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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Before and After

Back in February, we were thrilled to find a house that we loved, in a great neighborhood, ready to move into the day we landed in the US. To be precise, we closed on the house 24 hours after landing - virtual perfection. The trouble is that with an international move, especially one from a country with questionable import/export restrictions, you end up waiting for your belongings for anywhere from two to five months. We were thrilled to hear that our wait was on the short end of that range, and after a mere 7.5 weeks in Houston, our shipment arrived.

Let me note that those 7.5 weeks were very long and echoey in our big empty house. We were thrilled to see our things again.

On the other side of that coin, we sold lots of items in Argentina that we knew weren't going to convey well into our new home. This allowed for lots of home goods shopping, and lucky for me, Jon's parents came to town to help with the transition and his mom was willing to come along and lend her eye to the cause. We did a LOT of shopping. In a matter of days (weeks if you include the delivery time), our living room went from this: 
Note the priority item, chosen by Daddy
 To this:

We also purchased an entire master bedroom set and my parents sent us my childhood bedrooms set for Gretchen's room. There were 3 rooms that had lots of furniture, the rest of the house was pretty sparse.

The other positive side of living in a half-empty house for a few weeks is that you can take stock of anything you want to change - and get the changes done without having to move furniture. There were some unfortunate paint choices made by the previous owner and one DIY project that (in my opinion) was a bust, so we had an easy opportunity to make some design changes.

The dining room before and after is probably my favorite. Before:

The room was incredibly dark, with lots of conflicting patterns and textures. The yellow paint sample was my own doing...
After:

So much lighter, a wainscoting rail and in general, a much simpler look. Score.

There is a landing at the top of our stairs that we are using as a kid's playroom. When we looked at the house it was more of a game room/pool table area, including some mirrors and a drink bar. 

Before:

Pay no attention the random assortment of toys and knick knacks everywhere. Again, a super dark space and the design was not cohesive with our idea of a playroom. No to mention that I had a serious dislike for those mirrors.

After:

We added some much needed storage to the room and some additional sleep space with the pull out couch for future sleepovers (kid or adult varieties).

Let me add that none of these projects were of the do-it-yourself variety. While I'm happy to take on little decorating projects, big woodworking is not something we were prepared to dive into, so we used a contractor named Tom Stump with Stump Custom Cabinets. He was prompt, did much of the work himself and was more reasonable than I had expected going into these projects. He completed two built in cabinets (including the one pictured above), removed the mirrors/drink ledge and personally installed the wainscoting. If you're in the Northern Houston area and looking for a contractor, I highly recommend him.

I am pleased to report that with the completion of these rooms, we have unpacked our last box! The actual unpacking and reorganizing will go on for a while yet, but there is something exhilarating about not having to open anything else. Now it's just putting things away. Also, exhilarating holds a different meaning when you're in your 30s.

The house is coming together. It has a much more "moved-in" look and we're feeling more steady on our feet in Texas. Gretchen has stopped asking about "the next time we put all of our things on a ship...", and Alex is consistently sleeping through the night for the first time since the whole moving transition began so we feel like the kids are getting settled as well.

Now we can focus on important things like standing...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brotherly Love

Pre-baby silliness
I spent a wonderful weekend on a girl’s get together with friends that I haven’t seen in a (what felt like a) lifetime. More specifically, all of us have had our second (or third) child since we saw each other last – so it has been the lifetime of our kids – but a lifetime nonetheless. We gabbed about all sorts of things, but one topic in particular made me remember how far we have come with our family since Alex was born. I’m thrilled to say that our kids love each other now, but this was not an altogether smooth transition from one to two children for us – and I’m relieved to know that we are not the only ones that had a tough period to work through.

Gretchen was two years and seven months when Alex was born. She was a happy, fun, energetic little girl that potty trained perfectly, loved her frequent weekend morning trips with Daddy only (I was horribly uncomfortable at the end of my pregnancy and Jon was great about giving me mornings alone) and in general, seemed to be unaffected by my huge belly or the impending baby-to-be. Then, September 20th happened. 
Not sure what to make of this intruder

For the next six weeks, our fun-loving little girl turned into an angry, frustrated, whiny, difficult child. She went from a self-sufficient, confident kid to needing to spend every moment with Mommy and then spending many of those moments angry with Mommy.

In many ways, we were lucky. She didn’t regress with potty training. She wasn’t aggressive or difficult with the baby. But as parents, you can’t always see the clearing through the weeds and we were terrified that this was her new personality. Grandparents came to the rescue. Between Grammy, Papa Mas, Gran and Poppa, we had multiple weeks of extra people doting on Gretchen. I’m convinced that this is what made the difference. She still had some incidents of being frustrated, but I think her “Bank of Attention” just needed to be filled. Two exhausted parents, one recovering from a c-section, just weren’t enough at the time. After the grandparent visits, our fun loving girl was back.

