PaR Cooked

we need a catchy title….


You know what is hard, thinking anything you write is clever or witty when you are sharing a blog with Rachel.  I have had a very busy and insane last few weeks which has led to the static silence from my end of the blog, but that’s not to say I haven’t been typing away.  Every time I think I am getting something together she goes and makes the drugstore sound witty and charming.  That is just one of the many reasons we love her.  Who else do you know that can do that?

Life here is far less exotic.  Everyone in my house spends the whole day speaking the same language, unless you count the times when Mette speaks in Mette language.  Otto started first grade last week which is new and amazing and perhaps a little bit exotic.  But it’s in the same school he went to last year, he takes the same bus, at the same time and for the most part requests I pack him the same lunch he had last year.  Change in the details is not something he handles well.  Mette is chomping at the bit to start school next week where she is graduating to the almighty afternoon class!  Every day no less!  We are counting the hours until it starts.  Each for our own reasons.

There is no exotic pharmacy filled with magical potions in glorious packaging, but they did start restocking the toothpaste I like again at the local CVS, so that’s exciting.  We, like many other readers, are living vicariously through the exotic stories of “down on the other side of the world.”

While I would be lying to say I am not jealous of the adventures, though not the germ part, I have to admit it is also a daily reminder to enjoy the slow, predictable life here in our sleepy little town.  When our family returned from 6 months abroad last year the kids and I happily spent the first two weeks home without leaving the block.  The first time I ventured three blocks downtown to the pharmacy (do we really go to pharmacies this much??) it felt like I was in a new foreign land, again.  We were so content to have our own house again nothing else.   We are lucky enough to have a core group of friends who were better able to anticipate this new lifestyle and made frequent visits to our house.  Allowing us to feel social from the safety of a pajamas that make it to the dinner table.


Baring the squirrel incident and a light switch event to which there are no answers, the tenant in their house has settled in well which leaves me without a reason to check on their house every day or so.  I still drive by, making sure nothing has impaled it from the outside and the roof hasn’t caved in.  I am not sure what else one can observe as you take the corner onto their street and drive past without entering oncoming traffic, but I can confidently say it is still standing.  He is bound to take a long  weekend soon and I will have my chance!


I keep wondering how long Rachel has to be gone before I think twice about adding chicken stock to something.  Will I possibly be having an impromptu lunch with her later this week where I might want to share this with her and family?  Perhaps I shouldn’t….


As I walk around town I think of things that I see I want to share with you.  But I don’t always remember when I am emailing or skyping.  Things like,

-they finally put the fence up around the president’s house and the reason they were taking so long with the corner was because they did a really nice bent section of fencing to match the new curved sidewalk.  I approve.

The guy who does the thrusting planks at the gym in the morning has a new and more robust routine.

We never all got to try the cider place before you left but I had some at a wedding recently and it was not unlike strong moonshine.  I am guessing it’s not all like that, but wowza, it was interesting.

With our new kitchen remodel I now have a bench for people to sit on and have tea and cookies after lunch.  Or anytime of course.  It really feels like you, Belinda and Megan need to break it in.

Somehow we need to get Megan to drink tea.

I went to Country Cupboard with just Mette and got new flowers for the window boxes out front.  It wasn’t as much fun as when I went with you and your mom.  Though going with Mette wanted to choose would have been exciting!

While we soak up the remaining warm days of long sunlight I promise to try and let go and send the long rays your way.  With warm sun and longer days hopefully you will all be filled with itching desires to explore the amazing world just outside the kitchen window.



La Farmacia

We’ve been to the pharmacy five times this week. I blame our children because, like all children, they are germ-infested cesspools neatly concealed beneath irresistible cheeks, plentiful kisses and generous snuggles. Their charms are beguiling and their illnesses relentless. None of it has been anything more than run of the mill fevers, coughs, sore throats, runny noses, stomach aches, rashes, and a swallowed marble. But it’s been all of them. Forever. We’ve been so consumed with our own aches, pains, and ailments that when I glanced out the kitchen window yesterday, I was shocked to see there is still an entire city that extends far beyond the five block radius of home, pharmacy, grocery store, and school.

The view from the kitchen window.

The view from the kitchen window.

So many things here require taking a number, waiting, paperwork, and a government-issued ID number. But not the pharmacy. No, that is a small, bright, friendly place well-stocked with remedies not requiring a prescription or a wait. Describe your particular ailments (or those of your child or the child who just gave your child a mucus-coated kiss goodbye) to the pharmacist and before you appears the recommended brand of the recommended medicine. There is no time wasted figuring out the best price or whether now is the time to make the switch to gel-caps, when all that’s really needed is to get home to lie in bed swaddled in self-pity.

