Archive for June, 2009

Okay, Who Stepped on the Crack?


Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine. Is that how it goes? It should be: “ride a crazy horse who bucks you off for no reason, fall and fracture two vertebrae.” Okay, perhaps not as catchy.

Anyway, I flew through the air and landed with quite an oof after being jettisoned off Nochero, upon whom I was riding yesterday. After the fall, I sat up and immediately thought that I broke several ribs near my spine, because it hurt so horribly and I couldn’t really breathe.

An ambulance came, strapped me onto a backboard, inflated some shit around my head and neck, and away we went to the Sanatorio de la Trinidad. Leah (the girls’ riding instructor) came with me in the ambulance to handle speaking in Spanish (I was in so much pain I didn’t really want to talk to anyone) and Tom, the Zs and Natalia (our instructor) followed in Nati’s car.

I received multiple CT scans for head, neck, spine and pelvis. I was on a backboard for hours (my ass was numb). I was diagnosed with cracks in two vertebrae (about the same level on my spine as my scapula). They said it’s going to hurt like hell for awhile and sent me home with instructions to ice and take prescription anti-inflammatory drugs.

Returning to the apartment was farcical. Getting into a cab was easily one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. I managed to fold myself into the second taxi (the first was too small for me to get in), but only after lots of disturbed groaning and tears, which, understandably, freaked out the driver. We explained to the taxista that I broke my back and the sweet sweet man drove uber slowly with his flashers on (not an easy thing to accomplish in this crazy-driving nation), brainstorming the least bumpy routes with Tom.

So here I am, laid up for several weeks with a broken back. Can’t put on my own pants or socks. Breathing deeply requires concentration. I would rather pull out a thumbnail than cough. I can stand up, sit down and walk gingerly (moving feels wonderful). Every waking moment I am appreciative because it could have been so much worse.

A special thank you to Leah and Natalia for all of their help.

Fracture Recovery Posts: | Day 1 | Day 5 | Day 14 | Month 3 |

Gingersnappy ChocoChip Cookies


This weekend, we decided to see if we could reproduce the American classic using ingredients obtained within walking distance of the house.

Eggs, flour, vanilla, white sugar, butter, and baking soda (I finally figured out where to find it in the store) were all pretty easy to find. The tricky parts were locating brown sugar and the chocolate chips (they can’t contain trace amounts of nuts due to Zelda’s allergies). It also turns out that the baking sheets we secured did not perform as expected.

First, the chocolate: as you can see in the picture below, Tom chopped up a chocolate bar to create his own little homemade chips. Très cute. Next, the brown sugar: I had two choices. The first was the lighter brown sugar, which was still dark compared to US sugars and also had a very strong gingerbread flavor. The second was very dark, really nearly black. It smelled and tasted more like the brown sugar we have back home. I ended up using a combination of both.


Lastly, the pans. Our “biscuit” baking sheet served reasonably well, but the cookies stuck a bit. (It didn’t help that we forgot to get a cooling rack, so we had to let them set on the pan longer than usual.) As an alternative option for baking, we thought we would try our pizza pan…which, unfortunately, turned out to be a disaster. As you can see in the picture below, the cookies congealed and the pan actually began to burn after about five minutes, emitting a foul smelling smoke in the oven. *sigh*


Anyhow, the verdict — not bad. A little gingersnappy tasting, but we could get used to that.

Our current strategy to implement Operation Chocochip is to play around a bit more with the brown sugar ratios, get a better metal spatula, and maybe find a less sticky pan. Is it a worthwhile goal to perfect chocolate chip cookies while living in Argentina using local ingredients? To be honest, I have no idea, but we’re going to keep trying anyway! (Eating the failures is half the fun!!)

Candy Bartering in the Bedroom



After we all attended a birthday party for one of Zoe’s friends yesterday, it was, of course, difficult to get the children into bed. (Hardly a surprise after massive amounts of cake, cola, and carbs).

