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Thursday, September 29, 2011

7 Months! (+ 1 day)

 I haven't done a full baby update since Gretchen turned 3 months old, and so much has changed.  Gretchen has accomplished so much in the last few months, here are a few highlights.

The planets mat continues to be one of her favorite toys, and it has been there to help her every step of the way.  The planets mat was there the night that Gretchen sat up by herself for the first time, she held on to one of the supports for a while, then let go and sat up proud and strong.  This photo is from just after her 5 month birthday, check out those big baby blues!

You may remember that Gretchen hates laying on her tummy.  Tummy time was a struggle at best,
so you can imagine her excitement to complete this amazing task:
Step 1
Step 2
 Gretchen rolled over for the first time a day before her 6-month birthday and she has been non-stop ever since.  With her new found skills, it is near impossible to keep her on her belly, and with that in mind, it took almost a full month for her to roll over the other way.  I imagine that her thought process is something like this: "Roll to my tummy, why on earth would I want to do that?!"  But alas, her desire to reach for toys prevailed and she rolled back to front while we were at a friend's house on September 20th. That being said, I have full faith that she will not crawl for a while yet - we can't keep her on her tummy long enough to give it a shot!  She can stand while holding on to your hands, but she's still very wobbly, so I really have no thoughts that she will be an early crawler or walker.  Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself...

September also brought the beginning of Gretchen's first Hokie football season, much to her Daddy's excitement.  We have plans to visit Blacksburg in October for her first trip to Virginia Tech, where we will certainly pick up some more Hokie gear.  Here she is on the first day of the season, ready to watch the game with Daddy.

Gretchen loves music.  She also loves her exersaucer, so here she is enjoying those two loves simultaneously with Poppa back in August. 

 She is a world-class giggler, and we spend most of our nights trying to figure out new ways to make her laugh.  This one night we discovered that if you take really quick steps toward her while she was in the exersaucer she would laugh hysterically.  Clearly, we did this a zillion times, because nothing is sweeter sounding than her laughter.

 She has always been a good little traveler, but she has specifically enjoyed riding in the Baby Ergo.  here we are with Grammy at Great Falls Park in Virginia, it's hard to see her face while she's in the carrier, but you see her adorable little arm reaching out on the side.

Gretchen continues to love riding in her stroller, and now she has a fancy new jogging stroller to help us weather the bumps and rough terrain that the streets of Buenos Aires have in store for us.  She also loves Captain Calamari, her stroller-friend.  She frequently falls asleep in the stroller while grasping one of the Captains tentacles.
Thanks Grammy and Papa for my new stroller!
And as I mentioned earlier this week, we have started solid food, and so far so good.  She's a good little eater and we have been having fun trying new foods.

What we haven't been so go with this month is sleeping.  Our little amazing-sleeper has decided that we should visit her a few times during the night to replace her pacifier, rock her a bit or just say hello.  She generally doesn't require much during the night, but we were going strong with a few months of 10 -12 hours of unbroken sleep at night, so this has been a bit of a downgrade.  She has been drooling and chewing on things like crazy, so we suspect it has something to do with some teeth trying to make their way to the surface - but we haven't seen any yet, so that theory goes unsubstantiated.  Such is life, she is a charmer during the day, so who can complain?

I know that all parents say this, but I cannot believe it has been 7 months.  She is growing before our very eyes with a new adventure every day.  We are excited to visit the US (again!) in October and show all of our family how much their little girl has accomplished in the few weeks that we've been gone.  What an amazing 7 months, baby girl, you have completely captured our hearts.

Happy 7 month birthday!  May the future bring restful nights and giggle-filled days!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Solid Food, Who Knew?

Gretchen is officially eating solid food and it takes a whole lot more thought that I had ever expected. It all started with offering her little snacks and bites of food when she turned 5 months old, and it has very slowly but surely developed into a solid 2 "meals" a day of real, solid, food.  She is still drinking milk (either by nursing or a bottle) 4 times a day, which is down from 5 times a day a month ago, so we've essentially replaced one milk feeding with two solids feedings.  I could go on about her eating habits for hours, I think I spend more time thinking about her eating routine than anything else that goes on in my day.  I know that as with most things in parenthood, this new frontier will become more defined as time goes on, but until then I really wish there were an instruction manual!

