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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gretchen Turns ONE!

Wowza, our baby girl is ONE YEAR old!  I cannot believe it.  My sweet little girl is actually turning into a sweet little girl - not a sweet little bundle of baby.

One year ago we had one of the biggest surprises of our lives when 26 days before my due date I was woken up (at 8:00am, how times have changed that I was still sleeping past 8:00...) to a baby belly that was ready to burst.

Monday, February 28, 2011 - just before we hailed a cab to the hospital

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - I feel like the only thing similar about these two mornings is that I was wearing the same shorts.  
One Year Old Gretchen!
This year I woke to a happy little girl with a belly full of cupcake that just needed a balloon to keep her busy for hours on end.  Argentina was lovely enough to give us a holiday on Monday, February 27, so we held Gretchen's birthday party a day early and then spent her actual birthday with just family.

So lets rewind to the day before Gretchen turned one and describe a little bit about her adorable birthday party.

Originally, I had pretty casual expectations for a pretty simple party, but my mother-in-law and I were talking about party themes, I mentioned giraffes, and there was no going back.  I'm pretty sure Jon's parents packed anything giraffe-related within a 25 mile radius of their home and transported it to Argentina in their luggage.  The theme was a huge success.

In addition to the actual giraffe items that were purchased for the party, I tried my hand at cake pops for the second time, and though they were a bit more challenging than the first batch (they were too moist or something, but the chocolate kept slipping off and the poor little heads actually fell off of a few of the sticks.  It was giraffe-carnage in our refrigerator for a while) they turned out really cute!  Thank you to the numerous family members and family member's girlfriends that both helped, and witnessed my disappointment when I didn't think they were going to work out.

In a moment of dessert-inspired panic, we also made a funfetti cake and red velvet cupcakes.  Yum!

Here we are with the birthday girl before anyone arrived.  She was so funny all morning, when she had a balloon in hand, she was the happiest girl in the world, when she was deprived of her balloon, she was incredibly serious-faced.
Note the serious face...
We compromised and gave Gretchen a few balloons while we took some pictures, but that didn't seem to help the serious-face.  

With Gran and Poppa on my birthday!
We just had a few close friends over, but all of the little kiddos played together incredibly well!  I couldn't believe how everyone seemed to find a partner and a toy and just sat, playing quietly, through most of the party.  It inspired me to hide some of Gretchen's toys, and rotate them out in a few weeks so that they are new and exciting again.

Look at those big baby blues!
 The big finale was Gretchen's first time eating sweets - and we gave her a whole cupcake to enjoy.  I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but our little girl is a fantastic eater.  She puts virtually every other child I know to shame in that department.  She likes everything, she tries everything and she eats with conviction - none of this playing-around-with-my-food nonsense.  Knowing this, we were prepared for a cupcake demolition, and she did not disappoint.....

Right after the Happy Birthday song...

Getting a little taste of this delicious little cake...

Two hands grabbing the cupcake to eat the "stump" first (just like Mom likes to eat cupcakes, saving the delicious frosting for the end)....

Cupcake carnage...

Finishing with a tongue-stick-out move that could only mean "why are all these people looking at me??"

It was hilarious and fun to watch Gretchen enjoy her first cupcake, and we'll hope she's not destined for the dessert-craving life that her Mom has endured.  

Before we bid farewell to everyone, we got a quick photo of Gretchen with two of her besties, Trey and Talia.  Look how much our kiddos have grown since the 4th of July (when we last posed them in a picture together)!!!
July, 2011 - They're all just babies!!

February, 2012 - only big kids here!
Gretchen had a wonderful birthday!  She also took this monumental occasion to switch to one nap per day...a schedule that has been working out great for us.  She has been so full of life and fun - as difficult as it is to see my baby girl grow up - it has been wonderful watching her discover her world and develop a personality.  She has started mimicking little things like yawns, crinkling her nose and sticking out her tongue.  She loves her pacifier and giraffe blankie, but knows that they stay in the crib after she's done sleeping.  She is incredibly curious and knows exactly how to get in to trouble, but she has also started giving hugs and kisses (they're open mouth, be prepared...) which completely melts our hearts.

Happy Birthday Baby Girl!  And may you always be as happy as you were with your balloons.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Beach Baby

We have spent the last week in Carilo, a little beach town about 4 hours outside of Buenos Aires city.  It has been a nice, quiet getaway (with some quirks, which I will discuss later) that allowed us to show Jon's parent's a different side of Argentina.  