A little zoo time was just what the doctor ordered
Reading with Gran puts a smile on my face!
Suddenly baby brothers aren't so bad...
Once the hurdle was cleared, she refers to her brother as “my baby”, makes him laugh, makes him smile, suggests foods that he might like and has become that mini-momma that I was hoping for. She helps with diapers, hates to see him sad and understands that sometimes Mom and Dad need to spend extra time with the baby.  Their relationship now is something that I am excited about, especially now that Alex is more mobile (yikes!), responsive and not such a little-ball-of-baby. Granted, she’s not thrilled about sharing her toys and loves to scold him with a “Buddy, NO!”, but I’ll take that any day over the sad, frustrated, Ms. Hyde of a little girl that we knew during the month of October.

And now the two of our children together melt my heart:






I write this now to remind myself that it wasn’t always fun and roses, there is an adjustment period for everyone when someone else joins the family. Though this adjustment can be difficult, I take solace in knowing that my family is not the only ones to go through it. For anyone ready to bring home another baby, things most definitely will be hard at times, but chin up! I hope that there are incredible sibling moments on the horizon for you as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Our Last Week

Leading up to our departure from Argentina, life was understandably complex. We spent most of our free time deciding how to best organize our things to be moved, determine which items we wanted in our air shipment (which turned out to be a bust, the air shipment was tiny), and what we needed to pack in our suitcases so that it wasn't packed in our sea shipment. In the midst of all of this packing and reorganizing, we had a birthday party to celebrate Gretchen turning 3, attended a wedding, gathered the mortgage paperwork on a house the house we now own and said goodbye to our home for the last 4.5 years.

We had some great tips from friends that had already experienced an international move, especially regarding items that you need to bring with you as opposed to packing - just to make life a little easier:

  • Proof of car insurance (if you had a car) such as your policy. This will help when you're applying for car insurance in the US, they like you to have continuous coverage.
  • Shot records for everyone in the family, recent medical records for anyone undergoing any sort of medical treatment. It helps to have medical records for your little ones too, so that they can get up to speed with a new pediatrician without overlapping care.
  • Checkbook. We hadn't written checks outside of our yearly taxes since leaving the US, this was one that we almost forgot about. You need it if closing on house, or for all of those little expenses when starting up your new life (school registration fees, school uniforms, law mowing service, etc)
  • All identity documents, Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage license and the like. You never know what the DMV, post office or other random agency will request.
Considering that most everything I just listed makes it sounds like we had a boring, mundane, work-focused week, it was actually quite exciting. Our last week in Argentina sums up many of the reasons that I loved living there. 

Starting out the weekend, we woke up early to help the new owners of our couch move it to their truck. Outside of our front window, there is an upsidedown pickup truck, which had hit one of the city buses you see in the photo. Not that I loved horrible accidents, but there was always something going on out the front window. 

Like the time a Fernet truck overturned and people ran out into the street at 5:00am to steal bottles of the popular liquor.


Or when a helicopter landed on the street. 

Or once a year when the mounted patrols would parade by on hundreds of horses. 

Or once a year when there was a huge fireworks show. 
You get the picture.

We continued the weekend by attending a wedding. This was our second wedding in Argentina, and as with the first, it is an all night affair. This combines a few of my favorite things. The fact that we could go to an all night wedding (with which we stayed in a hotel because we had a big week of moving ahead and needed to get some sleep) and know that our kids were safe and having a great time with our wonderful empleada, Candy. She gladly stayed the night in our half-empty, totally disheveled home with both of our kids and acted as if it were an honor to be asked to do so. We miss her terribly.

The wedding was also great. Lots of food, lots of friendly people and plenty of last-minute-Spanish practicing before we left. 

Then Monday came, and Gretchen attended her last week of school. On my way to pick her up, I was stopped on the street by Dennis Rodman. Yep. Rodman reached out his massive wingspan arm to stop me and tell me that I looked too serious and needed to lighten up. Not that I'm in the habit of taking life advice from The Rod, but he had a point - I mean, I was walking down the street within touching distance of this enormous, recognizable guy speaking English and I had no idea until he stopped me. 
I love that you just never know who you're going to run into on the street. This was just one celebrity sighting that we had during our stay, others consisted of John Malkovich, Mike Tyson, Britney Spears, Madonna's children and posse (not the Material Girl herself), Ringo Starr and now, Dennis Rodman. Two thumbs up.

