Archive for March, 2009

Homeschool — Learning to See

Worldschool around here means studying the brain and art, mostly through the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Betty Edwards’ theory is that people don’t need to learn how to draw, they need to learn how to see. And in order to learn how to see, you must be able to freely access the visual/spatial right hemisphere of your brain while simultaneously managing to mute the verbal left side of your brain.

To help you accomplish this, she gives you tasks that the left side of the brain hates and will abandon to the right side. For instance, she has her readers sketch a line drawing by Picasso upside down, so the budding artist doesn’t begin naming objects and parts of the body (left side function) and instead, just draws lines.

We do these projects together as a family and they’re really quite entertaining. Below are the Zs’ first attempts at an upside down line drawing (this was the Picasso). Zoe’s is on the left and Zelda’s is on the right.


Camping Hair Wash

Okay, this is going to be kind of gross…well, if you find stories about greasy hair to be distasteful, then perhaps you should not continue reading!!

Let’s begin with the hair…just regular non-greasy hair at this point. I have naturally curly locks, which easily segue to naturally super frizzed hair without any effort at all. In order to tame the frizz, I must exert some effort, usually in the form of applying goop.

Which brings me to my ruminations on the name Buenos Aires, or “Good Air.” On sweltering days when we bake in the heat and humidity, respirating black particulate exhaust spewed from the city’s buses, the girls love to comment on the irony of this fine city’s moniker. In other words, “Dirty Air” would be a more appropriate nameplate.

Now, if you take perfectly clean hair with a little de-frizz product going on, and you introduce said hair to a very unclean air environment, you can achieve quite the oily appearance in a matter of hours.

Recently, I found myself in just that situation. I had to be somewhere for a social engagement and looked in the mirror before departing, freaking out on the spot due to my suddenly greasy mane. I didn’t have time to shower and rewash my hair. In a panic, I recalled an article I read on personal hygiene shortcuts that can be used while camping (I have no idea where I read this). The article suggested using talcum powder in your hair. You sprinkle it on your scalp wherever it appears greasy and then flip your hair over and vigorously try and shake all of the powder out with your fingers.

You then flip your hair back, and presto, there is no appearance of greasiness at all! (Or powder either, for that matter.) It works like a charm.

Tom is Twitterin’ on the Sidebar

Today, we made a long overdue addition to the sidebar of the blog. No longer are you limited to reading just Michele’s tweets, but now you can also find mine there as well.

Twice the entertainment! Twice the fun!

(I’ve saved the ridiculously lengthy story of how I put multiple twitter widgets in a WordPress sidebar for my own blog.)

It’s China Calling!

Whenever our land line rings in the house after 10:30 or 11:00 pm, I always shout, “It’s China calling” before answering the telephone.

Why would China be calling me? Because the girls are taking their Mandarin lessons from a school in Beijing!

The marvels of modern technology are spurring very interesting businesses. There is a school in Beijing called eChineseLearning. They offer one-on-one classes at a very affordable rate, the catch is, you use video over Skype to meet with your teacher.

So twice a week, the Zs park their pale butts in front of my MacBook Pro and answer a Skype call from Beijing for their Chinese lesson. The teacher has a whiteboard behind her for drawing characters, she interacts with Zoe and Zelda using props and games, and she also writes words in the Skype chat interface using both pinyin and characters.

I was skeptical at first, but it’s really almost exactly like one-on-one tutoring. A side benefit that we didn’t anticipate: because we are using Skype in our own home, there are no other time sinks associated with the lessons — no transportation to another location, no showering and getting dressed nicely, no straightening up for an in-house tutor…it’s great!

Lastly, I must wax enthusiastic about my FAVORITE online Chinese dictionary. They present clear, large characters (both simplified and traditional) that can be played over audio if you aren’t sure how to pronounce the word. There also are animated stroke-by-stroke videos for how to draw every character. Wow.

Compare and Contrast Three Parillas

lacabreraJuana M.

This is our go-to parilla, blessed in all of its food, probably because it is located underneath a church just off of Libertador. We learned about it from a commenter who used to live in Argentina. This place is truly a mainstay for us. The meat is wonderful, they have a ginormous salad bar, the prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is classy, it is not touristy, there is seating for smokers as well as non-smokers (not really a plus for me, but you smokers will be happy). The only knock would be the desserts, which we have learned to avoid. Go out for helado afterward.

La Brigada

If you have friends or family in town and want them to experience old-world Argentinian service in a classic parilla, this is where you should bring them. Ian used to live in the building next door and would routinely witness VIPs arriving, such as police escorted buses bringing the national fútbol team to eat at the restaurant. The meat we had here was truly wonderful, and we were very pleasantly surprised by their caprese salad (astonishingly fresh vine-ripened tomatoes). The service also was well executed…all in all we quite enjoyed it. More good news, they have recently expanded, so it’s a much easier to gain a seat. In the area of the dining room where we enjoyed or meal, all of the patrons appeared to be Porteños.

La Cabrera

This parilla in Palermo Soho would receive my vote for most overrated in the city. It is in every guidebook and is overrun with tourists. Pictured above is the lomito, which I ordered, and after Zelda tasted it she announced, “Mommy’s meat is watery.” She was right. As you can see in the photo, they have flashy presentation, but it falls flat when it comes to execution. Each main course is served with various inedible condiments, including peas in some sort of a mayonnaise sauce, a ketchup-mayonnaise sauce, an onion relish, a bit of hearts of palm, garlic potatoes (uber garlic flavor), and carrot and potatoes in mayonnaise. We disliked all of the condiments and hated to waste the food. Every table also receives a round platter filled with more circular little condiment bowls containing other small dishes, most of which we disliked as well. I would have much preferred to get rid of every little condiment bowl on the table and eaten an ensalada mixta instead. The servings are HUGE, one could easily split an entree between two adults. On the plus side, they end your meal with a nice flute of champagne!

