Archive for the 'Housing' category

Bouncing Yoga Balls off Horses

Our new home has a surprising view considering our urban/industrial location. We overlook the Willamette River, the Fremont Bridge, and the mounted police training facility and stables.

When we moved into our new apartment, we figured we would enjoy the horses, but we’ve become absolutely riveted. The training that the horses and their riders go through is fascinating, to say the least.

Pictured above was “Fire Day”, where the trainers ignited flames in burn barrels and conducted mock protests with the horses in formation. They then lit a line of fuel on fire between the barrels and had the horses walk through the smoke and the small blaze. If you click on a photo, you can just make out the line of fire under the horses.

We first learned of the “protest training,” when I found that my recreational reading was being interrupted by rhythmic chanting coming outside. I thought maybe some gung-ho exercise class was on their way to the esplanade for a run. To investigate, I got off my ass and poked my head toward the window, only to discover instead that Portland’s finest were holding signs and screaming chants at horses with riders. They did the mock demonstration up right with banner signs, picket signs, people running toward the horses, megaphones, etc.

They throw every obstacle they can think of at these horses. We’ve observed them practice swinging their night stick within the peripheral vision of the horse, so their equine partner is not startled by the motion. They run the stick along the horse, they wave it slowly, increasing the speed over time. The horses do not flinch.

One day, they had various protest obstacles set up, and the mounted unit had to walk through the tight course in formation with picketers screaming. Another time, we even saw a horse and rider holding still while a trainer threw a yoga ball quite hard at the horse, repetitively, from every position around the steed. Interestingly enough, this was one of the few exercises where the horse wavered, but he never broke out of his stance.

We have enjoyed getting to know the 7 horses who live next door. We know which ones like to roll around in the dirt, we are forever commenting on the the black gelding and white gelding’s battle for herd supremacy, we smile when they argue over which one gets to bite and play with the orange caution cone in the riding ring, and there is nothing more engaging than seeing them at a full gallop, sans mounts, playing, nipping, and bucking.

We have the best view in Portland.

The High Security Skeleton Key


I’ve been meaning to post about this for ages!

While we are snug in our beds at night, we are supposed to rest easy knowing that the locks protecting our doors are the type pictured here that open with an old fashioned skeleton key (representing the latest in security technology)!

This gem of a lock features a keyhole though which you can see. If you are lucky, you have a little flap that can be moved to cover the hole, as we have in this apartment, shown above. Our last house, with a front door that opened directly onto the street, had no cover for the keyhole — you could bend down while on the sidewalk and peer into our kitchen and entry way without visual obstruction.


One last thought on locks. Everything in Buenos Aires is keyed from within and from without, which means you are locked into your apartment, and your building, unless you have a key to depart. (And if one spouse leaves the home with another spouse’s keys, then the keyless spouse will be unable to leave said home…)

We are presently utilizing the coping mechanism of denial to deal with our fear of being trapped in a BA building during a fire!

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.

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.)

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.

Part II: How to Rent a Temporary Furnished Apartment in Buenos Aires

Welcome to the second part of what must be a fascinating series for those of you who have no intention of ever renting an apartment in Buenos Aires!

(In case you missed it, here’s Part I.)


I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the real estate agents who list apartments for rent are often middlemen with little to no knowledge of the actual apartment or its owner. It is important to understand this when you are attempting to rent an apartment and when you have problems that must be rectified once you are in a flat.

Also, the majority of owners list their apartments with multiple agencies, none of which know what the others are doing. So, even if an agency Web site says an apartment is available, it still may not be. What does this mean for you, the lessee? It means that until a reservation deposit has been sent and accepted for an apartment, it could become “unavailable” at any point in the rental process. For this reason, when communicating with a real estate firm, you want to ask the direct question, “Have you talked to the owner and confirmed the apartment is available?” If they have not spoken to the owner, their promises of availability are meaningless.