As the packers were going through the house, we tried to keep Gretchen as occupied as possible. It's pretty sad to watch your things be packed away and your house become an empty shell. Traumatizing even. So, she spent time with friends doing super fun things. Like going on this amazing picnic with Candy and her family. They made her fruit salad, delicious homemade cupcakes, sandwiches and the entire family (all four children and parents) took both of our kids to the park. They even went to the much further calesita park because it's what Gretchen wanted. Could they be any nicer?

Then we moved into this amazing hotel, the Four Seasons Buenos Aires and had a great view of Av 9 de Julio.

The hotel was incredible and even better, it was 3 blocks from our apartment. I loved that we could go out to a fancy brunch or sit and have a drink at their beautifully decorated bar and it was a 5 minute walk away. I also loved that we could pay in pesos and spend as much as we would at a normal restaurant in the US.

I also love that we saw, and met, James Hetfield from Metallica on his way to the gym. Gretchen gave him a flower that she had picked. He was a nice guy.

We got stuck in a rainstorm as I scrambled to get the last 2 vaccines needed to get the chicos up to date on their shots before we left.

I did not love getting stuck in the rain over a mile from home.

I did not love the cab drivers waving their angry little fingers at me telling me that no, they are not interested in my dripping wet stroller in their car.

I do love that we walked home, in the pouring rain, with no gear and Gretchen thought it was hilarious. I think living in Argentina has taught all of us to be more tolerant when things aren't perfect. Sometimes you need to just go with the flow, walk for awhile in the rain while your daughter's school uniform shields your 6 month old from the downpour.

We had a going away party with some of the families at Gretchen's school. It was at a Burger King that had a play area for kids and when we tried to take a group picture all of the kids freaked out - so here is a picture of some of the moms from school. This was a great group of women who helped me out when I didn't understand, took me underwing when most of my friends moved away and helped us feel more connected to the community.

I love that as a foreigner, I was able to make such nice friends and even though it was hard for us to communicate at times, they still included me in their mom group.

To that point, here is Gretchen with Candy's son Ale on the way to the airport to catch our flight. That's right, Candy and three of her children accompanied us to the airport to say farewell. So incredibly thoughtful. To add to the sweetness, Gretchen and Ale held hands on the way and then both fell asleep in their seats. We are so lucky to have gotten to know this family, and Gretchen and Alex's early childhood was enriched by having Candy (and her family) in our lives.


 It's hard to describe why we loved living in Argentina, there were so many reasons, but our last week summed up many of them in one 7-day package.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Leaving Argentina

We knew that living in Argentina was not to last forever, and we knew the end was near for a solid six months. There are many things that you can do to prepare for a large international move, and I recommend doing as many of them as possible - because even in the most prepared state possible, the move is a chaotic blur. When you are moving, here are a list of things that you should do as far in advance of the move as possible:
  • Sell everything that you think you might want to sell. This includes anything that you can live without for 4 months (while the sea shipment arrives), anything you can sell for the same amount as buying a new one in the US and everything that you don't want to fit into your new life. That weird end table that you don't really like, sell it. The swing your child will grow out of in a few months, sell it. Argentina makes it very difficult to get anything into the country, so generally, things have a much better resale value there than they would at home. AND you don't have to add the risk of moving/breaking/damaging the item if you sell before you move.
  • Close out all of your accounts as soon as possible. Argentinean pesos hold NO value outside of the country (as of 2014, many countries including the US don't even accept them as currency) so you want to leave with zero pesos. This includes, gym, school, bank, any sort of service should be paid in cash ahead of time if possible. 
  • Sell your car. HUGE hassle.
  • Plan your luggage strategy. Navigate the complex luggage policy of whatever airline you're on and know that you'll need to pack for 3-4 months. Pack clothes (and larger clothes for the fast-growing little ones) but remember to pack towels, basic kitchen needs, sheets and other daily items that you don't want to re-buy. I learned the hard way that you need a can opener, corkscrew and cutting board (all items we own multiple of that I was hoping not to repurchase). Note: I should have sold all of these things because now we own duplicates anyways.
  • Have your "art" evaluated. The moving company coordinated this for us so I'm not sure exactly how to do it, but make sure that it happens FAR in advance of your move (at least 4-6 weeks before packing). They send an appraiser to look at any original art that you own. We are not big art collectors, but that fingerpainting that we gave Daddy for his birthday - yeah, that's art. The photograph that a friend gave me and I had framed, it's art. The $5.00 print we purchased at an outdoor weekend market, art. A representative comes out to take photos of your art and provides copies to the moving company to use while they pack. At the end of the day, everything that is considered art will have a print out photograph taped to the outside of the box. The idea is that customs officials will then be able to recognize if we are attempting to move national treasures out of the country - this all started after one of the national art museums had a large robbery - though it seems laborious and ineffective to me. 
Art evaluation: Check
  • Visit your favorite places one last time. This was especially hard, there are so many places that we loved, including trips that we would have loved to re-visit (SaltaMendozaBariloche) but there just wasn't the time. We were able to get back to these local places:
The Calesita Park:


The Four Seasons pool:

The Abasto Children's Museum:

Vicente Lopez Park:

Puerto Madero:

  • Schedule the good bye parties for a week or two before you go. The night before a move sounds like a great time to bid farewell to your friends... three weeks beforehand. During the actual move you are tired, spent, and constantly running behind schedule. You don't want to have to cancel a despedida last minute or fall asleep in the middle of one.

Remember to have a little bit of fun. These weeks/months will fly by and I have to remind myself to take time to sit and relax with the kids. This is the first time that we have moved with kids of our own, and both Jon and I wanted to keep it as positive an experience as possible, in line with how our parents made moves for us. As a kid a move consists of eating out, sleeping in cool hotel beds and adventure. As an adult, it is a stressful, expensive and exhausting experience - and it is important to us that our kids feel as little of that as possible. Things that helped:

Lay around a little bit. If every second of every day is dedicated to the move, you will drive yourself crazy.
Look at this pre-cut hair! Such a moptop!
 Let them play. We "decorated" boxes with stickers, crayons and built cool forts while the packers worked around us. The packers thought it was great fun.
Caution: Precious Cargo
Watching iPad in a box fort = best afternoon ever
And on the landing end, picking out appliances is boring, but playing in a real play kitchen is superfun. Notice that ALL of the soap dispensers are in the microwave and cabinets. The salesman making commission on our appliance purchases was more than happy to put this all away.

Don't get me wrong, the move is still a chaotic blur, but if you can get organized before leaving, you may have enough sanity left to have time for fun while the chaos goes on around you. I'll let you know how we fare at the end of it all, the chaos is still swirling for now. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keeping Up With Moving

If you ever want life to fast forward in front of your eyes, have a baby and then move. If you really want to make it interesting, make it an international move. There is much to be said about moving, leaving Buenos Aires and starting a life in Houston, but there is a certain little guy that has been underrepresented on the blog and it's only because I haven't had a moment to breathe, much less record all of the delightful things that he is doing.

It is impossible to believe that we were still living in our apartment in Buenos Aires a month ago and only slightly more believable that we have a seven month old baby boy. Who is a precious dream. Who is a perfect baby. Until the night comes and he inevitably wakes up at least once if not twice. And it's making us mental. Luckily, he has this amazing smile that keeps us going the rest of the day.
Find the wise guy. What a sweet little champ!
Our baby is seven months old. He's rolling everywhere, showing signs of crawling and is eating like a starving person. He loves his sister more than anything, stares at her anytime she's in the room and giggles at the slightest attention from her. It is heartwarming, precious and amazing all at once.

He is happy all of the time. Until he's hungry. Then you feed him and he's happy again. While we're still nursing, food also consists of yogurt, chicken, bananas, prunes, pears, teething biscuits, and pretty much anything else in sight. Pre-made squeezy pouches have been my best friend through this chaotic time in our lives. Did you know they make little spoons that attach to the end of those pouches now? Ah, the amazing world of the USA, I'm honestly still in a bit of shock. More on that in a different post.

Alex got his first haircut days before we left BsAs, his adorable mop of black toupee hair was transformed into a little blond buzz cut in a matter of seconds. It took a few days until the child in my arms didn't surprise me when I looked down.

Before:
During:
After:

Different, right?? If you are in Buenos Aires, I have to recommend Cortemania in Recoleta (Av.Pueyrredon 1979), they were quick, cheap and good. Now our two chicos resemble each other much more, with their baby blues and wide-eyed expressions. Precious little ones, that have been such troupers during all of the recent change. 

It hasn't been all work (at least not for the kids...). There have been snoozing times:


Luxurious times:
Alex enjoying his business class international seat

Gretchen enjoying the seat and an array of stickers to play with
 Fun-loving times:
Clean little one
 Delicious times:
Enjoying S'more night at the Comfort Suites. Most amazing hotel ever.
 Relaxing shopping times:
Testing mattresses on Day 1 in Houston
  Bouncy times:
Thank you to our friends for borrowed baby items
 Sunny times:
Getting ready to enjoy our new pool!
And family times. We have already reaped the benefit of living closer to family. Gretchen loved being with her cousins for the weekend. "When are we going back to my cousin's house?"

It has been a crazy few weeks. Our little man has grown before our eyes and we have had some wild times. I don't recommend doing it often, but it has gone well for us so far.