We started with easy to smash foods like bananas and avocados.  Gretchen was not interested in the actual eating part, but she loved playing with the spoon.  Here she is just over 5 months trying some avocados.
Sticking her tongue out says it all
As of her 6-month birthday, this was the approximate amount of food she was eating on a daily basis. One mouthful. 
She looks adorable while eating, even if it's only for a bite
 And she much preferred to be eating her toys, like this:

We have graduated to eating 1oz portions of food at a time, generally mid-morning and again in the late afternoon.  So far, her favorite food (by a landslide) is carrots and she does not give broccoli the time of day.  She has tried quite a few different foods, but we are a bit limited due to the time of year here - which I'll discuss more below.  As for the foods that she has tried, we've got; bananas, avocado, blueberries, mango, carrots, squash, broccoli, kiwi, yogurt and more recently (thanks to our generous friends Milena and Talia) Cheerios.  

 When you're just nursing, it's easy: baby hungry = milk.  But now that we've added variety to her diet it's hard to know when she will be hungry, when she's full and what sort of ratio we're going for.  My doctor has been pretty laid back about offering advice, so my main go-to is the Baby 411 book, which appears to have just released a new addition in September 2011.  If you're having a baby, buy this book, it is a great resource for when the little ones throws a wrench your way, aka - everyday.

Delicious sugar cereal
A main issue that I've had is the availability of traditional baby foods here in Buenos Aires.  My first challenge was rice cereal, the basic of all basics when it comes to baby food.  My issue here is that they all contain sugar.  I'm not crazy about not allowing my child to have sugar, but this stuff contains quite a bit, it actually smells like powdered sugar when you pour it in the bowl. The ingredient list says: rice flour, sugar, etc. - sugar is ingredient #2!  I'll interject here that before I had Gretchen I thought that people really over-thought the introduction of sugar to kids' diets - I guess that changes when it's your own.  Hilariously, in the instructions on the box of rice cereal it actually states that you "do not need to add sugar".  Was anyone sitting back making food for their 6-month old and wondering how much sugar they needed to add?  I was hesitant to have this be the first thing that she ever eats, concerned that she will be addicted to sweets her whole life. Which brings me to challenge number two: yogurt.

Here she is with the yummy Greek yogurt
I have now found a yogurt brand that I like, and better yet, that Gretchen likes, but you need to be careful with this item as well.  I was on the hunt for whole milk, natural flavor yogurt, and I assumed that natural flavor meant no sugar.  It turns out that this is incorrect.  I purchased some natural flavored Greek yogurt, which she LOVED, and then when Daddy tried to feed her a different brand that was truly natural, she literally spit it out.  All over the floor.  Turns out the Greek yogurt (Griego, for those that are interested) is more like vanilla flavoring in any other brand.  No wonder the healthy stuff got the ax. 

I have also been making baby food for Gretchen, which is really the easiest thing, but there are slight challenges here as well.  Not all foods are available all year long here, so some of the staples that people generally start with, peaches, peas, apricots, etc, are not in the stores until the summer months.  Though I have given up on my search for a food processor we've been using the blender, which works just fine. It's actually been kind of fun to search for different things I think she'll enjoy. 

After all of the challenges, it's still a pretty neat thing watching our little girl develop her own likes and dislikes and learn how to eat like a big girl.  I have to say that I am more than a little jealous when I see all of the convenience items available for transitioning babies to solid foods. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

tø Be, or not tø Be

The fabulous door of "to" restaurant
This new place with an incredibly interesting door opened a few months ago and after walking by 50 or 60 times, I finally decided to see what was behind the cool door.  The answer is twofold, there is a small restaurant and bar, and a boutique hotel with somewhere around 20 rooms.  The restaurant is called , (the "o" actually has one of those little carrot top accents over it, but I don't know how to make that work on the keyboard) it's pronounced "toe" and we decided to take our date night there last weekend. 

Tø's full name is "tø frapanese cuisine" and the location in Recoleta (Quintana 465; 5295-8585) that I am referring to is actually their second, the other one being in Palermo (Costa Rice 6000; 4772-8569).  As the full name suggests, they have a mix of French and Japanese dishes along with an interesting cocktail menu and, of course, full wine list.  Our plan was to have a drink at their bar and then continue to a different restaurant for dinner, so I can only speak to one of their dishes, but we plan to go back for a full meal sometime in the future.

