Archive for August, 2009

LM Montgomery Versus JK Rowling


One of the fun aspects of having wee copies of yourself running around the house is that you get to reread your favorite examples of children’s literature.

Lately, I have been performing Anne of Green Gables for the girls before bed, which has helped me crystallize my thoughts on another popular series for kids, Harry Potter.

The entire time that we read the magical tomes to the girls, I couldn’t escape the thought that while her world building and story arc were admirable, Ms. Rowling’s writing skills simply didn’t measure up to the classics that I enjoyed in younger days.

Of course, it was impossible not to wonder if I wasn’t biased, making the mistake of looking back with rose-colored glasses. But something has really struck me as we make progress with Ms. Montgomery’s story; I never change a word while I am reciting it to the Zs. With Harry Potter, I was constantly editing as I read out loud, such as rewriting the ridiculous boy-girl flirting dialog that peppered the later books. (And frankly, reading plucky Anne Shirley’s tale has made me mourn Hermione turning into a hormone-challenged, lovesick twit.)

LM Montgomery transforms Anne’s everyday life into an adventure that has the girls on the edge of their seat…well bed, and she does it with a flowing and poetic voice that is mesmerizing. It makes me admire her all the more that a book published in 1908 (it was her first novel) can capture my daughters’ imagination so completely, with nary an exploding wand to move the action along!


Below is an example of boy-girl interaction that I feel is suitable for the Zs. (I’m a bit bloodthirsty, I suppose!)

Mr. Phillips was back in the corner explaining a problem in algebra to Prissy Andrews and the rest of the scholars were doing pretty much as they pleased, eating green apples, whispering, drawing pictures on their slates, and driving crickets, harnessed to strings, up and down the aisle. Gilbert Blythe was trying to make Anne Shirley look at him and failing utterly, because Anne was at that moment totally oblivious, not only of the very existence of Gilbert Blythe, but of every other scholar in Avonlea school and of Avonlea school itself. With her chin propped on her hands and her eyes fixed on the blue glimpse of the Lake of Shining Waters that the west window afforded, she was far away in a gorgeous dreamland, hearing and seeing nothing save her own wonderful visions.

Gilbert Blythe wasn’t used to putting himself out to make a girl look at him and meeting with failure. She should look at him, that redhaired Shirley girl with the little pointed chin and the big eyes that weren’t like the eyes of any other girl in Avonlea school.

Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper, “Carrots! Carrots!”

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.

“You mean hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

And then — Thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it — slate, not head — clear across.

Dripping-Freezing Fridge Rant


What is up with the refrigerators in Argentina? They go through various freezing and thawing cycles that ruin all of our food by either a) freezing it; or b) dripping on it while the refrigerator defrosts.

The refrigerator isn’t even supposed to get icy — it’s not the freezer! *sigh*

We have lived in 4 apartments, and each has had the same issue with what appears to be fairly new refrigerators. They freeze up on the back, near the top shelf of the refrigerator (as you can see in this photo), and then they self defrost, which causes a flood of water rivulets to course down the back of the fridge, pooling on anything they can while they take their one-way trip to the produce drawer.

We’ve tried setting the thermostat (steady-state) at every level, and we have attempted to dial in the temperature depending on how full the icebox is. Unfortunately, nothing seems to make a difference.

Now, we keep the vast majority of our produce out of this vegetable and fruit killing box that resides in our kitchen. (Multiple freeze and thaw cycles wreak havoc on strawberries!) For the most part, it has become a “meat and milk box!” Oh well.

Zee French Pot Roast

potroastThis was a very fussy recipe that we embarked upon somewhat grudgingly yesterday.

The first step entailed the pleasant task of trying to locate a chuck roast equivalent in BA. The chuck comes from the shoulder of the bife. Specifically, we were looking for something from the first 5 ribs.

Tom said that discussing our meat requirements would surpass his butcher Spanish capabilities, so he enlisted my aid. Armed with a picture of meat cuts superimposed over a cow, I marched in and started quizzing the hapless young man behind the counter at the Avicar. (You could tell that he was wondering why he had the misfortune of drawing us as clients!)

After much debate, we decided that the aguja roast was the closest approximation, and we examined the hunk of meat he pulled out of the case and dickered over which 2 kg section we were going to cut off based on rib indentations.

Meat secured, we returned to the house to begin a day of cooking. Reducing a whole bottle of wine…crisping some pancetta to render grease…browning the hunk o’roast…slapping it all in a pot with some herbs…adding carrots…cooking pearl onions and mushrooms separately in butter and sugar, eventually browning and glazing them (wow)…removing the meat…reducing the cooking sauce…slightly thickening the jus with some gelatin. (I was skeptical, but it was perfect.)

