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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Countdown to 1 Year

We are not quite done with the first year, but we are creeping dangerously close to that big mile marker.  I remember a long time ago, my mom telling me that she felt like the year before a "milestone" birthday was always harder than the actual milestone itself.  Turning 29 is harder than 30, turning 39 is harder than 40, etc.  This is similar to how I feel about Gretchen turning 11 months old.  It's the last time we can measure her age only in months.  It's the last month I can feel like we have a newborn.  It's the last month before we dive into the world of real milk and peanuts.  I am completely split between excitement that our baby is growing up, and sadness for the exact same thing.  That being said, I know one thing for sure, Gretchen is more and more fun each day, and continues to amaze us with her many new tricks!

So, what do you do on your 11 month birthday?

We start by reaching for things that we are not supposed to have:

Then we pull all of the books off of the shelf.  We will do this at least 5 more times before the day is over:

Then we head outside for a picnic and some pigeon watching:

Though we try to catch the pigeons, they are too quick for us.  (That's right, she's walking!!)

This happy girl is just about ready for a nap:

After a little snooze, we get all dressed up and head out to a birthday party, our BFF Talia turned 1!  We attempt to help her open her presents, but really just like to eat the wrapping paper:

Birthday parties are fun, but very tiring!  Good thing Talia is willing to share her crib when we need to take a little rest:

We finish the day with Mom making me take yet another photo.  The paparazzi are all over the place when you're 11 months old, say cheese!

Happy 11 Months to our baby girl, and though I cherish the days that your age is still measured in months, I cannot wait for all of the new and exciting things that one year will bring us!  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brown Sugar, For Realsies

When groups of expats get together, especially if they don't know each other well, tend to gravitate to the topics related to "Have you noticed that ________ is different than back home?" and "Have you been able to find (product x)?" I'm no different, I discuss these topics all the time.  One of the food items that habitually comes up is brown sugar.  This is an item that I don't use much, but when I want to use it and don't have it, I'm really missing out.  For me, the two most common examples are chocolate chip cookies and additive to my oatmeal.  I have scoured China Town for an imported version of the rare and delicate brown sugar and though I've gotten some close impersonations, I have yet to stumble across the real thing.  The general substitution here is something called Azucar negra, or Azucar de fantasia, as pictured to the right (you can find it in most supermercados).  It sounds exotic, right?  Sugar of my fantasies, or something like that?  I assure you, this is no sugar of your dreams, it's really just kind of weird. 
Azucar de fantasia became a hilarious joke for me and my American friends.  The hilarity is that there are two ingredients: sugar and comun tipo A colorante caramelo.  My hilarious jokes started with the phrase, "I'm not sure who knows what goes in to real brown sugar, but I'm pretty sure it's not this colorante stuff..." and laughter would ensue.  Until one day, when I was telling my funny jokes, and someone interrupted me to say, "You know brown sugar is just sugar and molasses, right?"

Um, no, I did not know that.  And even better, you know who else knows what goes into brown sugar?  The internet.  Why didn't I think of that before?

So, here is it, the easiest recipe you'll never use:

Brown Sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 T Molasses

Mix together with a fork until fully incorporated.

Awesome.  Now to find some molasses.  This is another item that I have never seen in Buenos Aires, but I've been told it exists.  So I learned the word for molasses (melaza) and headed off to our local dieteca (a little shop that sells seeds, dried fruits and baking supplies).  If you are in the area, I went to the New Garden on Rodriguez Peña, but I've seen lots of these shops all over the city.  They knew exactly what I meant, and $18 pesos later, I was the proud owner of:
Melrico.  It's muy rico.
The mixing part took some patience.  Molasses is really a sticky, gooey mess.  I won't name names, but somebody ran out of patience way before I was done mixing.

But before too long I had some good looking brown sugar on my hands.  So easy!  So much better than the sugar of my fantasies!  Chocolate chip cookies, here we come!  If you have been missing out on this little gem, miss out no more - go and get your melaza today!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Puesto Viejo

At some point soon I will elaborate on our recent car purchase, but for now I will just say that we have thoroughly enjoyed the ability to be more mobile in and around the city.  In the spirit of breaking out of downtown, last weekend we packed up and headed to an estancia in Lobos, Buenos Aires, called Puesto Viejo.  

Puesto Viejo is first and foremost a polo club, so it was not our first choice, but our original reservation called four days before we arrived to say that they had no air conditioning.  In summer.  And it was literally 100 degrees when they broke this news.  So our friends did some quick research and found Puesto Viejo. On Wednesday they were able to book us to arrive on Friday - the weekend was saved!  

Puesto Viejo is located 70 km outside of Capital, past Ezeiza Airport in Cañuelas.  As with most places that we've gone outside of the city, there is no real address, just a simple map available on their website that was helpful, but not completely accurate.  The place is extremely well-kept and serine.  I have never seen such  vast, and ascetically pleasing, horse stables.  They could easily keep 100 horses on the grounds (again, it's a polo club).  The stables were immaculate, there wasn't a single piece of tack out of place, and the whole time we were there, people were constantly working, cleaning, grooming and repairing.  They offer guided tours of the stables and general horseback riding to guests of the estancia, and have polo lessons for an additional cost.  

I opted to get back on a horse, even after my near-death horse experience at La Candelaria.  This time was different.  We had helmets.  We had multiple guides.  We signed waivers.  And, I had my friend Milena by my side to offer moral support.  It was a fun ride, but I was still incredibly sore for the following few days - I don't know how you horse enthusiasts do it!  