Since I’m already exotifying and romanticizing the pharmacy, let me tell you about the packaging of the medicines. About three colds ago (also known as three weeks), I sent Nathan off for something like Vick’s Vaporub. He came home with a small, gold, metal container covered in writing. It looked like something I would have found buried in the back of my great-grandmother’s guest bathroom. My ibuprofen here comes in foil-backed blister packs of 400 mg pills. We could have gotten fewer packed loose in a white envelope. I can’t scientifically prove the packaging impacts the effectiveness of the medicine, but I’m pretty sure it does.

Are you still reading? Because that was more than 350 words about how we’re sick, feeling pathetic, and so we go to the pharmacy and buy medicine. Stay tuned to this space next week for more exciting updates about our glamorous time in South America. If you’re lucky maybe I’ll share how we pay our bills or ride a bus.


Exhaustion in the Yogurt Aisle

Exhaustion is the foreign transaction fee levied on our lives right now. I understand my daughter’s habit of sliding slowly down to the floor during the upward elevator ride to home.  By the end she lays sprawled flat, arms and legs flung out, insisting she will only exit by scooching her body out the door.  “No, no, no,” she screams in a voice that must bounce and ping its way down the elevator shaft and into the homes of each of the other 19 apartments. I understand it because right now otherwise routine tasks, like grocery shopping, require extra thought and energy, which leaves us at a slight deficit by the end of the week.

The grocery store, with its bright lights, amply stocked shelves of everything from toilet paper to specialty cheeses, and background soundtrack of eighties pop music felt deceptively familiar at first, but only at first. Here there are people constantly cleaning, restocking, and offering assistance.  There are half aisles devoted to yerba, mayonnaise, and alfajores. Yerba is better known in North America as Mate.  Here it is a staple of many Uruguayans lives; not even a recent 18% price increase is likely to slow consumption.  Alfajores consist of dulce de leche sandwiched between two cookies, which are sometimes coated in chocolate. While they can be and are eaten at any time of the day or night, alfajores are found in the breakfast aisle next to a very small selection of cereals.

Things like spices, condiments, milk, and cleaning supplies are, whenever possible, packaged in bags instead of bottles or cartons.  At our local grocery store baking soda is not available in any kind of container.  It requires a separate trip to the pharmacy and has to be requested from the pharmacist.

After once coming home with fruit scented sponges, we learned to check everything non-edible for added scent.  I spent a sneeze-filled half hour in the detergent aisle before finally finding one very dusty bottle of imported perfume- and dye-free detergent.  If I wanted to I could always add some smell post-wash with clothing perfume.  I laughed at the idea, but since Sunday washing often ends up smelling like it was dried over a meat-laden parilla, I’m reconsidering my rush to judgement.

I have also spent the equivalent of several hours staring at the wall of yogurts that, while not perfumed, are almost universally sweetened and then stabilized with a mixture of gelatin, pectin, agar, and starch. Even the white yogurt called Natural is sweetened with heaps of natural sugar; juice is also mostly only available in sweetened or really sweetened. Yogurt can come in a carton or a yogurt container or a bag or a bottle. The resulting confections, while questionable in their cultures, are often delicious.

I stand in slack-jawed wonder in the dairy aisle while other shoppers push past me to grab a bag of milk and deposit it expertly into a plastic produce bag to prevent leaks.  I aspire to their fluid ease and their confidence in their selections.  They sail in and out of aisles grabbing packages of this and that while I am still hunched over trying to read ingredients listed in Spanish, or just as often Portuguese, in a font so minuscule it makes my eyes cross. By the end, I am frazzled, often damp with sweat, completely exhausted, and slightly exhilarated.  I leave victorious in the moment, clutching my purchases like hard won prizes, and hopeful that next time it will only take me ten minutes to find the right floor cleaner.

Just a slice of the detergent aisle.

Just a slice of the detergent aisle.

Clothing perfume

Clothing perfume

Yogurt in bags

Yogurt in bags

A little segment of the yogurt section.

A little segment of the yogurt section.

Baking soda from the pharmacy.

Baking soda from the pharmacy.


Patos, Holas, Manzanas, and Zanahorias

Uno, dos, tres.  Pato. Pato,” our daughter sings as she touches her fingertips lightly together.  “There is a tree in the yard at school that in the summer produces pears,” our son explains to us in English, but reflecting the Spanish words in which he first heard it. These are small indicators of the great strides out children are making here.

Before we arrived in Montevideo we spoke to our children in Spanish with a haphazard level of discipline.  We read them Spanish books, listened to Spanish music, and carried on conversations in Spanish until they rolled their eyes and screamed, “Say it in English.”  There, Spanish was just a novelty, spoken by a few and never really needed.  They rarely responded in Spanish, but they both still understood a fair amount.

