Monday, November 23, 2009

Sag Paneer





My fascination with India goes back some 10 years. Joni and I were in the same marketing group at Oracle. We befriended Sharmila - a beautiful ex-model from Bombay, then a Direct Marketing expert living in Fremont (the SF Bay Area's little India) with her arranged marriage hubbie. One of the memorable events of that period was Sharmila's baby shower. Joni and I were the only non-Indian women invited. The twenty or so others came donned in Oscar night caliber saris - rich hues of eggplant, fuscia, turquoise and canary yellow - golden embroidery lining every hem. Sharmila wore a sexy belly-baring hot pink sari with tiny rubies (yes, real ones) pasted across her forehead. Her lips painted red and a thousand bangle bracelets lined her delicate arm. Her friends wore their finest but she was clearly the star. We ate homemade Indian fare - more than 10 varieties of curry, naan bread and other things that tasted amazing but I'd never tried at any Indian restaurant in San Francisco. I felt like a complete toad in my Gap khakis and Ann Taylor blouse. As they encircled Sharmila and talked about their home country I imagined visiting one day with Joni.

In December I'll complete the first year of a three year teacher training program in Iyengar yoga. Part of the course has been a detailed study of yoga philosophy, hinduism, and Indian mythology. Before I became pregnant, I imagined visiting India at one of the many ashrams and of course making a stop in Bombay to visit Sharmila, who has since moved back, had another child and is making a successful career for herself in acting and commercials. I know the right time will come but it will not be this year or next.

For now, I'll continue my exploration of all things India until I get a taste of the real thing. My latest exploration has been of the culinary variety. In October I attended a four week intensive cooking course of Northern Indian food. It was a birthday gift from Hugh which turned out to be more of a gift for him. A long time expat named Juhi led the course from her own small kitchen. There were three of us foodies. Each week we learned how to prepare four dishes. After class we'd gorge ourselves on the leftovers and during the week I'd practice at home at least two of the four new recipes I learned.

In the first photo, I'm in class about to flip over a mung lentil and basmati rice pancake. The second shot is of my first at home effort - a meal of Vegetable Biryani, Spicy Eggplant with homemade yogurt and Carrot Raisin salad with mustard seeds and ginger. The last photo is of my daughter eating and enjoying extremely flavorful and in some cases quite spicy Indian food. My Uncle-in-Law Lee aka Ram Alexander who lives in Assisi Italy and spends three months a year in India says she must have been Indian in a past life. There you have it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMO

Today marks the kick off of National Novel Writing Month - (ck out www.nanowrimo.org) and my real return to writing. My writer's group Thursdays@3 decided to participate this year - meaning each of us will write a novel during the month of November with the support of each other and the org/website that hosts the event every year.

Junot Diaz would be proud of me. It's what he urged me to do - take on an unspeakably bold goal. For someone with no time or energy, writing a novel in a month is a preposterous idea and for that I'm smitten. I have nothing to lose except feeling in my hands when I reach the 50,000 typed word goal in a month.

Today I logged just over 1,800 words (they say about 1600 per day to reach the goal of 175 pages) most written during Valentina's first nap. The rest after I put her down for the night, poured a glass of Merlot and opened a Toblerone. There is no time for perfectionism, editing, overthinking the plot, idea or whether I'm capable. There's just writing every single day for a month on a single project and sticking with it.

Whatever comes out, it'll be worth the effort because I never thought I could.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween


and Moooooo!!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Valentina's 1st Birthday








A homemade heart-shaped banana cake with pink-dyed whipped cream frosting and sprinkles.

A few hours with a few friends at our neighborhood playground.

A tantrum and then home.

Just another day with my now toddler.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gone Baby Gone


My monthly e-newsletter from babycenter.com says that the dividing line from baby to toddler is the one year mark or walking. Last week Valen took her first solo steps and next week will celebrate her first birthday. Its both exciting and sad to witness this passage. My baby is wobbling around upright, even more curious and excited to explore the world beyond momma's arms. I've been reflecting a lot lately on what this one year milestone means for me. I guess I should stop referring to myself as a "new mom" although most days I still feel like a rookie. The argentine custom for celebrating a one year old's birthday is to hold a pseudo-wedding with 100 or so guests, catering, music, live puppeteers and oodles of sugary snacks. We're opting out of that tradition. Instead, I've invited my friend Abril and Carolina along with their babes to a "party" at our small apartment. I bought a few heart shaped cake tins, some Winnie the Pooh paper plates and will play my best Betty Crocker for the afternoon. The next day we are going to a big Halloween gathering at the home of one of the expat moms from the English speaking playgroup. I'm not embarrassed to admit I spent two hours surfing Amazon.com for the perfect costume for Valen. My friend Wendy is bringing it down from the states this week. My friends from Schwab remember how crazed I got for Halloween dressing up. The fact that nobody dared relinquish their suits and perfectly coiffed hair on a workday in the financial district made it even more fun. I guess its fitting my girl arrived just in time to pair her birthday with my favorite frivolous holiday so I always have an excuse to don a wig, fake blood and/or fair wings.

On Sunday we celebrated Mother's Day (always the 3rd sunday in October in Argentina). Hugh surprised me on Saturday with a spa day and lunch with my best girlfriends Gaby and Judith. Sunday we went to lunch and the park with Valen and I got several gifts including a card of printed out best wishes from all the women on both sides of the family. If I were keeping a well organized baby book, the messages from my family would be the perfect bookend to this remarkable year.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bikram in BA

The first bikram studio in argentina opened recently near our apartment in Palermo. They have a newcomers promotion to get you hooked – one week of unlimited classes for 55 pesos ($12US) so last week I signed up. I needed a break, an early mother’s day present to myself (mothers day in argentina is the 3rd Sunday in October – this year October 18th).