While trying to work on the computer, I hurled multiple entreaties via raised parental voice back toward their bedroom requesting that they begin brushing their teeth. Unfortunately, they successfully ignored me for quite some time, forcing me to get off my ass to investigate further. When I barged into their room, I found candy displayed on their beds, as shown above. (Zelda’s is on the top.)

Truly, I was at a loss as to why they would painstakingly arrange their candy in such a fashion. It turns out, they were going to engage in some sisterly candy trading, and felt it necessary to display their ill-gotten piñata goods in an organized and attractive manner. Hilarious. I had to reward their industriousness and predilection for proper merchandising — yes, I let them stay up a bit later to complete their dickering.

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells and Schnitzel with Noodles…

We’re going to be heading back to the US during what is winter vacation south of the equator. We’ll be leaving in a little over a month, which has gotten us all thinking about a few of our favorite things back in the US:

  1. Tillamook County Fair and the Pig and Ford races. (Each of the contestants has to complete three laps around a horse racetrack in an old Ford Model T, which they have to start with a hand crank, all while holding one of three different pigs. They have to stop and start the car each lap to get a new pig.)
  2. Not ironing freaking uniform skirts and shirts every day (that one was mine).
  3. Portland Farmers Markets at the height of the growing season, super yummilicious.
  4. Berry picking on Sauvie Island
  5. Mooching off, I mean visiting, family and friends.
  6. Trip to Vegas, sans kids, in a luxury suite (we may not even leave the room to play poker…yah, right).
  7. Using a dishwasher!!
  8. Blissful quiet on the Oregon Coast. (You can see the stars and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean at night.)
  9. Being able to eat at a formal restaurant before 8:30 pm.
  10. Making Rice Krispies Treats (courtesy of the Zs).

Oh No, We’re Shrinking!


The American Dream seems to have escalated into a race to amass as much square footage of housing as possible. It has been interesting for us to reverse that trend lately in the years when our peers are typically moving to larger homes as their families grow.

Our house in Portland was not spectacularly large. It was built in 1929 and was about 1,600 SF above grade with a 700 SF basement that we turned into an industrial-looking art/TV/office space. We also had a small one-car garage that was filled with gardening crap. When we sold the house in the summer of 2007, we had a humongous moving sale.

The rule: if it couldn’t be stored in our 1,800 SF rental condo then we couldn’t keep it. We did a lot of paring down.

When we moved out of the 1,800 SF unit in Portland, prior to our departure for Argentina, we secured a storage space in the US and tried to keep only those things that we couldn’t live without. (It shall be interesting to see how we feel about said stuff upon our return.)

In Argentina, we moved through several larger living spaces until we finally downsized to a 1,000 SF apartment, where we are living now, in a location we love. Observations:

  • In general, since we have less space, we can’t accumulate and store as many things. On a positive note, we’ve learned to make due with fewer possessions — minimal kitchen implements, a lot fewer clothes, not as many shoes, a paltry assortment of toys and games…
  • As a family, we can clean this apartment (I don’t mean straighten, I’m talking mopping, bathtub scrubbing, sheet changing, etc.) in about two hours. Couldn’t say that about the house.
  • No yard work, which is both a blessing and a curse.
  • Noise can be a bit of an issue. The kids have really had to work on acknowledging that they need to be quiet and respectful if someone is napping or on the telephone.
  • There aren’t a lot of places to escape if people (as in other family members) are driving you crazy.
  • The girls share a room and get along most of the time. Zoe still lobbies to have her own space when we get back to the States though. In general, I think the older child wants autonomy, but the younger sibling is happy to share.
  • I would rather have space taken from bedrooms and bathrooms and put into the living/dining/kitchen. A well designed bathroom layout, even if small, beats an empty cavernous bathroom that seems the norm in the US now. Truly, it has been enormously pleasing to spend time in spaces that are thoughtfully laid out to function, even in very tight confines. A huge contrast to a lot of condos I’ve seen in the US.