  • Buenos Aires Habitat. This is probably the most professional firm with which we have dealt in Buenos Aires. They actually had an inventory list, gave us a complete tour prior to bringing out the contract, and the apartment was very nice and was accurately reflected in the Web photos.
  • By T Argentina. This is the agency for our current apartment rental. They have a good assortment of nice properties, were responsive and easy to deal with, and I like the way that they handle reserving the unit — you use a credit card, which they only charge if you cancel the reservation, so there are no weird wire transfers or Western Union experiences to put your home-away-from-home on hold.
  • Apartments Express. The gentleman who owns this firm is very nice, but the apartment we rented from him was truly awful — the Tiki lounge, which we posted about several times, here, here, and here was an out-of-date apartment with myriad problems.
  • Welcome2Ba. We were very unhappy with the service we received from this agency. They put us into a very expensive rental that was completely falling apart (it took us 3 weeks to get a functioning telephone). When the “owner” came to supposedly take care of things, it turns out it was the owner’s nephew and the agency didn’t even know. They tried to show the apartment to prospective buyers during our rental contract, but no one had mentioned that the place was for sale. They also screwed up the lease and didn’t indicate a departure time, and then right before we left, started sweating us to leave early for a new tenant. Horrible experience.


Disclaimer. This is by no means an exhaustive list and is meant only to impart information on the firms with which we have worked and/or searched. We make no warranties or representations about what your experience will be!

Part I: How to Rent a Temporary Furnished Apartment in Buenos Aires

Lucky for you, we have rented four apartments in Buenos Aires, and several vacation rental homes throughout Argentina and Uruguay. Now we’re going to pass on what we’ve learned about the short- to mid-term furnished apartment leasing game. (For you feed readers, apologies that this went out as an incomplete draft a bit earlier today!)

FINDING THE APARTMENT. Generally, these rentals are designed to be selected while you are overseas, sight unseen. You can usually get a good sense of what an apartment looks like by perusing an agency’s Web site though. Having said that, do not give the benefit of the doubt to unclear photos, which come in two varieties: fuzzy shots or arty shots, the latter being pix that look really good, but don’t actually show you the apartment, just a cool section of a counter in the bathroom, etc. Your rule of thumb needs to be, “if it isn’t clear, move on to the next apartment.”

If you are in Argentina and want to view an apartment before renting it, you may ask the agency, and if it is not presently rented, they will sometimes accommodate you, but not always. The agencies that focus on shorter-term rentals will be less interested in showing apartments. The longer-term your potential stay, the more access to apartments you will have.

NEIGHBORHOODS. For those of you who haven’t been to Baires, here is my quick take on many of the neighborhoods in which you will find temporary furnished rentals targeted toward foreigners. San Telmo is edgy and gritty, filled with a younger crowd. Recoleta is a wealthy neighborhood where a lot of foreigners stay, but it’s rather staid and is home to a lot of retired folks. Palermo Soho is a lower-density district with tons of hip stores and loads and loads of tourists. Palermo Hollywood, see Palermo Soho, but without as much trendy shopping. Las Cañitas/La Imprenta, where we just moved, is located between Belgrano and Palermo and is close to a large park, sports tons of restaurants, and has families, retired folks, and young people. Belgrano’s tree-lined streets shelter a lot of families due to the large number of schools in the area.

AMENITIES. This is a quick and dirty list of what you will want to ask an agency about when you are communicating with them online.

  1. It is important to make sure the rental has “sommier” mattresses (proper box spring beds) because many owners will furnish their apartments with horribly uncomfortable tuck-under beds, cots, and futons.
  2. Confirm the size of the matrimonial bed (ask ahead of time since many Web sites will describe all beds as doubles, whether they be king, queen or double mattresses).
  3. With Internet access, make sure to inquire as to the availability of WiFi because a lot of apartments will have high speed Internet, but no wireless, and the modem can often be somewhere very inconvenient for computing! (We brought our own wireless router with us.)
  4. Ask about apartment security…is there a 24 hour doorman?
  5. Ask what floor the apartment is on — the lower levels can have problems with security and can also be much noisier.
  6. If you are leasing a larger apartment (more than 2 bedrooms), find out if one of the bedrooms is a habitación de servicio, which is essentially the maid’s bedroom. (Think carefully before renting an apartment with one of these because they are generally small with non-existent ventilation, no air conditioning or heat, little storage, and often only a sliver of natural light.)
  7. If you will be staying here during warmer months, find out which rooms are specifically air conditioned. The agency Web sites will often state that there is “a/c available,” but that can mean that there is air conditioning only in the living room but not in any of the bedrooms.
  8. Generally, the nicer apartments offer housekeeping services once a week (this is usually the landlord’s housekeeper who keeps an eye on the place)! If you want maid service, make sure you ask about this in advance.