New rosa came in to work last week and quit. She found another job that pays her more and has her working less hours per day. Also, she doesn’t have to clean, only cook and look after a 5 year old. I can’t say that I blame her but I do blame her. Valen just got used to her and was happy to see her when she arrived in the morning. Just stopped crying when I’d leave to go teach a class or run an errand. So, back to square one with the search. In the meantime, I’m taking 90 minutes a day (plus 15 minutes each way travel) for myself to sweat and stretch.

Bikram is a controversial figure in the yoga world. The more commercially successful he becomes, the less yogi-like. His brand, and it is a brand is like mcdonalds. You get the same big mac all over the world. My first class here was an eerie déjà vu experience. I practiced bikram in san Francisco for a few years when I lived in the mission neighborhood. But it’s been 4 or 5 years since my last class. Still, I remembered the poses and the instructor here used the exact, and I mean word for word, phrases as the instructors at the mission studio in san Francisco. You can really tell they all train together at the center in la and are given a script.

"Lean back, look back, all the way back, sit back, eyes back, one more breath, change…."

bikram yoga is yoga bootcamp. Maybe that’s why its so popular in the us. The instruction is directive, confident, commanding and no wimps allowed. The second class I attended here, a young blond expat was taking a class for the first time. She reached down to take a sip of her water bottle in between one of the allotted water breaks and the teacher barked “no drinking water now, wait until I indicate it’s time!” she cowered eyes staring at her towel on the floor. will be interesting to see if it catches on with the laissez faire attitude of the porteno locals.

Still, the physical benefits are undeniable. The toxins seep out of me and the hot room is a comfort. The barking cues from the taut instructors leave no time for the mind to wander – that is what yoga is about – giving the mind a rest from restlessness.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday afternoon






Tomorrow is the first day of Spring - Dia de la Primavera. Today nature gave us our first taste of sun and warm air. So, we went to lunch with our good friends Carolina and Pablo (they left baby Isabela with Abuela for a change) at a local parrilla for 5 different cuts of beef, a rucula salad and ice cream for dessert. Valen got her first taste of chocolate and for awhile I forgot that my sweet sister just gave birth to her first baby - a boy named Anthony Nicolas Serrano who we won't meet until March next year. We skyped this morning so I could "meet" him virtually (they're still at the hospital) and chat with my mom, Aunt Sea Jai and cousin Elan who had stopped by for a visit. Today I wish we hadn't left. boo hoo

Happiness

Maureen Dowd posts an interesting column in the NY Times today about the declining state of happiness among US women. It got me wondering whether my girlfriends in the states seem happier now with kids or before (studies show we are happier pre-babies). Certainly moms complain a lot more than childless women though maybe its just topic based. My friends without kids kavetch about their bosses, stressful lives, not having enough money or the right relationship. My friends with kids all share a longing for more sleep and more time for themselves.

Last week I took Valen to the English speaking playgroup we attend a few times a month. I'd posted a request for a maid referral on the group site when we fired Rosa so a few of the moms wanted to know how the situation panned out. I explained that we'd received a great recommendation from a mom that recently moved back to the US and was trying to help her maid find a new permanent situation. Also named Rosa, she started last week and things are going well. I'd mentioned that the new Rosa is a better cook than the other. She's from Peru and likes to use fresh herbs and spices. Hello delicious ceviche. One of the moms (just moved to Argentina from NY a few months ago) looked at me with wide eyes and blurted:

She COOKS for you?
Yeah.
Like lunch AND dinner?
Usually, yes.
Then what do YOU do!!!!!??????


(This statement was loaded with so much vitriol and a mosh pit of other hateful sentiments (anger, resentment, envy, disgust, indignation, disbelief, disapproval) that it sucked the air out of me. Then I sputtered..

I take care of the baby...and I teach yoga!

I quickly realized my response was absurd mostly because I did not need to defend my life or priorities to some twit on the playground that demonizes moms with maids. So after a deep breath I followed up with:

Listen, this is why we live here.


Still I fumed about the exchange the rest of the day. Who is this person? Why are women so mean to each other? Why are moms in particular so damn critical? This is a woman who I've met on several occasions on group playdates. She seemed warm and down to earth for the most part. She'd chosen to give up a high paying career in NYC to be a stay at home mom but obviously she had her doubts. Was she happy? I don't know but she's not the only american mom I've heard from that seems to pride herself on doing it all herself - without any help. The martyr syndrome. As if any time for oneself while raising a child is pure evil. What - you hire someone else to vacuum your living room so that you can exercise!? What kind of mother are you? Fifty plus years since Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and women still form their identities through housework and childrearing. No wonder we're so unhappy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You're Fired!

In my past life as a corporate wonk, I had the displeasure of firing and laying off more than a few employees. It's the worst part of being in charge. It's the dirty work, the heavy, the bleh. I never got used to it, enjoyed it or numbed myself to the prospect of telling another human being with feelings and expectations of themselves that they were OUT. Usually I fired for poor performance. By the time it came to the final conversation, I'd have months of paper trail to document absenteeism, inadequate reviews, conflicts with peers or an occasional drama. In California, you are an at- will employee but any HR person will tell you you better have good reason and evidence of it before firing someone or you'll(the company) get sued. In my early days as a team manager, a woman suffered a bad breakup and came to work semi-suicidal. Locked herself in the bathroom crying and upsetting everyone within shouting distance. I had to call the employer paid for psychiatric hotline for support on what to do. She didn't get fired for the mental break down but the subsequent performance problems sealed the deal.