We now feel that we could live quite happily with a lot less square footage when we return to the States. It will be interesting to look at housing through our downsized lens!

(Pictured above is the dining room from what now seems a behemoth of a house that we sold in 2007.)

Monday is the January of Weekdays

If you follow my writing, you know that I’m a fan of weird analogies. Unfortunately, they require an explanation, so here we go…

January. Tom and I cannot wax poetic enough about our love of January. Before we had children, we thought it was a horrible month. Cold, wet, rainy, snowy, dark at 4:30 pm — positively depression-inducing. Once we had children though, we saw the primer month of the year through a whole new lens.

First, getting dark at 4:30 pm is a Godsend when you are trying to get your kids to bed. Since little ones have no concept of time, you can just shrug and say, “it’s time for bed” because it’s dark. Without a working knowledge of the clock, they just toddle off compliantly at 6:00 or 6:30 pm. Love that.

Second, January is like hitting the RESET button on a video game, only the game in question is our chaotic life. Usually by the end of the year we are a wreck due to Thanksgiving, parties, employees, Christmas, birthdays (there are a thousand in my family late in the year), anniversaries, etc. Then comes the respite of winter break, we get things under control, we rest and take time just for us. Then voila, everything is new again in January. A clean slate.

Mondays. Now, for you folks who don’t have kids, you may think this sounds anal, but your life as a parent completely revolves around The Schedule. If you get off The Schedule, then everyone is crabby, no one is well fed, everyone is tired…you get the picture.

Here in Argentina, our schedule is packed with homeschool, tennis lessons, regular school, horseback riding, birthday parties, sleepovers, socializing, sight seeing, exploring, blah blah blah. I think you can guess what is the only day that is relatively activity free? Monday!

Wonderful Monday, workout Monday, cook dinner Monday, write Monday, plan Monday, Quicken Monday, real homeschool (not some half-assed attempt) Monday, get the kids to bed on time Monday!!!

And that, my dear readers, is why Monday is the January of weekdays.

Ratatat…Pow…Twang…Plink Plink

There are things that make me miss living in a house…

Like the person in our building who blasts their music when they get up in the morning at 6:00 a.m. Or the woman upstairs who walks around getting ready in her high heels, “tip tap tip tap” for an hour.

Another nearby resident is taking piano lessons. They practice their music exercises very late at night, but more irritating is the fact that none of the exercises are played in time. Which reminds me, we also have a budding electric guitarist somewhere in the building who knows about three chords, but that doesn’t stop them from rocking out!

Outside our apartment building, a street and sidewalk repair project has been going for months, even at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, ripping up concrete, resetting cobblestones…LOUD, LOUD LOUD. And, don’t forget the renovation project going on in the apartment below. Sometimes the chemical smells emanating from that unit make me feel woozy while working at my desk.

Every weekend, the party at a rowdy bar across the street rages until dawn, occasionally requiring a police visit. How do the Argentines do it?

I fear that I shall turn into one of those people who cannot sleep without being enveloped by the sounds of the big city.

What’s Next, Temper Tantrums?

One of the nice things about aging is that I have gained perspective and am able to handle stressful situations with more ease and less passion.

So why does all of that hard earned experience go out the window when I have to express myself in a foreign language? It is very disconcerting to have my emotions bubble to the surface so quickly when facing a challenge with my more limited vocabulary in Spanish.

I believe it has something to do with the level of fluency I have become used to in English when it comes to translating my feelings succinctly into language. As an adult, when dealing with a difficult business or social situation, I have the intellectual deftness to truly express (in my mother tongue) what I believe and can navigate successfully through the eddies and turbulence of emotions.

However, when speaking in Castellano at an intermediate level, I wear my sentiments on my sleeve as a result of my inept attempts to give true voice to my feelings.

It has given me pause, and has also helped me to have more empathy with how my daughters must feel, and why they sometimes get so frustrated. I suppose in Latin America, when speaking Spanish, I really am a 9-year old kid running around in a 43-year old body!