Verdict? TO FREAKING DIE FOR. It was really amazing, probably the best pot roast we have ever made. (And, Tom’s new favorite recipe.)

Empanadas, Tucumán Style


Yesterday, when we went to pick up the girls from school, our favorite and most wonderfully helpful parent, Silvia, had a little gifty for our family — empanadas caseras. (Oh yes, that means homemade!)

These gems of beef wrapped in pastry dough were prepared by Silvia’s sister, and she was very insistent that we understand that these were crafted in the manner common in Tucumán, Argentina, from whence her family hails. (The implication being that their way of assembling an empanada was far superior to all others!)

In further questioning Silvia, it seems that the main distinction of a Tucumán-style empanada had to do with the beef, which she stressed was hand cut into cubes, not just ground, as you often find in Buenos Aires. You can see the delicious finished product straight out of the oven here, and may I add, they were probably the best Argentine Hot Pockets (our name in jest for empanadas) we have yet tasted.

Say Goodbye to Flight Cankle

travelsocksWe heart travel socks.

The magical foot coverings pictured here are really compression garments in disguise as ordinary cotton socks. They squeeze your little ankles, getting progressively looser as they run up your calf. We decided to experiment with them on our return trip to the US, and needless to say, we were very impressed!

Before: When we flew to Buenos Aires in October of 2008, I was 4 months into my recovery from ACL replacement and other clean up on my right knee. Not surprisingly, my right ankle and foot were Michelin Man-esque by the time we arrived in BA. Tough to get the shoes on. Stiff and swollen.

After: Fast forward 9 months to my trip home with the handy dandy travel socks — nada, nothing, zip, zero. Not really any detectable swelling at all. My feet fit in my shoes completely normally at the end of 24 hours of traveling.

So run, don’t walk, to your nearest store and buy some travel socks if you have a long car/boat/train/plane trip planned. They are truly amazing.

(I’d like to thank my model, Tom Offermann, for being willing to pose for this blog, yet again!)

Trip Home at 9 Months: Pros & Cons

So, what are the ramifications of leaving Argentina and returning to the US for a vacation nine months into our 14 month sabbatical?

We wondered, would we go back to America and feel we didn’t want to return to Buenos Aires? Or, would we confirm that we didn’t want to live in the US anytime soon? I was going to participate in an intense professional conference, how would I feel about working again? Would the kids have an even harder time coming back to Latin America after a taste of Portland?

The answers to these questions were surprising.

After being home for a bit, it almost seemed as if we had never left. Yet, when we returned to Argentina last weekend, it seemed we had never left as well. We are happy and comfortable in both places. So much for a resolution on that front.

Going home and participating in the Mayor’s Institute on City Design completely re-energized me in terms of work. I was pretty burned out by the time we left, so it’s nice to know that this sabbatical has recharged my intellectual batteries.

And the kids. Going home was very valuable, which was counter-intuitive. I really didn’t expect it. When we first landed in Argentina, whenever they were unhappy, the Zs would compare their experience against what I call “idealized Portland.” In other words, everything suffered in comparison to “idealized Portland.” But, going back at 9 months allowed them to have a good time at home, but cement a more “real Portland” in their heads. And, after starting back to school this week, where they received a warm welcome, they both felt a sense of happiness, familiarity and comfort. They were the “new kids” no longer.

For that alone, it would have been worth the trip!

The Return — It’s the Small Things

Salt Shakers. At a restaurant yesterday, I created the Iguazu of salt while seasoning some chicken because I forgot that Argentine shakers are very porous and make for the easy distribution of sodium chloride, unlike American shakers that require vigorous pumping up and down to earn a mere few granules.

Piano. One of our neighbors, who is learning to play the piano, is still working on the same song that they were 4 weeks ago (and the 4 weeks before that, to be honest). Sadly, not a whole lot of improvement.

Solo Dining. We love Campo Bravo because it is a yummy parilla within walking distance of our house that is open all day, which means we can get a meal at 6:00 p.m. Of course, it does require that we dine completely alone while staff sets up for dinner — we had forgotten about our eating dinner when the rest of the country is enjoying merienda (tea time)!

Winter. It is always disconcerting to climb aboard a slim metal tube during a Hotlanta summer, and then emerge 10 hours later in winter. Although, I really enjoy the winter here — very fresca — which is normally a good thing, but yesterday it was perhaps a little too fresca. The girls had the first half of their tennis lesson in the wind and the rain, with one Z dancing around, hands in pockets, while the other Z took their turn with Cesar. We called it a day after 30 minutes.