I don't miss that part of the working world but even here in Argentina as a mom, yoga teacher and writer I am still someone's "boss". (other than Hugh's haha) Today my employee,our maid/Valen's nanny Rosa got the boot. It was just like all the other firings and layoffs - the serious and perfunctory delivery of the news, the paperwork, the payoff, the signature to assure no future suit, and lastly - tears and a huffy puffy exit. This time Hugh took care of it and I listened apprehensively in the other room with Valen. We agreed that he'd be in charge of getting rid of bad maids if I'd take care of finding new ones. I'm not sure which is harder but I'm glad the first part is over.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Birthday month


My friend Megan sent a birthday message a few weeks ago and commented that I "look generally unplagued by the more pedestrian parental miseries". I guess that's because when in such a state, I'm not prone to take photos of myself nor blog much about it. Let me amend that practice right now. Valen started teething again the first of the month. Her molars are coming in and have been for 4 weeks now. What does this mean? It means she chews her fingers and anything else she can get her hands on during the day and has what Babycenter.com politely refers to as "wakeful irritability" at night. She wakes up two to three times a night and has for nearly a month, every night. Every night. Sometimes she just needs to be held and rocked. Sometimes she'll go back to sleep with a bottle. It's like having a newborn again and I am deep in the abyss of severe sleep deprivation. I'm cross and downright vile in the morning. (The photo is of my great great great grandmother Sarah Anne McNanny - we bear a striking resemblance pre-caffine jolt) Hugh and I have had some douzy exchanges on the occasion that there is no milk (my peeve) or sugar (his) for the coffee. I know it can't last forever but today all I see is a blur of fatigue. Other delightful teething related miseries include daily diarrhea explosions and earaches....yea!


Valen's molar debut also coincided with a significant ramp up in my teaching schedule. I started teaching 8 classes a week (two group and six private lessons) and now know first hand what it feels like to be a busy harried sleep deprived commuting working mom. I love the yoga but miss my baby and no longer find public transportation a quaint opportunity to peoplewatch. September I'll reduce my schedule back to 4 or 5 classes a week.

My birthday came and went with little fanfare. Another August 12th - this time I'm yikes 37 and I honest to god wanted a nap - just one long nap as my gift (I didn't get it - but I'll start Indian cooking lessons next month). I did manage a dinner out with girlfriends Judith and Gaby who are living la vida loca. Judith just got back from a month long trip to Europe where she had several affairs including a threesome. Gaby is dating three different younger men right now and in no rush to settle down. I started nodding off at the table around 11:30pm - frightfully early for this town. Talk about pedestrian....

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dia de los Ninos



Today was Dia de los Ninos - an Argentine invented holiday almost as important (for kids) as their birthdays or Christmas. It's a gift giving occasion so we made like good Portenos and headed to "Cebra" aka ToyrUS yesterday to pick out a gift for our little one. We came home with this car like thingy that Valen can sit in and eventually mosey around the house.

Our friends Carolina/Pablo/baby Isabela and their mother Ana invited us to a special lunch at their apartment. It was hectic with both babies crawling around, fighting over who gets to hold the old Kleenex box and screeching while us adults attempted to converse and eat a delicious meal of Peceto a la Crema (sliced steak in cream sauce), french fries, homemade bread and flan for dessert. It was not a light meal but it hit the spot. After a quick hour and a half, we raced home to put Valen down for her nap. When she woke up we got the mate, thermos and Utta and went across the street to the park to join thousands of other families watch the sun set.

Monday, August 3, 2009

She stands



Within a few days of crawling, she started pulling herself up to standing. She spends most of the day now zooming from one low piece of furniture to the next doing baby squats and developing her bi and triceps. Even bathtime has become just another opportunity to stand and try to climb around.

Our friend Rodrigo has two boys - Alvaro and Estanislau (very traditional Argentine names). Alvaro is 3 1/2 years old and "gifted". He is a voracious reader (especially when something is upside down!) and insists on adult explanations when told "no". To the passerby, he's a novelty and a delight. To his parents, he's a handful and they are already stressed about how to raise him and "cultivate his potential". The experts they've talked to want to put him into 2nd grade already. As for Valen, I am thrilled she is just a normal 9 month old. That I can look in my What to Expect The First Year book and generally see what's coming or what she's already up to.

Utta and the big C



Like an attentive mamma gorilla, Hugh constantly inspects Utta, noticing a rash on the belly, a flea behind her ear, grime under the fold of her nose flap. A few months ago his investigations unearthed a marble like growth on the inside of her cheek. The vet said to keep an eye on it and let her know if it increased in size. Well, it did and another marble appeared on her right leg. About three weeks ago they told us it might be cancer and that she needed to have the both removed. Hugh took her on a myriad of vet visits, consulted with the bulldogger community back in SF and interviewed anesthesiologists. Apparently the protocol for delivering anesthesia to bulldogs has changed (in the US) and Argentina had yet to catch up.

Today at 1:30pm she went under and thank god came back to us. She is resting albeit uncomfortably with a plastic cone around her neck to keep the cheek stitches intact. There is a bandage around her leg but she can walk on it slowly. The surgeon said it went well and they got all the cancer. We can breathe again.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why we stay




When people ask why we came to Argentina I give the standard reply - great food, architecture, cosmopolitan city, beautiful language, very dog friendly and of course a favorable exchange rate. But, when asked why we're still here and plan to stay I think of our friends. Carolina and I met on the playground about 3 months ago. It was the typical mommy pick up. Both of us pushing our baby girls on the swings, last ones at the playground as the sun set. We got to talking and realized we lived just two blocks away from each other. A few more playdates and we settled into a routine of seeing each other nearly every day during the week after the girls woke up from their late afternoon naps and before bedtime (usually 6-8pm). We drink mate while the girls play on the floor or stroll around the neighborhood. Some days we go big box shopping at Jumbo or to a cafe. Our spouses met and now we also have an occasional Sunday family outing with the 6 of us.

