February 2010

A few months ago when I envisioned my X-Pat experience, I knew I wanted our family to; slow down the pace, spend more time together, learn Spanish, and make the absolute most of our experience during the small amount of time that we are here.  Today is the one month anniversary of our arrival and we are starting to feel a little more at home each day and working a little closer to our goal.  One perk we enjoy very much is having Doug home with us in the mornings for breakfast before he takes the girls to school.  In our almost 17 years of marriage we have never seen him in the morning as he was always long gone at work, so this is a very nice benefit.  However our pace has not slowed down as much as I would have like, and I have resigned to the fact that our life no matter where we are is going to be crazy busy and that is just who we are.

My Spanish teacher and I spend more time discussing world politics and religion than we do studying Spanish, but I told her today, I am starting to feel a little more settled and I promise to study more.  She always say’s “oh Kelly, you are doing fine”.  Although she has told me the guards get very excited when they know she is coming to my house.  They know she is a tutor and they ask if she can please hurry and teach Senora Parker Spanish.  The guards need to call me whenever there is someone wanting to enter.  When they call I say, “Si, Gracious”.  I usually wait to hear the name of the person I am expecting to arrive, however if they told me an axe murder was on the way I would still say, “Si, Gracious”.   I am so obsessed with the correct pronunciation that I have to practically say the entire Spanish alphabet in my head so I can recall the proper sounds of each consonant and vowel before I will even attempt to pronounce one word.  And I think I may never venture out of the present tense.   Lauryn will be the one who is going to really learn Spanish.  Her pronunciation is right on, and already she is correcting me.  She practices a lot at school and I am just not sure how much practice Lyndsey is getting as in the land of 6th grade you do your best to stay under the radar.  You would not want to look silly by improperly pronouncing the days of the week, someone might laugh at you.  Lyndsey will probably be like me, we will understand it, but we will not speak it beautifully.  Keep in mind this language is completely different from what is spoken in Spain and Mexico.  Of course it is still Spanish but the pronunciation is practically Italian.  Elizabeth tells me I need to practice speaking all day long, in the car in the shower, this is the only way it will become natural.  I pray for more motivation.  You would think being in a foreign country and not be able to communicate would be plenty of motivation; however I have many enablers that communicate on my behalf so I do not have an intense desperation like some of the other X-Pats.

There are so many opportunities at the American School; we have piled it on again.  As promised, we made our way downtown over the weekend to visit the rink where the girls will eventually take a few lessons.  The ride is long and the ice is tiny, but after our fun day in the city we decided having to come to the rink on Saturday will provide us with the motivation we might not otherwise have to explore downtown Buenos Aires.  The last time the girls and I were downtown it was August and our minds were clouded with all the details of moving and finding a house in this new world.  We had a city tour but I was so overwhelmed it was hard to enjoy the tour and listen to the guide.  Close to 20 million people call Buenos Aires home and it is truly massive. I don’t think this small town girl will ever wrap her brain around this massive city.

Each and every street you happen on is highly populated and full of shops and architecture that never repeats itself.  It is a mixture of old European meets modern day art.  We are enjoying an overload of new experiences, but you can bet every chance we get to grab our little slice of Americana, we take it.  We had heard there was a Hard Rock Café downtown and thanks to our navigation system we were able to find this needle in the haystack. We are immersed in the Argentine culture and we enjoy their foods and customs all day long, but oh the joy we find in ordering a chicken fingers appetizer with both honey mustard and BBQ sauce.  It is these little things that absolutely make our day.  I tried to see if I could buy some honey mustard, however given my limitations on communicating I was not successful.  I ordered nachos with salsa, also very hard to find and there was not one morsel left on the plate.  We walked around the outside market in front of the Hard Rock Plaza and I was happy to see lots of American tourist speaking perfect American English, not British English like the Argentines speak.  To hear people speaking American English outside of the X-Pat community makes me smile.  I wanted to tell them all “watch your purse”.  I leave mine at home when I travel to the city.

