently living there, so a new place must be found for him before we can move in. This house boasted a big courtyard with the most beautiful trees and flowers, a big living room/dining room, 3 bedrooms, a pool, but of course no hot water, no working oven or microwave, a big non-working tv, a ridiculous mosquito infestation, and too far outside of town to walk (we tried, but gave up after almost an hour). This is, sadly, not a surprise, as so many teams bring the bullshit at the start of the season.

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A great place to play, but for the million mosquitos trying to infect us with something gnarly!

The hubs is also away playing some pre-season games for 5 days so I’m stuck complaining on my own. But what a complainer I am! After dealing with this kind of disorganization and procrastination from many teams in many countries over the years, I have become well versed in the art of complaining and telling off, and tell off I did.

The day after I went off, we were moved into two apartment-like suites in a downtown hotel, with all the comforts of home, and a few blocks from all the restaurants and shops. We were able to walk around a little yesterday, and had a pretty good dinner in the city plaza. From what I can tell thus far, it seems like we’ll be happy here, as this city already looks to be a little more lively than Formosa, our last Argentinian city. More importantly for the kids, we’ve already located a playground directly across the street, which were very hard to come by in Formosa.

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I unknowingly snapped a picture of the kids having their picture taken by some random woman

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My poor Tristan being bum rushed by some school kids 

The hubs will be back tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll be in our apartment by this time next week, so we can get settled, get the kids in school, and explore some more, but what a rough start! Precisely why I tell people who say that they envy my life and travels, that it isn’t just one big vacation, and certainly is not for everyone!

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Their first solid sleep ❤️

 

When It’s Time To Move On

20170116_235025Anyone familiar with overseas basketball knows that most contracts are year to year, sometimes with an option for an additional year, and sometimes you’ll get a two year offer. Our two year offers have mostly been from less desirable teams, so throughout my husband’s 11 year career, we’ve always had one year contracts and have never stayed with the same team for more than a year, until now.

This past season was our second year in Argentina, and the second year with the same team. There were many firsts for us in Formosa, and as we prepare for a new season with a new team, I look back on our time there with nothing but love.

Aside from a 6 week hotel stay last year, we were in the same big, beautiful house for both seasons. It’s the first time overseas that we’ve had a house, a pool, and a yard, and it really did begin to feel like home. The kids got their hands dirty in the yard, spent their days swimming, doing school work, and playing hide and seek. Our boys learned how to swim and ride bikes in that house. All the kids became true water babies.

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Our 11 year old learned Spanish and is now so fluent that she often answers my questions in Spanish and sometimes refuses to even speak to me in English, leaving me all kinds of confused!

They all made friends, and had playdates constantly, especially Maliya, who had a busier social calendar than I did. She took dance classes, Zumba classes, and spent so much time outside of the the house that we even decided to buy her her first phone. As a result, most of her time was spent at a friend’s house, or in her room talking to the friends she just saw minutes before.

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Our time in Formosa also did wonders for my boys, who are extremely shy. In addition to friends from school, they were able to play with the other kids from the team, as well as the many kids running around at the games. They joined the team’s youth basketball league and had their first taste of organized ball. They also started learning the language, and will soon hopefully have two languages to communicate in.

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It’s no secret that I didn’t love the city because there wasn’t much to do, but it was safe, relaxing, and the people were so warm and friendly. For the first time in years, there were a boatload of other wives, and despite the fact that all but one spoke no English, we became fast friends. We were constantly having playdates, parties, and nights at the casino and the club. For a small and pretty quiet city, I will say that the nightlife was pretty great. We found a reliable baby sitter and had more date nights than I can remember in recent years.

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When we decided that we wanted a change for next season, it was pretty sad in our house. The boys wanted to stay, but it was Maliya who begged and begged. She says that Formosa is where she’s made the best and most friend’s in all of our years abroad.

When it came time to leave, the school presented each of the kids with framed photos in a beautiful little ceremony, and Maliya’s friends organized a going away party, or despedida, to send her, and us, on our way. She cried, and because I’m such a softy, I cried too, and we weren’t the only ones! A few families actually offered their homes to her if she wanted to stay there for the summer, or until December so she could finish school with her friends. To see the impact she had on so many kids and their parents warmed my heart, and actually made it difficult to leave for the first time in years. It truly is the first time we’ve felt so welcome and so connected to our international community.

We will be back in Argentina next season, and we are excited to see what kind of experiences we’ll have in a new city, and with a new team, but our time in Formosa will forever be a special part of our lives.

Chau Formosa! Hasta luego! xoxoxoxo