This trip also marks Gretchen's first time on the beach - with the sand and the waves and the 1,000,000 things to put in her mouth.  She loved it!  We had so much fun playing with our little girl!  So, before I write a post about the ins and outs of Carilo as I see them, here are some pictures of our little beach baby.

This is the first time we put Gretchen on the sand, her face says it all: "I'm not totally sure what this is about, but I don't dislike it..."

After applying full sun protection to our fair child, through a very broad hat, loads of sun screen and this fashionable sun-blocking swim suit, we were ready for the water!  Here is Gretchen's first, very confident steps into the ocean.

And here she is dragging Poppa back to the water, which she did over and over again.  This little one has no fear.

We were able to hold her still for a quick family shot - but only for a second, she has things to do!

Like hunt for shells with Poppa.  She is lucky to have such a patient Poppa that helps remind her not to eat the shells. Even if she tries to eat them every 3 seconds.

Our good friends the Kempfs also decided to vacation in Carilo this week, and we are so glad they did!  We got to hang out with friends, and Gretchen was able to spend lots of time playing with their adorable daughter, Claire.  Here Claire is, showing off her Iowa-girl-side and eating some corn on the beach.

And a close-up of this little duckling in her super-cute robe.

Though Gretchen and Claire have lots of fun together, they are still 4 months apart, which is a lot in baby time.  I love this picture, Gretchen has this huge smile on her face, which Claire seems to be so sad that she can't move fast enough.  In due time little Claire!  

We did have some (lots) of questionable weather during the week. This particular day, it was sunny but extremely windy, so we took Gretchen upstairs to the terrace of our hotel which had some little kid toys.  

She was particularly fond of this little pen filled with plastic balls. She played with the balls, tossing them out of the pen, and putting them in again, longer than she'll play with any of her toys back home.  

Check out our big girl!  

We also stole a few of the balls to bring into the pool (the indoor pool, that we visited on a different bad-weather day).  The balls were a hit there too!  We decided to forego the bathing suit for the baby this time around, no one seemed to mind.

And one last shot of an incredibly happy baby, enjoying her warm, sunny days on the beach.  Happy February everyone!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Casa Mun

 Finally!  After contemplating dinner at Casa Mun for months, we finally had a great reason to go.  In a stroke of luck, Jon's parents visit coordinated perfectly with his cousin Luke's rugby team trip to Buenos Aires, we couldn't have planned it better ourselves.  We wanted to show Luke, his girlfriend Jenn, and the rest of the coaching staff something different to do in Buenos Aires, so we decided to take them to the most recent addition to the closed-door restaurant club.  It's not the most Argentine thing they did during their trip, but it certainly highlighted a cool little underground culture piece of the city.

We have already taken Jon's parents to dinner at Casa Salt Shaker and to a wine tasting at Anuva, so it fit really well that we could also bring them to Casa Mun during this trip.  In another strange twist of events, Casa Mun has recently moved out of their home and into a shared space with Anuva, though we did not try the wine tasting on this trip.

Cousin Luke and his beautiful girlfriend Jenn
As with many of these closed-door places, you reserve your spot in advance, and have a set menu for the entire seating.  Casa Mun offers a 5-course meal, with soda or water for AR$205 or with a 5-course wine paring for AR$250.  He accepts Argentine pesos or US dollars, and if you are willing to pay in advance, you can use Pay Pal - a great alternative.  Diners are encouraged to come at 9:00pm and enjoy a glass of champagne, but required to arrive before 9:30pm or risk being turned away.

The dinner started promptly with a brief explanation from Chef Mun discussing how his restaurant came to be, and gave a little preview on what to expect for the evening's meal.

We started with a sesame crusted tuna salad. The dressing was outstanding, and the portion size was good, but I was expecting a little more from the tuna.  It was extremely high quality fish, which is rare in BsAs, but I would have liked a little more seasoning to complete the dish.  Chef Mun's cooking method is unique, he uses a blow torch to sear the edges of the tuna, and the dish was beautifully presented.

 The next item was a chilled chicken and mushroom soup that I found interesting, though quite tasty.  Again, the presentation was nice, all of the ingredients were cooked to perfection and it was a great way to cut the heat of the day.