Tranquilo. Getting off the American “go go go” track is very tangible. For instance, we flew in on Saturday, still owing rent for the 2nd half of our stay in our apartment. La dueña of our home didn’t sweat it though, she waited until Wednesday to collect. In fact, we were the ones trying to track her down so that we could pay!

Listerine. When we first moved here, we noticed that the Listerine tasted different than its counterpart in the US. However, we must have gotten used to it, because when we went home, we hated the taste of the mouthwash in the US. Nothing like a good swish of citrus Argentine Listerine to let us know that we’re home!

Handy Guide to Packing on Pounds

First, it helps to break your back and maybe some ribs, thereby rendering you rather useless for 4 weeks. Even when you cut back on the food, the fat settles in, especially when your body had grown used to a lot of walking and regular workouts previous to your injury.

Then, fly to Portland and attend a 3-day, intense, closed-door conference where they feed you delicious victuals. All.Day.Long.

And lastly, gorge yourself on the bountiful and beautiful restaurant/farmer’s market scene in Portland, Oregon for a month, spare no expense. And while you’re at it, don’t really pick back up with the whole workout thing as your vertebrae fractures heal.

If you can’t manage to break your own columna vertebral, then you should know that being the spouse of the spinally challenged helps with weight gain as well, because your workouts and nutritional outlook go to hell as you assume the mantle of all parental and familial responsibilities.

Your stress level gets ramped up too (with worry for your mate, of course), and food being your drug of choice, you eat like a pig until someone makes it stop.

What does all of this mean? We are purging demon sugar from our diets once again, eating responsibly, and getting on the Crossfit/back rehab bandwagon. It’s going to be a long few months whipping these bods back into shape again.

How Not to Handle Jet Lag

Tom and I were poster children for doing everything wrong when it came to recovering from 24 hours of traveling.

One of my first rules for avoiding fatigue after a long trip is to eat meals while traveling only during times when I would normally be dining at my journey’s end. I find that eating appropriately is a very effective way to synchronize my body clock to my destination time zone. Unfortunately, we did not do this when returning to BA.

The flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires is an overnight flight. We should have slept during the flight and stayed up all day upon our arrival. As you might suspect, we did the exact opposite. We stayed up during the entire flight and then took several naps during the day we landed. Predictably, we had a hard time sleeping our first night home — what a surprise!

As a result, I have managed to reverse my body clock so that I desire to sleep all day and stay up all night. Since I am prone to this, I really should have been more careful.

The road to switching back starts today with no napping! *Sigh* Wish me luck.

Pink Technicolor Vomit…

Our return to Buenos Aires did not disappoint in the barrel-of-laughs department!

It started with Delta canceling our Thursday flight to Buenos Aires a few days prior to our departure. We hastily had to rearrange all of our plans so that we could decamp 24 hours later than we anticipated, leaving us with some seat shuffling that would need to be completed at the airport on the day of travel.

We flew uneventfully from Portland to Atlanta, even touching down 5 minutes early. Unfortunately, there was nary a gate at which we could park. So we hung out on the tarmac for awhile, causing us to be rather late. (This is foreshadowing, in case you were wondering.)

We sprinted off the plane and took the airport tram to the international gates (farthest away from where we landed, of course) and made it to our gate with just enough time to buy an enormous bag of junk food before we had to board. (Whew!)

I went up to the ticket counter to deal with the aforementioned seat shuffle and encountered a very rude gate agent who wouldn’t listen to our tale of woe and informed us that she couldn’t possibly be of assistance. In response, I asked for her full name and to talk to her supervisor. She then refused to give me her pen so that I could record her name and turned her name tag from me so that I couldn’t see it. The final nail was when she called me, “nuts.” Our reasonable mien in the face of her incredible rudeness eventually prevailed after we talked to a nice supervisor who apologized profusely and shuffled our seats around so that we had 5 seats for 4 people. An extra seat on a 9 1/2 hour flight is a lovely thing!

Upon landing, Zelda’s stomach felt queasy, so we had to wade against the traffic of disembarking passengers to make it to a bathroom. Thankfully, she didn’t throw up. As we made our way forward though, she changed her mind and blew pink chunks all over the floor in front of the first class lavatory.

When it was over she said, “I feel much better now…I’m hungry.” *Sigh*

Because of the upchucking, we were literally the last four people to make it through immigration and into the baggage claim area, where we were greeted by the happy news that NONE of our five bags had made it to Buenos Aires.

On a positive note, many other people’s bags didn’t make their tight connections in Atlanta either. Delta was very professional and had all of our maletas tracked and located, smothering us with assurance that the luggage would be delivered to our apartment tomorrow, thereby saving us from the task of figuring out how we would possibly pack all of our suitcases into Fred’s car.

The glass is half full. The glass is half full. The glass is half full!