PAYMENT OF RENT. If you are coming from the US, they will expect you to pay the entire amount of the rent and the deposit in US$. If you are in Argentina, they will typically allow you to pay in pesos at the exchange rate of the day. If you are going to be renting a temporary furnished apartment for longer than 3 months, you can negotiate to pay a lump sum and then the rent in monthly installments. The market is shifting a bit, and for longer rentals and more expensive rentals, I have seen the agencies more willing to negotiate than when we first arrived!

CHECK IN. You bring your cash and bags directly to the apartment to check in. Before you hand anything over, you will want a complete tour of the apartment. (In some cases, the owner may send a family member or their housekeeper to rent the apartment with the agency representative.) Make sure you get a direct contact number for the owner/representative. When you are checking in, you will want to review all of the following items.

  1. Ensure that the hot water works.
  2. Test all of the stove burners and make sure they have provided matches or a sparking device, if needed.
  3. Ask how to light/operate the oven.
  4. Flush all of the toilets to test functionality.
  5. Check that the sheets fit the bed (they often try to make king size beds with queen size flat sheets — it’s horrible because the sheet comes completely off the bed after about 5 minutes).
  6. Pull your computer out and check the WiFi/Internet connection.
  7. Take a look in the kitchen cabinets and make sure there are a good amount of basic dishes, pots, pans and silverware for your needs.
  8. Make sure there is a dish drainer since you generally won’t have a dishwasher.
  9. Double check that there is an iron and ironing board.
  10. Have them confirm the TV works and cable is hooked up.
  11. Ask for a lesson with the phone that lets you buzz people in from outside the building.
  12. Make sure they show you where to take out the trash.
  13. Check all of the locks with the keys that are given you.
  14. If there is an article of furniture that is missing that you really need, like a bookshelf, or you a need a lamp for a dark room, note it and ask for it before signing the contract.
  15. Test the ventilation system over the stove.
  16. I would ask for a plunger. There is a lot of delicate plumbing here and no apartment we have rented has ever offered a real plunger.
  17. If a room lacks ventilation, or is hot despite air conditioning, ask for a fan.
  18. Make sure there are no light bulbs that need to replaced.

This list may seem odd, but generally, you should expect that no one has checked over the apartment prior to your arriving. And remember, in Argentina, It is much easier to get things taken care of by pointing them out before you sign the contract and hand over any money. Once everyone has scattered, it will take exponentially longer to get problems addressed.

So, after you have gone through this list, sit down and read the contract. Most agencies will have a short, one-page lease in Spanish (a few have an English version). All of the contracts I have seen are pretty innocuous. Remember to add anything to the contract that results from your walk-through.

CHECK OUT. The agency may or may not show up, but the owner and/or their representative will come, give the dwelling a quick look-see, and then hand you back your deposit in the currency in which they received it. (Some people worry about counterfeit money swaps and note their deposit bill serial numbers if they are paying with US$ and then ask for these same bills in return. We have never done so.) We have not yet had an owner be ticky tacky at check out, even though we have broken a glass here and there or dinged a table. In all cases we have received 100% of our deposit back. The whole process of departing takes about 5 to 15 minutes. They don’t expect the place to be spotless when you leave either, just somewhat neat.

Tune in next week for Part II, where I review the apartment agencies we have worked with over the last 7 months.

Update: Part II is now available!

Time to Bitch about Our New Home!

terraceWe are now in our third apartment in Buenos Aires, and our second neighborhood. Our new home is a MUCH nicer place than the Tiki Lounge (our last dwelling), unfortunately though, our move has not been without problems. (More on those later.)

We are now living smack dab between outlet stores, funeral homes, and a trendy expat-focused district. Needless to say, it is not a neighborhood where we spent very much time previously, so we’re having to get to know our new environs — for some reason it has been hard to work up the energy. (Of course, we have located our closest Chino (small grocery store), laundry service, kiosk, and supermarket!)