Carolina, Pablo and their 15 month old Isabela live with her parents in a two bedroom apartment smaller than ours. Carolina sleeps in the second bedroom next to the crib and her husband sleeps on the coach in the living room. They're saving money to buy their own place later this year. This is a typical familial arrangement. Her father has Alzheimers and leaves the house for one short walk a day around the block during which time the rest of the family fears for his safety and wonders whether he'll be able to find his way home. They eat dinner together every night around 10:30pm. When the baby goes to sleep (midnight usually), they sit together and drink tea. Although they don't have cars, take extravagant vacations, use handheld electronic devices or "twitter" they are happy and enjoying life. Pablo is a mid level manager for a waste managent company. Carolina's mother is a psychologist. They never work weekends or at night. We stay for this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On the move





Baby V started crawling last week. She'd been scooting around on her bum and revving backwards for a few months but she is now locomoting around the house with a deft cross-hatch. Its made for more active days as she near crashes down onto the tile kitchen floor, reaches for electrical outlets and the dog's tail.

The second photo is one of my favorites. She's discovered her hand and is frequently caught gazing in amazement with a "wow-look at this thing attached to my arm that moves!" expression. It's one of the unexpected delights of witnessing the daily developments. Rather than amaze at the wonders of my body's little triumphs and abilities, I marvel at its rapid deterioration. First the back injury (which has for the most part healed but still moans when I try to jog), then the other morning I awoke with what can only be described as a "sleeping injury". That is waking up and having no idea why or how you became injured. This time it was my knee. I woke with a tenderness in the joint and a dull pain that lasted all day. Then, suddenly it vanished as if to warn me....take it easy or you'll see more of this! As my birthday nears and I continue the downhill slide towards 40, I hang on to the one activity that still heals and strengthens - yoga.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Swine Flu

Anyone with a blog in Argentina has to address "the" news story of the season - El Gripe Porcina aka El Gripe H1N1 aka El Gripe A. Whatever the reference, its the flu. We're in our typical flu season - cold blustery days, arctic wind chill that slices through even the heaviest wool coat and a gray blanket over the city. About a month ago the panic over mosquito carrying Dengue Fever died down just in time for the swine flu to rev up. Then a few weeks ago it exploded. Suddenly everyone I knew, people on the street (taxi drivers and the butcher) and the newscasters were talking about it. Then I started hearing about people I knew personally that had it. Then Valentina came down with her first fever, cough and sore throat (turns out it was only a cold thank god).

Last week the government admitted they'd been lying (what a surprise, not! since they lie about everything else) about the numbers. Instead of the reported 6,000 cases - it was actually more than 100,000 infected. 60 dead. People are freaking out. The newspaper, TV and radio talk of nothing else. They've come at it from all angles; where to buy the most effective alcohol based hand gel, how to entertain your kids all day (since they've closed all schools for a month to limit contact), what to do if you work in a non-ventilated office with people that might bring it to work (wear a facemask, wash hands 10x day, don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth). Essentially they've recommended everyone stay home, avoid contact with others and don't panic. The more news coverage, the more people panic. I waiver between forgetting about it entirely and carrying about my day as usual and giving the guy in front of me in the grocery store who innocently coughs into his forearm a dirty "don't you dare infect me" look.

Here's what I know. All schools are closed for the month. The mommy groups I occasionally attend are on hiatus until this blows over. The movie theaters are only selling 50% of the seats (but who cares, no one is stupid enough to go). My closest girlfriend Carolina carries the alcohol gel in her purse wiping her daughter Isabela's hands (15 month old) every hour. A real estate agent and my doctor stopped kissing me hello (this is HUGE!). Traffic is horrible because they are trying to limit the number of people on the subway causing more panic and backups. Rosa couldn't get her root canal done yesterday because her insurer is postponing all dental work (too risky for the dentist) until the end of August.

Whew...I have a feeling that as the days grow longer and the sun brighter, the frenzy will shift back to a spring season pandemic but for now we are on high alert.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Doe a deer a female deer








Valen had a great time getting to know Grandma Lori and Grandma Theresa (also Grandma Bari - my mom's best friend of 35+ years who came for the visit too). From Grandma Lori, she learned how to play the recorder. Every day my mom would arrive with recorder and playbook in hand like the pied piper. From Grandma Theresa she learned how to make delicious Lebanese food - Kebbe, Baba Ganoush, Grape Leaves, Salad with Mint Garlic dressing. There were play sessions on her purple rubber floor, strolls through the parks and zoo, and quiet evenings of conversation and Blokus after Valen went to sleep. The enduring memory of the trip for me will be the afternoon Lori, Bari and Theresa sang to Valen from their repetoire of show tunes - Frere AH Shaka, the entire soundtrack from the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof - acapella.

Brokeback

A few days at estancia La Candelaria was supposed to be a vacation, a break from the city and a chance to enjoy the country air with Baby V and the abuelas. Instead I ended the trip at Lobos (the nearest pueblo) emergency room.