It is interesting to live amongst a socialist society.  I love to hear Doug talk about how the government regulates price controls on products so that no one shop can provide a better deal than the next, this way everyone is “equal”.  I have keys to our home that look like what was surely used by John Adams when he was given the keys to the white house.  The “key” industry has been around for a while and it employs lots of people so they keep it going as to not put anyone out of work.  Does this sound familiar?  I will try not to get to political but let’s just say President Obama needs to spend some time in Argentina.  Bailing out dying companies will not allow more evolutionary ones to evolve and it will not allow us to advance.

We are pretty sure we have stepped back in time to what we estimate is the early 1970’s but with internet for those Argentines who can afford it.  Most Argentines would never have enough money to buy a computer.  The electronics are not as advanced as what we are use to and are ridiculously expensive even for Americans utilizing the exchange rate.  I would never buy anything of value here, except for these awesome little furniture pieces I find from the old Estancia’s – more on that later.   The American products we are use to are just not the same quality here, it would appear because of the government fixed pricing and tax implications on imports, they need to send inferior quality products in order for them to make any money. The Argentine government would rather their population use what is available from their own country, they do not want foreign companies providing products that compete with what they already provide.  You all heard the horror stories of our family trying to get our visas.  They strongly discourage any foreign influence, the socialist mentality disagrees that foreign business would create new jobs; their view is very simply that it would take them away.  Ball of course is in the disposable products category and is doing very well as they manufacture in country a product in high demand and they do not import.  We had about two weeks of rain and the mosquitoes are in full force.  When we arrived there were no bugs and now we cannot even walk outside.  All the “Off” cans in Argentina have Ball written on the bottom.  “That’s my can man”, I tell everyone.  So business is booming.  Doug’s plant also manufactures Aerosol cans for deodorant, cleaning supplies etc.  Aerosol cans are quite popular here.  Ironically you would think our children have never heard of “Off” as they are covered in bites.

So I celebrated my one month anniversary by meeting Doug and Mercedes at the Baruge Lazulay near the colectora by the Panamericana.  This was a big deal as a month ago climbing Mt. Everest seemed more manageable than driving to this location.  Thanks to lots of coaching and map assistance from my Elizabeth and Mercedes, I made it on my own. I was complaining to our home owner, through my translators of course, about the loose tiles in the sunroom/breakfast area.  By some miracle, or my constant complaining, they told me I could pick out the color of the tile and they would install it.  I will keep you posted on this one.  That is very uncharacteristic of an Argentine owner to repair an item like this while the renter’s contract is already signed.  So Doug, Mercedes and I picked out a few tile options from The Baruge Lazulay.  I will post before and after pictures if it ever actually gets to that point. When we return to BA in the fall from the states, I will have one suitcase dedicated to gifts for Mercedes, I adore her. Doug appreciates her as well and tells me this is part of her job, but she does it in a way that puts me at ease.  She’s like my little guardian angel, thank you god.

Until next time,

Mucho amor, Huesto Luego

This is the guard station entrance into our neighborhood.  The Trende La Costa passes the front of the entrances to many of the gated communities and the San Isidro station is about 3 blocks down from our neighborhood and is a popular tourist spot.


Well it had to happen; we transitioned last week from our vacation mode to the full blown reality of living and raising kids in a foreign country.  We kicked off the week with the first day of school at Lincoln. Both girls did great and said they liked it very much.  Lyndsey had what we call an Argentine day on Tuesday.  We bought her on the eve of the first day of school the only lock we could find, and it had a key, so we had to hunt around town to find a more traditional one the next day.  In short, the janitor had to destroy both locks so she could get her locker open.  I felt so bad for her as this is not your ideal 2nd day at a new school. Not really Lyndsey’s fault as things do not always work like they are suppose to here and so we all have our Argentine days.  Everyone was very helpful and in true Parker style we made our typical grand entrance and now everyone including the janitor knows who we are.