The following course was my favorite, and it was also the only dish I did not get a picture of.  It consisted of different types of sushi, a shrimp & California maki sushi and a spicy tuna on pan fried rice.  The spicy tuna was one of the best Asian dishes I have ever had, I could have eaten 10 more.  It had a great amount of spicy, but wasn't overly spicy as to drown out the other flavors.  Outstanding.

The next, and last, dinner course was a pork bun with a side of cucumber kimchi.  The pork bun was a tad sweet with a little bit of spice and the roll was melt-in-your-mouth good.  I had no idea what kimchi was, and I'm still not 100% sure, but I really, really did not like it.  This was considered "young" kimchi, which is supposedly more mild than the old stuff, but it was really just not my bag.  Others at the dinner loved it - Me, not so much.

The dessert was light, fresh and a great way to finish off the meal.  I wish I could remember exactly what it was, a cream based ice-cream-style something that was beautifully presented and delicious.

Each course was paired with a different wine, the pairings were spot on, though not all of them were my favorite.  I enjoy that though, it's a great way to expose yourself to new wines without having to close your eyes and point at a menu.

So that was Casa Mun, we would go back anytime. It is a great, interactive dinner that allows you to either book with a large group (maximum of 24 seats) or go as a couple and interact with other folks at your table.  It seemed to be a hit with the Canadian crowd, and it was a nice way to socialize, while not having to cook.

Bravo, Chef Mun!  We'll be back!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Matrix

In previous posts I have alluded to the fact that we are now the proud owners of a brand new 2006 Toyota Corolla (OK, so it's not brand new...).  It came with 50,000 kilometers, a 6-disk CD changer and AUTOMATIC transmission.  All items that I would have taken fore granted on a vehicle purchased in 2011 in the US, but pretty impressive stats for Buenos Aires.  It's been great so far, we have both been driving like old pros in this 'anything goes' environment, and though I hear my mother's gasp echoing in my head every time someone cuts across 4 lanes to make a righthand turn at a red light, I feel pretty confident behind the wheel.  So confidant, that we are going to test the limits of this Corolla's capacity by fitting the three of us, my in-laws, our luggage AND a jogging stroller next week when we drive 4 hours to the beach. But that post is for another day.

Today, I write about the parking situation for our little 4-door, a place that I have deemed, The Matrix.

Our apartment building lacks a parking garage, and we live on arguably the busiest street in Buenos Aires, so the only true option is to rent a space in a private garage.  We found a place, less than a block from our front door, that charges way too much - but is worth the convenience factor.  We pay every month, in cash, with no contract or exchange of information of any kind.  Also, they raise the price every 3 months.  Awesome.

Either way, it is the best option we have found so far.  It is also one of the most advanced garages I've ever seen (incredible, considering where we are), which is how it earned it's name.  There are 15 levels of parking spots, all of them one car deep.  This gives the cars the appearance of being in little pods.  Just like the movie, The Matrix.

 Here is how the garage works:

15 stories of parked cars - AKA The Matrix
  1. You walk up to the garage and signal to the guy sitting in a glass booth.  This guy is smoking and drinking mate 100% of the time.  No exaggeration.
  2. He ascends on what can be best described as a "car-elevator" and locates your car.  If he's in a bad mood, he asks for your license plate number (which you have no clue of) so you hand him your keys and he presses unlock until your car beeps.  
  3. He proceeds to use a mechanical arm that extends out from the car-elevator to pull your car out of the "pod" it was parked in.
  4. He descends to the ground level.
  5. The mechanical arm again grabs your car and rolls it onto a round platform. 
  6. The round platform rotates (like a new car showroom), thus alleviating your need to turn the car around to get out of the garage.
Our car being lifted onto the platform

It's pretty cool.  There has only been one hiccup. Thiswas when the mechanical arm broke and I had to ride with the guy in the car elevator in order to drive the car from the parking spot onto the elevator.  This combines virtually all of my height fears into one: being up high and seeing through the floor (the floor of the elevator is a metal mesh), driving while being able to see through to the ground and having to walk while up high and being able to see the ground.  Now that I write it, it sounds like I just don't like being able to see the ground from up high - either way, it was super scary, and then incredibly humiliating when I was frozen (due to fear) and couldn't explain myself to the garage-man (due to fear erasing all of my Spanish knowledge).  He kept asking "Is this not your car??", and I had to tell him that yes, this was my car, but I could not physically walk to it.  Super embarrassing.  The positive side of this day?  I got to tell Jon that there was a glitch in The Matrix, and felt clever until I explained the rest of the story.