The last time I visited La Candelaria was to host family and friends for Rachel and Rey’s wedding. A long weekend of friendly soccer matches, long walks along the grove of eucalyptus and fanciful meals with heartfelt toasts for the bride and groom. This trip had to be different but I had no idea how much so. The packing alone took half a day. Valentina of course had her own large duffle – in stuffed diapers, formula, outfits enough to last for 3 changes daily, blankets, toys, yoga mat to play on, pack n play crib, bathtime chair, bottles, jarred and dried food, special spoons and sippy cups, on and on. Utta also had her own bag – eating chair, dried food, bed, toys, chew bones. The last five minutes before we left, I threw a few pairs of jeans and sweaters for myself. We rented a car for us, the baby and the dog. We barely fit ourselves and our luggage (the stroller had to be shoved in with the abuelas). The abuelas traveled in a chauffered car aka “a remise”. The first conundrum upon arrival – where to set up the baby’s crib. At home she has her own room and we (parents, dog and child) have never ever shared sleeping quarters. How would the dog tolerate the intermittent sqwaks of sleeping V? How would V sleeping through the snoring or worse barking bulldog? How would we relax knowing that at any given second, both could wake the other and disturb the delicate balance? Our room had a main quarters and a side room with twin bed and a fireplace. You had to go through the small room to get to the main bedroom though at least there was a closeable door in between them. We decided to put the baby in the side room, I would sleep with her in the twin and Hugh would sleep with Utta in the main room (next to the bathroom). It wasn’t the brightest move but at the time it seemed best since the room with the fireplace was likely to remain toasty throughout the night and temperature was a main concern. Right before we started the baby nighttime routine, Hugh proudly piled on twenty or so pieces of wood into the fireplace, doused it with kerosene and then added his “secret sauce” a light blow of air into the fireplace aimed at the bottom of the stack. While I retired early with the baby, he left to play Blokus with the unstoppable abuelas. The fire roared on for hours. Until 1 or 2 in the morning it was so hot I was sweating and so was the baby. I had to cover the metal parts of the crib for fear she’d burn herself if she rolled and touched them in her sleep. I didn’t sleep until the fire died down and with it the temperature. Then I put a blanket on the baby and woke a few hours later with frostbite on my nose. The baby woke early too with her hands cold as ice. Not a restful start to the trip.

While the abuelas dozed until late morning – I woke at 5 or 6 am with the baby, gave her a bottle and tried to get her back to sleep for a bit longer. Usually only until 7 or 7:30. It was a new and foreign environment to her – different sounds and smells. She was edgy and excitable. I’d stumble (still in pj’s) to the shared dining hall carrying Valentina on one arm and pushing the stroller with the other (which I had to use as a high chair). The staff would always remark “que madrugada es ella!” basically “what a frightfully early riser she is” and offer a half smile of pity. The kitchen staff was helpful cleaning and sterilizing bottles and heating up baked pieces of sweet potato, once steaming a small piece of chicken breast but it wasn’t my kitchen and it wasn’t four feet from the bedroom. During the day Valen and I kept to our usual routine of morning play, nap, lunch, more play, nap, dinner, play, bath, bed. During play sessions the abuelas joined us in our makeshift romperroom on the yoga mat in front of the fire. For the hour or so mid day when the sun was strongest, we bundled up and took the toys out to the lawn. But no one could help with the hardest part – naps and sleepy time. Valen struggled with me at every turn. Each time we settled down to get her to nap (3 times a day) the effort took no less than 20 minutes and every ounce of energy (mental and physical) I had – especially after less than 3 hours sleep. She was not at home and knew it. The second night I swore off the fireplace room and moved us into the main room (which actually had a wall heater). We decided that Utta was too much of a risk so banished her to sleep with Abuela Theresa – really not a banishment at all since Theresa adores all living creatures and easily coaxed Utta into a spooning position the first night. Valen tossed, turned and woke up four times – crying to be held, soothed, given a bottle. I tried it all but it just seemed she was uncomfortable. The next day was not a pretty one for me. Two days without sleep – the beauty and serenity of a relaxing country resort but no way to enjoy it was worse than torture. The grandmas took pity after lunch and demanded we leave Valentina with them for a few hours – they would “handle it”. Utta trotted off after them realizing without pause that they needed more supervision with this task than we did. We took a short walk and played pool with a nice couple in for a day only on a 10 year anniversary trip from Miami. Adult talk for a half hour. They left their 6 and 8 year old girls with her parents for a week. It was their first vacation without the kids in 8 years. Bleak but I could see it for us too….

Valen wouldn’t nap – big surprise even though they tried putting her in the stroller, giving a bottle etc. Finally she collapsed on my mom’s shoulder and shrieked with the slightest movement so they had to stay for 30 minutes laying on a lounge chair with the baby slung over her shoulder until she woke up. When I went to find them (after an unsuccessful attempt at a nap – outside the wood cutter chopping the hundreds of logs for the coming frosty evening), Valen was asleep on abuela Theresa’s chest in her room. An exhausting effort on all parts. Bari looked stunned and scarred “she just wanted her momma and nothing would make her stop crying”.

The third and final day I woke up, fed and dressed the baby and decided I would do something for me – even for half an hour. Something that I wanted to do. Something that I always loved to do coming to La Candelaria in the past. I wanted to go horseback riding. Not just riding. I wanted to gallop. I wanted to become one with natures saddle, feel the wind whip my hair, touch the treetops with my outstretched arms, and suck as much fresh air as humanly possible. It was I thought a reasonable want.