Onward to our new pad…this place is what I picture the results of a makeover on Home and Garden TV to be — it all looks good, but most of the construction is cheap and doesn’t function well. Our closet doors, for instance, slide on rails. Sadly, the doors don’t slide far enough so that we are able to open the drawers that reside inside the closet, which means gaining access to the drawers often bumps the sliding doors off of their tracks. Really annoying. The shower has this crazy system where the water trickles down the back wall (I mean regular wall, not tile, not marble) and it collects in the recessed built-in shelves. The few drops that escape the shelves proceed down into a gutter on the floor. I’m guessing they used waterproof paint, but it doesn’t really work well. The “retro” furniture is falling apart. The roof leaked in three places during a recent rainstorm. The neighbors turned off the electrical service to our main air conditioner on a hot day. When we moved in, there were no phones downstairs, the doorbell didn’t work, the lights were nearly all out in the living room, the dishes weren’t clean, there was an electrical outlet literally hanging out of the wall, the downstairs toilet wouldn’t flush…you get the picture.

On a positive note, (I do have them) the place has an awesome private terrace (pictured above) with a built in parilla (grill), outdoor sink, outdoor outlets, and a large table. It’s really quite lovely. And the crazy high ceilings with fabulous light puts us in a good mood (or blinds us) when we get up in the morning!

New Theory: Tiki Lounge is Haunted

We have now decided that the poltergeist living in the Tiki Lounge (as we refer to our apartment) has been frustrated beyond belief because we weren’t really picking up on his message to get the hell out!

We didn’t understand that the water that sprays us from the bathroom sink, the floor polish that rubs off on our feet so that their bottoms are dark brown, the shower head that streams in an impossible-to-rinse-your-hair flow, the lights that burn out constantly (even with new bulbs), the door to the porch that gets more and more difficult to open, and the couch sectionals that tip over are really attempts to dislodge us from the apartment.

How did we finally get the message? That frigging ghost has started messing with our Internet connection.

Mmmm, hmmmm, that’s right. Our perfectly good WIFI connection doesn’t want to be found, blinks in and out randomly, and generally thwarts our attempts to do things like pay bills online, or waste time on mindless YouTube videos!

Interfering with our Internet connection, now that’s war…everything else, we can put up with!

And, we even know what the bastard looks like! The gentleman pictured above (in a painting that hangs in our entry way and is the first thing we see when we enter the door) must be our phantasmic friend.

Tales from the Tiki Lounge

Unfortunately, “we gotta get outta this place” has become a frequent refrain from the three adults living in this apartment. (The girls love it here — there is no accounting for taste.)


  • The refrigerator has two settings: “not cold enough” and “freeze everything in your refrigerator.” I can’t find a spot in between, though I keep trying! (We inadvertently froze a perfectly good pineapple the other day. Fruit doesn’t really respond well to being frozen.)
  • The under-the-cabinet fluorescent lights in the kitchen, which we need to be able to see in the morning, cause a rain of dead bugs to fall along the counter top every time we turn it on.
  • The dishes and utensils in the kitchen are icky, and it’s not just a girl thing. The spatula was so irretrievably gross, Tom wouldn’t use it while making hamburgers. (He used a fork instead!)
  • The toilet in our bathroom doesn’t really flush, so we can’t use it. Instead, we use the one in the girls’ bathroom that isn’t bolted to the floor, so we have to be careful that we don’t tip the whole toilet over while reaching for the toilet paper! (I never realized going to the bathroom could be such an adventure.)
  • The air conditioner in our room doesn’t work well (relevant when it’s in the 90s).
  • The water doesn’t get very hot in the kitchen, so hand washing dishes is a challenge.
  • The overhead light in the girls’ room has blown out twice with new bulbs, so the housekeeper and I agree that something is wrong with the wiring. I’ve asked that they deal with it after we leave.
  • The lights just burned out in Ian’s room, and the fixture makes a weird sparky noise when he flips the switch, just like the girls’ room.
  • The light back by the washing machine also has burned out, so we take a flashlight back to do laundry after dark. (At this point, with the faulty electrical system, we don’t want any part of these fixtures, even to change a bulb.)

Let’s just hope the place doesn’t burn down in an electrical fire before the 10th of December!