Argentine days however are much easier because we are so blessed with an amazing support system, without them I would have abandoned ship two weeks ago.  Just when I think the communication gap is too much and I cannot take it anymore, God puts someone in my life to remind me we are here for a reason.  This week Elizabeth entered my life, my Spanish teacher/therapist.  Per my itinerary from Doug’s office, I was to tutor with her from 8:30 to 10:30 on Thursday and in the midst of all this I was to have three service people descending on our home to resolve some repair issues.  Funny how I still think charades will get my through the day.  While repeating again for the 10th time “no entiendo”,  Elizabeth came in and took over.  You do not know how humbling it is to have zero control on what is happening in your life and home, imagine if I did not have Elizabeth and Mercedes whom I can trust immensely.  In addition to an unexpected therapy session, I had a huge lesson on working with Argentine service people, current events, and a little history of why Argentines are the way they are.  Elizabeth is taking me on a field trip this week to help me get my very complicated parking pass so I can park in front of the quaint shops in San Isidro, Love her!

Once Lyndsey got over the locker hurdle, she really seemed to enjoy school her first week of school.  Middle schooler’s have lots of freedom on their campus area and as usual Lyndsey seems to have lots of friends.  There is a neighborhood gang that rides the hood every night and she is right in the thick of it.  Lauryn tags along but it’s a little uneasy about the freedom she has in the neighborhood.  This community is gated with no less than four guards on duty at one time.  No one can enter the neighborhood without permission from a homeowner.  The guards know all the families and they are walking through the neighborhood as well.  This takes a lot of getting use to, but it is life in the big Latin American city.  Parents assure me that I need to let my kids go and let them enjoy running from house to house.  Lyndsey is so embarrassed because she has to call in every 30 minutes, but she knows this is how I roll.  They have never been allowed this independence and Lyndsey is truly enjoying this fringe benefit.

Lauryn likes school very much and always comes out in a good mood, her teacher is so amazing, and Lauryn has picked up right where she left off with the same math curriculum in Colorado.  This absolutely made her week! Lauryn is always talking with friends and really just seems happy.  She is enjoying the family time and less stress.  However next week activities start and we will pick up the pace a little but not like Colorado.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when Lyndsey said she signed up for soccer.  All those years of driving to Toledo for games and tournaments all over the state only to have Lyndsey say when we moved to Colorado, “I think I will take a break from soccer”.  She has been playing with some of her neighbors and with friends at school and evidentially has a desire to dust of her soccer cleats.  I love to see gods good work, the reason we did all that traveling is now very clear.  Unlike the pressure cooker competitive soccer days in Ohio, this will no doubt provide her with development in a little more relaxed environment, we will see.  I am so excited she is playing it is great exercise and maybe she will want to continue in Colorado.  Lyndsey also has to participate in band; oh she does not like this.  She will be picking an instrument soon.  But as promised she will also be taking guitar lessons outside of the school and has many activities at church with her youth group.

We are looking outside of the school for soccer for Lauryn, she will do a little at the school, but we want to see what more competitive options are available.  Most of the clubs are all Spanish speaking, so we will see how this goes.  This may be something we have to do next school year as Lauryn’s language develops.   These are very competitive leagues and not being able to understand the coach, could be an issue.  Lauryn is going to join the choir, and she starts tennis as well as Awana at church in a few weeks.  She is truly excited she will be doing some intense bible study. What a good kid!

Next week we are visiting the Skating rink and I anticipate this will make us all very homesick, but we will see what we can do to get them on the ice at least once a week.  I have to attend an evaluation next week for my spot in the tennis league and I need to get in a little/lot of practice.  I have had much fun running around with Mercedes this week to rustic furniture stores and beautiful fabric stores in downtown BA.  I am excited about the furniture as we are finding some beautiful inexpensive rustic items we can use someday when we finally finish our basement.