The ride only lasted 45 minutes, but we were able to see more of the estancia grounds, including their 3 polo fields, sheep pastures and the owner's very large home.  We even made a pit-stop during the ride to help an underfed newborn lamb nurse for a little while.  I mean, I did nothing but watch, but the guide was able to actually help this little guy.  Pretty cool stuff.

Gretchen getting more comfortable on grass
The accommodations at Puesto Viejo were really nice.  We had a clean, good-sized room with a nice bathroom, good water pressure and air conditioning.  Each room overlooks the polo fields and has a nice, soft grass area for the kids to run around on.  The staff was incredibly kid friendly, even though I don't think they have many child-guests.  They provided us with a travel crib and offered to serve food to the kids before the scheduled adult mealtime, and as long a the child was able to sleep in a crib, there is no extra charge.

The estancia had a nice, albeit cold, pool (as long as you don't arrive on lawn-mowing day - there were a LOT of grass clippings in the pool the day we arrived) complete with umbrellas and nice lounge chairs.  They also have bicycles on site available for guest use and they are helpful in making additional arrangements for the guests (such as golf reservations).  There are also lots of animals to see, chickens, a pretty loud rooster, plenty of cows, and a zillion birds.

This place is a bird-watcher's paradise!  I really like birds, so I was already excited about this, but the highlight of my weekend was when we came across these guys:
Look close - on the fenceposts
 Owls.  Bonafide Owls.  Lots of them.  Just hanging out, acting like it wasn't strange for them to be flying around in the daytime.  I was in my glory.  I walked this route every day that we were at Pueso Viejo just to see the super-cool owls.  I mean, for real, how many times in a lifetime will you come across wild owls?  I took lots of photos, just in case this is the only time for me.

The downside to Puesto Viejo was a pretty big portion of the weekend, the food. It was pretty bad.  Even the Argentine-style asado was not-so-hot.  It was really a shame too, this place could be a great little weekend escape if they could just put together a decent meal.  

We had a nice time, and I highly recommend if you are interested in polo or owls.  But if you like to eat, you're going to want to pack a sandwich for this trip.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Two Years, and a Little More

I have written on my to-do list "write annual end-of-year blog", however when I searched for my previous end-of-year blogs, I realized that I have never actually written one.  I wrote about our first full year in our apartment, but that anniversary has come and gone.  Ironically, this sums up my 2011, great intentions, mildly delayed follow through.

So, welcome to my first annual end-of-year blog, signifying the end to our second (full) year in Buenos Aires.  And what a year it was.  We had a baby, we took a zillion (actually 8) international flights, we had lots of visitors - expected and surprise, took fewer internal trips but we have big plans to do more in 2012, we bought a car.  And the most asked question of 2011: "How much longer do you guys think you'll be in Argentina?" has a slightly more defined answer now: "Longer".

It's always so much easier to reflect on the year in a post of photos, hopefully your 2011 causes you to look back with a smile, as ours does.

2011 contained some of our highest highs, here are some of the things I am most grateful for in the last year:

  • The clear frontrunner, the birth of our daughter Gretchen:
Our precious little peanut, 2 weeks old
Coming home for the first time as a family of 3
  • Having a great circle of friends locally that helped us prepare for, and then welcome home our baby girl:
The ladies responsible for our wonderful Buenos Aires baby shower
  • Watching our parents meet their granddaughter for the first time, and watching them transform from parents of adult children to doting grandparents in the blink of an eye:
Grammy and Papa with Gretchen in March
Poppa and Gran with Gretchen in April
  • Seeing our brothers all find their way into being Uncles.  These big, strong men turn into tender baby-charmers as soon as she is around:
Uncle Chris holding a sleeping Gretchen in June
Uncle Robbie explaining the remote control at Christmas
Uncle Dan holding Santa's little helper Christmas Day
Uncle Ted is all smiles with Gretchen in October
  • Being able to spend so much time with our families this year, especially during the holidays:
Christmas dinner in Lexington with the Gill Family
Christmas Eve in Clifton with the Giorgiani Family (and Frodo)
  •  Being able to spend time with friends during our trips home, and watching 2 couples that are very close to us say "I do":
Dan and Lian's wedding in June
Sarah and Josh's wedding in August
The Virginia Tech guys together in October
Gretchen meeting many of our friend's children in June
  • Being able to travel to places I never would have known if we didn't live in Buenos Aires:
Jon and I in Salta in December
Gretchen and Daddy at Temaiken Biopark in September
Our family at La Candelaria in July
  •  Celebrating my first Mother's Day:
A chilly May Mother's Day
  • And having great friends to help us celebrate the other holidays in the year:
Us with the Newhooks and the Lorangers
  •  Watching our family grow:

  • And sharing where we live with friends that come to visit: 
Jon and I with the Patnos and the Axelrods that visited in July
My college roommate Sandy that stopped by during her vacation in BA
 And though every year as an expat we are forced to bid farewell to great friends that move away...

With Anso and Paul that moved back to France in February
The Dooleys and their trio that are starting their next adventure in Mexico
We are thankful for the friendships we have made and the experiences that we have had.  We hope for another great year abroad filled with lots of visits from friends and family, new friends, and many more story worthy events.

Happy New Year, and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2012!