Then, after our ample warnings, they were without warning immersed in Spanish.  Here, our apartment was the only refuge from a buffeting stormy sea of questions, requests, greetings, signs, and overheard conversations–all in Spanish. We thought maybe all that latent language we’d been cultivating for years would just rise to the surface, but instead it was as if a huge wave of Spanish rose up and pummeled every last bit of understanding out of them.  A cheery hola from the doorman was met with panicked blank stares. Simple commands they had followed without thinking for years needed to be translated and parsed.

So we did the only natural and compassionate thing parents can do in this situation.  A week after we arrived we plopped them down in a small, welcoming, but purely Uruguayan school named after a popular left-leaning cartoon character. Beyond the blue locked metal gate is a yellow building that houses a clean, bright world of children aged two to six.  Our children, like all the other children, wear the school uniform–a green, plush-lined tracksuit for the older children and a plaid, long-sleeved tunic for the younger. And they, like all the other children, are welcomed each morning with euphoric greetings, hugs and kisses from their teachers. The first half of the day of the day is entirely in Spanish. The older children, who stay the whole day, spend the second half with English-speaking teachers.  This is a place of learning, of play, of mess, of noise, and apparently of great joy.

We expected our children to come home exhausted and overwhelmed.  Of course there would be a period of adjustment and resistance.  No one can expect children to start school midway through the year in a completely new country, language, culture, and community without some problems.  They would be homesick.  This would be normal and we were ready to be supportive and firm.  We were not prepared for our daughter to wake up on weekends tearful because she could not go to school.  Nor were we prepared to contend with our son’s bouncing exuberance and energy after an 7.5 to 9 hour school day. We were certainly not prepared that they would be so happy that they would simply accept the new language, culture and community as part school.

After the first week of school they started bringing home the names of their classmates.  They tried out the unfamiliar sounds of Valentina, Santi, Martín, Cata, Diego, Pupe, and Jaoquín in conversation with us and in their private mutterings.  At a dinner one night when discussing nachos, our daughter’s head snapped up.  “There a Nacho at my school,” she said, delighted to have made the connection.

By the second week both children  kissed their teachers hello without pause and offered a quiet, but firm, hola to anyone who greeted them.  In other ways though their language development diverged.

Our daughter began singing songs made up of gibberish words, but with the cadence of Spanish. Then one day after a run of birthday parties in her classroom, she burst out singing, “Happy Birthday, feliz.”  This was quickly followed by the song about ducks and requests for besos. This week, I realized that our daughter can now count higher in Spanish than English. Yesterday, as we sat making a grocery list she insisted I write down panpanas.  After some investigation it turned out she wanted manzanas. Language is still fairly new for her, which seems to make the transition from English to Spanish more fluid.  The world is always providing new words, so maybe it’s not so surprising that this school is full of them.

Our son, more conscious of language and more aware of anticipated mistakes, has integrated fewer words and sounds.  He still claims to understand nothing, still says he just watches the other children for clues, still says his teachers explain things in English.  However, his teachers say they use only a handful of English words a day to help him understand; and he brings home stories that indicate he is understanding far more than he could glean from simply watching gestures. This week while skyping with a friend from home, he excitedly told her we had zanahoria muffins from the market. He couldn’t understand why she responded with only a blank stare.

Sometimes, often, almost always, I have an unrequitable urge to fast forward a year to see where our children are, how they speak, who they have become.  Of course I can’t and it doesn’t really matter.  For now, we are marveling at patos, holas, manzanas and zanahorias.


For the Record

So rachel is off in the summer hemisphere and I am left with her empty house that still smells like their family to check on and maintain.

It is nice still being able to go over to her house, even if she isn’t there.  I have met with the tenant and tried my hardest not to overwhelm him with details.  I think I talked to him for an hour at break neck speed about all things house and town.  Pretty sure he won’t be contacting me anytime soon!    I explained the dehumidifier, the fancy furnace, street cleaning, recycling, best grocery stores, markets quirks, neighbors, you name it.
He seems quite nice and is off on a trip for a month so we both have a chance to settle into our new rolls of tenant/landlord.
Him being gone for a month is giving me a bit more time to let go of her house.  A luxury i didn’t think I needed until he left.
That brings me to this week’s confession.

For the record I would like to state that never once while checking on your house did I wonder why the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom was so dirty.  What was the tenant doing in there?  I tried standing on the seat to see if some amazing view could be had thus explaining what looked like footprints.  After determining I was clueless to the reasons, i just went ahead and cleaned it.
For the record i did not question the tenants need to haphazardly pull down the black out curtains on the third floor and leave them in a heap on the floor.  Instead I simply went about rehanging them.
For the record, I never heard movement on the third floor and left screaming.
For the record, i did not call Tasha to come over and help me be brave and see what was in there.
Nathan, for the record, I did not use a squash racket as a possible self defense weapon, nope, not once.
For the record there has never been a squirrel in your house.
For the record we did not trap one on the third floor with an open window in the hopes s/he would see him/herself out.
I am the bravest and most capable of all landlords you could have.