Just as the attached hotel is boutique-style, tø only has 5 or 6 bar stools and a maximum of 20 tables.  They have a small indoor/outdoor patio that offers 2 tables next to a beautiful water feature that would be a great place for a glass of wine on a sunny day.  We had to laugh a little as we sat down on our barstools because although the bar itself is visually interesting (it almost looks like a carved tree was laid down to make the bar top), the stools are a few inches too short so we looked like we were sitting at the kiddie table for Thanksgiving dinner.  The bartender, Guillermo, was friendly and attentive, though he suckered both of us into an upsale - me with a glass of wine that wasn't on the menu and Jon with some sort of liquor in his mojito, but we thoroughly enjoyed our drinks and at the end of the day our bar tab was still less than we would pay in any big city in the US.  Our buddy Guillermo explained that the restaurant and hotel were both owned by a relative of the Catena Zapata family (flashback to our Mendoza trip) and that the wood to make the super-cool entrance door and the bar were both imported from Mendoza.  We hold out hope that Guillermo can help us get a wine barrel from Mendoza brought to Buenos Aires for a reasonable price, we've been keeping those in mind since our trip last year as well.

As for the food, we shared a tempura roll appetizer, and we really weren't that impressed.  Obviously, the roll was salmon, as most of the sushi rolls here are, but it seemed to be a flaky, cooked salmon that wasn't very flavorful.  Also, the "tempura" seemed to be rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, unlike actual tempura battering that we're used to.  All in all, if you want a tempura roll, I suggest you go to  Gran Bar Danzon, where the roll is far superior.  That being said, we have heard really good things about the rest of their menu, and the ambiance is enough to keep us coming back for at least a pre-dinner drink.  The prices are a little steep, considering the area of town and the "boutique-ness" to the restaurant it kind of comes with the territory, but overall tø is a nice place to stop in.

If nothing else, walk by and check out the front door. 

UPDATE: November 6, 2011 - We went back to Tø this past weekend for a drink before going out to dinner and the bartender informed us that the restaurant was no longer serving food.  No explanation, just that they pulled the menus and were keeping the bar open sans food.  Apparently we weren't the only ones that weren't overwhelmed by the appetizers.  Also, we have yet to see Guillermo again, so I'm guessing that my search for a wine barrel from Mendoza continues...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Temaikén Bioparque

This weekend we packed up our things and headed out of town to a zoo of a different kind, a biopark.  You might ask what a biopark is, and I would tell you - it's a nice zoo.  Not in a sarcastic way, an actual, nice zoo.  To the point that I'm hoping that there is no communication line between the animals at Temaiken and the animals at the Palermo Zoo because it is pretty obvious who got the short end of that stick. 

Temaiken is in Escobar, which is about 30 miles (~50km.) northwest of the center of Buenos Aires.  To get there you can either drive or take one of two types of bus, the Route 60 semi-rapido or the Chevallier Costera Metropolitana.  The information regarding each mode of transportation is limited on the Temaiken website, so we used what information we received from friends and other websites and used the Route 60 bus.  It was easier than we expected. 

The ticket kiosk on Sarmiento Street
The Route 60 bus stop is on Sarmiento Street immediately in front of La Rural Exposition Center.  They are on the same side of the street as the US Embassy, across the street from the Palermo Zoo near Plaza Italia.  There is a small kiosk marking the bus stop, this also serves as a ticket counter.  You can buy day passes for Temaiken (which I recommend in order to avoid a potentially long line at the park) and a bus ticket to the park at this kiosk.  As of Sunday, the one-time park entry ticket is $78 pesos, $60 for children ages 3 - 10 and free for children under 3.  They offer a discounted rate of $39 adult/$30 children, on Tuesdays (the park is closed on Mondays) and if you plan on going more than twice in a year, it makes sense to purchase a yearly pass for $145 adult/$110 children,  Yearly passes are available on Ticketek or at the park entrance ticket office.  Bus passes are $6.50 pesos each way, though you can only purchase a one-way pass at the kiosk, you need to buy the return pass at the returning bus stop at the park. 

The Rt. 60 bus indeed is semi-rapido, it still makes quite a few stops.  That considered, it took us an hour and 15 minutes to arrive to the gates of the park, and the ride was pretty pleasant.  This bus is a bit different from the regular collectivos that you ride in town; the seats are a bit nicer, more spacious and in general a more civilized ride.  As a side note, we brought our stroller with us and it took up an entire row of seats.  I'm not sure the other riders appreciated this and we found out later that you can rent a nice-looking stroller from the park, a service that appeared to be free.

Since we bought our tickets ahead of time we were able to bypass the long lines and walk right into the park after we arrived at Temaiken.  You want to stop at the information booth inside the gates on the left to get a map, the park is well marked but a map is incredibly helpful.  The park is large and though they don't have the array of exotic animals that the Palermo Zoo has, but the animals that they do have are kept in much nicer habitats.  We brought our jogging stroller, but the pathways were nice enough that a little umbrella stroller would have sufficed, something that we are generally not used to here in the city.