So the hardest thing so far about this experience is: missing my family and friends so bad I could cry; missing my household items so bad I can have an absolute nervous breakdown at any minute; and feeling like the biggest idiot on the planet for not knowing the language. Why do we not more aggressively teach foreign languages in the American schools from an early age?  All the Europeans speak Spanish, English, as well as the language of their country.  They always ask if I speak Spanish and when they ask me where I am from, I proudly say “The United States of America”; born and raised in the fabulous state of Ohio in the heart of farm country,  just south of the headquarters to the American auto industry and just west of the American entertainers Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the American Football Hall of Fame ; I am proud to be an American, and yes, we may not know five languages but we are amongst the hardest working ingenious entrepreneurs on the planet!  We are blessed to be members of a democratic society where our people determine the policies not our government. Our country is comprised of immigrants who came in search of freedom and the promise land.  Our dedicated troops continue to fight fearlessly for this freedom and I tell my kids everyday to thank god they are Americans!  I may not say all that, but I politely get my point across.

Argentine Spanish is hard and I am in the overwhelming stage feeling like I need to learn this by next Tuesday while most people learn a new language over years.  My newest realization in my language quest is that Argentines’ really do not pronounce their consonants’, and we strongly pronounce our consonants’.  So I realize I have work to do.  Doug is doing well, he is indeed a leader.  He can manage this entire experience with grace and somehow he knows less Spanish than me, but always seems to communicate just fine.  People just want to do things for him.  I would also say Lyndsey has the same qualities, she makes friends easy and once she has determined, I cannot avoid this situation, she makes it work.  Lauryn and I however if we let ourselves will just shutdown.   But Lauryn like her mom wants to do well and knows we should enjoy this discovery time in our life.

So this week will bring new challenges for sure, as we get more settled we hope to do more skyping.

Love you all,

Mesa Argentina

What a difference a week makes.  Last week at this time I was not driving, I did not feel comfortable going much of anywhere on my own, and I thought our whole family was going to pass out from the heat.  Today the temperature has finally dropped, the kids spent the day at an amusement park in Tigre (teagray) with Doug and new friends, and I enjoyed meeting more new and interesting people as well.

I am now driving like a true Argentine, I am out an about feeling good and trying to enjoy all these new experiences, with the exception of the language barrier.  The few weeks I have been here has taught me that learning to speak Spanish in Argentina requires a strong ability to master their pronunciation.  As Americans we typically learn Spanish that is spoken in Mexico, the Argentines speech is its own unique blend of Spanish, Italian and German.  When you first hear it, it is so beautifully spoken you would think it is indeed Italian they are speaking not Spanish.  Their alphabet has quite a few differences from the one we learned in high school.  For example everyone knows chicken (pollo) is pronounced poyo in Mexico.  In Argentina they pronounce “ll” as J so chicken is pronounced pojo.  So my first lesson will be the Argentine Spanish alphabet.   For those who come here and know Spanish well, they have to learn to master the pronunciation.  My name here is   “Caaaaale”, you hold the “a” for about two seconds than a short “e”.  The girls and I in our new found independence went to McDonalds the other day and somehow Lauryn ended up with a hamburger plain!  I said “hamburguese con queso”- hamburger with cheese but my pronunciation was way off.  Thank god for my good eaters they just eat it and laugh and me.  Lyndsey says her goal is to be able to order for us.  I told her that will require lots of studying, practice and patience.  I will need to practice what I preach as well.

I have to admit I am glad to be back in my car, I did not enjoy having to call a driver (remise) every time I needed to leave the house.  With all the back and forth between the church and school this week, I am having a better understanding of my tiny corner of Argentina.  To quote a famous movie line from Grease when they are at Thunder Road, “The Rules Are, There Are No Rules” and that is how we drive.  So basically you get to drive everyday how you wish you could drive when you are running late to your kids practice again.  Most streets are one way, so in a street where you would think one car could fit, they manage to fit three with a motorcycle in the middle.  There are no stop signs just a universal understanding that at an intersection the person to the right has the right of way.  Non Argentine citizens are easily identified as they pause at intersections and run the risk of being rear ended because no one is expecting you to stop.  On some of the major roads, they do have stop lights which go: green, yellow, red, then yellow again before it goes back to green.  As a result I find myself sitting at a red light waiting for it to turn yellow, because people start honking their horns if you are sitting there for .05 seconds after it turns green, everybody moves on yellow.  You also never stop at a light turning yellow before it turns red or you will hear beautiful Argentine obscenities directed at you.  Managing the one way streets has been really challenging and pedestrians beware, they do not have the right of way and they know it.  Don’t even get me started about turning left.  Only a few streets allow you to turn left and you can do it from the far right lane, think about that one.  I can’t believe they just let us drive here without taking a test first.   Argentines are very proud, very loud, and they care primarily about themselves, so driving is no joke and quite frankly if I ever get pulled over, I will not handle it well.  Most of the X-Pats have extra pesos on hand just in case, I will not do this.