I Swear Like a Sailor

swearlogIn order to combat my all too common tendency to swear a blue streak, I have cemented a deal with Zoe and Zelda. For the next month, every time I curse, I owe them 5 cents (they were savvy enough to make sure we were talking $US coinage).

The catch is that they have to witness the swearing and they have to track it with their own log sheets that they design.

They embraced this task as if they were in hall monitor heaven! They were both very thorough about cataloging what constitutes a swear word. It turns out, this was important because they like to indicate which curse word I have uttered on their log sheets (I have no idea why). Happily, they only know four curse words: the a-word (ass), the s-word (shit), the f-word (well, that speaks for itself) and the b-word (bitch, which I only use as a substitute for “whine,” such as, “quit bitching about…”).

If you click on the photo above, you will see on their log sheets that I already owe them 10 cents, which was for the use of the f-word and the s-word. In all fairness, I said these two swear words yesterday when Zoe dropped a knife off of the stairs from the second floor that flew, point down, through the atrium, at an alarming rate of speed right past my ear, which was attached to my head on the first floor! I’m starting to wonder if she did it on purpose to provoke swearing… .

Look Ma, We’re on TV…

lg_clarinOkay, we’re not really technically on TV, but our video interview for Clarín was posted online, along with an article that was also in the print edition of the paper, all of which served to give us the same feeling as being on the tube!

Our interview was conducted by two Columbia School of Journalism grads named Sandra and Karen (from Mexico and New York, respectively). They are currently working on an internship for Clarín (one of the big papers in Buenos Aires). Originally, they were pursuing the hot rumor around the city of the mass exodus of financial weenies leaving NY and coming to Buenos Aires because it’s so affordable. But, as they began digging…and digging, they could find nary a financial person seeking refuge in the warm bosom of Porteño hospitality.

What the hell does that have to do with us? Well, what our two intrepid scriveners did find were expats that had relocated to Argentina in advance of the crisis (as the financial meltdown is called here), which is where we came in!

Follow the link above to see the interview and read the article in Spanish. (It’s kind of funny with Google Translate!)

It’s Cheaper than the Vilas Club…

vilas-1975We have been wanting to enroll the girls in some tennis lessons here as an alternative to the soccer and baseball that they miss back home. As a part of that, we checked out various tennis clubs in Buenos Aires.

One such tour was of the Vilas Club, as in Guillermo Vilas, as in the totally hot tennis player women thew themselves at many decades ago. (I thought he was cool in my preteen tennis fanatic days, but my heart belonged to John McEnroe.) Well, needless to say, the Vilas club is as slick and good looking as its namesake was in his heyday.

The staff very nicely shepherded us around the immaculate clay courts, beautiful restaurants, lovely gym, and gorgeous grounds. At the end, they hit us with the price. I credit my workout schedule with keeping me upright.

Let’s just say, for a family that only wants a few hours of tennis lessons a week for the kids, it was a bit steep.

The positive result of our Vilas Club meanderings is that we now have a whole new inflated metric against which we judge all expenses. We can happily commit ourselves to any and all activities by noting, “Hey, it’s much cheaper than the Vilas Club!”…like we were ever actually going to join in the first place.

Friday Fiasco

It has taken us about a month to transition the kids to our new worldschooling schedule:

06:15: Get up for school.
07:15: Leave for school.
12:15: Pick them up from school.
14:00: Worldschool begins.
17:00: Worldschool ends.
18:00: We eat dinner.
20:00: Bedtime for the Zs.

The basic idea of the schedule is to secure the girls enough rest so they can be happy little non-growly citizens of our home. “Hooray, we have achieved our goal.”

But this Friday night, Tom saw the downside of “hooray.” It seems that our daughters have acclimated to our weanie American schedule so completely that they can no longer make it through a regular Argentinian meal!

Poor Tom has been dying to go out to a genuine restaurant (which means it opens for dinner at 8:00 or 8:30 pm) for the last few weeks. Unfortunately, it is pretty much out of the question during the week, or we ruin the aforementioned worldschooling schedule. Tonight though, he managed to wrangle Zelda and I out the door (Zoe was at a sleepover) for the real deal. After wandering around our neighborhood, we ended up seated at a nicely decorated little joint staring across the table at a passed out little girl who had completely lost her appetite and her ability to form coherent sentences.

Tom is now in mourning over the loss of eating out at nice restaurants as a regular family option in our lives, probably even on the weekends. But, he is perking up over his new plan: attempt finer dining at lunch on the weekends instead!

Stop, Thief!

I’ve witnessed my first robbery here in Buenos Aires. I was sitting at a cafe (inside) next to the windows overlooking the sidewalk tables on a street-corner in the neighborhood of Palermo.

A nondescript young man walking by on the sidewalk snatched a purse from under one of the umbrella-covered sidewalk tables, and then ran off to a motorcycle that had just driven up to the corner and was awaiting the thief. The absconder, once he had the purse in hand, really turned on the jets and managed to execute quite a leap onto the back of the getaway motorcycle.

Stunned silence reigned in the restaurant as the two-wheeled vehicle sped off. Every woman in the place, inside and out, clutched their purses to their bodies for the rest of their meal.