At 9:30am I left Valen happy and in Hugh’s care, walked over to the stables and asked the stablehand to saddle up the horse that loved to gallop. I was explicit. With a cigarette flopping in the corner of his mouth, he saddled her up and helped me on. We started walking away from the stable and towards a row of trees. Ahhhhhh, this is what I’ve been waiting for I thought. I am on a horse, enjoying nature, doing what I used to be able to do pre-pregnancy and finally on vacation. A second or two passed after the thought and the horse suddenly bolted forward into a race-like gallop. True, I’d asked for a galloper but I assumed (falsely in this case) that I’d be the one to decide when and if we’d gallop. With the first thundering down of the horses front hooves, I felt a crunch of verterbra in my spine and a pinch of seering pain in my low back. Owwwww. Not good. I pulled back on the reins as hard as I could and the horse started slowly to trot, then walk. I breathed again and thought foolishly, Ok. That sucked, but…..maybe I can save this. We’ll just walk around the property. I’ll enjoy that even though something really really messed up just happened back there with my back. The pain disappeared for a few minutes as we walked around the lush lawns. We came to a clearing – a field of soft dry grass that again I foolishly assumed we could gently walk through. The horse stepped into the field and took off like a circus monkey darting left, right, straight ahead at lightning speed, galloping, running , trotting – everything but not walking. My back screaming in agony and I desperately tried first to control the horse (didn’t work – she owned me) and then just slow her the fuck down. Eventully after a near throw, bucking incident, she slowed to a walk and we headed gingerly back to the stable. I considered dismounting on the way there in case she tried for another gallop but opted to just bare it until we got to safety. I slithered meekly off my mount and went immediately to my mom’s room. I did something to my back. Falling onto the bed face down. The deeper more acute spasms set in. I couldn’t walk, put weight on my feet, bend. We called in the estancia manager and he asked if I could feel my legs – yes, was I seeing ok, yes. I asked if there was a chiropractor in Lobos (the nearest town) and he looked at me hesitantly before replying “I’ll see what I can do”. 10 minutes later the door opened and two paramedics wheeled me out in a stretcher and down the road 15 miles in an ambulencia. They took a few x-rays, gave me a shot of anti-inflammatory and sent me back to the estancia. “stay off your feet as much as possible and don’t bend over!” yeah, right.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Abuelas




Friday my mom arrived with best friend Bari in tow. The last time Abuela Lori was here, Valentina was a mere 3 days old. Bari attended Rachel's wedding exactly one year ago. Both have been enjoying getting to know Valentina the 7 month old. Valentina still likes her momma best but seems to know that Grandma Lori is someone special. They are forming a nice bond and only a grandma would delight in watching her expressions change as much as I do. Well, until today when Valen's other grandma - Theresa arrived from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Now both grandma's will pour love and attention on their first and only grandchild. Tomorrow we all head out to La Candelaria - our favorite estancia and site of Rachel and Rey's 2008 nuptials. We haven't been back since the wedding and I can't wait to gallop across the polo fields, eat hearty stews and asado and sit by the fire playing Blokus with the crew. Yes, that's Valentina looking sanguine holding her new favorite toy - an empty tissue box.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

New Jersey Nerd




I hadn’t heard of Junot Diaz (winner of the Pulitzer for The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, ’08 and Creative Writing prof at MIT) until a few months ago when my writers group started planning for our participation in this year’s Feria de Libros. Junot Diaz and Annie Proulx (author of Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News) were the invited keynote speakers from the US. Several in our group had read his novel and all gushed at how brilliant it was. The rest of us borrowed copies and I dove in to his tale of a fat genius nerd from New Jersey, exploring his Dominican family roots during the dictatorship of El Trujillo.

As the book fair approached we decided to invite Junot to our celebratory asado. The party was the first gathering of our group with spouses included. Tara emailed him and received a “maybe” as he was flying in that day and might be pretty jet lagged. I never expected a celebrity (at least in the literary world) to make time for a group of complete strangers. Half hour after Hugh and I arrived, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Tara introducing me to….Junot Diaz. He showed! Unbelievable really that he ventured unattended to a strangers bbq in a city he’d never been to. He admitted the invite was so “random”, he just had to check it out. When he found out we were a group of writers he was even more blown away. A small circle formed – each of us trying desperately not to hang on his every word but it was hard not to. He asked what type of writing we did. I admitted to short stories – and getting shorter with a 6 month old and so little time for myself anymore to write. This caught his attention and he insisted “Nah, that’s the opposite of what ya do. Yah gotta be “prepotente”. He speaks just as his character Oscar Wao – weaving in and out of gangsta Spanglish and academa-nerdom. We spent ten minutes debating the correct translation of “prepotente”. He landed on “pretentious” which somehow I knew was not quite right but no one else corrected him either. As with my own nonmastery of the Argentine tongue, I mostly get the gist of things even if the specific words pass me by. He meant that even though I might have 30 minutes or less a day to write – I should be bold, preposterously bold in my ambitions. Rather than writing flash fiction, I should take on a huge project – an unbelievable goal for someone with no time. He said even with 5 hours a day to write – you won’t spend all that time productive so with less time you can actually achieve more. His Pulitzer prize winning tome took 11 years to complete. He claimed his current novel in progress "sucks, really sucks".

Something about it made sense and left me wondering. Most of my activities pre-Valentina had shrunk or disappeared - my personal ambitions, muted. Now I’m reexamining that decision. He stayed for an hour and spread himself around, sampled the chori-pan and steak brochettes, raised his glass to a champagne toast.

The following night the US Embassy hosted a formal reception for Junot at the lavish Ambassadors residence (two doors down from our apartment). We attended and took a group photo together and chatted about the previous night like old pals. None of us had to say outloud - that these two exchanges were a hands down highlight of the year.

I love this photo. We took the first one all prim and smiley. Then Junot says "gimme your best gangstah face". Hah! We are not a gangsta-ready group. He was the only one that flashed what could have been a gang sign. The rest of us just looked like bad JC Penny catalog models.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What the Pork!