The zoo is spacious and even on a busy weekend day we didn't feel cramped in the park.  There were times when the animals were doing something particularly interesting that it was hard to see through the front line of viewers, but that is bound to happen anywhere you go with lots of children on a weekend.  The exhibits are well marked and coordinate perfectly with the park map, and each exhibit has a sign that is the shape of that animal, so even if you don't speak Spanish, you can ascertain what you're looking at.
Daddy checking in on Gretchen
 One of the highlighted parts of the biopark is the "El Lugar de Las Aves" or the birdpark.  It is hard to impress me since we've been to the birdpark on Brazil's side of Iguazu Falls, but this exhibit was not too shabby.  There were lots of "normal" songbirds and such in smaller cages, and then there were large walk-through cages that had more exotic birds like toucans and parrots.  I am completely in love with toucans so this part was great for me.  The toucan pictured below actually hit Jon in the head as it flew by, notice that the cage is on the opposite side of the bird.
 I am not quite as big of a fan of parrots, they are noisy and generally seem pretty mean so I was surprised that the bird exhibit path guided us right into another walk-through cage that housed parrots. Again, a parrot flew right at Jon's head, and then they seemed to guard the exit as we were leaving.  I think we both envisioned a parrot flying right into Gretchen's stroller, so we hightailed it out of the parrot exhibit.  If you aren't a parrot-coward like me, this would have been a really nice place to take pictures.
 The park has quite a few places to stop and eat, the food isn't fantastic, but we made out just fine.  Gretchen needed a break from sitting in the stroller, so here she is enjoying sitting on our lunch table.
In all honesty, we could have used more umbrellas in the food area, but what you can't see here is a water feature that was crazy fun for the older kids which makes up for the lack of umbrellas.  Their parents were able to eat in peace while the kids marveled at the water. And here we are together, simultaneously trying to get some sun for me while trying to shield Gretchen from it's harmful rays.
 Aside from the bird exhibit, there were several really great animal habitats to see; the aquarium was impressive with it's variety of sharks, stingrays and other large fish, we enjoyed the hippos, zebras, wallabies, and these adorable meerkats pictured below.  I especially like the little guy in the rock who is looking at a plane passing by. 
 And as we were on our way out, we caught one last photo by the entrance sign. 

We had a wonderful day outside of the city.  I think Gretchen would enjoy the biopark much more in 6 months or so when she is able to run around and play on the grass.  We avoided going to Temaiken for close to 2 years because we thought the bus would be too big of a hassle, and it was really not that big of a deal.  We should have tried this last year, it was really worth the trip.  Hooray for Temaiken!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Triumphant Return... sort of

This past weekend we returned from yet another wonderful trip to the US.  We visited both my and Jon's sides of the family, watched one of my best friends get married, met lots of people that we've been hearing about for awhile, shopped to our heart's content, and did all of this with the most well-behaved baby in the world.  I will certainly write more about the trip itself, but as the baby naps this afternoon, I can't help but reflect on the strange pull of emotions that happens every time we return from the US. 

As an expat, you essentially have two "homes"; wherever you consider home to be in the states, and where you actually live (in my case, Argentina).  The positive side is that you have two homes, the negative is that you really don't have a home at all.  I feel this bizarre mix of emotions that comes from liking where I live, yet being sad to return.  The crazy thing is that I love being in both places.  The US offers familiarity, family and friends, ease of language, knowing exactly where to go to get something done.  Argentina is fun, exotic, beautiful, something I pride myself in making my own, and where my everyday life takes place.  When I'm in Argentina, I anxiously await my next trip to the US.  When I'm in the US, my life in Argentina is on hold.  Friendships are paused, my plants start to die and I feel like I'm starting from square one each time our plane touches ground. 

Quite the juxtaposition. 

I think this happens whenever you have close family ties that you live apart from, whether it be in a different town or a different part of the world.  Perhaps it's just a little stronger in my case because our two homes are so far from each other.  When we leave the US, we pack the maximum amount of items possible in our suitcases and try to simulate life as it was before we moved (this also occurs when people come to visit us) yet we value our time in Argentina and are happy to stay living here for the foreseeable future. 

I guess the moral of the story is to live in the moment because the day will come when we are no longer expats and we can got to Target as many times as we want without worrying about how much our new purchases weigh.  We will miss living in such a wonderful city and swear to our new friends that we used to speak Spanish.  At least this is what I tell myself as I count the days until our next trip stateside.