I try to keep my eyes on the road but there is so much to see, I can hardly concentrate.  On our way to school the other day I was thinking to myself, it’s just so old, and sometimes dirty, crowded and smelly.  As I was complaining silently to myself, Lyndsey says, “I love these buildings, they are so old and they look so cool, the trees are so big and it’s cool that it is so busy here, I want to live in the city someday”.  After hearing her say that right when I was thinking the exact opposite, I realized I am officially so old and so stuck in my ways that I cannot enjoy the new and different sights and sounds around me.  The girls in will be influenced by this experience that will hopefully be with them their entire life. I on the other hand am too far gone to be influenced.    But there are many benefits here that are turning me into an Argentine fan.  You can have your dog groomed for about seven US dollars and they will come and pick him up at your house and return him.  Every restaurant and grocery store delivers and you can have manicures and pedicures done in your own home for a fraction of what it cost in a US salon.  In sharp contrast they know us Americans well; I paid 10 US dollars the other day on a small bottle of ranch dressing.

It has became very clear to me this week after hearing other peoples stories our X-Pat’s transition has been tremendously easier than most.  Knock on wood I am so thankful!!! You cannot imagine the conditions in which families arrive here and start living.  Often families live in a hotel until they can rent an apartment or home.  90% of them do not own a home in the states or their home country and will wait months with for their shipments to arrive with everything they own. Then they have to wait about another month for customs to pick through and inspect everything.  Most of them do not have a car at all and they are forced to utilize busing and trains or buy their own car which is next to impossible for foreigners to do.  It is amazing to me how little work the Argentines do, so getting anything done is excruciatingly time consuming. It takes months to get utilities established here and out of absolute dire frustrations most X-Pats hire a relocation specialist.  We have been blessed with Mercedes’.  Oh I cannot tell you what she has meant to me.  She is a highly educated Argentine who speaks Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and little German, she is Doug’s assistant and I adore her.  “Well”, this is what Mercedes says before she speaks, you must say it with an accent and at the same time you are exhaling.  Mercedes has been immensely helpful to me since our first visit in August.  As you can imagine, many of the Argentine merchants take advantage of non Spanish speaking people and Mercedes deals with all the vendors on our behalf.  I have been a little sad that I did not bring more of our household items so Mercedes called me a driver while the girls were at camp last week and together the driver Mercedes and I went to a little place where they hand craft beautiful wood furnishings for a steal.  Next week we have plans to go to Belgrano (bellgraaaano) roll your g and r’s, which is in the heart of Buenos Aires to a fabric store to find some fabric that I will use to reupholster my old basement couch.  So while other X-Pats are making plans to visit Antarctica, I am making plans to visit the fabric stores. It’s just who I am.

Lyndsey had orientation on Friday and I am holding my breath that it is as awesome as it seems.  The girls appear to have enjoyed their two week vacation and I am praying they still enjoy it here once school starts.  We are learning some serious street smarts and trying to keep a lower profile and blend.  There are so many amazing things to do and see, but there are many poor citizens and crime is high.  It is no different than any other major city in the world, you have to be aware and not draw attention to yourself.  Based on our airport experience you can imagine this is something we need to work hard at.

We’ll update you on school next week. Love you all.