Thanks to the scare tactics of mass media, swine flu is the latest "oh my god, did you hear...blah blah". Another reason to stay glued to the tube or in my case online news sites. Argentina has yet to confirm any cases but the folks here are concerned nonetheless. Our maid Rosa told me that there is a joke going around that the next big one will be called "Mosqui-cerdo" - a combo of the Swine Flu and Dengue Fever (which until last weekend dominated the front page of most South American newspapers). El Dengue is transmitted by mosquitos and cerdo means pork in spanish. Although my pediatrician claimed there were no cases of Dengue Fever yet in Buenos Aires, it's swept the northern provinces and much of Brazil. Because of the news, every mom I know lathers their child in insect repellent and covers the crib with a net (even though the Dengue carrying queeter only bites during the day). I've not succumbed yet to the panic but I find myself itching imaginary mosquito bites all day long.

Fotos of my 1st reading at the 09 BA Book Fair



Sunday, April 26, 2009

Oh yeah, I write

Yesterday morning I awoke to the baby's cry at 3am. A typical start to the day. The morning passed in a blur feeding pureed apple mixed with plain yogurt, getting everyone dressed, dog walked, makeup applied. We ventured out with the stroller and carseat to visit friends Jane and Tim who live in a renovated house in Palermo Soho. It took us 3 tries to find a cab that would and could fit the stroller in their trunk. Jane and Tim brought an entire retail stores worth of inventory from Indonesia to BA when they moved here. Opened up shop six months ago and are now liquidating everything and instead going into the real estate biz. They are the only ones we know that moved here with their family like we did - selling everything and taking a big risk that life in a foreign country would work out. Their eldest daughter Laura is thriving. She's incredibly bright and got into the feeder Jr.High/High School for UBA (Univ of Buenos Aires - the best university in the country and free to residents). If she completes school there she won't even have to take the entrance exams to attend UBA. It's quite an accomplishment for a girl who didn't even speak spanish when they moved here two years ago.

We visited for an hour or so, then found a quick cafe to scarf down a steak sandwich while feeding the baby. She fell asleep in the car ride home and I had exactly five minutes to prepare her lunch (carrots, squash, egg yolk and Casan Creme - a cream cheesy product; rice cereal and banana her favorite), change clothes and dash down the street to the La Rural Conference Center. The annual book fair Feria de Libros started Thursday and 3pm was my first scheduled reading at the US Embassy booth. I arrived with two minutes to spare and no time for nerves. The crowd gathered and the set up was much better than last year with a partition between the walkway and the reading space, also a more professional mike. About 25 people sat and listened as I read the two stories published in our now annual Thursdays@3 anthology. This year my stories were short and deeply personal. As soon as I started reading, the hectic morning melted away and for fifteen minutes I was a writer, reader and individual again - not just a mom.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Playmates



The expat mommies I befriended in prenatal yoga class last year reunited for Sunday brunch with babies and daddies. It was quite a scene with feedings, changings, crying, napping and playing at the outside table of the Evita Museum Cafe for two and a half hours. When the babies were a few months old we gathered weekly at a nearby park to share sleep deprivation horror stories and get out of our routines at home. It seemed at first a likely group to stay connected. but little by little we've drifted and it had been months since our last gathering. The swiss and italian couples are planning to move back to Europe in the next few months. The three aussie/argentine pairings are here now but trying to make a move to Australia. The spanish couple will be here for another year or so but then hope to go back to Spain. And the Argentine/English pair want to live here 3 months and in Australia the rest of the year. We are the only ones with a plan to stay in Argentina. Ultimately, I got tired of listening to how much better things were in their home countries and how they were looking forward to moving back. Although we shared an experience of being foreigners and becoming mothers in Argentina, we are on different paths. I stopped making the effort to meet at faraway parks and instead settled in to a afternoon excursion to a playground around the block. About a month ago, I met a lovely Argentine mom Carolina and her 1 year old Isabela. She lives just two blocks away and we have become quick friends. We meet to stroll with the girls, play at the park or run errands nearly every day. She has no plans to leave, is patient with my spanish (the other day she thought I said I would leave Valentina in her stroller alone in the lobby of her apt building while we went upstairs for a mate - I meant to say I'd just leave the stroller) and is for now the perfect companion.

Birthday boy


Friday was Hugh's birthday. No one here believes he is in his 40's and he swears that since moving to Argentina he's turned back the clock at least 5 years due to less stress, better food and more exercise. I surprised him with a "Desayunos a Domicilio" - basket of breakfast goodies that a company delivers to your house early morning. It came with fresh baked medialunas and other pastries, coffee, teas, cookies, coffee mug, orange juice, milk, balloons and linens. We opened it in bed and Valentina dove fistfirst into the plastic wrapping and ribbons. That night we had Rosa stay late so we could go out for a date. Hugh put on a suit and I sported a fancy dress that hadn't seen the light of day for over a year. We dined at Sotto Voce, one of our favorite italian restaurants in fancy Recoleta. The food was delicious but we agreed that after so many years of living in San Francisco and eating out at least four nights a week, we don't miss it. For now I am just as content with a chicken breast milanesa and a salad at home.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Everyone an Einstein




Every parent I know imagines their child some sort of Einstein. "did you see how he picks up a spoon all my himself?" "look, she touches the guitar like she can play a cord!", "he's already got a six-pack, will be a stud when he grows up for sure". The truth is most babies are average and below. Hugh and I always said we'd never pretend our child (if we ever had one) was some kind of genius or super talent. That we'd love to hear one of our friends say "you know what, my kid's pretty average - nothing special". So now we have the chance and I caught Hugh on more than one occasion exclaim "look, dude I can make her laugh when I make this face!" as if we figured out how to land on the moon. Her micro developments are a daily delight but is she the next Mozart, Einstein, Picasso....probably not. She's exploring the world with her mouth, one lick at a time, laughing a lot, and being a normal baby. For me, that's more than enough.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Friends, family and Marshalls






The recent trip to Dallas reminded me of what we left behind when we moved to Argentina. We left friends like the Coughlins (Brendan, Bridget, with their boys Brendan Jr, Connor, and Dillon) who have two things we'll never have here - a gigantic house and parents that live around the block and stop by all the time for visits. We left family like Grandma Suzanne who makes some of the most entertaining baby noises I've ever heard. And we left discount shopping. Here Valentina took her first tour of Marshalls (we went three times in a week).