Purple Extruded Fingers…


…also known as our Thursday hospital adventure.

During Zoe’s second night post-fracture, her arm and hand became dramatically swollen and she literally could not sleep last evening. By this morning, she looked as if she had purple Michelin Man fingers coming out of her plaster arm. Yes, that meant it was time to suit up for another medical outing.

We set off for a private hospital called El Sanatorio de la Trinidad, which is located in two different buildings on the same block. Building #1 main floor sent us to the basement of said building, which sent us to building #2 first floor, where I was informed that there was someone who could see us in 24 hours. I did a bit of a mommy freak out and explained as patiently as I could; “SHE CAN’T FEEL HER FINGERS, HER CAST NEEDS TO BE LOOSENED NOW.”

That got us up to the 3rd floor of building # 2 and a very nice doctor, who could see us immediately. She concurred that Zoe’s purple digits were not natural and sent us back to the basement of building #1 for an x-ray. The good news is that the fracture has not shifted at all and is still in a great position.

Zoe had her cast sawed open around her hand and a big strip cut down the side of the cast (pictured above), which was then pried apart to make room for her expanding flesh. I don’t know about Zoe, but I was mightily relieved!

Total Cost: $56 US. Keep in mind when you think about how much we paid, El Sanatorio is is one of the nicest private hospitals in Buenos Aires with very modern equipment. Compare that to what it would cost in the US to walk into the emergency room. Here in Buenos Aires, we were pretty much seen right away and only paid $40 US for the doctor and $16 US for the x-ray. Now this is health care, baby!

Tuesday Adventure at the Hospital


No, this didn’t happen horseback riding. It occurred playing around on a tree outside of a restaurant. (Zoe wasn’t very high up, but her foot got caught and she fell back, breaking her wrist with a creepy looking fracture.)

After the accident, the restaurant called an ambulance, the police came (not sure why), and Zoe was her usual calm self.

It was a bit of a zoo getting to the hospital because policy allowed only one person to ride along with Zoe, but after we kept asking for information on where the hospital was and where Zoe and I would be, our could-have-been-born-in-New-Jersey driver finally heaved a sigh and said to Tom “just get in the God damned ambulance.” (I think the final straw was Tom pulling out the Guia T and asking them to point it out on the map — pure genius.)

Lest you worry about Zelda, she went on a playdate with Liam’s family, whom we were visiting with at the restaurant. (Thank you Lori for all of your help.)

Upon arrival at the Hospital de Niños, we were taken through the back door of the emergency room that was packed to the gills. They sent us for an x-ray pronto, called a specialist who took a 1/2 hour to materialize, we discussed options for setting the fracture, proceeded with local anesthesia, and received another x-ray in nearly the same amount of time it took me to write this post.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that quick, but it was monumentally faster than it would have been in the States. Having said that, I do believe that we received the benefit of special treatment for clueless foreigners because the public hospital’s waiting room was filled to bursting with a more ethnic concentration of people than you usually see in Buenos Aires, which happens to be a very white city.

Zoe also managed to dazzle the hospital staff, who marveled at her bravery (what we call “Offermann stoicism”) and her interest in what was happening throughout the procedure. She did say that the setting hurt like hell, even with the local anesthesia, which they didn’t favor because they didn’t believe she could keep it together through the pain.

At the end of the day, I can sincerely say that we are incredibly thankful for the prompt, kind, and efficient treatment that we received from everyone during such a stressful event in our family.

General impressions: There was a vendor selling panchos (hot dogs) in the waiting area…Zoe’s cast is old school plaster (good for signing)…dealing with a complex fracture and debating about anesthesia for fracture setting is pressing the limits of my Spanish…the bathrooms were not clean and had no toilet paper, soap, or paper towels…no one ever mentioned payment at any time…we never once filled out a single piece of paperwork outside of telling staff Zoe’s name and her age.