What I don't miss: having to drive everywhere, Starbucks coffee every morning (I've got Mate now) and fat butts (I'm sorry but there are a lot of fat people in the US).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Drying up

Levadura de Cerveza (Brewer's Yeast)
Dark beer
Mate cocido
Mother's Milk tea
Lots of water
Less stress
More sleep
Reliveran drops
Pumping more
Nursing more
Eating well
Eating more than usual
No strenuous exercise
Skin to skin contact with baby

I've tried it all. More, less, this way, that. Everyone I meet has a cure or a new idea. Five months of disappointment, of struggle, of wishing and wanting it to be different. She got some breastmilk but in the end my jugs are more Kate Moss than Marilyn Monroe. Still she's a healthy, good-natured giggly girl. And as a new mom I'm finding there are plenty of other things to feel guilty about.

Another baby


Yes, it looks a lot like Valentina at 12 weeks but only because they're related. Rachel's pregnant and due in September. Whoo Hooo!!! I am hoping for a girl so the cousins can be best buds but the truth is our family could use more testosterone. Ever since the grandpas passed on, the men are sadly outnumbered and surrounded by a gaggle of strong-willed bossy females. Hugh calls us "the witches". When Rachel and Rey got married, he told Rey "Welcome to the club man - we have our own website. It's called Igotmyballschoppedoff.com"

How Y'all Doin?








You know you're in Dallas, Texas when every other house has a sign in the front yard that says "Welcome Home George and Laura", you can't walk from your house to the store (because there are no sidewalks) and every strip shopping mall has a Starbucks, a Marshalls, a Container Store and a Tex-Mex restaurant.

In 8 days, Valentina met her 94 year old still chesnut haired (1st foto) great grandmother VinceLee, grandparents Robert (3rd foto) and Suzanne, uncle Collin (2nd foto), great-aunt Betty Ann and great-uncle David, cousins VinceLee Jr., Gus and Alex, friends The Coughlins and The Fennegans. We were visited and did a lot of visit'n which is what there is to do other than shop great discount stores and watch the sky turn from celestial blue to a hurricane warning in less than an hour. It wasn't the beach vacation we'd envisioned pre-baby but the change of scenery and seeing family renewed us both.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leaving our firstborn



This week marked several major milestones. Thursday, my self-imposed maternity leave ended and I started teaching yoga again. Friday was the 10 year anniversary of our first date (movie: Cruel Intentions with Reese, Ryan and Selma and dinner: sushi in the Mission). Saturday was the two year anniversary of my arrival in Argentina. Tomorrow - another biggie. We'll leave our beloved bulldog Utta in the care of a friend for the first time since we moved here. By extension, this trip to Dallas (visiting family) will be the first time Hugh and I have taken a vacation together in two years.

Taking care of Utta is no small favor. She has a condition called Megaesophagus (an enlarged esophagus) and is a "special needs" doggie. What are these needs? Well, for starters, she eats in a chair like a baby and will do so for the rest of her life. It's a highchair but rests on the ground. Twice a day, one of us leads her to the chair, puts her in it either by picking her up (at 50 lbs, its like heaving a large sack of sand) or backing her into it and lifting her paws up to slide the rollbar in front of her chest. Once seated, she's fed by hand. The dog food is soaked in water first (to weigh it down and to satisfy her hydration needs) in a measuring cup. Once the dog pellets are placed in her mouth two or three at a time, the leftover water (like dogfood soup) is poured into her mouth. Set the timer for 30 minutes and leave her in the chair for the food to make its way down to her stomach. If this routine weren't followed, she'd vomit the food/water and potential aspirate fluid into her lungs, get pneumonia and die. The vet who diagnosed her back when she was a 1 year old puppy told us she probably wouldn't live another year and that we should come to grips with the reality of her condition. Instead of listening to him, we found a support network through Yahoogroups of other owners of megaesophagus dogs. One of the members of the group designed a chair for her dog to eat sitting upright. For every new member, she sends (for free) a CD with detailed instructions on how to build the chair for your own dog. Utta is almost 5 years old now, healthy and happy thanks to that chair and our vigilant routine.

She can't have treats or eat anything off the floor. She gets hot easily (like all bulldogs) and must sleep with a fan blowing on her and the a/c on. There are only a few people in the world that know how to take care of her. Me, Hugh, my sister Rachel, our friend Edie the bulldogger breeder, and our ex-SF dogwalker Doug Pizzy. We miss Doug a lot. He took great care of Utta when we went out of town and took her on daily walks with a few other well tended furries. For the next 8 days, Hugh's expat friend Chris will stay at our apartment while we're in Dallas to take care of our baby. Tonight he came over for a practice run. We have three pages of care instructions, emergency phone numbers and tips. Hugh is so nervous he asked Chris to call us everyday with an update of how things are going.